Well, here we are again. It has been 17 painful years since our Pittsburgh Pirates have made the October Classic. Names like Bonds, Bonilla, Bell (Jay), and Belinda are spirits of better times, whereas players such as Bautista (Jose), Van Benschoten, Burnitz, and Bruback are ghosts of the past decade and a half-plus.
This season just added to the hardships with the team scoring only a measly 482 runs, which is 327 less than the NL regular-season champion L.A. Dodgers. For you statistic fans, that is 2.99 runs per game.
Losing 99 games this year (which is less than many predicted) brings the 17-year tally up to 1,166-1,518, which is a .434 winning percentage. With the 62-99 record, the win percentage for the year was a staggering .385, second lowest only to the 2001 debacle of 62-100.
But enough complaining.
This season had many high points, and my top five bright spots are as followed:
1. No serious injuries to the starting pitching rotation.
In past years, at least one of the starting five was a lock to have season-ending surgery. This year, that did not happen.
2. Maturation of Andy Laroche.
Laroche, who was one of the pivotal pieces of the Jason Bay deal, looked like a bust. He couldn't hit, couldn't field, and he was worse than his overpaid brother (if that is possible). This year, the younger Laroche led the team in games played (142), third in double plays turned (64), and had a very respectable fielding percentage (.968). The Bucs could look to move Andy to shortstop or second base with a glove as talented as his.
3. Stockpiling Talent.
The Buccos have used this approach for as long as I can remember, but this year was arguably the year with the best transactions. Despite losing most of the Opening Day lineup, the Pirates not only received substantial talent for older players, but they also cut payroll by a huge margin of more than $30 million.
Where did this money go?
Much of it was invested in draft picks, which shows commitment to keeping a solid core for the future. The rest will most likely go to resigning players like Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones to long term contracts.
4. Impact of Young Players.
Garrett Jones led the club this year in home runs (21), AND he only played in 82 games. Andrew McCutchen netted 54 RBI and 124 hits in his stint up in Pittsburgh. Ross Ohlendorf tied for the lead of wins this year with 11, and he also led the rotation in ERA (3.92). With more young talent bound to be up next year, the future looks bright.
5. Solid Home Stretch. In the final three series this year, the Bucs faced the Dodgers, Cubs, and Reds, coming out on top against L.A. and Chicago. This just shows that the Bucs can contend with the Big Boys of the league. The bats were out for most of these games, outscoring the opponents by a 43-38 margin.
I am not saying that the ship will be turned around completely next year, but we are finally on the right course.