The good news is the Pittsburgh Pirates had the exact same record on the road last year as they did home at PNC Park. The bad news is they were 36-45 there.
Still, the upcoming 2012 season is without question the singularly most important for the Bucs since 1992—the year traitorous Sid Bream awkwardly slid into home for the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS and placed a two-decade curse on his old team.
The Pirates haven't had a winning season since.
But this year—the ones the Mayans had a funny feeling about—is Pittsburgh's one remaining chance at avoiding what could be the most unfortunate record in American professional sports. If the Pirates finish below .500, it will be their 20th consecutive losing year—the longest such milestone of futility in the history of pro baseball, football, basketball and/or hockey. An entire generation of baseball fans in Pittsburgh has stood by its beloved team with little to no payoff.
But last year, things were different.
First-time All-Stars Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan along with a squad of young and talented Pirates emerged as the unexpected NL Central leaders until late July. They remained in the playoff hunt till the beginning of September, just a few days before sadly ensuring their 19th-straight losing season.
Still, for much of the summer, people went to PNC Park to see more than just the skyline.
If the Pirates prove 2011 was no fluke, Pittsburgh fans could be in for more than a few significant series this season. While it's impossible to say exactly which could prove pivotal, some could have history-altering implications or, at the very least, give fans hope that the next 20 years don't have to be quite so rough.
Phillies vs. Pirates
Thursday April 5 (1:35 p.m.)
Saturday April 7 (7:05 p.m.)
Sunday April 8 (1:35 p.m.)
The Pirates' three most-attended home games last year were against the interstate rival Phillies.
Of course, those games were the final ones in July, and Pittsburgh was displaying symptoms of playoff fever. Still, although the Phillies reside in a different division, Pittsburgh fans have an instinctive hatred of all Philadelphia teams (except the Sixers, until Pittsburgh gets an NBA team).
This year, the Pirates take on the Phillies right out of the gate with their season opening-series at PNC Park. They'll undoubtedly face Cy Young runner-up Roy Halladay—most probably on Opening Day—and could make a statement with a win (or three) over one of the league's top teams.
Cardinals vs. Pirates
Friday April 20 (7:05 p.m.)
Saturday April 21 (7:05 p.m.)
Sunday April 22 (1:35 p.m.)
But things get real on April 20.
That's when the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals come to town for the Bucs' first divisional games of the season.
And don't rule the Bucs out: They managed a 7-9 record against the Cards in 2011, and even beat ace Chris Carpenter twice.
This series will be the last time the Cardinals play in Pittsburgh until Aug. 27, and depending on how the rest of the season goes, that three-game set could have an entirely different tone.
Nationals vs. Pirates
Tuesday May 8 (7:05 p.m.)
Wednesday May 9 (7:05 p.m.)
Thursday May 10 (7:05 p.m.)
Remember 2010? Specifically June 8, 2010?
There's a good chance you've blacked it out.
That was the date of Stephen Strasburg's debut with the Nats—you know, the game in D.C. where he struck out 14 hapless Pirates before going on an 11-start tour of sold-out games across the league. That tour, however, ended abruptly that August when an inflamed pitching shoulder turned into Tommy John surgery and a largely lost 2011.
Now Strasburg is back, and although the luster has worn off (he's not even the most exciting young player in the Nats system anymore), there's always a chance he picks up somewhere close to where he left off. If he does (and is scheduled for one of three straight night games at PNC Park), you won't wanna miss it.
Tigers vs. Pirates
Friday June 22 (7:05 p.m.)
Saturday June 23 (4:05 p.m.)
Sunday June 24 (1:35 p.m.)
The Pirates kick off interleague play at PNC Park on June 8 against the Royals, but that's not exactly the most scintillating matchup (although everyone at the June 9 game does also get to witness a Boyz II Men concert).
But a weekend series against a reloaded Tigers lineup doesn't even require a '90s R&B act to make it exciting (although it would be sweet to see Bel Biv DeVoe). The Pirates outscored Detroit 16-5 in three games last season and actually took all but one interleague series (beating the Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox and Tigers).
Although the Bucs don't have to play 15 games against Prince Fielder anymore, the Tigers will bring him to town for these three in late June.
On top of that, you might also recognize the guy on the far right in the photo above. He was the manager of the Pirates the last time they had a winning record. He also cried a lot.
