10 games, that is all that remains of 2012 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 10 games stand before them, straddling the line between forgotten success and continued infamy.
The Pirates, once upstarts but now stalled, were 10 games above .500 on July 16th, standing just a single game behind the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the National League Central. Since that day, these Pirates have played baseball 12 games below .500 and now sit at 75-77 on the season and have already watched the Reds hoist the Central division title, a cool 16.5 games ahead of the now fourth place Pirates.
This year was supposed to be different. Despite a similar flirtation and failure in 2011, baseball fans everywhere were getting behind this edition of the Pirates. They had a legitimate MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen. They had a young, confident pitching staff behind James McDonald and gelling with the addition of A.J. Burnett. This year was different.
Well, perhaps the bandwagon got too full because the ship suddenly got too heavy to move under all that weight.
Now Pittsburgh has just the aforementioned 10 games in which to make the unbelievable happen. They have to make up 6.5 games in the Wild Card race, jumping 5 other teams in the process. It is not a very likely goal, especially considering that the Pirates lack even a single game against a single opponent that stands above them in the standings.
No, that ship sailed long ago.
Still, there is at least one realistic goal still within reach and it bears as much significance to this team as a playoff appearance; a winning season. That's right, with their last winning season coming in 1992, the Pirates have the longest active streak of consecutive seasons with a losing record. By finishing the season just 7-5, Pittsburgh can put that piece of infamy behind them.
The first of those steps comes in the shape of a 4-game set with the lowly New York Mets. After that, it is all home cooking, with 3 games against each the division champion Reds and the eventual Wild Card winner Atlanta Braves. The Reds are apt to be resting players after having already clinched the division title. The Braves enter the week with a magic number of 2 to claim the first Wild Card slot in the National League. By the time Pittsburgh sees them, they too could be in rest mode.
That puts the ball in Pittsburgh's hand heading into the final week. They control their own fate and have a legitimate chance to become a winning franchise again. By putting the losing behind them, the Pirates can look to 2013 with a new attitude. They can approach a pennant race knowing what it takes to be a winner, a closer, instead of expecting impending doom.
It's all about the baby steps Bob. Baby steps to a winning record. Baby steps to a MVP award. Baby steps to the playoffs. Baby steps to a World Series...
You know things in Pittsburgh are going right when they can promote their top position prospect and have him immediately impact the team in a winning fashion.
Such was the case for outfield prospect Starling Marte, who made his Pirates debut on Thursday night in Houston, and he did so with a bang. The Pirates wasted no time, putting him in the lead-off spot and starting him in left field. Marte responded by banging the first pitch he saw in the major leagues off the train trestle in left field for a solo home run.
In doing so, Marte became the 28th player in MLB history to hit a home run on the very first pitch he saw. Marte is the third Pirate in franchise history to achieve the feat, and the first since Don Leppert in 1961 to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat.
But Marte was not done there. He singled in the 5th inning. He advanced to third base in the inning, but would be caught trying to steal home after the Astros attempted to pick Andrew McCuthen off at first base.
Still, a 2-4 night with a home run in his first game is a good way to make an impression. It is also a good way to get in good with the manager, especially when the Pirates rank dead-last in the majors with a .571 OPS out of their left fielders in 2012. Marte brings with him a .847 OPS and some solid tools to a position that the Pirates would much rather improve on from within.
The Pirates held on to win the game 5-3, moving to 2.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in the Wild Card race and within 2.0 games of the NL Central leading Reds.
Yeah, Monday kind of snuck up on me too...That mid-week holiday threw things out of whack for me...So how's everyone doing out there? How was your weekend? Why am I doing this Q & A shit?
Let me ask you this...Saturday afternoon I took the Little Beeze to see "Brave"...That's what he wanted see, and really, how can you go wrong with a Pixar production...It was good...He liked it...Then after we got home, the Mrs. took our oldest daughter to see the new "Spiderman" movie...So the boys saw "Brave" about a Scottish princess, and the girls saw "Spiderman"...Does that just sound odd to anyone else?
Shit, I had half a mind to take the boy to see "Ted" but the wife would not have been pleased with the shit he would have learned from that one...
