Pirates set for strong season

When one hears the words “Pittsburgh” and “Pirates” together, the last thing that they think about is winning. Throughout our lifetime, the Pirates have never even been associated with being mediocre, let alone good. Then, suddenly, two seasons ago, the Bucs did something quite odd. They started to win. At the All-Star break, they were actually in first place. Sadly, this dream did not last much longer as they quickly collapsed and lost their 82nd game on September 14, 2011, ensuring another losing season. No matter. When 2012 hit, the Pirates were ready. They had just signed pitcher AJ Burnett to bolster their rotation and their staff was as determined as ever. As of August 8 that year, they were 63-47, proving to many doubters that they were not simply a fluke. This was the Pirates’ year. Except it wasn’t. They finished the season out 16-36 and ensured their 19th consecutive losing season.

You know things are going bad for your team when you celebrate being above .500 at the All-Star break like you just won the World Series. Meanwhile, Yankees fans think it’s a terrible year if they don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Pittsburgh Pirates organization gained some momentum as it seemingly thought, “hey if we can put together a winning team for two thirds of a season we must be doing something right.” The front office brought in Russell Martin, a former All-Star and much needed defensive upgrade behind the plate. They made some moves in the bullpen as well and hoped that the signing of former Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano would pay off. The Pirates then began 2013 the same way they began the previous two years: they were winning. Strangely enough, they haven’t stopped. At least not yet…

On September 3, the Pirates won their 81st game, ensuring their first season without a losing record since 1992. That is the longest current streak of losing seasons in not just the MLB, but also the NFL, NBA and NHL.  It is one thing to go without winning a championship or even making the playoffs for a while, but living your entire life as a fan of a team and never once experiencing a feeling of hope is another. Hope for Pirates fans has been transformed into simply winning more than 80 games rather than trying to compete for a playoff spot.  A professor approached my friend (who was wearing a Bucs hat) last weekend and jokingly asked if he was a true fan or if he was just simply “jumping on the bandwagon.” My friend was taken aback to the point where he smiled and simply said, “I don’t know what to say…There’s never even been a bandwagon to jump on.” Going on the basis of the few Pirates fans I know, I would say that they are much like Colorado Rockies fans were during the 2007 World Series. They are just happy to be there.

The immense joy and relief felt by fans is enough to outweigh the stress of fighting for and perhaps losing out on a playoff spot. But with all being said, will they? The Pirates are currently locked in a battle for first place with the pesky and always competitive St. Louis Cardinals. Even after losing Albert Pujols, the Cardinals seem to find a way to win year after year.  But Pittsburgh and its front office knows that this is probably the year.  After all, the odds of a winning season, let alone a playoff birth in the last 20 years have not been too spectacular. So, the front office has made its fair share of deals. They traded for Mets’ outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck to provide some late season pop. Byrd and Buck had 21 and 15 home runs respectively at the time of the trade. Eight games in, Byrd was hitting .387 with a home run and eight runs batted in, a quite respectable rate of production. Then, on August 31, the Pirates truly showed they were serious about winning when they traded for former American League MVP Justin Morneau.

Now the roster is set to do battle. The pitching has been good, the offense has been bolstered and the Pirates have a certain aura of confidence about them. After their huge series with the Cardinals, the Bucs have many challenges ahead of them in September. They will have to face off against a tough Rangers team before battling the third place and highly competitive Cincinnati Reds six times. While they do get breaks in between to face the Cubs and Padres, this final month will test the Pirates’ will. Can they succeed and make the playoffs? I would hope so. After 20 years of being some of the biggest losers in the game, the baseball gods should be on their side in 2013. And if they do make the playoffs, well then it all comes down to who gets hot. But hey, if there ever was a bandwagon to hop on, this is it.

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