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Breaking Down How the Pirates Finally Ended 21-Year Playoff Drought

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 23:  Manager Clint Hurdle #13 (C) and assistant equipment manager Kiere Bulls of the Pittsburgh Pirates (R) get their postseason T-shirts after defeating the Chicago Cubs 2-1 to clinch a National League wild card berth at Wrigley Field on September 23, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The playoff berth is the first for the Pirates in 21 years.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Josh SchochAnalyst IIISeptember 24, 2013

The Pittsburgh Pirates ended a 21-year playoff drought on Monday night, as the team clinched its first spot in the MLB postseason since 1992.

With a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Washington Nationals, the Pirates have clinched at least a wild-card spot.

The dream is realized. For the first time in 21 years, the @Pirates are headed to the postseason.

— ESPN (@espn) September 24, 2013

They're partying in Pittsburgh! The Pittsburgh @Pirates have made the playoffs for the first time since 1992, a 21-year span. #MLB #Pirates

— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 24, 2013

To put Pittsburgh's playoff drought into perspective, here are a few major events from the year 1992:

  • The Cold War officially ended
  • Bill Clinton was elected president
  • World population was 5.441 billion compared to over seven billion today
  • Barry Bonds was a Pittsburgh Pirate

None of the players on the Pirates' current roster was on the team in 1992, but they know just how much this playoff appearance means to the city of Pittsburgh.

So how did the Pirates make it back to the postseason? How did this team go from the biggest joke in baseball to a legitimate World Series contender?

Let's take a look.

 

Acing the Draft

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates goes from first to third base on a botched pick-off attempt against the Cincinnati Reds during the sixth inning of their game on September 21, 2013 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh Pe
David Maxwell/Getty Images

The MLB draft isn't usually seen as a big part of the game because it receives so little media coverage, but it played a big role in Pittsburgh's rise.

Starting in 2004, the team began to make some great picks when it mattered most, and a lot of these guys are still on the team today.

Andrew McCutchen was drafted by the team in 2005, and he continues to be a legitimate MVP candidate year after year, and easily the best player the Pirates have.

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in the first inning against the San Diego Padres during the game on September 19, 2013 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pedro Alvarez backs up McCutchen, and leads the Pirates in home runs (34) and RBI (94) this season. He was drafted by the team in 2008.

Gerrit Cole made his MLB debut earlier this season, and he's already become a big part of the team's talented rotation. He was drafted by the team in 2011.

Pittsburgh has brought in a lot of its top players via the draft, and it can only hope that 2013 first-round pick Austin Meadows continues the trend.

 

Bringing the Rest of the Pieces Together

Sep 23, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) hits a go ahead home run against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates didn't bring all of the talent needed to make the playoffs together through the MLB draft. Instead, the team had to make some trades and sign some talented free agents.

Among those vital free-agent acquisitions are closer Jason Grilli, ace Francisco Liriano, catcher Russell Martin and outfielder Starling Marte, who hit the game-winning home run on Monday.

Sep 18, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau (66) in the dugout before playing the San Diego Padres at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The team also made several key trades leading up to this season, with A.J. Burnett being the big one in 2012.

And let's not forget about the team's midseason deals.

The Pirates acquired Justin Morneau via waivers, and also traded for Marlon Byrd and John Buck this season, all of whom have played a key role down the stretch.

The Pirates have been wheeling and dealing over these last few years, and 2013 was the year they finally brought all the pieces together.

 

A Brand-New Defense

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11:  Manager Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 11, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Defense remains the most underrated aspect of baseball, but it's been valued by Clint Hurdle since he took over in Pittsburgh.

According to Travis Sawchik of Triblive.com, Hurdle's defensive scheming has had three key points:

• Position players had to change. They had to shift from areas of the field where they had been stationed their entire careers and trust the pitching staff's ability to locate pitches.

• Pitchers had to change. The staff had to rely on a new primary pitch and trust the radical defensive alignments behind them.

• Old-school coaches had to change. Coaches trained in 20th-century baseball orthodoxy had to trust 21st-century concepts.

These three simple changes have made a massive difference in Pittsburgh.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Pirates ranked last in MLB in defensive efficiency in 2010. However, when Hurdle was hired following that season, the team began to turn things around.

According to Sawchik, the team's defense has added 12.8 wins this year because of its defense compared to its 2010 season.

Thanks to the team's defense, Pittsburgh has been able to help secure a winning season in 2013 and lock up a playoff spot in the process.

 

What's Next?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 23:  Manager Clint Hurdle #13 (C) and assistant equipment manager Kiere Bulls of the Pittsburgh Pirates (R) get their postseason T-shirts after defeating the Chicago Cubs 2-1 to clinch a National League wild card berth at Wrigley F
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

The Pirates have been completely turned around over these past few years, but don't expect this to be a one-year thing.

The Bucs are set up to maintain their success for years to come.

With a young core of guys, including Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Pedro Alvarez and more, the Pirates won't be going away anytime soon.

 

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