First Pitch: The Bar Has Been Raised; Is a Winning Season Assumed?

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.

**Indians Slip Past Columbus, Holt And Tabata With 3 Hits Each.

**Juan Cruz Reinstated from DL; Jared Hughes Optioned to Triple-A.

**Fresh Starts for Snider, Sanchez, Qualls Can Help Boost Pirates.

**Minor League Schedule: 8/13/12.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • JohnDreker

    I definitely fall into the first group of those still wondering when the team is going to fall apart. Hopefully years from now I’ll regret not enjoying this year more, because it will mean they went somewhere. I have zero faith they can keep it up and I’ve been saying that since April. It’s the combination of the 19 years of losing and the low expectations from the beginning of the year. Although, as Tim can attest, when we were discussion the 2012 Annual, I did say they had a chance to win 82 games this year just because the Central, past the Reds, was so bad. I meant it more as they were the best of a bad group, not that they were good enough to win 82 under normal circumstances.

    • Lee Young

      The past week has shaken my confidence a bit. I had gotten back to the ‘good old days’ when I EXPECTED the Buccos to win. It was nice to feel that way again.

      Friday and Sunday kinda cancelled each other out and Marquis just pitched a great game on Sat. Hey, even Bedard can throw a 2 hitter! :)

      I am hoping we can at least split with the Dodgers and take 2 of 3 from Stl. Tough week ahead!

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      Me either. But I didn’t expect 1988 either. I’m enjoying it as much as I can.

  • Thom Kay

    I was too young to appreciate the ’92 team, so this season has been the first of my life that I could get excited about the Pirates, and I am LOVING this year.

    I’m a believer and feel sure we can go 18-30 or better from here on out. I want a winning season, and playoffs would be icing on the cake.

  • leadoff

    I left spring training thinking the Bucs could get to or break 500 because I saw a starting lineup of good ball players, no duds, a core that was maturing (Still not there yet) an experienced pitching staff and an experienced bullpen. What made it a no brainer for me was the minor league system, I thought and still think there is a lot of depth in the system. Marte is a good example of depth. I am concerned about the team running out of gas, can’t lie about that and if they don’t make it, IMO that will be the primary reason.

  • piratemike

    What really started to bother me was people getting cocky about this team and talking about sweeping teams and burying others like it was nothing,acting like all they had to do was show up.
    I tried to point out that I felt this was still a team that had some problems and in no way was this franchise complete but was roundly criticized because I didn’t blindly fall into step with the true believers.
    Hell, I want this team to win as much as anybody else and when they lose I’m in a funk until they win again but that doesn’t mean I walk around with blinders on.
    I hope that the Pirates become a solid franchise and post winning records every year from now on but I also hope that nobody ever takes winning for granted.

  • st1300b

    It definitely feels different watching a game when you are watching players who have confidence and talent. Which is why Marte is such a treat to watch. That’s what we haven’t had, and why I enjoy watching most of these players this year. Some of them aren’t there yet, from a confidence standpoint (Alvarez, McDonald, Mercer, etc) and others don’t have the talent (Tabata, Gorky’s, Presley – notice a pattern?)
    Like Hurdle says, I try not to have expectations. I just like to watch and see who stands out, and who proves they aren’t ready or don’t have it. Doesn’t mean they can’t get it – but it’s obvious to watch and see.
    I don’t know if they’ll make the post-season or not but if they do I’ll be there. Hopefully waiting to see Gerrit Cole throw his first post-season pitch.