For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Pirates will once again faceoff in a one-game, winner take all showdown at PNC Park. While the team worked to assert itself as a perennial contender in the majors, this year’s road to the postseason wasn’t without its hiccups. In a season that saw several key players land on the DL, a slow start to the season and a complete transformation of the roster filled with several surprise standouts, the Pirates managed to persevere.
In this year’s Wild Card Game matchup, the Pirates will matchup against the San Francisco Giants. Wednesday’s 8 p.m. matchup will mark the first time in over 20 years (1990 – 92) the Pirates have played in back-to-back postseasons, a run that the team hopes to continue for years to come.
Slumps and Surprises
On May 5, a repeat run to the postseason seemed implausible. The Pirates held a record of 12-20, 4th worst in the majors, and sat 9.5 games back of the surging Milwaukee Brewers. Some of last year’s household names saw a significant drop in their performance. Former untouchable closer Jason Grilli (eventually traded to the Los Angeles Angels) found his kryptonite along with the rest of the Pirates bullpen. Power-hitting third baseman Pedro Alvarez struggled mightily in the field & at the plate, before suffering a season ending injury. Other early season injuries took away Pittsburgh’s two top pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. Even reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen spent some time away from the team with a midseason rib injury.
Despite their hardships, neither the team nor the fans gave up. The team proved their resiliency throughout the season, including a win in one of the longest games ever played in Pittsburgh (a 12-inning battle that lasted a total of 5 hours and 55 minutes). While others were struggling, new stars emerged for the team.
The biggest surprise of 2014 came from super utility man Josh Harrison. From spending much of the early season on the bench to earning his first all-star game appearance, Harrison became the engine of the team. Playing a total of five different positions for the Pirates this season, Harrison proved his everyday value while leading the Pirates with a batting average of .315.
Pirates 2014 Season Infographic
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Late Season Push for the Postseason
On the eve of MLB’s July 31st trade deadline, the Pirates seemed poised to make a move to improve upon an improbable run. With some of the league’s top pitchers on the market and Pittsburgh lacking a clear ace, rumors were swirling around the Pirates making a run for at the time Tampa Bay Rays Starting Pitcher David Price. A mere hour before the deadline, a deal for the ace seemed near complete, but the Detroit Tigers snuck in and worked out a deal moments before anyone could pull the trigger.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington went on to comment in several interviews that “The right move was no move.” A statement that would ring throughout the ears of Pirates fans who were convinced that a move was needed for the team to contend. Shortly after the trade deadline the team experienced a seven-game losing streak, falling 7 games back of first place and written off by many sports writers and baseball analysts.
Despite their early second-half shortcomings, the team battled to finish the rest of the month of August with a 7-3 record. Only 2 games back of first place and only one game back in the wild card standings, setting the stage for what would be a September to remember.
It has been widely agreed upon by sports writers and analysts that it pays to be playing well late into the season, riding that momentum to the playoffs. The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates did just that, after dropping the first three games of the month to the division rival St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates finished out the month 17-6 record. Since September 3rd, Pirates starting pitchers turned around their season finishing up regular season play with a 13-1 record and a 1.95 ERA. Additionally, the bullpen posted one of the best ERAs in baseball by over a run.
From a hitting standpoint, Pirates players continued to dominate opposing pitching. Starling Marte wrapped up the rest of the season as one of the hottest players in baseball (hitting .348 in the second half of the season, .363 in the month of September). Andrew McCutchen continued to make his case to win back-to-back MVP awards. Josh Harrison continued to provide a spark that nearly led him to stealing the NL Batting Title away from former Pirate Justin Morneau. Russell Martin asserted himself as a fan favorite, as “Super Russ” led the Pirates with key at bats throughout the second half. As a team, the Pirates finished 5th in batting average and 3rd in on-base percentage
Wednesday’s Wild Card Matchup
At 8:05 p.m. Wednesday night, Edinson Volquez will take the mound against a sold-out, standing room only crowd who will be hoping to match last year’s electric atmosphere. For the Pirates, the numbers are on our side. In his past seventeen starts, Volquez has been one of the most consistent Pirates pitchers to date posting a 9-1 record with a 1.85 ERA. Yes, this is the same Edinson Volquez who led the National League in earned runs last year before being dropped by the San Diego Padres in mid-August. That Volquez is long gone, as he has transformed himself into one of the better pitchers in the league. When combined with home-field advantage, Volquez’s stats are even more impressive, giving up a total of four earned runs through 34 2/3 innings pitched.
Last year, PNC Park asserted itself as one of baseball’s loudest, most electric atmospheres for opposing pitchers. Wednesday’s game should be no different. So while the experts weigh in and make their predictions for postseason matchups and even World Series winners, in a season filled with surprises why not choose the Pirates?
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