12 July 2012
Pirate Fever! Catch It!
As the second half of the marathonic baseball season is about to begin, the Buccos are riding high, 11 games above .500 (48-37), a peak they haven't achieved since their last winning season...in 1992.
It's been 19 years since the Pirates have ended a season with a winning record, a streak so futile it has eclipsed the previous record 16-year streak (Phillies) by a margin long enough to launch "Game of Thrones." For a franchise that dates itself back to the origins of the National League, this 19-year streak has practically ripped the Pirates into oblivion.
Last year, they were in first place until a--get this--19-inning game was lost on a clearly-blown call by the home plate umpire. The loss put the Pirates into a tailspin and once again, as they have since George Bush Sr. was piddling in the Rose Garden, they finished under .500.
That the blown call was against the Atlanta Braves, the same team that beat the Pirates in the 1992 playoffs with another close call at the plate just made the whole thing worse.
So what makes Me think they'll really break the streak this year?
1) Schedule: The Pirates have the second-easiest National League schedule from here on in, meaning they've achieved their lead playing their toughest opponents in most series. Counterpoint: The Cincinnati Reds, in 2nd place, have the easiest schedule, but that just means the Pirates could miss the playoffs and still win 88-92 games.
2) Andrew McCutchen: The 25-year old All Star centerfielder is racking up big numbers, hitting .362 (1st in the league), slugging at a .625 pace (1st), with 18 home runs (4th), having scored 58 runs and driven in 60 (3rd in both categories). Unlike previous Pirates teams, this superstar is signed through the 2018 season, so the "Sell the star now" crap the Buccos used to make other teams great has (apparently) ended.
3) Pitching: The Pirates are not the old "Lumber Company" they've been historically, but are winning with pitching. The staff is well-balanced and isn't relying on one big arm to keep it in the hunt.
4) Mindset: The players now feel they can challenge for a division title and management is making noise to bring in the kind of players that make a layoff run a virtual certainty. By signing former Yankee A.J. Burnett and giving McCutchen a big extension, Pirate ownership is literally putting money where their mouth wasn't even flapping for almost 20 years.
For once, I'm looking forward to catching a baseball game soon. Since My Dad died, and with My Pirates deep in a losing streak, I'd lost interest in the games, barely catching even the playoffs. My lifelong love of the sport remains, but banked from a touch of sorrow, the loss of My only true fellow baseball fan and the bad decisions My team made year after year. Maybe this year I'll reconnect with the joy of a game I started playing with Dad when I was 3, in a tiny patio, with a hollow plastic ball and a hollow plastic bat almost bigger than Me.
And even if I don't reconnect yet with that little boy and his father's love of baseball, I'll still get to cheer as My Pirates win game 82 this year...and many more.
The Jenius Has Spoken.
Update: 16 Sep. 2012: The Pirates finally broke a 7-game losing streak today, edging the Cubs 7-6. The Bucs' record is now 73-71, a far cry from the heady two-digits-above-.500 they had in July. Pitching and offense have both declined, and the race to 82 wins in 2012 is now tight. Because the second picture's URL was deleted, I uploaded a different picture, one from when the Pirates were in good stead, heading into the playoffs with a still-dangerous Bobby Bonilla and a super-talented, pre-steroids Barry Bonds.