Monday, September 9, 2013

Raise the Jolly Roger! The Pirates are Winners

I know most published their two cents on the Pittsburgh Pirates ending their two decade losign streak last week and there was certainly good cause for that. After twenty years, many want to jump on the first positive, enjoy the celebration as soon as possible. Perhaps that is what the Pirates did themselves, I shudder to think that last weekends sweep at the hands of St. Louis Cardinals was the start of yet another September collapse. A second reason I hesitated is that after twenty years I support celebrating winning not merely "not losing" after so long I believe it is worth the wait.

Twenty-one years can go by in a flash when things go right, it can seem like an eternity when things are going wrong. A generation of Pirates fans have grown up watching their beloved team fall short of .500 year after year after year. Twenty years of wandering the barren sub-par baseball desert is enough to make anyone thirsty, so join me, won't you, in raising a glass of rum to the Pirates who have finally ended a streak of futility just in time for a generation of fans to start drinking in joy.

Looking back on exactly how the Pirates avoided .500 for all these years is as futile an exercise as looking back at the first twenty years of your life. In hindsight, the first few years were a blur and no one really noticed the growing trend of futility. Players came and went like so many people have in your life. Aging Kirk Gibson was a bench piece the last time the Pirates were in the post-season, now he is hoping his Diamondbacks can squeak into the postseason on grit and determination. Jim Leyland is still a chimney smoking manager riding amazing talent into the postseason and taking glory for being along for the ride. Only now it is Miguel Cabrera not Barry Bonds and he exchanged the Pirate flag for Tiger stripes.

Faces of the franchise have come and gone as various general managers attempted to bring a winner to the city's beautiful gem of a stadium and start to match the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins. Since 1992, the Steelers and Penguins each won their league titles two times. The city is not starved for champions, like Cleveland, but the Pirates have wanted to get in on the fun and excitement of playing in front of a packed stadium all hands on deck in their finest Gold and Black.

In 2011, the losing streak looked over in the first half of the season, with a 47-43 record, until a disastrous second half 25-47 left them at 72-90. 2012 looked even more promising, starting out 48-37, however, a 31-46 second half -lowlighted by a 9-22 September/October lead to a 79-83 record. Improvement, but not enough to end the losing streak. In both those years the Pirates reached for trade upgrades, but the results did not pan out. The success of this years squad is less reliant on whatever Marlon Byrd, John Buck, or Justin Morneau can provide because this team has relied on pitching more than offense. Those Pirate teams needed offense because their pitching was mediocre at best. This year's squad boasts the #3 bullpen ERA in all of baseball to support the #3 starter's ERA. Improved pitching has been the Pirates key and will keep them going the rest of the way.

No one can say what the rest of the season will bring. Will the September collapse of the last two seasons ago sneak up and relegate them to the wild card game, or worse getting passed by the Diamondbacks or Nationals and missing October completely? Or will they ride this feel good wave through the postseason, sparked by sound pitching and timely offense all the way to world series glory? These are questions for tomorrow, or next week, and maybe even deep into next month. For now Pirates fans should drink deep in the joy of 82 wins, embrace the triumph of winning baseball and enjoy this moment a generation in the making.