Exactly twenty years ago today, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Houston Astros by a 5-3 score at Three Rivers Stadium. The significance of that date is more than just the fact it happened exactly twenty years ago, a nice round number. It was the last time the Pirates had as many as 46 wins at that point of the season, and it too was exactly 46 wins(with 37 losses), just like the current team. I don’t think I have to tell any fans the significance of that 1992 season.
Let’s take a look at that team, just to see where they went from there. Under manager Jim Leyland, the Pirates lost their next two games, before winning the final three games before the All-Star break, leaving them 49-39 with the third best record in the NL behind the Braves and the Reds, both teams in the NL West at that time. The Pirates had a 4.5 game lead in the NL East ahead of the St Louis Cardinals.
The current Pirates have a 2.5 game lead over the Cardinals, but they also lead the Reds. They also have just two games left before the All-Star break, so with a win in either(or both) game, they will be ahead of the pace set by that 1992 squad.
The big thing with that 1992 team, was it’s second half finish, 47-27, the second best in baseball behind only the Braves. Before that finish though, they weren’t looking like a team about to dominate. On July 7th, they had a run differential of +26 and 14 teams in baseball had scored more runs than them. That was also back before expansion, when there was four less teams in baseball, so they weren’t tearing the cover off the ball.
The current team has only scored more runs than six teams, although anyone following the team closely, know that’s quite an accomplishment, considering where they were just a month ago. They also have a run differential of only +19, just seven off the pace of the 1992 team.
The current team is 19-23 on the road. At the same point, the 1992 team was 21-19 away from home, making the current team a better home club through 83 games.
In 1992, the Pirates had an MVP outfielder in the middle of another strong season. He was batting .297 with 15 homers, 44 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases through July 7th. The current team has Andrew McCutchen having an MVP type season, hitting .360 with 16 homers, 56 RBI’s and 14 stolen bases. Due to a higher walk rate for Barry Bonds(and some time missed), their OPS is very similar at this point, 1.010 for Bonds, 1.023 for McCutchen.
With the similarities in mind, you might wonder what the Pirates did at the trading deadline that year to strengthen their team for a third NL pennant run. Their big move actually came on July 11th, right before the All-Star break began. They traded third baseman Steve Buechele to the Chicago Cubs for veteran pitcher Danny Jackson. For the 40-46 Cubs, Jackson was 4-9 4.22 in 19 starts. He only picked up four wins in his 15 starts with the Pirates but the team went 9-6 in those starts. The team replaced Buechele at third base with Jeff King, who was hitting .184 with six homers in 223 AB’s at the time, playing all over the infield. King finished at .231 with 14 homers and added 45 RBI’s over the second half of the season.
The 1992 team also added a light hitting right fielder named Alex Cole from the Indians in early July. Cole hit well when he first got to Pittsburgh, collecting three 3-hit games in his first month and the team went 29-16 in games he started. There is no truth to the rumor that he currently goes by the name Drew Sutton.
This is all just for fun, you really can’t expect the 2012 team to do what the 1992 club did, although trading for a quality veteran starter at this point wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially if the piece given up is equivalent to Steve Buechele, a veteran, that was easily replaced. Many Pirates fans aren’t even old enough to remember the last time the club had 46 wins at this point in the season, so it is good for them to see that the regular season worked out so well for last club in franchise history to reach that mark. We don’t need to bring up the off-season from 1992, although many fans would just be happy if the current club made it there.