Pirates end season with impressive record


Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Corey Dickerson (12) reaches second base with a double ahead of the tag from Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist in the ninth inning April 12 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Pirates won, 6-1. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Griffin Floyd, Staff Writer

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished the 2018 MLB season with an 82-79 record, an impressive feat for a team that appeared to tank after trading the face of the franchise, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and star pitcher Gerrit Cole in the offseason.

The trades gathered several young players for the Pirates, including Colin Moran, an everyday starter at third base, starting pitcher Joe Musgrove and reliever Kyle Crick, who became a reliable eighth inning setup man for the Bucs. In addition, the Pirates traded a pittance to the Tampa Bay Rays for star outfielder Corey Dickerson, who helped to offset the loss of McCutchen.

Despite the loss of their best two players, the Pirates, who are currently the fourth youngest team in the major leagues, opened the season as if they had never left. They won their first game of the season in the 13th inning against the Detroit Tigers, already displaying that extra inning and walk off victories would become a running theme of the season. They won their first four games of the season as the last undefeated team in the majors, and began 8-2.

After the hot start, they quickly fell off, being swept in four games by the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals as April ended. May and June were more difficult for the Pirates as they went a combined 22-31, falling far behind in the division race with their season apparently lost.

July looked to go the same way as they lost five straight games in their first six attempts, but they headed into the All-Star Break on a six game winning streak, including a five game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers in Pittsburgh. Josh Bell hit a game winning double on July 15 in the bottom of the 10th inning to cap off the first half of the season on a high note.

Closer Felipe Vazquez was the lone All-Star for the Pirates as Dickerson and catcher Francisco Cervelli battled injuries heading into the break, leaving them underrepresented on the final ballots.

After the All-Star Game, the Pirates continued where they had left off, extending their winning streak to 11 games with emphatic wins over the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians. The Indians ended the streak before it could get to 12, however, shutting out the Pirates over nine innings.

The Pirates were expected to stand pat at the trade deadline or sell off their veterans and impending free agents, but after the hot start to the second half, General Manager Neal Huntington saw enough. He decided to trade for ace pitcher Chris Archer of the Rays, sacrificing developmental pitcher Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows, a former first-round pick who had been May’s rookie of the month.

The Pirates struggled with attendance throughout the season as home games drew around 10,000 viewers. Fans refused to come out for the games, angry about McCutchen and Cole being traded. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, their local broadcasts had the sixth best local ratings in the MLB an even more impressive fact considering the small market they play in.

The trade for Archer convinced fans that the Pirates were all in. Home attendance more than doubled, even as the Pirates slumped once again. Archer didn’t bring the immediate boost the Pirates had expected, and a long road trip against the NL West dropped their record to just a game above .500. All in all, the month of August left hopes of a Pirates presence in the playoffs on life support as they lost 17 of 27 games.

September provided a strong finish to the season, especially in the pitching department. The Pirates already had one of the best bullpens in the league but their starters began to hold up their end of the deal as well. They finished the season with 82 wins in 161 gamesa match with the Miami Marlins was cancelled after both teams were eliminated from the playoffsearning them 4th in the NL Central.

Moving forward, the Pirates are well prepared for the future, with a star-studded pitching crew and talented young hitters who will continue to develop. Injuries will be an issue next year as Chad Kuhl and Edgar Santana undergo Tommy John surgery, and Gregory Polanco rehabs a shoulder injury. Despite this, the Pirates should be able to improve on their record, perhaps even qualifying for the playoffs in 2019.