At this point last month, you were considered negative for saying the Pirates were going to collapse and miss the playoffs. The city was in. The true fans and bandwagon fans alike had this team’s back. The players believed and the clubhouse was more alive than ever. The public relations staff had to send out an email about ways to purchase playoff tickets. The last time that happened, email was hardly around. The fans waited 19 years for this. They’ve waited 19 years of constant reminders that their team is the laughing stock of baseball. 19 years of seeing the replay of Sid Bream cross home plate. 19 years of seeing Barry Bonds turn into the all-time home run king. The fans deserved it and they were going to get it.
At least, that’s what they thought a month ago.
Now, you’re insane if you say the Pirates can make the playoffs. They’re just 2.5 games out of the wild card race, but the Dodgers and Cardinals are right there with them. In what looked like a gimme homestand, the Pirates only won two of six games against the Astros and Cubs; including being swept by the Cubs. With 23 games left on the ledger as they open a crucial series in Cincinnati tonight, no one is talking playoffs anymore. In fact, the city has given up hope.
“Clint Hurdle should be fired” “Why isn’t Chase Headley a Pirate” and the most ignorant of them all, “The Pirates have given up.” These are all things people have said to me lately. First off, Hurdle should not be fired. Not at all. The Headley ship has sailed and I still agree with their moves at the deadline. As for the players quitting, it couldn’t be further from the truth. After spending six months with this team and seeing them each day in the clubhouse, they want it more than ever. After the seven error game against the Cubs, the clubhouse was silent. Not a sound from anyone. There was no joking or talking like there is normally win or lose. The look on the faces of the players was pure outrage, disappointment and embarrassment.
I’ve said all season that I felt the Pirates were the third best team in their division behind the Reds and the Cardinals. In the second half, they’ve shown it. James McDonald is pitching like he did last year. Andrew McCutchen is still likely to win the batting title, but has cooled down significantly. And all of the sudden, the Pirates’ bullpen isn’t where they were. The goal was never playoffs for fans, it was .500.
But midway through the season, the expectations changed. It was playoffs or bust.
“The fans can buy into us 100 percent,” Joel Hanrahan said.
The Pirates were in contention in the central and had a comfortable lead. Now, they are just 3.5 games ahead of the Brewers for third place in the central division. At 72-67, playoff hope is dwindling, but is breaking the losing season streak also?
The Pirates were confident in themselves this year and said they weren’t going to have a collapse like last season.
Jared Hughes told me, “We are for real. There won’t be a repeat of last year.”
But isn’t this like last season? Instead of a collapse, is it simply fading away?
The Pirates have to go 10-13 over the rest of the season to end up 82-80. Even at 9-14, the Pirates would at least finish .500. But if they finish that way, is this season a success or a failure?
To me, it’s the way the Pirates got here that makes fans upset. With being 16 games over .500, to only five now, it makes it seem like a monumental collapse. I’m not calling it monumental, but they’ve played better ball to put it lightly. If say the Pirates had a horrible first half of the year, but then reached the 82 win plateau to end the year, it would be a successful season to fans. To me, as Chris Adamski reference the famous Alfred Lord Tennyson line earlier today, “it’s better to love and lose than to never love at all.”
This year was fun to cover the Pirates and fun for the fans. I’ve said all year, don’t worry about the end result, just enjoy the moment and enjoy baseball being relevant in Pittsburgh again. Too many got greedy. Too many said they must make the playoffs. And they still have that chance.
Does it look likely? No it doesn’t. The lineup that is getting ran out there on a nightly basis with Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas and Alex Presley isn’t doing the job. But yet somehow, the Cardinals and Dodgers don’t want to take claim of that final wild card spot leaving the Pirates hanging around.
Last year, the Cardinals went on a magical run that propelled them into the postseason and eventually led to them winning the World Series. In 2007, the Rockies had their magical Rock-tober run that allowed them to reach the playoffs. So yes, the Pirates still can do it. They are one hot streak away. But with the way things have gone lately, it doesn’t seem likely at all to happen.
Just compare the lineups of the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates. The other two are superior in talent, but the Pirates have the edge in heart. When all is said and done however, it’s likely the talent wins out like usual.
This is a fun team to watch. They are young, hungry and resilient. They have a great core with McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones and Starling Marte. This team is learning how to win and how to win at a high level. They broke down last year. This year, they are fading away again. But if they finish at 82 wins, don’t take it as a ruined season. Because for the past 19, this is the season you hoped for. Don’t forget the difference between expectation and goal. The goal was to make the playoffs, but the expectation was 82-plus wins.
Photo Credits: Getty Images