Pittsburgh Pirates: A Few Positives to Take Into Next Season
Well, Pirates fans, our day of reckoning has finally arrived. Our Buccos are 77-80 (.490) and more importantly, have been eliminated from postseason contention. It is never fun to see our favorite team play so far below their potential for a whole season, but there have definitely been bright spots here and there throughout the campaign.
In retrospect, this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates really stunk. Poor management and front office decisions, key personnel departures, mediocre hitting, bad stretches of pitching, sometimes laughable baserunning, and some sloppy-at-best fielding plagued the Buccos all year long. However, I think it is important to not mope around like Eeyore every time a season does not go our way, because it could be worse. Remember: This team went 57-105 (.352) in 2010, just six seasons ago.
So, in that same vein, it is important to remain positive. The Pirates were embarrassing at some points this season, but they still managed to stave off postseason elimination until there were only eight games remaining. Trust me. I could sit here and ramble on and on about the Pirates’ shortcomings for hours, but I don’t think that is necessary. A few key bats and a young core of beastly starting pitching means that fans can keep their heads up in hopes that next season will be better.
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Ever since Starling Marte took Dallas Keuchel deep on the first pitch of his first career at-bat, Pirates fans have been salivating waiting for Starling to reach his full potential. And this season seemed to be an indicator that he is inching ever closer to reaching it. Marte hit .311 this season, with nine home runs, 46 RBIs, 47 stolen bases, a .362 on-base percentage, 34 doubles, and only 104 strikeouts, down in total from the 123 of last season.
It was clear that Marte had a new approach to hitting this year. He was much more patient and didn’t swing out of his shoes nearly as much. But has he really hit that potential yet? Personally, I say no. We have seen Marte hit some truly majestic moonshot bombs over the years, and nine home runs just doesn’t feel like a high enough number. If he can figure out how to keep his patient approach but also turn some of those hits into home runs, the 27-year-old will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. But with his recent struggles with back spasms, I hope he doesn’t see the field again this year. Save him for next season.
Who would’ve thought coming into this season that Andrew McCutchen would be the third best outfielder on this team? Well, he was and that is thanks to the aforementioned Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Polanco showed glimpses of pure genius this season, with a Griffey-esque smooth swing able to send baseballs into the river with ease. Currently, Polanco is hitting .262, with decent power numbers at 22 home runs and 86 RBIs. These stats aren’t wholly representative though, seeing as the 25-year-old has hit .198 in his past 30 games.
El Coffee sent Pirates fans into a tizzy when he was first called up and now we are beginning to see why. Even though the Dominican right fielder struggled to end the year on a high note, if he, Marte, and McCutchen can keep themselves playing at a high level for a whole season, the league will have to be on high alert.
There is a lot to look forward to when it comes to the pitching staff. Jameson Taillon particularly impressed during his stint in the majors, nearly throwing a no-hitter June 14th against the Mets, and never looking back.
It seems like Gerrit Cole has been a permanent fixture in the Pirates’ pitching staff for a long time now, but it’s important to remember that our ace is still only 26. This season (7-10, 3.88) was a bit of a disappointment for the Cole Train, but he has a lot of time to right the ship and show that this season was just a bump in the road to a long, successful career with the Buccos.
Other young pitchers who at least showed signs of being decent in the future included Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, and Drew Hutchison. The combined ages of those five players is only 24.2, so if the Pirates can develop all of these prospects correctly, we will have a decade of solid starting pitching ahead of us.
Basically, my point here is that it is not all doom and gloom ahead of us, Bucco fans. This year ended in utter failure, but there’s always next year and the many years after that. To be honest, I am already more confident about next season than I was about this one. So hold your heads up high and keep hoisting the colors with Keira Knightley, because these rainy days will break away and we’ll raise the Jolly Roger soon.