The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates made the playoffs, Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek were the big names that highlighted the team’s roster. They've had an MLB-record 20 consecutive losing seasons.
With one month to go, technically the Pirates can no longer finish under .500 based on the amount of games left. Nowever, now they are thinking playoffs, but they’re also thinking that they can be the NL representative in the World Series.
One thing at a time for now, but the Pirates are going all in for the final month. In the stretch of a few days, the team acquired the red-hot Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck from the New York Mets and then pulled off a deal with the Minnesota Twins for slugging first baseman and former MVP Justin Morneau.
That’s pretty impressive for waiver-wire deals. Byrd is already swinging a hot bat in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates hope Morneau will follow suit.
Right now, the team is duking it out with the St. Louis Cardinals atop the NL Central division. These teams have three remaining games against each other in St. Louis.
Unless one of the teams collapses, it’s looking like both wild cards will come out of the NL Central. The Cincinnati Reds are still in the hunt for the division but are a few games behind the Pirates and Cardinals.
Pittsburgh’s front office must have seen this as the ideal time for the team to go all in. The Pirates had been playing above their heads and expectation level all season, so why not go out and make a few trades to strengthen the ball club in September?
Byrd was really the only consistent offensive source for the Mets once David Wright went down with a hamstring injury. He’s already set a career-high with 21 home runs.
Pirates right fielders this season ranked last in batting average (.232), on-base plus slugging (.665) and weighted on-base average (.291) and were tied for 13th in home runs (12) before the Byrd deal.
Morneau brings a much-needed veteran presence to a team of younger stars. He’s been to the playoffs a number of times and still has some pop left in his bat. He got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but he clubbed nine home runs in August alone.
Andrew McCutcheon and Pedro Alvarez have paced the Pirates’ offense, but having the protection in veterans like Byrd and Morneau will go a long way.
The key down the stretch will be the team’s pitching. The “Shark Tank” bullpen has not showed any signs of faltering since the season began.
Jason Grilli will soon return from a right arm injury to go along with Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro, Tony Watson and the newly-acquired Kyle Farnsworth.
One concern for the pitching staff is All-Star Jeff Locke, who posted an 8.10 ERA over his last six starts before being sent to Double-A. He was the Pirates’ most consistent starter in the first half with his 2.15 ERA.
If Locke can right himself to go along with the electric Gerrit Cole and the steady, veteran arms of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, the Pirates will have a solid rotation for postseason play.
Again, you have to get there, and this team has been out of the picture for so long that it can be easy too look too far ahead.
This could be the year the Pirates break through. Even if a deep postseason run is not in the cards, at least one of baseball’s most storied franchises would once again be relevant.
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