What we’re thankful for… as Pirates fans

There are more important things in life than professional sports. However, if you’re reading this, you probably invest tons of time into them – particularly Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. Well, so do we, and supporting this team is an unforgettable ride. Even though it’s “only a game,” baseball is important to us and a number of people around the world. At this time of Thanksgiving, here are a few things we appreciate as Pirates fans…

An Awesome Fanbase

Pirates Fans

First and foremost, we’re thankful for all the passionate Bucco fans out there. Pirate fans have been through thick and thin, but the fanbase is a ridiculously dedicated group of people. Big thanks to all who have read the blog over the past two years. If you’re one of our 2,300 Twitter followers, we thank you for caring about what we have to say in 140 characters or less.

A Beautiful Ballpark

pnc park blackout nlds game 3 october 6

Isn’t it awesome to have your favorite team play in one of the best ballparks in America? If you’re in attendance or watching on TV, it’s nice to see baseball in such a great setting. It was even nicer in October for the three home playoff games. A total of 2.25 million fans passed through PNC’s gates in 2013, the second highest attendance in team history. A record-setting 23 sellouts made the stadium a special place to be throughout the summer. Hard to believe 2014 will already be its 14th season, but PNC Park is still an excellent place to catch a ballgame.

A Most Valuable Player

We should all be thankful that we get to watch one of the league’s best players on a nightly basis. We should also be thankful for his contract, which will keep him in Pittsburgh through 2018. Andrew McCutchen is the face of the franchise on and off the field, and it’s a pleasure to watch him play baseball.

A Competitive Team

For the first time in two decades, the Pirates fielded a competitive team for an entire season. Every step of the club’s 94 wins and postseason run was enjoyable and something we’ll never forget. Hopefully this is the start of a new streak – a winning one – and we’re thankful that we are able to witness it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

124 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

2013 in Review: Starting Pitching

Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching 2013 AJ Burnett Francisco Liriano Gerrit Cole

Without the excellent pitching the Pirates received on a nightly basis, there’s no way we would’ve been sitting at PNC Park in October. The organization exhibited great depth, with 12 different pitchers making starts in 2013. As a whole, the Bucs’ starters produced a 3.50 ERA, fifth-best in Major League Baseball.

Final stats:

Pittsburgh Pirates Starting Pitching Stats 2013

It’s astounding to see the top six – Burnett, Locke, Liriano, Morton, Cole, Rodriguez – all finished 2013 with earned run averages between 3.02 and 3.59.

Even at age 36, A.J. Burnett produced some of the best pitching of his career. His 3.30 ERA matched a career-best, and he led the National League with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Burnett’s contract is up, and he’s deciding between retirement and returning to the Pirates. We should know his decision soon.

Batman & Robin

Jeff Locke (Robin to A.J.’s Batman) had a crazy year…
March: earns the fifth spot in the rotation
April: starts slow, then flips the switch
May: tremendous (1.78 ERA in six outings), was our “Player of the Month
June: another great month (1.67 ERA in five starts)
July: makes the All-Star team
August: demoted to Altoona to make room on the 25-man roster
September: yikes (6.00 ERA in four starts)
October: left off the postseason roster

jeff locke altoona demoted august 2013
Locke dresses himself on the floor of Altoona’s clubhouse – August 31, 2013 (via Tony Sanchez on Twitter)

It’ll be interesting to see if the Lockeness Monster can rebound at all in 2014.

Francisco Liriano was excellent. Regarded as the best free agent signing of last winter, he pitched like a Cy Young candidate for most of the year. Frank the Tank is under contract for 2014 and looks to be the ace again.

Charlie Morton returned from Tommy John surgery in June, and pitched some of the best baseball of his career down the stretch. Ground Chuck gave up no more than two earned runs while pitching at least six innings in six straight starts between August 7 and September 2. He’s arbitration eligible again this winter.

After a much-awaited June call-up, Gerrit Cole lived up to the hype in his rookie season. He posted a 1.69 ERA in September, earning himself NL Rookie of the Month honors. Cole 45 dominated the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLDS, then made one bad pitch in Game 5. It’ll be fun to watch him for a full season in 2014.

Wandy Rodriguez missed the last four months of the season due to an arm injury. Yesterday he officially chose to exercise his player option for next year, meaning he’ll be back in the black and gold. The question is whether or not he is healthy… And if he is, can he avoid the DL in 2014?

