The Best Team That Never Was | Pirates Year in Review and Next Year Preview

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Somber is really the only way to describe it. So close yet again, only to meet their demise yet again in the reincarnated form of Sandy Koufax himself.

The Pittsburgh Pirates did NOT underachieve, although they have nothing to show for it. In any other year/division/league/lifetime/galaxy 98 wins – a 10-win improvement from last season – is a GREAT season, even when you are overshadowed by a stingy Red-Birds team, but in this case all that will be remembered in Pittsburgh is this being the first stop in the playoffs of Jake Arrieta’s historical season. This was the best Pirates team in the last 30-40 years… Maybe even ever. With the way the game has evolved, especially pitching, 98 wins in this day and age is remarkable.

I still hold firm that the Chicago Cubs are not a better ball club than the Pittsburgh Pirates; I do believe, however, that Jake Arrieta has any team in baseball in the palm of his hand and, in this case, the Pirates fell right into that same trap. But that’s one guy; one guy who would not play for the rest of a potential three-game series. One do-or-die playoff game is not the best way to find the best eight teams in baseball. I’ve said it from the beginning, not just because the Pirates lost.

To prove an experiment right, scientists of any kind will test the subject several times to find the average of the results or which result prevails most often and run with that, right? They would NEVER test something once and use that initial result… So why should baseball?

But that’s a topic for another day… We’re here to talk strictly the ins-and-outs of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The way I look at it, the Pirates are 1 or 2 key players away from 100+ wins and a NL Central title, but they are also just a few key players deep from being a just-over .500 team.

In saying goodbye to Aramis Ramirez and A.J. Burnett some may see the downfall of a new era of Pirates baseball. Others, particularly those who suffered through 20+ years of misery, see the beginning – may be even the start of its peak. The majority of this team has been together for barely three years. THREE!!! You would never guess that with the tight chemistry this team seems to be so locked in to, and how much they have excelled TOGETHER.

In just those three short years Neal Huntington has acquired: Jung-Ho Kang, J.A. Happ, Francisco Cervelli, Travis Snider (back), Aramis Ramirez, A.J. Burnett, etc. How many of those players could you look at and confidently say “oh he hasn’t done much for this team.” Who is to say what is going to happen in the next three years?

Neal gets a lot of flak for not doing much during the off-season/before the trade deadline, but when he does make a deal, there’s a purpose behind it and it has almost yet to fail.

Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, who have the caliber to be the best 1-2 punch in baseball, are both locked into their contracts for another year and J.A. Happ looks to return, which is a great sign for Yinzers everywhere.. The core of the bullpen was lights out this year, especially Mark Melancon’s record 51-saves, and another year of experience can do nothing but strengthen those numbers; few, if any, of them are going anywhere. Tyler Glasnow may also be ready for this upcoming season… LOOK OUT! Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton remain to be seen.

Jung-Ho Kang will be healthier than ever, and watching Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte continue to mature in their game is a thing of beauty. As for Neil Walker, who knows honestly. Do I think he will be back? No. Do I hope he is back? Of course; always root for the hometown kid. He may be looking for too much money and too long of a deal for what the Pirates are willing to offer when they have several other players on-contract who can play second base. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Most importantly, Andrew McCutchen is and will forever be in Pittsburgh. He is the catalyst behind all of this madness. In fact, if McCutchen was not there we would not be having this “98 wins and done” conversation… It’s that simple; he is the face of the franchise and will continue to be for the next several years, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sadly, this was the last game for Pedro Alvarez as a Pittsburgh Pirate. If Clint Hurdle can’t trust him enough to start him in a win or go home game, what would make one think he would trust him with several million dollars throughout an entire season? I just don’t see it working out.

I also don’t see super-utility guys Sean Rodriguez and Travis Snider going anywhere. They bring more than just what you see on the field to that team, just ask that poor Gatorade cooler… No for real, you can ask him. If Neal and Clint didn’t believe in it, Travis would still be in Baltimore.

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The best part about this year is the Pirates have established themselves as a consistent playoff team, and getting knocked out in the wild-card game diminishes the chance of a playoff season that could end any worse.

Next season could easily start off rough, but the beauty of baseball is it is a LOOONG season – 162 games in case you didn’t know – and the best part about that is if it they begin shaky, they can recover, make a few adjustments and finish the year strong. Look at the Toronto Blue Jays who entered the All-star break at 45-46, but finished with the second half at 48-23 for a grand total of 93-69 and an AL East title.

Unfortunately, the Pirates play in the best division in baseball and 98 wins didn’t get it done.

The Chicago Cubs have now become yet another team that the Pirates will have to out-do if they have any hope of having a season to be remembered for a long time. But that’s just the necessary thing needed to take the next step into a team that will go down as one of the best ever.

Spring Training is right around the corner.

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