CHICAGO, September 4, 2013 — Baseball is a game of streaks. Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, the Cubs having not made the World Series since 1945, or winning the World Series since 1908, or Cal Ripken’s 2,632 games played all come to mind. One streak came to an end last night though as the Pirates improved their record to 81-57. This ensures that even if they lose all of their remaining games they will avoid having a losing record for the first time since 1992.
That year, 1992, was a long time ago, 21 years. So long ago that there were people in bars, legally, who were not alive the last time the Pirates had a winning record. The last time the Pirates had a non-losing record, the Expos were in existence, but the Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Rays were not. In 1992, Tim Wakefield was a rookie. In 1992, Doug Drabek and Andy Van Slyke were prominent members of the Pirates, while in 2013, both have sons playing in the majors.
The Pirates’ work is not done yet. The team is currently involved in a three-way race to win the NL Central with the Cardinals and the Reds. For the Pirates franchise, and their fans, last night’s win lifted a burden. The team needs to continue to press on though.
The difference between being the second wild card and winning the NL Central would be huge. If the Pirates win the Central they would be guaranteed at least two playoff home games. If the team is the second wild card, they could play the game on the road and lose, meaning their fans would not get to see a playoff home game this year.
The Pirates have largely gotten here thanks to their pitching. They have allowed the second fewest runs in MLB at 481 runs allowed. This has happened with a staff led by castoffs AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez. The staff has also gotten great contributions from former top pick Gerritt Cole and the surprising Jeff Locke.
The starters have pitched well, but the Pirates bullpen has been nothing short of phenomenal. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli, just off the DL, both made the All Star team while three more bullpen arms, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro and Tony Watson, also have ERA’s of less than 2.70.
The strength of the bullpen bodes well for the playoffs as the Pirates seem to have the ability to shorten games, which will likely be necessary as the offense has struggled a bit this year. The Pirates are just 20th in MLB in runs scored with 542. The front office has attempted to address the offense’s shortcomings by making trades last week for Marlon Byrd, John Buck and Justin Morneau.
None of these trades cost the team any of their top prospects and should help, but the solution may have simply been patience as they are currently hitting .228 with RISP. That is good for 28th in MLB. Hitting with RISP is not a skill that carries over from year to year and one that could change drastically in the small sample sizes that are inherently a part of the postseason.
No matter how the remainder of the season plays out, what these Pirates have accomplished is one of the great stories of the season. The team’s success has contributed greatly to revitalizing the fan base and by winning the NL Central, or advancing past the wild card game, it can potentially do a great deal more.
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