I Had A Dream that the Bucs Were in First Place at the...Wait, You Mean to Tell Me It's NOT A Dream?!
This year, however, they've seemed...different. As a matter of fact, I had a dream last night. I dreamt that my Battlin' Buccos were in first place all alone at the All-Star break, but then I woke up. I came to the realization that it's the Pirates, that's not happening. This team will never win, they...wait, did you just tell me I'm NOT dreaming? Let me check the standings in this morning's sports section, be right back. HOLY S*** IT'S TRUE! Stop the press!
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus...and yes, Pittsburgh, the Pirates really ARE in first place all by themselves at the All-Star break! No, this isn't 1992. Root root root for our home team, this is a NEW Pirates generation, everybody shout LET'S GO BUCS!
I remember it well, I was in second grade. I heard the voice of former Bucs broadcaster Lanny Frattere exclaim "and the Pirates have won their third straight division title!" That was the last time anything good happened. There was 1997, but they fell apart in September. They were above .500 in August of 1999, but fell apart that year too. There was the year of the rent-a-players in 2003, but they blew up that entire team in a trade deadline firesale that included the absolute worst salary dump in Pirates history, the trade that sent Aramis Ramirez to the Cubbies for guys that never amounted to a damn thing, while A-Ram went to Wrigley and consistently belted 30 homers a year.
There was the Kevin McClatchy era, but some may not know the man I have religiously thrown under the bus, Bob Nutting, had a share of the team about 4 years before actually buying out McClatchy. Nutting has more money than McClatchy will ever have. I began demanding that he spend the money everyone knows he has. He claimed he'd spend when the time was right, and that he was committed to winning..."yeah right" I said, prove it!
Enter Neil Huntington, the replacement for Dave Littlefield, whose final F-U trade for washed-up Matt Morris told you all you needed to know about the type of guy he was. He knew he was getting canned, so he made a Ramirez-esque trade for a guy who was good 5 years before the Pirates got him. I began noticing that Neil had a bit of a brain. Sure, I was pissed when he traded Xavier Nady to the Yankees on my birthday when I was at the game, but a Bronx cheer to all you Yankees fans out there, because that trade turned out better for the Pirates than it did for the Yanks. Then there was the draft, in which they had the #1 pick, and welcome aboard Gerrit Cole, they picked the best player available and he hasn't disappointed so far. Then there was the firing of John Russell, who had the personality of a bag of chips left open for a few days...stale.
Enter Clint Hurdle, a jolly, mild-mannered guy who has made these young Buccaneers believe in themselves. He brought an enthusiasm to the dugout that this city hasn't seen since Jim Leyland left town. He brought in his coaching staff, and what a job Ray Searrage has done for this pitching staff, one of the best in baseball from top to bottom! His hitting coach, who I ridiculed the first 2 months of the season, is a man I feel I now own an apology to, because this lineup has consistently produced. I've enjoyed seeing him steer the ship, and it does appear to finally be turning around.
The second half of the 2011 season saw the Pirates fall flat on their face, but you could start to see something was happening early this year. Nutting said he'd spend when the time was right. Well the time is now, and this offseason he made offers to some big names. There was a trade for Casey McGehee, the signing of Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas, the long-term contract for Andrew McCutchen, the trade for A.J. Burnett, and low and behold this team began to gel together.
Rod Barajas and Casey McGehee have begun to produce. A.J. Burnett has turned back the clock to his best year in Toronto. By the way, that year he damn near won the A.L. Cy Young, Barajas was the catcher for the Blue Jays...coincidence? I'm not so sure. A.J. also got a hold of James McDonald, and the veteran presence has turned J-Mac into a budding superstar. I saw him pitch 7 innings of 1-run ball against the Giants Saturday afternoon, complete with 10 Ks and not a single base on balls, and the man keeps improving every time he steps on the mound. The bullpen hasn't been too shabby either, in fact the Bucs have not lost a game when leading after 7 innings. Joel Hanrahan has blown 3 saves, he's not perfect, but he is 4-0, why? A good team finds a way to win, and the Bucs have won every one of those 3 blown saves.
The once inept lineup tied a franchise record in June with 39 home runs. They went 10-4 in their final 4 series before the break, and have not LOST a series since being swept in Baltimore. Pedro Alvarez has 16 home runs, Michael McKenry has 7, A.J. and J-Mac have 19 wins and 5 losses between them. Jason Grilli is having the best year of his career and has become a strikeout machine. They found a place for the Pittsburgh Kid, Neil Walker, at second base and he's become a very integral part of the lineup...and you can't put a price on playing in front of the people you grew up with! But I feel like I'm missing somebody...oh yeah, I know.
They have that center fielder, if you haven't heard of him by now you're probably living under a rock. His name is Andrew McCutchen. So many players play well in a contract year, but he's been the opposite. He signed for the big money, and he's had the best season in a Pirates uniform since Barry Bonds left town 20 years ago. He's leading the league in batting average. He's 2nd in RBIs with 60. Giancarlo Stanton needs knee surgery and will miss the All-Star festivites, so yesterday N.L. captain Matt Kemp invited Cutch to take Stanton's place in the Home Run Derby. Today he hit 2 more homers to move into 4th in the N.L. with 18. We heard he was that 5-tool player, and he's proven he can do it all this year. He was projected to be a superstar, and he hasn't disappointed. This team has been built around him, and he's been the unofficial leader all year long.
The perennial laughing stock of baseball goes into the all-star break with the 2nd best record in the National League, and 4th best in baseball! They will actually be buyers at the trade deadline, and it's been a magical season to this point. Can they keep it up for the second half too? Only time will tell, but for this week I'm going to sit back and bask in the glory as I watch this team continue to improve.
Until next time, I'm Bryan Kramer for The Blitzburgh Pit Stop saying HALLELUJAH, THERE IS A GOD! Miracles do happen, and I'm seeing it right now. RAISE THE JOLLY ROGER!
BK over and out