Pirates fans have been trained to expect the worst over the last 20 years. If anything can go wrong, it probably has gone wrong for the team. For that reason, Pirates fans can’t appreciate good things. The 2012 season is a good thing. The Pirates are legit contenders, and one of the best teams in the majors. Yet Pirates fans can’t fully enjoy that, because they’re too busy focusing on when the eventual downfall will come, or wondering how the Pirates could possibly be contenders.
Most of us came in to this season expecting a similar result to last season. Some expected the Pirates to regress from last year. Some expected a slight improvement. Some of the more optimistic fans might have expected a winning season. But I don’t think many people were expecting the Pirates to have one of the better records in the league. And now, I’m not sure if we know how to react to normal things that happen to baseball teams.
Take for example this past two weeks. The Pirates went 1-2 against the Reds, split a four game series against the Diamondbacks, and went 1-2 against the Padres. Some of the losses along the way have fans worried that the season may be starting on a downward spiral, similar to what the Pirates saw last off-season at the start of August. The difference? The Pirates were 16 games above .500 on August 1st this year. They were one game above .500 on August 1st last year.
So what exactly do we define as the downfall of a season? Let’s look at a few key milestones.
First, there’s 82 wins. One thing you don’t really notice is people talking about the streak. No one is really worried about the Pirates breaking the winning streak anymore. It’s pretty much assumed that this will be the year they win, and that talk has taken a back seat to playoff dreams. And that’s how it should be.
The Pirates only need to win at a .375 winning percentage for the remainder of the year to reach 82 wins, giving them their first winning season since 1992. To give some perspective on that winning percentage, the only time recently that the Pirates have been worse than that number was in 2010, when they were the worst team in the majors. Only two teams have a winning percentage worse than that this year: the Houston Astros and the Colorado Rockies. Even in the worst doom and gloom reactions, I don’t think anyone expects the Pirates to suddenly turn in to the Astros.
Next is the wild card race. The Pirates are currently 2.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild card spot. They’re two games behind the Atlanta Braves for the top wild card spot. It’s hard to project what the Pirates will need to get a wild card spot. Going with the unscientific approach of averaging the record that the second wild card team would have had since 2008, we get 89 wins.
For the Pirates to finish with 89 wins, they need to win at a .521 pace for the remainder of the year. Currently they have a .561 winning percentage on the season.
Because the Pirates have played so well this year, the bar has been raised. I don’t think anyone would think they have a legit shot at finishing below 82 wins. That would take an epic collapse. They would have to repeat their collapse from last year in the final two months. But this isn’t last year’s team. This team is much deeper than last year’s team. Last year we worried about the entire rotation falling apart. This year we worry that James McDonald hasn’t been pitching like an ace lately, and wondering if the Pirates should sit him down and start one of their three options who aren’t currently in the six man rotation. The situation is much different this year.
I think it’s assumed that the Pirates will finish above .500. So now the bar has been raised to making the playoffs. I could see how Pirates fans would be pessimistic about getting to 89 wins this year. I don’t have an answer as to how many games the Pirates will end up winning this year. Anything I say would be a guess, just like anyone else’s guess. But I do think it’s good to keep some perspective. The Pirates aren’t going to win every series, and they’re going to have bad losses. Those things don’t prevent them from being a contender. And I think the proof is in the standings. Even with the horrible losses to San Diego on Friday and Saturday, and even with a 4-6 stretch, the Pirates still have a 2.5 game lead for the second wild card spot. And the next seven games come against the two teams who trail the Pirates in the wild card standings. Hopefully that grand slam from Clint Barmes will add the proper motivation at just the right time.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates beat the Padres 11-5.
**Pirates Notebook: Barmes Has Biggest Swing of His Season.
**Prospect Watch: Tabata With Three Hits; Holmes Has a Rare Bad Start.