A batter hitting 30 homers in a season is great, but 29 homers is also good. A batter hitting no homers in a year signifies no power, and one homer doesn’t change that status. A pitcher with 20 wins is a Cy Young contender, but a pitcher with 19 wins can be considered just as good.
So the Pirates, with their win tonight, avoided 100 losses. The worst they can now finish is 62-99. Having 99 losses doesn’t suddenly make the Pirates a good team, but it avoids a milestone, and that means a little bit. People remember 30 home run seasons by a hitter. They notice when a batter goes the whole year without a homer. They remember 20 win seasons by a pitcher. They also remember 100 loss seasons.
Off the top of my head I can’t tell you how many losses the Pirates have had in each season over the last ten years, with the exception of one year: 2001 when they had 100 losses. After tonight’s win, we won’t have to worry about 2009 repeating that dubious accomplishment. Tonight’s win also showed some promise that next season will be better.
Daniel McCutchen pitched 6.1 strong innings, allowing one run on four hits, with two walks and five strikeouts. His lone run came on a Wladimir Balentien home run in the seventh. In six starts this year, McCutchen has a 4.21 ERA and a 19:11 K/BB ratio in 36.1 innings pitched. McCutchen looked just as good in AAA this season, combining for a 3.82 ERA and a 110:29 K/BB ratio in 142.2 innings pitched. McCutchen is making a strong case for the back end of the rotation next season.
Lastings Milledge had a big night, going 2 for 4 with a solo home run, his second in two nights. Technically the home run last night doesn’t count, as the game was cancelled, although that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Milledge is hitting for a .299/.339/.408 line in 211 at-bats with the Pirates this season, with four homers. His defense also looks great, with a 17.3 UZR/150 rating heading in to tonight. Milledge doesn’t qualify, but he would rank fourth amongst qualified outfielders this season with that rating. So far everything looks good with Milledge, except for the power. Let’s hope the last two nights is an indication that Milledge can start hitting for power with the Pirates.
Andy LaRoche also had a solid day at the plate, going 2 for 3 with a walk, and two RBIs. LaRoche has been on fire since the month of September began, hitting for a .333/.379/.586 line in 87 at-bats, with five homers and seven doubles. LaRoche hit for a .245/.324/.367 line up until September, with just seven homers, although three of those came in August, which shows that LaRoche’s recent power surge is more than just the month of September.
Maybe this recent play is the result of Neil Walker being on the roster. If you look at the game log, it was like someone flipped a switch with LaRoche right after the turn of the calendar, just in time for the September call-ups. LaRoche will need to carry this over to the 2009 season, especially with Pedro Alvarez due up by June, in order to keep his spot in the lineup.
The bullpen also looked solid, with Jesse Chavez, Joel Hanrahan, and Matt Capps pitching the final 2.2 innings to close out the win. With the exception of Hanrahan, the bullpen has swooned over the last two months, especially with Matt Capps. These three relievers have the potential to close out games like this pretty much every night the Pirates have a decent lead like this.
It’s only one game. It’s only a short hot streak for guys like Milledge, LaRoche, and McCutchen. However, if the Pirates can see LaRoche and Milledge carry their September success over to the 2010 season, while seeing McCutchen shore up the rotation, and the bullpen play to their potential, we won’t even be thinking about 100 losses next year. I know that’s not saying much, so how about this: we may be thinking about .500, at least to the point where we may finally start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.