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2011 Pittsburgh Pirates
From BR Bullpen
 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Managed by Clint Hurdle
 History, Comments, Contributions
The 2011 Pirates began the season with little hope of ending a run of 18 straight losing seasons, the MLB record. They had made no major off-season acquisitions, with the most notable additions being starter Kevin Correia, first baseman Lyle Overbay and platoon outfielder Matt Diaz. There was discussion of trading for a shortstop to replace Ronny Cedeno or to deal away catcher-outfielder Ryan Doumit, but nothing came of these talks. The most visible reasons for optimism were a full season of 2010 rookies Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata as well a second full year from their other young batter, Andrew McCutchen, as well as new manager Clint Hurdle.
The Bucs started with a bang, winning the opener against the Cubs on a Walker grand slam, only the second Pirates Opening Day grand slam ever. They were well ahead, 3-0, after 7 1/2 innings the next day, but 2010 All-Star Evan Meek imploded, giving up five runs in the 8th to lose it. Pittsburgh started 4-2 on the road, taking series against the Cubs and Cardinals. It was the first time since August 2007 that a Pirates club had won back-to-back road series. The 4th win of the year came against Chris Carpenter; Pittsburgh had last beaten Carpenter in June 2004, having dropped ten straight games to him.
Pittsburgh won five road series by early May, more than they had won in all of 2010 (four series). After 34 games, they were surprisingly at .500, the latest a Pittsburgh club had been .500 since 2005. Highlights were the strong pitching of Correia (5-2, 2.91), Paul Maholm (1-4, 3.68) and Charlie Morton (4-1, 3.13) as starters and Joel Hanrahan (0-1, 10 Sv, 1.50) in relief. A disappointing sign was the poor offensive play of Alvarez (.212/.278/.287, 1 HR), Tabata (.231/.333/.361 after a quick start) and McCutchen (.228/.336/.390, 5 SB, 4 CS). The offense was being carried by Walker, Garrett Jones (.259/.370/.494, 6 HR) and catchers Ryan Doumit (.263/.344/.474) and Chris Snyder (.300/.390/.400). Pittsburgh was briefly over .500, fell back below there for a while, then hit .500 again on June 8. They were still over .500 at the season's halfway point (the first time the club had done that since 1992). When they took a series in Toronto, it was their first road interleague series win since 2003.
Pittsburgh was 47-43 at the 2011 All-Star Game break. The team had three All-Stars, the first time they had done so since 1990's combination of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Neal Heaton. Hanrahan (0-1, 26 Sv, 1.34 at the break) was one of the initial picks, while McCutchen (.291/.390/.505, 15 SB, 14 HR, 54 R, 54 RBI) was a replacement for the injured Ryan Braun and Correia (11-7, 4.01) was a replacement for someone who started on the Sunday before the game. Also producing well by the break were Jeff Karstens (7-4, 2.55), Maholm (6-9, 2.96), Daniel McCutchen (3-1, 2.31), Jose Veras (2-2, 2.61) and Jones (.248/.335/.434). Alex Presley had also dazzled in 13 games after being called up for the injured Tabata - .365/.424/.577. The offense overall had many holes though. Two major problems were third base (where Alvarez had never gotten going before being injured) and catcher (where Doumit and Snyder had both hit well but had missed significant time with injury). Pittsburgh had used seven catchers by the break (Wyatt Toregas, Michael McKenry, Jason Jaramillo, Eric Fryer and Dusty Brown in addition to Doumit and Snyder), the most catchers the team had used since 1953 (Jack Shepard, Mike Sandlock, Pete Naton, Nick Koback, Vic Janowicz, Joe Garagiola, Ed Fitz Gerald and Toby Atwell).
On July 15, thanks to a Karstens shutout, Pittsburgh moved into first place in the NL Central, percentage points ahead of Milwaukee. It was the latest that they had been in first since mid-July 1997. The team only held first for a day, as the bullpen blew a lead a day later against Houston. They later regained first for a couple other brief spells. They entered July 26 still tied for first, but lost a 19-inning game that set a franchise record for time (6:39). The loss to Atlanta could easily have gone on longer, as an incorrect call by Jerry Meals at home allowed Atlanta to score the winning run; Meals admitted his error the next day.
While the loss to Atlanta started a skid, Pittsburgh still was a buyer rather than a seller at the trading deadline for the first time since 1997. They traded for two former stars in Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, not major moves in terms of cost or risk, but a sign to the fan face of the change in the Pirates' status. Lee became the first Pirate to homer in his Buc debut since Matt Morris, but the team continued to slide. The skid reached 10 games before the Pirates ended it with a 5-0 win against the San Francisco Giants, after a great performance by Morton on August 8th. The losing streak had taken the Bucs to 5 games below .500, making their attempt to end the long string of losing seasons much more challenging than it had seemed a few weeks before.
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