Pirates Overcame Plenty of Adversity For Their Third Straight Playoff Appearance

DENVER — There is something about September 23rd that seems to just work for the Pirates.

September 23, 2013: The Pirates beat the Cubs, 2-1, to clinch a playoff spot after 20 consecutive losing seasons following the “Sid Bream Slide™” in Game 7 of the 1992 NL Championship Game. Starling Marte delivered a solo home run in the top of the ninth to give the Pirates a lead and, ultimately, send them to the postseason.

September 23, 2014: The Pirates defeat the Braves by a score of 3-2 to secure their second consecutive playoff berth. Gerrit Cole gave up two runs in seven innings, and Starling Marte hit a sixth-inning double to score Andrew McCutchen for the game winner.

September 23, 2015 (10:20 PM, MT): In Denver, the Pirates defeated the Rockies by a score of 13-7 to clinch a postseason birth for a third year in a row. Neil Walker had five RBIs in the first three innings after a single scoring two in the first and a three run home run in the third, and the Pittsburgh Kid finished the evening with a career high six RBIs. The Rockies pulled within one run in the fifth inning, and the Pirates bullpen held down the fort like they always do before the offense exploded in the ninth with six runs to blow the game open.

Same date. Completely different approach.

Even still, #Buctober is among us for the third year in a row.

After champagne showers and beer chugging in the past, the team decided to go a different direction this time, choosing to circle up in the middle of the clubhouse with a toast. “A simple celebration” it was, with Manager Clint Hurdle leading the way.

“We are acting like we’ve been there before,” Andrew McCutchen said after the private celebration. “We didn’t want to go crazy.”

And they didn’t need to. This team has proven themselves time and time again.

This is a team that has the second best record in the league with 92 wins so far, yet you still get the feeling that they play with a chip on their shoulder. Each player in the clubhouse had a similar response when addressing their celebration:

“We still have work to get done” -Andrew McCutchen

“We have bigger plans. We’re going for the Central.” -Jared Hughes

“We want to win the division. We have unfinished business left to do.” -Jordy Mercer

“I don’t feel like we’re done. It’s really cool, but we’re not done yet.” -Mark Melancon

The list goes on from J.A. Happ to Chris Stewart to Arquimedes Caminero. Each and every one of these players believes that this team has so much more to play for, and this is only the first step.

What’s underrated is the amount of adversity this team had to overcome to get to this point for a third straight year.  A lot had to fall in place for the Pirates this season.

  • Russell Martin signed with the Blue Jays in the offseason, leaving a HUGE hole for the Pirates to somehow fill. They go shopping at the New York Yankees Catching Institute once again and find Francisco Cervelli. Cervelli, an unproven player with a history of injuries and untapped potential, is the second best hitting catcher in the league and has essentially matched Russell Martin in OPS and WAR this season, while staying healthy and reaching career highs in games and innings.
  • J.A Happ was a last minute insurance pick-up after the A.J. Burnett injury right before the trade deadline, and he has arguably been the Pirates’ best pitcher since the start of August. Happ has posted a 2.28 ERA with the Pirates and has been an essential piece of their starting rotation, making it so they barely missed Burnett.
  • Josh Harrison, only one year removed from being an All-Star, went down for six weeks in July. Jordy Mercer, the Pirates’ best defensive infielder, went down for almost the same amount of time. Then comes Jung Ho Kang, batting .330 with an OPS of .992 during the span of Mercer’s time on the disabled list. Kang, the player that a vast amount of people wanted sent to the minors at the beginning of the season, ended up being the Pirates’ second best player behind Andrew McCutchen this season. And what happens when Kang goes down? Jordy Mercer immediately steps up and goes 12-for-27 (.444 average).

Those are just some quick examples. That doesn’t even begin to get to the fact that the Pirates began the season 13-16 and have gone 79-44 since May 9th for the best record in Major League Baseball during that span. You also cannot dismiss the face of the franchise batting .185 through his first 25 games, only to hit .320 with a .971 OPS since. Oh yeah, and you had a closer that was getting run out of town during the first half of April, only to set a club record for saves in a season.

What this all leads to is the total team effort that has been brought forth from these Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015.

Jordy Mercer said it best: “It’s a whole group effort. That’s what got us here. That’s what makes this so cool. It’s not just one guy or two guys, it’s all of us.”

Yes, the players want the division. But, the goals are set to an even loftier standard now.

“We’ve yet to play our best baseball this season,” Jared Hughes said, “and it’s going to be really exciting over the next couple weeks – err, months. You can easily see us on top of it all.”

Even the new guys to the club have embraced the mentality of playing for something more than just a ticket to the dance. Arquimedes Caminero said that “it’s great to be here, but we will continue to do more”.

The Pirates have now reached the postseason in three consecutive years on two other occasions (1970-1972 and 1990-1992), and Andrew McCutchen doesn’t think this team is going anywhere any time soon.

