Every year at the beginning of the season I rush into a phone booth, any phone booth and exit those cramped quarters as I leap skyward with the letters E.O. stamped proudly on my chest cape flapping in the wind as I fly through the sometimes cloud covered campaign better known as the Pittsburgh Pirates season.
This year I was not just whistling Dixie as I passed the bone orchard at midnight, no boys and girls there is really is, as the great rock n’ roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis might say, “some shakin’ going on.” When I traveled to Bradenton, Fla., to observe the Pirates wind down their “grapefruit league” campaign, I was silently optimistic about their chances even in light of their management and personnel teams’ decision to ship the Bucs’ young and talented reliever Josh Hanrahan off to “Beantown.” But uh, maybe just maybe they have found a new formula that “mad scientists” Clint Hurdle and Neil Huntington haven’t let us in on as of yet. Now don’t go getting all “giddy” because as of Pirates 9-0 thrashing of the Cardinals last Sunday at Busch Stadium. At that point the Pirates were only one game in front of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central Division. Oh, by the way, check and see how many World Series the Pirates have competed in or won in the last ten years, then check the record of the Cardinals during that same time period. I really don’t think that the “Cards” are losing a whole lot of sleep worrying about the Pirates, especially since the Pirates have over 135 games left to play in the 2013 season. But hold up. If the Pirates win 15 out of 25 games the remainder of the season they are poised to win over ninety six games for the season. In 2012 the Cincinnati Reds won the NL Central Division with a 97-65 record.
The team that finished second in the division was the St. Louis Cardinals with a 88-74 record. In 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers won the division with a 96-66 record with the Cardinals finishing second with a 90-72 record. In 2010, the Reds won the division with a 91-71 record, the “Cards finished 86-76. In 2009, Cardinals 91-71 the Cubs were 83-78. In 2008, the Cubs won the division 97-64 while the Brewers took home the consolation prize with a 90-72 record. 2007 was a bit closer as the Cubs again took won the NL Central “championship” with an 85-77 record with the Brewers breathing down their necks finishing the season 83-79. During that same period, the Pirates have hovered around or finished in last place in their division. I am not too concerned about the Pirates play during pre-All Star break competition. It is their post All Star game finishes that worry me. My point is until the Pirates convince themselves that they can win, the competition will certainly not be convinced, nor will their opponents become apprehensive at the thought of facing the Pirates. One of the elements that bodes well for the Bucs’ is the fact that players that dreaded coming here in the past now look forward to helping the team establish, restore and maintain a new baseball winning tradition in the “steel city.”
While I was in Bradenton, I spoke with Jeff Locke after a rough outing against the Baltimore Orioles and although on that day his performance was less than stellar he still had this to say: “I think after I came over here since the trade [from the Braves] everything has been better from my conditioning to my routines, to my work ethic. Maybe it was because I was younger over there. I definitely have matured more since I have been here. Everyone in this clubhouse expects the best from each other when we go out there.” It appears as if the Pirates might remain competitive during the 2013 campaign, but the jury is still out. Why?
Well because there are many unanswered questions regarding the long brutal haul of the baseball summer. How much will the Pirates miss the strong, steady, deadly fastball of Josh Hanrahan during the hellish days of August and during the final stretch of September? Will the Pittsburgh offense complement the Pirates pitching to provide enough balance for the team to win 95 plus games? Trust me boys and girls, it is going to take over 95 games for the Pirates or any of their Central Division foes to win the division comfortably and have enough steam to do some damage in the MLB playoffs. See, when a team, has to eke out victories day after day, week after week, month after month, that team will not, and should not be viewed as true victors. Most of the time that band of competitors will be looked upon as lucky scavengers with a penchant for relying on charms and spells Every individual athlete on the Pirates roster has to convince himself that he is a winner. See boys’ and girls’ we are not entitled to anything because “champions are made not born.”
Buc Bits: The Pirates took the NL Central lead for the first time since last July and reached 15 wins in April for the first time since 1992.
Winning is contagious and so is good pitching.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)