Everybody repeat after me: “This year is different” “This is the year we finally get over the hump” “This team is stronger than before” “There won’t be a collapse this year” we’ve heard all of this ad nauseum, but this year, it’s actually believable. The 2012 Pirates were a mediocre team, that played over their heads for a while, thanks to an amazing, but unsustainable tear by Andrew McCutchen, where he single handedly carried the team on his back for at least two months.
September 7, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Rod Barajas (26) reacts after an error allowed a run to score by the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 12-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The 2012 Pirates had Erik Bedard in their rotation all year. The 2012 Pirates had Rod Barajas as their starting catcher. ROD FREAKING BARAJAS. Josh Harrison played over 100 games in a Pirates uniform.They were a mediocre team who played one great half, and one awful one. They ended up 79-83, one game over their Pythagorean record. The second half collapse was an utter train wreck, but the team played the season to their level over the whole year, despite playing completely different ball between the first half and the second half.
The dynamic duo of A.J. Burnett and Jeff Locke have lead the way for the Pitttsburgh Pirates
In 2013, this team just feels fundamentally better. The pitching has been incredible, the team ERA is number one in the NL, and there have been some great surprises (looking at you, Jeff Locke) to go along with the call up of Gerrit Cole, Jeanmar Gomez has performed admirably as a starter, and let’s not forget how good Francisco Liriano has been. The 2012 team ERA ranked eighth in the N.L., compared to this years top ranking.
Jun 30, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) waits to bat in the on-deck circle against the Milwaukee Brewers during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The offense of the 2013 team is much more balanced. Andrew McCutchen isn’t playing like he was last year, but he’s still very good. Starling Marte is developing nicely, and is collecting extra base hits at an alarming rate. Pedro Alvarez is mashing home runs at a rate which we haven’t previously seen, and Jordy Mercer has been a massive upgrade at the plate compared to Clint Barmes. The offense hasn’t become a powerhouse by any means, but it also hasn’t been the putrid one we saw last year either, that finished in the bottom of the N.L. in nearly every major category.
The guys that have been given opportunities to come up from AAA have performed admirably as well, the depth that the Pirates have in their system is incredible this year. Not only do they currently have the best record in baseball, but the Indianapolis Indians have the best record in the International League as well. There have been a multitude of pitchers who have come up for the sake of bullpen depth or spot starts, and with the exception of Mike Zagurski, they’ve all shown superb skills, and have filled in holes like the regular guys weren’t even missing. The Pirates haven’t missed a beat even though they’ve been short A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez for weeks, thanks to the work done by several spot starters and young prospects.
This team is better than last year’s team, plain and simple. Will it win 100 games? Probably not, very few teams are good enough to do that. That said, last year’s team with all its holes came in at 79-83, nearly eking out a winning season. This year’s team, being significantly better than last year both at the plate, and in the field, should not only be able to finish with a winning record, but be able to clinch a playoff spot as well. This Pirates team is better than the previous ones, but is it good enough? Only time will tell if this team can finish, like we hoped the last two would.