When I asked McCutchen what three straight postseason appearances says about the Pirates’ organization, he responded perfectly.

“It’s not a fluke,” McCutchen said. “This is what it’s all about. This isn’t a one-time thing. We’re not a one hit wonder.”

In that case, I’ll take the time now, for all you yinzers out there, to thank the MLB schedule makers. On September 23, 2016, the Pirates will finally be able to celebrate a fourth consecutive playoff appearance at PNC Park by beating the Chicago Cubs. Too soon?

Quick Game Notes: 

**Gregory Polanco looked to injure his leg in a base running gaffe running to second base in the ninth inning. With a quick turnaround tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if Polanco is in the lineup. He has continually battled knee soreness all season.

**Charlie Morton had #electricstuff in the first two innings, with four strikeouts and two ground balls. The altitude of Denver seemed to catch up to him afterwards, with Morton getting pulled after a three-run Tom Murphy home run in the fifth inning. Morton’s final line was 4.1 IP, 10 H, 6 ER.

**Starling Marte seems to really like to confines of Coors Field, going 3-for-6 tonight. Marte now has nine hits so far in this series.

**Jordy Mercer went 3-for-4 tonight, and he has gone 12-for-27 (.444) since Jung-Ho Kang was injured.

**Clint Hurdle announced the rotation for the series against the St. Louis Cardinals – J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, then Gerrit Cole.

  • We Pirate fans deserve this!

  • I do have the sense that if the Bucs faced the same level of adversity as the Cards, the Bucs pitching and OF depth would’ve been exposed mightily. OTOH, the Cubs have had pretty much zero adversity compared to the rest of the NL Central. I’d say they’re due for some.

    • Adversity can come in various ways. Id say rolling with a ton of first and second year players has its own adversity. Cubbies havent seen major injuries, but they are trotting out a bunch of rookies and really young options on offense and have avoided a ton of slumps in the 2nd half of the season.

      • Luke did you ever hear that saying “ignorance is bliss”. They are too young and too wrapped up in what they are doing to give a crap about being nervous or question why they are doing so well. Having a manager like Maddon is what the Cubs knew they had to have – oh, and the $30 mil they dropped on John Lester for 2015 helped give them instant cred. Jake Arrieta is repeating his same stellar performance just like last year when there were not a lot of hitters in the lineup to help Anthony Rizzo.

        The NL Central is the place where TV money is being spent in 2015 and more will be spent over the next 5 or 10 years!

        • Okay, sure. They are immune to general human instincts because they are too young to know about pressure or give a crap about the fact that almost all rookies see a period of the league adjusting and causing issues.

          Or, in reality, they deserve credit for handling that adversity well and not having the pressure and length of a full major league season impact their team performance. Thats a hurdle, and they cleared it better than some teams. Much like staying good during injury or any other adversity. Kudos to CHC for not exhibiting as many rookie traits as some teams.

  • That entire narrative in that column makes me smile remembering last off season…..a couple of people on here trying to tell us how Cervelli would never finish the season as the starting catcher, that Sebastian Valle ( ?!? ) would be his replacement. Yeah, the guy who who finished the season in Altoona backing up Jacob Stallings. Another person telling us how Wily Garcia would make a huge contribution in September ” because Hurdle loves him” ! And the weeping and moaning over trading Snider. How stupid ! I just don’t get the constant skepticism and criticism of the Organization when it comes to personnel decisions.

    • Leo – I’m the one who said Hurdle loves Garcia based on his gushing about the guy during PirateFest (and he still does gush based on recent comments) to the exclusion of other more noted prospects. However, I never said a thing about Garcia making “a huge contribution in September”. I simply said I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at PNC towards end of the year.

      Nor do I understand why you’d consider that “skepticism and criticism of the Organization”, when, if it had played out that Garcia did make a contribution, that would only be viewed as a positive development worth celebrating. Who would complain about that? Is there anyone suggesting he come off the 40-man?

      • No, you aren’t the person I had in mind. The one who made the ” huge contribution ” comment hasn’t been on here in quite a while. The same goes for the person who was making all the catchimg comments.However, I will tell you this much, first hand observations, even to an untrained eye, can give one a different perspective on a prospect than the ideas you get from reading game reports other than those on P2. In other words, Wily, for example, was/is, a good ways away from making any contribution at the MLB level, and it wasn’t hard to see that when I watched him all through the 2014 season. Also, lighten up. In Garcia’s case, I was NOT criticizing him, just saying he wouldn’t be ready to help the Pirates in 2015. And, for the record, he wasn’t !

  • Gotta love this team…and, as awesome as they are, they’ve done all this after the horrible 18-22 start.

    • Sticktoitiveness. Many changes in key personnel and injuries to many of the starters throughout the season, and they managed to overcome it all to qualify for a 3rd straight Playoff appearance. The “human” aspects of this team will provide a lot of material for off-season discussions around the “hot stove”, but for now, a tremendous accomplishment for this entire organization and the city of Pittsburgh.