2013 Pittsburgh Pirates
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2013 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Clinched Wild Card: September 23, 2013, At Chicago Cubs
Managed by Clint Hurdle
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates came into the year trying to avoid a 21st consecutive losing season and more than exceeded expectations, going to the playoffs.
They made few major off-season moves, replacing one veteran catcher (Rod Barajas) with another (Russell Martin), trading away closer Joel Hanrahan and infield prospect Brock Holt for four former prospects, and replacing one free agent starter (Kevin Correia) with another (Francisco Liriano). For offense, they were banking on continued improvement from younger players like LF Starling Marte, 3B Pedro Alvarez and CF Andrew McCutchen.
Pittsburgh started the year with some injuries to the staff, as Liriano, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton were all hurt; Jeff Locke and Jonathan Sanchez got the final two rotation slots to open the year as a result. Pittsburgh's pitching wasn't the problem early on, though, as they gave up only 10 runs in the first five games. The problem was a non-existent offense, which scored six runs in that same period, getting shut out twice. After six games, Martin was 0 for 14, 1B Gaby Sanchez 1 for 16, 2B Neil Walker 2 for 20, Alvarez 2 for 22, RF Jose Tabata 1 for 10 and RF Travis Snider 0 for 7. Things turned around quickly after that 1-5 start, however: the Pirates were back at .500 (7-7) on April 17th and finished the month at 15-12, only half a game out of first place. They then sputtered for a couple of weeks, but ended May with a charge, going 16-4 from May 10-30. By then, they had the second-best record in the major leagues at 34-20, although it was just their luck that the only team doing better were division rivals the St. Louis Cardinals, who were still two games ahead of them in the standings. It was the third straight year that the team had started the season on a solid note, although the previous two had ended in gnashing of teeth with second-half collapses that had the team finishing the year below .500, something which tempered the enthusiasm of even the most optimistic fans of the team, hardened by two decades of constant losing. With a 5-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds on June 20th, highlighted by five RBIs from Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates did one better: their record was now 43-30, .589, the third-best in all of baseball - but now the two teams ahead of them were division rivals St. Louis and Cincinnati, a fact that obscured how well the Bucs had played since the start of the year. After their first road interleague sweep ever (of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), Pittsburgh moved past Cincinnati for the second-best record in baseball. They followed that with another sweep on the road, of the Seattle Mariners, to move into a tie with St. Louis on June 26th. Still they kept on winning, bringing their streak to 9 games with a home sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers to finish the month of June. They ended the month with 51 wins and the best record in the majors at the half-way point of the season. The last Pirates team to have 50 wins by the end of June had been the World Champion 1960 edition.
At this point, Pittsburgh's 3.13 ERA led the NL despite only one starter (Locke) having survived without an injury after half a year. Locke (7-1, 2.06), Liriano (7-3, 2.23), Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.76), A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.12, 99 K in 89 1/3 IP), Wandy Rodriguez (6-4, 3.59) and Morton (2-1, 2.50) had all contributed when healthy, while former first-overall-pick Gerrit Cole had begun his career 4-0 with a 3.70 ERA. Only James McDonald (2-2, 5.76) and Jonathan Sanchez (0-3, 11.85) had struggled among the starters. The bullpen was even better with stellar work from Jason Grilli (0-1, 27 Sv, 1.72, 59 K in 36 2/3 IP), Justin Wilson (5-1, 2.18), Mark Melancon (2-1, 2 Sv, 0.89), Vin Mazzaro (4-2, 2.52) and Bryan Morris (4-2, 2.83). The offense was only in the middle of the pack, with solid seasons so far from Alvarez (.241/.304/.510, 20 HR), Marte (.288/.343/.466, 8 3B, 22 SB, 52 R), McCutchen (.292/.360/.462, 24 2B, 9 HR, 16 SB), Gaby Sanchez (.238/.346/.431) and Martin (.248/.341/.416, 8 HR). Jordy Mercer (.284/.333/.448) had become the starter at short, replacing the light-hitting Clint Barmes (.204/.236/.275), while the only really weak spot was right field, where Travis Snider was hitting .229/.302/.343 and Tabata was battling injuries.
