The Pirates' wrapped up their regular season this week, finishing 79-83 and continuing their record streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
This season also represented the most wins the Bucs have recorded in a season since 1997. It is important to remember this fact when evaluating the Pittsburgh Pirates' 2012 campaign.
2012 was almost certainly the most complex, exciting, and ultimately disappointing season Pirates' fans have suffered through since the streak began. The Bucs, at one point 16 games over .500 and a legitimate playoff contender, collapsed down the stretch in a historic manner.
Understandably, fans are upset. There have been many calls for Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle to be fired, among other expressions of discontent. In mid-August, it was unfathomable that the Pirates would finish under .500.
Yet at the beginning of the season, it was unfathomable to many that the Pirates would finish above .500, and certainly extremely unlikely that they would actually contend for a playoff berth.
2012 was supposed to be another step in the rebuilding process while the Bucs waited for their bevy of talented minor leaguers to make their way up through the ranks.
Of course it didn't turn out that way, partly because several Pirates performed well above expectations. Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones all turned into the hitters Pirate fans were hoping they would become (with some improvement from Alvarez still possible), and A.J. Burnett and James McDonald gave the Bucs the front-line pitching that they had been lacking for many years.
While some of these developments eroded by the end of the season (McDonald is certainly a question mark heading into 2013), there is no reason to believe that others are not here to stay.
McCutchen will remain an MVP candidate next year, and his colleagues at the heart of the Pirate order should be able to maintain their improvements as well. There is no reason Burnett cannot repeat his 2012 season in 2013, even if he is not a part of the Pirates' long-term future.
This is not to say that the Pirates did not have their problems in 2013: a lack of major league-ready depth became a huge issue in August and September, as an ability to field adequate injury replacements facilitated the Bucs' collapse. Shortstop and catcher remain weak spots, as does the back end of the rotation.
But it remains important to remember that the Pirates actually performed well above most people's expectations for them. Dejan Kovacevic actually accurately predicted the Pirates' 2012 record in April, but that has not stopped him from excoriating the organization for its late-season collapse.
Kovacevic is just one prominent example, but there are many Pirate fans who are treating the 2012 Bucs as if they should have won 90 games.
In reality, this team always had too many holes to be a contender, but excellent play from its premier players enabled the Bucs to outperform expectations for much of the season.
In the coming weeks, I intend to thoroughly review the Pirates' 2012 season. I will point out the highlights and low-lights, assess individual player performance, and finally look at the state of the Pirates' farm system and what they need to do in order to contend in 2013.
While doing so, I will evaluate 2012 on the basis of what it was also supposed to be in Pittsburgh: a bridge year that enabled a talented team to grow into a more viable contender.