Six months of baseball are in the books, and they were six good ones: the Pirates’ 98 wins leave them as one of the best regular season clubs in franchise history.
As good as they were through the summer, the 94-win team of 2013 finished that year with .500 ball down the stretch (24-24 in their final 48). Last year, they were only three games over (71-68) during the first week of September. This year, despite another slow start, the Bucs went on quite a remarkable run: they won 80 of their last 122 games, a .656 winning percentage since May 22nd that no other team in baseball came close to.
Of course, it still wasn’t enough to take the crown from St. Louis. The NL Central was a division for the ages, a true race-to-100 that came down to the final week:
The final standings:
1. St. Louis (100-62)
2. Pittsburgh (98-64)
3. Chicago (97-65)
4. Milwaukee (68-94)
5. Cincinnati (64-98)
Chicago finished on an eight-game winning streak. The young Cubs and their confident ace will be a tough task for the Bucs in Wednesday’s do-or-die Wild Card game. The Reds, meanwhile, dropped 14 of their last 15 games and will take next year’s #2 overall draft pick for their futility. The 68-win Brewers weren’t far behind and will select fifth. For finishing with the three best records in MLB, the Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals will have the final three picks.
So, how’d the Bucs get to where they are? Their offense was solid:
The team’s non-pitchers — notably led by Andrew McCutchen, Jung-Ho Kang, and Francisco Cervelli, among others — collectively posted a .333 OBP (3rd in NL) and scored 4.22 runs per game (4th). By wRC+, they were 7% better than league-average as a whole, good for third-best.
Arguably the key to the Bucs’ success was once again strong and steady pitching. Led by Gerrit Cole, the starting rotation ranked among the best throughout the season:
You’ll notice a strong trend between ERA/FIP and team winning percentage in the National League. All five playoff teams were the five best by ERA: Cardinals, Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, Pirates.
The starting performances wouldn’t have mattered as much if they couldn’t hand the ball over to a reliable bullpen. The Bucs’ 2.67 relief ERA was the best in all of Major League Baseball this season:
All in all, this was a special season featuring one of the most well-rounded Pirate clubs we’ve seen. Hopefully it doesn’t end Wednesday night.