Alvarez, McCutchen, Grilli and Locke were picked for the 2013 All-Star Game (all by the manager or other players; no Pirate was close to being voted in by the fans), the biggest Pirate All-Star contingent since 1981. The contingent got even bigger when Locke bowed out of playing because of an injury and was replaced by Mark Melancon. That gave the Bucs the most All-Stars since the 1972 Pirates had five as well. They suffered a big blow when Grilli had to leave a game with tightness in his forearm on July 22nd, an injury that put him on the disabled list for 4 to 8 weeks. The Pirates managed to absorb the blow however, and on July 30th swept a doubleheader at home against the Cardinals to move back into first place, having been in second place since July 8th except of a 24-hour period when they were tied for first with the Cards. They beat the Cards again on July 31st to finish the month at 65-42, 2 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis and 6 in front of Cincinnati, with the best record in the majors. It was the first time they had been 23 games above .500 since 1992 - their last presence in the postseason. They had the best ERA in baseball at the end of July (3.04), led by Locke (9-3, 2.36), Liriano (11-4, 2.16), Burnett (4-7, 2.86), Grilli (0-1, 30 Sv, 2.34), Wilson (6-1, 2.08), Melancon (2-1, 5 Sv, 0.88), Gomez (2-0, 2.50) and Mazzaro (6-2, Sv, 2.92). The offense remained middling despite the efforts of McCutchen (.301/.371/.494, 15 HR, 28 2B, 66 R, 21 SB), Alvarez (.242/.304/.494, 27 HR, 70 RBI) and Marte (.277/.333/.441, 31 SB, 9 3B, 68 R) with a gaping hole remaining in RF (Snider, .219/.287/.322 in 95 G; Tabata, .252/.327/.364 in 61 G). Pittsburgh made no deals at the trading deadline to improve the offense, but Cincinnati and St. Louis also made no trades with a poor market.
In both 2011 and 2012 the Pirates had had a good first half, only to collapse in the second half and finish below .500. Both years, a particularly long extra-inning game around the start of August seemed to mark the turning point. So it was with trepidation that the Pirates saw an August 13th game against the Cardinals go into the 14th inning. In that game, the Pirates were ahead, 3-0 after two innings only to see the Cards score twice in the 6th and once in the 9th to tie the game, the door being opened in the 9th when Starling Marte dropped a routine fly ball in the outfield. The Cards then scored the winning run in the 14th as the Pirates were inept with runners in scoring position, getting away with a game that the Pirates had felt was in the pocket. To make things worst, it was the Bucs' fourth straight loss, as they had just been swept by the Colorado Rockies. With all those ominous signs suddenly congealing, Francisco Liriano, who had been beaten around by the Rockies in his last start, giving up 10 runs in 2 1/3 innings, stepped up the next day with one the team's best pitching performance of the year, shutting down the Cards in a complete game four-hitter, 5-1, to improve his record to 13-5. However, the Pirates were truly struggling by that point. From August 9-18, they went 2-7, including three losses in games of 12 or more innings. The last of these on August 18th was another heartbreaker, a 16-inning 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks as minor league veteran Kris Johnson was tagged with the loss in his big league debut after valiantly pitching five scoreless innings before cracking in the 16th.
