Trick or Treat: Pittsburgh Pirates

During the preseason, I didn’t think the Pittsburgh Pirates would be a very good team. Well, they were…for a while, but that “while” appeared to have injected some enthusiasm within the Pirates fan base.

But something happened. I would like to think that the Reds had something to do with their downturn, but the sure didn’t. The Pirates were the only NL Central team that held an edge over the Reds this season in going 10-5 against the Redlegs.

What happened was a an early August slide.

Wait a minute…

I was tricked! Tricked into think the Pirates were legitimate. Only lasted less than a month, you say? I’m feeling like Charlie Brown now. I think I really did get a rock!

But it’s true. On July 15th, the Bucs sat atop the NL Central. By August 12th, they were permanently entrenched in fourth.

To make this even more unbearable was how the Pirates pitching staff, except for Joel Hanrahan, fared against the Reds. The starters had five complete games, three of which were at the hands of the Reds (two by Charlie Morton and one by Kevin Correia). But this staff failed against most of the NL. Take the Reds games out of the equation, and things appear vastly different.

You can’t do that, though.

But I was treated by Morton and his evolution. It was pointed out (on maybe too many occasions) on how his delivery now resembles that of Roy Halladay. Well, it’s almost identical.

And Morton posted some rather robust numbers against the Reds in 2011. For the season, Morton was 10-10 with an ERA of 3.83 and a WHIP of 1.532. Against the Reds, he compiled a 3-0 record while owning a 0.93 ERA and a WHIP of 0.931. As already noted, he also managed two complete game victories. Prior to 2011, the Reds completely owned Morton. 2011 may be the stepping stone of a season Morton needed.

Same might be said for James McDonald. While he wasn’t as successful against the Reds as Morton (2-1, 3.49 ERA and 1.412 WHIP), most of the damage against McDonald was in the loss he sustained on April 16. McDonald also owned a .500 season (9-9), but he also showed that he ie, too, is growing as a pitcher.

And the Pirates have more help on the way in regards to the arms in their system. And there’s the young talent in Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Alex Presley, Michael McKenry, Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud.

Andrew McCutchen was asked to do things he hadn’t been asked to do in the past. He was moved from his customary leadoff spot and implanted mostly in the #3 slot. He did respond with career highs in home runs (23) and RBI (89). McCutchen was also selected to his first ever All-Star Game. The down side was a career low in batting average (.259) and striking out a career high 126 times.

We also witnessed another change within this club. Manager Clint Hurdle has instilled a winning attitude even though the Pirated ended 2011 with yet another sub-.500 season (72-90). Those 72 wins mark the most since the Pirates won the same number in 2004. I do foresee the Bucs possibly breaking the string of 19 consecutive seasons finishing under .500.

They had a scent of contention. That may be all these guys need.

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