> A signal that they may be coming back from the dead.
The Pirates had a typical Pirates season in 2011, typical meaning what we’ve come to expect of them ever since 1992. They went 72-90, which was at least an improvement from their 57-105 season in 2010. But, it was still nowhere near contention, as they finished 24 games back of the first place Brewers.
The Pirates can say the finished ahead of the Cubs and Astros for the first time in a few years, but each of those two teams had excuses- the Cubs were managed by Mike Quade, and, by the end of the season, the Astros didn’t have one household name (AKA star player) on their team.
But, it appeared at the All-Star break that the Pirates weren’t going to finish the season like they usually do. Around that time, they were actually in first place for awhile. The terms “first place” and “Pirates” hadn’t been associated with each other since 1992.
By the All-Star break, the Pirates were just one game out of first place. And they had rode pitching all the way there. At the time, their starters- Paul Maholm (6-9, 2.96 ERA), Kevin Correia (11-7, 4.01 ERA), James McDonald (5-4, 4.42 ERA), Charlie Morton (7-5, 3.80 ERA), and Jeff Karstens (7-4, 2.55 ERA)- were all giving the Pirates a chance to win. And their bullpen was solidified by All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan, who, at the time, had yet to blow a save all year.
On one fateful night, however, everything fell apart.
It was July 26th, and the Pirates record at the time was 53-48- good for third in the NL Central and still in the heat of the pennant race (the Cardinals and Brewers were tied for first). The Pirates were in the final game of a three-game series with the Braves in Atlanta, and looking for a series win. Little did they know that when the game started, they’d have to wait around seven hours for a result- a very frustrating result.
The game ended up going 19 innings. The starter that night, Karstens, had turned in just five innings, forcing the Pirates to use nearly every pitcher in their bullpen.
In the bottom of the 19th inning, the game tied 3-3, reliever Daniel McCutchen was in his sixth inning of work (and he was supposed to have a night off). Scott Proctor, the relief pitcher for the Braves, was at the plate, while Julio Lugo stood at third base. McCutchen threw a slider, and Proctor tapped a grounder to third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez threw it home to catcher Michael McKenry, who caught the ball and tagged out Lugo.
But home plate umpire Jerry Meals had other ideas.
The Pirates playoff hopes were crushed by an umpire in the 19th inning of a game in Atlanta.
After McKenry obviously tagged Lugo, Meals called Lugo safe, and the Braves won, 4-3, in 19 innings. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle came bustling out of the dugout to join an argument that McCutchen and McKenry were already having with Meals. But there was no changing it- the wrong call had been made, and it stood.
The next day (actually the same day, as the game ended early the next morning), Meals did what only an idiot umpire would do- come out and admit that the call was wrong after the game is over. I hate it when umpires do that, because they’re simply enraging the team they screwed over more, because now that team knows that they actually had a shot at continuing the game and possibly winning.
Anyway, in some Pirates’ fans minds, that was probably the end of the season for them. You can’t blame them for not recuperating in time after a game like that because of the exhausted bullpen (and everyone else was probably exhausted as well).
Remember the numbers I listed for the Pirates’ starters earlier? Yeah, they looked a little different by the end of the season. Maholm finished didn’t win another start all year, finishing 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA. Correia, who had already started his decline before the numbers I showed, faltered even more before he went on the DL to finish the year, going 12-11 with a 4.79 ERA. McDonald actually pitched decent, finished 9-9 with a 4.21 ERA. Morton couldn’t continue what appeared to be a great comeback season for him, going 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA. Lastly, Karstens finished 9-9 with a 3.38 ERA, a significant increase in ERA from 2.55.
But, I have a feeling the Pirates aren’t going to be pushovers in the Central for much longer. They have loads of talent, such as Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and so on. If they can get a little more pitching and just put everything together over the next few years, they could be a force in the Central.
But first, they need to find a way to beat the Brewers, who have flat-out punished them over the past few years. Since 2009, the Pirates have a total of nine wins against the Brewers. Personally, I hope that continues, though.
> Rumor has it that the Brewers may have already made an offer to free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez. I’ve heard that it’s a three-year deal with a mutual option for a fourth, but it’s nowhere near confirmed- it may have not even happened yet.
Still, I kind of hope the Brewers sign him. That would at least help fill the void that Prince Fielder is going to leave in the offense.
> I’ve also heard from various sources that Doug Melvin has spoken with free agent shortstop Jose Reyes‘ agents. A few weeks ago, it was supposedly “guaranteed” that Reyes was going to sign with the Marlins, but I haven’t heard anything between the two teams since
Now, Brewers might sign one of them (meaning Reyes or Ramirez, but I kind of doubt they’ll sign either. But imagine if they signed both. The payroll simply won’t permit (and that new salary cap isn’t helping either), but those two on the Brewers would make up for Fielder’s absence.
UPDATE: The Marlins and Reyes have reportedly agreed to a six-year, $106 million deal, which officially puts the Brewers out of the mix for him.
> Unless Fielder can’t find a job with another team. It doesn’t appear anyone wants him, and same goes for Albert Pujols. Who would have thought that the two most coveted free agents on the market might be forced to sign with their former team if they want to keep playing in the MLB?
> Former pitcher Pedro Martinez officially announced his retirement last night, after not pitching in the Majors since 2009 with the Phillies.
Say what you will, but he’s going to the Hall of Fame.
> A minor trade happened yesterday, as the Blue Jays sent lefty starter Brad Mills to the Angels in exchange for catcher Jeff Mathis.
> It’s still early in the day, and nothing’s really happened yet. But, if something does happen, I’ll update ASAP. Anyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to leave your thoughts.