Originally written on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 9/25/12

WC Standings (from ESPN)

The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates finished with a record above .500 Barry Bonds was skinny, George H. W. Bush was the President of the United States, and Miley Cyrus had not yet been spawned.  Jim Leyland was the manager, and the team had reached the NLCS 3 consecutive times without winning a trip to the World Series.  From 1990-92 the Pirates went 289-197 during the regular season and had all the makings of a perennial contender.  Then Barry Bonds hit free agency and ended up taking his toys to play in the San Francisco sandbox.

Since that time, the Pirates have posted 19 straight losing seasons, and they are in danger of making it an even 20.  Unfortunately for the Pirates (and their fans), this year was really supposed to be different from the previous 19.  The team made a serious effort to at least make this season a turning point for the franchise.  Just over 1 month ago, the Pirates looked really, really good.  The team stood 67-54, and it was not a smoke-and-mirrors act, either.  The team had a run differential of +21, and they were in serious contention for a wild card spot.

Then the bottom fell out….or the wheels fell off….or they found themselves stuck in a certain creek without means of propulsion.  Regardless of how it happened or how one chooses to describe the precipitous fall – it happened.  In spite of an opening day payroll of $52M (team’s largest since 2003), the Pirates simply could not handle prosperity.  The team went from 13 games above .500 to 2 games below that mark.  It took an 8-23 stretch, but they managed it.  Now the Pirates need to finish at least 6-4 to avoid the 20th consecutive season with a losing record.

They may need some assistance to reach that record.  The team has 4 games against the Mets starting today in NYC.  After that, the Pirates host the Reds and then the Braves for consecutive  3-game sets to finish the season.  Given that the team does not have a winning record against any of the 3 aforementioned opponents, 6-4 might be a tall order.  As a longtime fan of the Cardinals, I must admit to having some bias where the Pirates are concerned.  Old rivalries fade away slowly.  As a baseball fan, I’m quietly rooting for them to go 7-3 to secure a winning record for the first time in 2 decades.

Despite having what appears to be a significant talent deficit on paper, the Pirates always seem to play really well against the Cardinals and happen to own a 8-7 season series victory this year.  That earns them a certain measure of respect.  Playing hard to be a “spoiler” near the end of the season also warrants some respect.  Finally, the ability to persevere through almost 20 years of futility should give each hardcore fan some kind of “I watched 19 really bad seasons of baseball in Pittsburgh and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” badge on Foursquare.

Instead, the Pittsburgh faithful may be stuck with yet another losing season and exclusion from the MLB postseason yet again.  If nothing else, at least they can look forward to next year when the payroll projection may push the Pirates over the $70M mark.  Of course, the fans have already learned that spending more money does not come with a guarantee of team success.  On the other hand, it usually doesn’t hurt, either.

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