.500-less Days of Summer - The Pittsburgh Pirates
The two-decade drought of playoff time looks like it will continue - and it's hard to say when 1992 will be an afterthought - for the Buco's. Even the idea of finishing above .500 may be quickly looming into jeopardy as well.
The epic collapse from the fist-half to the second is just that, epic. During the All-Star break, with a solid team effort forming in the confluence, the Pirates were in first place with a 48-37 record - it had more than just Pirates faithful believing. Since then, they have only managed a meager 26-40 record, leaving everyone to jump off the wagon as quickly as they jumped on it. The aftermath: Although it is the best in quiet some time, the media, and possibly fans alike, are deeming the 2012 Pirates' season the worst ever!
Unfortunately, that is not correct - at all.
Before we jump into a creating a new version of the "Terrible Towel," that has the face's of the current Pirates team displayed on it, let's gander at the numbers from this year - numbers that need to be understood, and understood some more. The result just might surprise the world of baseball.
Who's to blame? That is the question everyone wants to know in regards to the Pirates' collapse. Is it the pitching? is it the hitting? Is the coach? What it is it? The answer is simple - It's all of it.
The current pitching staff e.r.a. is 3.94, good enough for 8th place in the National League. Lead by A.J Burnett, the staff has had its' ups and downs this year - mostly down from August, onward - but they deserve credit for keeping the dream alive for this long. And, if there is to be a blame-horse thrown into the stable-of-shame, the pitching would not be it - contrary to what the masses believe.
For the first half of the season, the Pirates staff allowed 313 runs with the support of the 345 runs scored by Pittsburgh hitters. It doesn't take a genius to realize that if a team scores more than they give up, it's a win - most of the time. Respectively, the Pirates staff in the second half - where the collapse occurred - surrendered only 11 more runs, 324, than they did in the first half. In the grand scheme of score-keeping-wizardry, that's not a huge difference between halves, however, the Pirates hitters have only scored 269 runs in support in the second-half -Again with the genius theory, in reverse this time, if you score less than you give up, you lose. And, they have.
To make this dilemma easier to understand, take a look at the best and worst months for the Pirates. In June they went 17-10, allowing 110 runs and scoring 146. In September they have gone 4-16, allowing 111 runs - only one more when compared to June - but they only have 70 runs of support. Basically, it's impossible to win games when you don't score runs - light-bulb, I guess?
So, it's the Pirates hitting, and subsequent coaches, to blame? Sure, but not entirely.
The Pirates hitting, or lack of, can take a bigger slice of the blame-pie, but that's not to say it's the whole reasoning. Yes, they have a collective average of .244, bad enough for 14th in the National League, and they are 10th in runs scored, but they have kept the team in it as much as they have lost it. Many experts do point the finger at the Pirates inability to win one-run games as their downfall, but they are 26-26 in such games - a better record than the Cardnials, the team leading the Wild Card race - and it's impossible to call that factor, solid. Sure, it's not as impressive as the Orioles one-game heroics, but what other team is? None.
The real truth for the Pirates shortcomings is in the numbers, collectively, and more importantly, previously.
While it may not be something the Pirates fans, front office or team wants to hear, they really aren't that good.
Based on the new playoff system, the five best teams get into the dance. Although the Pirates have improved from 11th in 2011 e.r.a. to 8th in 2012, it's still not 5th. They are close, but not really. The hitting, which we can now label more of a liability, has fallen from 12th in 2011 to 14th in 2012. It's like making a sequel to an original bad movie, then expecting it to be Oscar-worthy. It doesn't happen.
Inevitably, the wait continues...
Regardless of the numbers scribbled above there was improvement this year, and that should be a shinning light on the season; McCutchen has a chance to win the batting-crown - the first since Sanchez in 2006, when they finished a terrible 67-95 - and the pitching is improving... just not enough.
Remember this: During the dream of 1992 - the last time the Pirates were playoff-good- they finished 3rd in hitting and pitching. That goal can be reached again, but it will take time. This 2012 season is proof of that - and it's definitely not the worst ever.
So, here's a small congrats to the Buco's of 2012. Moving forward means you are not moving backward.
Hopefully, for the sake of Pirates fans everywhere, it's not another two decades.
(All Statistics provided in thanks to: http://www.baseball-reference.com/.)