If the Pittsburgh Pirates did not put together a winning season in 2012 there really isn’t much empirical evidence to suggest that they can in 2013 given the lack of major movement on the roster. But I am going to go with my gut and not my head and say that it’s gonna happen this year Pirates fans.
To recap, the Pirates hold the record for the most consecutive sub-.500 seasons in baseball history. And not only baseball history, but you can throw in basketball, football and hockey history, too. The Pirates’ losing streak encompasses all of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States. No baseball, basketball, football or hockey team has gone as long as the Pirates have without scoring a winning record.
The last time the Pirates had a winning record was 1992. That’s 21 years ago, sports fans. That’s 20 completed losing seasons in a row, boys and girls. That’s mind-boggling, everyone. In 1991, the Pirates finished 96-66. In 2012, the Pirates, who teased their supporters most of the summer into believing they might even make the playoffs, never mind finish over .500, finished 79-83.
Interestingly, during this entire drought the Pirates’ winning percentage only dipped below .400 three different times and they lost as many as 100 games in a season just twice. What this indicates is that Pittsburgh was not every single year truly, truly horrible for much of this stretch. On the other hand, the body of work spread over two decades, is truly horrible.
OK, everyone out there who thought the Pirates were finally going to break the curse and finish over .500 in 2012 raise your hands. As late as August 19 they were 13 games over .500. Don’t be embarrassed. I was one of you. For sure I thought it was going to be impossible for the Pirates to fade so far, so fast, but they did. They closed September and October on a 9-22 rush. Ick. In the land of eternal optimism this translates as not only improvement, but a tell-tale sign of the sure-thing ascent to .500 this year.
What I’d hoped to see over the off-season, though, was a recognition by management that the team was getting close and a sizeable investment being made to thrust the Pirates not only into the land of above-.500 teams, but playoff contendership. The big get was catcher Russell Martin, a three-time All-Star who is 30. Martin should be a great add. Invited to spring training as non-roster players given a chance were such familiar names as pitcher Jose Contreras and Jonathan Sanchez, infielder Brandon Inge and outfielder Felix Pie. Those guys had no Major League contracts and were discarded by other teams. But you never know.
At the same time Pittsburgh lost reliever Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan went 5-2 with a 2.72 earned run average and 36 saves last year and was selected for the National League All-Star team in 2011 and 2012. He was a keeper, but he wasn’t kept, going to the Boston Red Sox along with Brock Holt in a trade for four players. The Pirates acquired Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus Jr., Stolmy Pimental and Mark Melancon.
Sands, DeJesus and Melancon are pretty much journeymen. Pimental is waiting to make his Major League debut. It’s very early to tell if some or any of these guys are really going to help the Pirates much.
Somebody else has to be Hanrahan in the bullpen this year. But really, all discussions about the Pirates’ prospects begin with outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who became a full-fledged star last year. The two-time All-Star batted .327 and the Pirates need him to be just as good and to stay healthy. McCutchen is the team leader.
Maybe the Pirates will get lucky and resurrect one of their free-agent invitees to big-league training camp and maybe they will find someone to smoothly slide in and take over for Hanrahan. However, last season classified as a full-fledged collapse. The question is whether the returning Pirates will let that experience impress a defeatist attitude on them or whether they will get angry, fight back, and drag the team to its long-awaited .500-plus record.