Of all the adventure stories that played out during the entire Major League baseball season, few can match the Pittsburgh Pirates’ for excitement and angst. One minute they’re great, the next minute they’re rotten. One minute they seem like a sure thing to end the longest futility streak in sports and the next they’re breaking their fans’ hearts.
When the season began way back when the No. 1 goal of the Pirates was to end their all-sports record of not finishing with a winning record for 19 straight years. Pittsburgh started off OK, with excellent pitching, but no hitting. Then the team actually started scoring runs, too. All of a sudden, not only did the Pirates seem assured of a winning record, it seemed possible they could win the National League Central Division. Well, that moment passed, but the Pirates still seemed like a good bet to gain a spot in the playoffs. That moment has passed, too, and now the Pirates are trudging to the finish line of the regular season.
Going into Saturday’s play, the Pirates’ record is 72-71. The winning season sadly is hanging by a thread. Once giddy, Pirates fans are reduced to biting their nails, wondering whether their lads can struggle through. It’s been the wackiest ride in baseball this summer.
Trying to wade through the good, the bad and the ugly means I have a tough time assigning a grade to the Pirates’ efforts. Partially because of the break-out showing of Andrew McCutchen, I’ll call it a B-minus.
Ranking the rest of the kids…
National League East: We knew the Washington Nationals were improving, but we didn’t expect them to get this good, this fast. Despite the Stephen Strasburg benching fiasco, the team deserves an A. The Atlanta Braves have been solid all season long and might make some noise in the playoffs. Give them a B-plus. Injuries played a huge role, but the Philadelphia Phillies have still been big underachievers despite turning in a pride September. D-plus. Not much was expected from the New York Mets this year and they teased their fans before dropping down to the level of not much delivered. C-minus. The Miami Marlins were supposed to be the Nationals, although they were over-hyped. Most things that could go wrong did go wrong. No one comes out of this season with a bigger headache than manager Ozzie Guillen. With a deep sigh, I assign a D-minus.
National League Central: The Cincinnati Reds’ front office worked every available angle in the off-season and gave manager Dusty Baker the team he needed to run away with the division crown. The Reds deserve an A for the job they did from management down to the 25th man on the roster. The St. Louis Cardinals figured to be in flux with the departure of Albert Pujols to free agency and the retirement of long-time manager Tony La Russa, but they have acquitted themselves as well as possible. The Cards get a B. Then come the up-and-down Pirates. As predicted, the Milwaukee Brewers could not withstand the loss of Prince Fielder and are sitting right around .500. Balancing expectations against reality, Milwaukee gets a B-minus. The Chicago Cubs figured to be one of the worst teams in baseball in the first year of the Theo Epstein administration and despite the occasional bright spot have been exactly that. The Cubs get a D. The only reason the Cubs aren’t in last place is because they are in the same division as the Houston Astros, who might not win 50 games. For their pathetic results, the Astros get an F.
National League West: Did I think the San Francisco Giants would be far ahead in the standings at this point? No way. The Giants ratcheted up their play even after the Los Angeles Dodgers made their big trade. The Giants are worthy of an A. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are still playing uneven ball and might be shut out of the playoffs. Dodgers get a B-minus (and that’s a tiny stretch). The Arizona Diamondbacks are pretty much where they deserve to be in the standings and I think they deserve a C. The Colorado Rockies had one more win than the Cubs as of Saturday and that’s not going to get you more than a D.
The division titles are nailed down and the Braves have the first wild-card spot in hand. It’s the Dodgers and Cardinals fighting for the last playoff spot over the next couple of weeks.