If you’ve been following baseball this season, or even if you haven’t, then you’ll surely know of the story behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Having not had a winning record since 1992—let alone making the playoffs—the Buccos broke their long curse this season, ending the year easily in the playoffs with a 94-68 record.
To put things in perspective: Four current franchises didn’t even exist in 1992—the Miami (Florida) Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. Those four teams combined for five World Series appearances and three titles in the 20-year span since the Pirates last made the playoffs.
And it hasn’t come easy for a once-proud franchise to bounce back to this level.
The Pirates were, for a while, almost a pushover in the National League. Over the last few years, they’ve slowly built their squad from the ground up. They’ve managed a host of budding young stars like Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez, and manager Clint Hurdle has instilled a winning mentality in the group.
After a disastrous 2010 season saw them lose more than 100 games, Hurdle was hired and the Pirates jumped into the spotlight by holding division leads deep into July and even August the next two seasons.
Flat performances in the second half dropped them out of contention both times, but Hurdle would not let that happen again in 2013.
Thanks to some shrewd offseason transactions that netted the team veteran catcher Russell Martin and shutdown relievers Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli (re-signed), their third hot start would be the charm. Alvarez’s transformation into a legitimate star—coupled with McCutchen’s consistent, well-rounded game—helped power the Pirates to many nights in which they, as they do after wins, raise the Jolly Roger.
While the Pirates’ spectacular run ended at the hands of the NL Central Division champion St. Louis Cardinals, the future is looking bright in Pittsburgh. But perhaps a more interesting take on this is how the Bucs’ rebirth can be translated to something a little closer to home for us: the Marlins’ poor run of form.
As mentioned earlier, the Marlins won two World Series titles during the Pirates’ streak of futility. They even had the chance to change their name from Florida to Miami and move from just south of the Broward County border to Little Havana.
But discounting 1997 and 2003, they’d made the playoffs the same amount of times as Pittsburgh had during this pre-2013 time span: zero.
Much has been made of the negative roster moves facilitated by current owner Jeffrey Loria, including the trade of five everyday players like ace pitcher Josh Johnson and speedy shortstop Jose Reyes—who lasted just one season in Miami—to Toronto last December.
These moves killed off fan interest—with Marlins Park averaging less than 20,000 fans per home game in 2013 (per ESPN)—as well as leading to a season that turned the Fish into sort of the butt of many a joke around water coolers.
But could their 100-plus losses this season be reminiscent of Pittsburgh circa 2010?
Perhaps signs are emerging that this team can, with a few years of buffing out some rough edges, duplicate the success of the Pirates. The Marlins have their answer to McCutchen in star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, whose prodigious power has shattered the hearts of opposing pitchers as well as one of the scoreboards at Marlins Park.
They’ve also got an awesome pitching crew to rival that of Pittsburgh.
Jose Fernandez, who lit up the All-Star Game and much of the rest of the league in a shortened season, looks primed to be the ace that Johnson could have been if he had stayed healthy. He is joined by the likes of Henderson Alvarez, who threw a no-hitter in the season’s final game, and an emerging powerhouse in closer Steve Cishek, who ended the year by converting 29 consecutive save chances.
On top of that, manager Mike Redmond—who was part of the 2003 World Series team—has instilled a similar harder-working attitude to that of Hurdle, much like the way Redmond played as a catcher.
Will the Marlins make the playoffs this decade?
He doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of talent, but the starting pieces are in place with well-known players like Stanton, Fernandez and Logan Morrison, plus youngsters like Adeiny Hechavarria, Christian Yelich and Nathan Eovaldi.
With a couple of solid signings in the free-agent market and plenty of time to groom his talent-laden roster to play the right way, Redmond’s Marlins can grow into becoming the next Pittsburgh Pirates.
It might take a while, but as the Bucs faithful can attest, it’s worth the wait.