Giants vs. Pirates
Friday July 6 (7:05 p.m.)
Saturday July 7 (4:05 p.m.)
Sunday July 8 (1:35 p.m.)
The NL West is likely to come down to the Giants and current champion Diamondbacks (who are also at PNC Park for three games in early August), and whether or not the Pirates are still in the NL Central hunt, everyone wants to end the first half on a positive.
Need more incentive? All three games have sweet promo events (depending on how you feel about American Idol alum): Game 1 is Free Shirt Friday, Game 2 is a FanJam with Daughtry and Game 3 is Kids Day.
That's just good American value all around.
Cubs vs. Pirates
Monday July 23 (7:05 p.m.)
Tuesday July 24 (7:05 p.m.)
Wednesday July 25 (12:35 p.m.)
The Cubs also come to town in May, but unless both teams are dwelling in the divisional cellar, this set in late July will have far more on the line.
It's Year No. 1 of the Theo Epstein era in Chicago, and it's unlikely even he could turn the Cubs into contenders this quickly. Still, these are two teams hoping to overcome their past misfortunes both recent (the Bucs and Cubs finished in fourth and fifth respectively in the NL Central last year) and distant (the Pirates could break the infamous consecutive losing seasons record this year and the Cubs haven't won a World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president).
Last season, they split 16 games right down the middle and combined for an impressive 141 runs. Maybe this is the year both teams turn things around. After all, there is one more wild card spot available.
Brewers vs. Pirates
Friday Aug. 24 (7:05 p.m.)
Saturday Aug. 25 (7:05 p.m.)
Sunday Aug. 26 (1:35 p.m.)
Although it goes down during the tail end of the dog days of summer, this series marks the first time the defending division champs travel to Pittsburgh in 2012.
Sure, they won't be bringing Prince Fielder with them, but they will have the sitting NL MVP in Ryan Braun and an old friend/enemy at the hot corner.
At this point last year, the Bucs were at the height of their playoff hunt, and a series like this could be the difference between making or breaking the season. But temper your expectations: the Pirates were 3-12 against the Crew last year.
Brewers vs. Pirates
Tuesday Sept. 18 (7:05 p.m.)
Wednesday Sept. 19 (7:05 p.m)
Thursday Sept. 20 (4:05 p.m.)
Yeah, the Brewers again. But there's a chance this series could be meaningless.
By mid-September, worst-case scenario is that the Brewers could have locked up the division lead and the Pirates could have locked up last place. Best-case scenario, however, is that each one of these games could have decisive playoff implications for each team.
The most likely scenario probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it still could prove to have tense moments nonetheless.
Plus, seeing as how home games against the Brewers made up four of the 10 most-attended games at PNC Park last year, it'll be fun to see if people are still holding up signs in September mocking Ryan Braun's stint as Barry Bonds.
Reds vs. Pirates
Friday Sept. 28 (7:05 p.m.)
Saturday Sept. 29 (7:05 p.m.)
Sunday Sept. 30 (1:35 p.m.)
Just like last year, the Reds could be one of the primary threats to the Pirates' playoff hopes. A homestand at the end of September could possibly be pivotal—especially since it's the last divisional series the Pirates will play.
Of course, Pittsburgh made their own offseason moves on the mound, and there could be a few intriguing matchups as long as Erik Bedard isn't on the DL and A.J. Burnett hasn't bunted out his other eye.
Braves vs. Pirates
Monday Oct. 1 (7:05 p.m.)
Tuesday Oct. 2 (7:05 p.m.)
Wednesday Oct. 3 (12:35 p.m.)
It's only fitting.
The last team the Pirates face during the 2012 regular season will be the same team that started Pittsburgh's two-decade reign of error. The Bucs will probably have known for weeks whether or not they've hit 20-straight losing seasons. But if they've stopped it, there'd be no sweeter way to cap off the year than by defeating the team that started it.
As if there wasn't already enough of a sordid past between the Pirates and Braves, some say it was the Bucs' deflating 19-inning loss in July at Turner Field (decided late into the night by an intensely disputed and overwhelmingly incorrect call at home plate) that derailed their promising 2011.
Whether anything is on the line or not this time, history says something of note is gonna happen.
Let's just hope Sid Bream doesn't suit up—for either team.