Then Sunday night the wife and I watched "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"...
You know how people always say the book is better then the movie...Well in this case it has to be true...Holy fucking two and a half hours of my life I wish I could get back! Yeah, it had some good moments, and you can tell the story was good, but fucking shit, that movie was slow...My wife read all the books, and she loved them...She didn't crush the movie like me, but I could tell she was let down a bit...Some people can't stand long movies...I don't mind them, if they're good...But this one just kept me waiting...And now I'm still waiting...Totally unsatisfied!
Moving on to sports...Baseball is heading into the All-Star break...The All-Star game is Tuesday night, and I think I made it clear last week, that is just a steaming pile of shit...But there is a story in Major League Baseball that people better wake up to...
Yep...The Pittsburgh Pirates...They've been flying the Jolly Roger a lot this year, as the Pirates are 48-37 and in first place of the NL Central...How are the Pirates doing it...Well OF Andrew McCutchen is a big reason, batting .362, with 58 runs, 60 RBI, 18 HR's and 14 Stolen Bases...But he's not alone...2B Neil Walker had a horrible, slow start, but has turned it around and gotten his average up to .291, with 42 runs, 6 HR's and 41 RBI...3B Pedro Alverez who has been a disappointing prospect has also turned it around of late, and has 16 HR's and 50 RBI...
But it isn't just hitting with the Pirates...Their pitching has been outstanding as well...Lead by James McDonald and A.J. Burnett...McDonald with 9 wins, 100 Strikeouts, and 2.37 ERA...And Burnett with 10 wins, 79 Strikeouts, and 3.68 ERA...And the best part about Burnett...The Yankees paid the Pirates to take him off their hands...Clearly the best thing to happen to Burnett was to get the hell out of New York...He's not the first guy to do well...Sign for big money with the Yankees...Not do so well...Get out, and find their old self again...
Then there is the Pirates bullpen anchored by closer Joel Hanrahan, with 23 saves, 4 wins, 35 Strikeouts, and a 2.38 ERA...Hanrahan often being set-up by 35 year old Jason Grilli, who has 1 win, 1 save, 21 holds, 54 strikeouts, and a 1.87 ERA...There's also Juan Cruz with 1 win, 3 saves, 13 holds, 32 strikeouts, and a 2.76 ERA...They also have Brad Lincoln doing middle relief, with a 2.98 ERA, 2 holds, 4 wins, and 52 strikeouts...
To recap, a MVP candidate in McCutchen, with the rest of the lineup starting to find their swings...Strong starting pitching...And possibly an even stronger bullpen...Can they continue to keep it up...Can they keep hold of the NL Central...I think so...I think they have a lot of potential to keep people on their toes for awhile...
Yeah, I'm a Cleveland guy rooting for a Pittsburgh team...Wouldn't it be great to see a Indians vs. Pirates World Series!?! Well not for TV ratings maybe, but fuck them...I'd love it!
That's it for now...Have a week...Oh, and check THIS out...Give your input...
When the Yankees were able to unload A.J. Burnett on the Pittsburgh Pirates for two low-level minor-leaguers, it was seen as a steal for New York. Sure they were picking up more than $18 million of the $31 million remaining on Burnett's deal at the time, but they were getting rid of the mistake headache that was 34-35 over his three years in Gotham with a 4.79 ERA and 81 home runs surrendered. Burnett was never able to adapt to the pressures of pitching in Yankee Stadium and was combustive on the mound nearly two-thirds of his starts for the Yankees.
So naturally, he would be a competent and successful pitcher in Pittsburgh.
Okay, maybe we should strike that. He's been outstanding of late, railing off a streak of 8 consecutive wins and boasts a 9-2 record with a 3.31 ERA, 69 strike-outs, and only 7 home runs surrendered. He has been a key part of of why the Pirates are 5 games above .500 and threatening to vanquish their nearly two-decade long streak of losing seasons. As a matter of fact, only James McDonald (2.44) has a lower ERA among the starting pitchers in what is baseball's fifth best pitching staff to date in 2012.
Just food for thought, but right about now, I bet the Yankees are wishing they had an extra arm in the rotation.