Pittsburgh still held first place for most of August before slipping out; at the same time, they lost Marte for at least a couple of weeks to a hand injury. Still lacking production in right field, they traded for Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the New York Mets in exchange for prospect Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later. Buck was to serve as back-up to Martin, following a season-ending injury to C Michael McKenry. On August 31st, they pulled off another big trade, acquiring 1B Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins for OF Alex Presley. They ended the month in first place by half a game, as they closed out August with a pair of wins over the Cardinals. They were only three wins from securing a winning season, and had their grip firmly on a postseason slot with a month left to go. The milestone 81st win came on September 3rd, a 4-3 defeat of the Milwaukee Brewers, highlighted by McCutchen's 100th career homer. This ensured that the Pirates' streak of consecutive losing season would end at 20, a North American professional sports record. However, the celebration was subdued, because the win gave the Bucs a two-game lead on the Cardinals, making the NL Central title the prize they were now focusing on. The Bucs lost their next four games, however, their longest losing streak of the year, and again fell out of first place, before recording win #82 on September 9th. That win was another memorable one, with Gerrit Cole winning a pitcher's duel, 1-0, against Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers. The final two weeks were a grind for the Bucs, though, as every game seemed to be a close and hard-fought one, as the three NL Central teams who had been battling for first place all year all clinched postseason berths in succession. First came the Cardinals, than on September 23rd, both the Pirates and the Reds on their last turn at bat. For the Pirates the clincher was a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field thanks to Starling Marte's tie-breaking 9th-inning homer with two outs off Kevin Gregg. The win secured the Bucs' first postseason appearance since the 1992 NLCS, although the order of finish among the division's three postseason-bound teams remained to be determined. On September 28th, the Pirates unleashed 6 homers against the Reds to claim an 8-3 win on the road; Neil Walker homered twice and McCutchen, Alvarez and Byrd added long balls against Bronson Arroyo, while Andrew Lambo completed the feast with his first career long ball off reliever Logan Ondrusek. It was the first time since August 22, 2007 that the Bucs had hit that many homers in a game. The win finalized the order of finish in the division, with St. Louis having already claimed the title, and the Pirates now assured of hosting the 2013 National League Wild Card Game against the Reds on October 1st. Pittsburgh wound up sweeping the Reds after needing 2 of 3 in the final series to win home field advantage for the Wild Card game.
The regular-season leaders were McCutchen (.317/.404/.508, 97 R, 38 2B, 84 RBI, 27 SB, 78 SB), Marte (.280/.343/.441, 41 SB, 10 3B), Alvarez (.233/.296/.433, 36 HR, 100 RBI) and Walker (.251/.339/.418) on offense, with Byrd (.318/.357/.486) doing very well after the pick-up to solve the right field problems, while Barmes (.211/.249/.304) remained the weak link when playing. Morneau (.260/.370/.312) failed to homer after being picked up to bat cleanup though he got on base well in front of Byrd and Alvarez. The rotation remained stellar despite Locke's second-half meltdown as all five starters finished with ERAs between 3 and 3.52: Liriano (16-8, 3.02), Cole (10-7, 3.22), Morton (7-4, 3.26), Burnett (10-11, 3.30) and Locke (10-7, 3.52). The bullpen suffered injuries to Grilli but Melancon filled in fairly well in his absence; Grilli (0-2, 33 Sv, 2.70), Mazzaro (8-2, Sv, 2.81), Wilson (6-1, 2.08), Watson (3-1, 2 Sv, 2.39) and Melancon (3-2, 16 Sv, 1.39) all finished with ERAs under 3 while Gomez (3-0, 3.35) and Morris (5-7, 3.46) were far from bad. For the year, Pittsburgh outscored the opposition, 634-577 and won 94 games, nearly matching Hurdle's much-scoffed preseason prediction of 95.
In the Wild Card Game, a raucous crowd turned out and seemed to unnerve Johnny Cueto, usually stellar against Pittsburgh, who crumbled under the pressure. Liriano, meanwhile, was superb, sending the Bucs to the NLDS against their other regular season rival, St. Louis. Burnett's woes in St. Louis continued with a Game 1 loss but Cole and Alvarez fueled a Game 2 romp. In Game 3, Alvarez came through with a crucial bottom-of-the-8th single to score Harrison off LOOGY Kevin Siegrist. However, the Cardinals went on to win the last two games of the series behind great pitching performances, the first by rookie Michael Wacha who gave up a single hit - Alvarez's third homer of the series - and the second by ace Adam Wainwright in the deciding game. The Pirates had been eliminated, but only after their best season in two decades.
As expected, Pittsburgh claimed numerous postseason honors, with Hurdle winning Manager of the Year, McCutchen MVP, McCutchen and Alvarez Silver Sluggers and Liriano Comeback Player of the Year.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Pedro Alvarez, Jason Grilli, Jeff Locke, Andrew McCutchen and Mark Melancon
- NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen
- NL Comeback Player of the Year Award: Francisco Liriano
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Pedro Alvarez (3B) and Andrew McCutchen (OF)
- Associated Press: "Pirates edge Cubs, clinch 1st playoff berth since 1992", ESPN.com, September 24, 2013
- Travis Sawchik: Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak, Flatiron Books, New York, NY, 2015. ISBN 978-1250063502