As for the other pitchers who made starts in 2013: Jeanmar Gomez made a few spot starts, but was used primarily out of the bullpen. James McDonald was terrible, went on the disabled list, then ultimately got cut from the organization. Brandon Cumpton (5 outings), Kris Johnson (1), and Phil Irwin (1) made spot starts as Triple-A depth; Cumpton deserves a lot of credit. Jonathan Sanchez was a mistake…

jonathan sanchez

jonathan sanchez twitter

The bottom line: the Pirates were built on pitching in 2013, with many great starters paving the way to a postseason run.

Next up, we’ll look at the Bucco bullpen.

149 days until Opening Day

Go Bucs

15 Questions for the Second Half: Answered

On July 18th, we asked 15 questions about the upcoming second half of the Pirates’ season.

Now, three months later, we have our answers. Here they are..

1. Can the pitching hold up?

The pitching definitely held up, though it wasn’t quite as dominant in the second half. Opponents hit for a higher batting average and averaged more runs, but were still limited by a great Bucco pitching staff.

2. Can the offense improve?

As a whole, they hit .249/.319/.407 in the second half, an improvement from .242/.309/.387 in the first half. Not drastically improved, but still an improvement.

3. What will happen at the trade deadline?

Nothing! The Bucs (and many other teams) were silent at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. However, they made a few nice moves to bring in Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Justin Morneau at the end of August prior to the waiver trade deadline.

4. Will there be another 19 inning game?

Thankfully, no.

5. Can Andrew McCutchen finally have a good second half?

YES! Cutch struggled down the stretch in both 2011 and 2012, but showed up this season. He solidified his MVP case by tearing the cover off the ball in August, hitting .432 between 9/2 and 9/29. Overall in the second half, Cutch hit .339/.441/.561 in 67 games. He’s pretty good at baseball.

6. Will we see Wandy Rodriguez again?

Nope. Wandy was shut down for the year; his last outing of 2013 officially came on June 5th. It looked like he was on the comeback trail when he made a rehab start in early September, but suffered a further setback and couldn’t return.

7. Can Gerrit Cole contribute for the full stretch run?

Absolutely. Cole flipped the switch and was terrific in September, posting a 1.69 ERA in five starts. He even carried it into the playoffs, dominating the Cardinals in NLDS Game 2 and earning the trust and confidence of Clint Hurdle to start him in Game 5. Cole made just one bad pitch on the night the Bucs were eliminated, leaving one out over the plate for David Freese to hammer over the wall. The former first overall pick was great during the stretch run; can’t wait to see what he can do with a full season.

8. Will Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano continue to dominate?

Jeff Locke: No. He was terrible, demoted to Altoona at one point to clear room on the roster, and ultimately left out of the postseason.

Francisco Liriano: Yes.  He blew up in a few games – 5 runs vs. Cincinnati, 10 runs vs. Colorado, 7 runs vs. Milwaukee – but did well otherwise. He gave up two runs or less in nine of his second half starts. Frankie carried that into the postseason, shutting down the Reds in the Wild Card game and the Cardinals in NLDS Game 3.

9. Will the bullpen remain unstoppable?

Eh, not quite. Jason Grilli missed about six weeks due to injury and Mark Melancon faltered down the stretch. Tony Watson was a bright spot, finished the regular season with 21 consecutive scoreless outings. The Shark Tank still did their job for the most part, though they weren’t quite as dominant as they were for the first few months of 2013.

10. Can Michael McKenry figure things out?

Unfortunately, The Fort injured himself at the end of July and missed the rest of the season.

11. Who, if any one, will contribute from Class AAA?

No one made a huge impact, though guys like Andrew Lambo, Tony Sanchez, Felix Pie, Brandon Cumpton, Stolmy Pimentel, etc. made a number appearances along the way.

12. Will the Cardinals slow down?

Nope. The Redbirds were 40-29 in the second half; 19-8 in September. They closed out the regular season on a six-game winning streak to take the Central. And of course, they eliminated the Pirates in the NLDS.

13. Can they hold off the Reds?

Yep. The Bucs beat out the Reds for second place in the Central, securing home field advantage for the NL Wild Card game – which the Pirates soundly won.

14. Who will sneak up in the Wild Card race?

The Nationals had a nice run for a while, but fell short in the last week of the season.

15. Is this the year?

YES. I can confidently say this was the year for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s the question every year, but it was finally answered in a positive manner. There was no collapse, they finished with a winning record and made the playoffs for the first time in two decades. They even pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to the edge of elimination in the NLDS. I couldn’t be more proud to be a Bucco fan, and I’m sure others agree.

andrew mccutchen our year 13

Go Bucs

Video: Marlon Byrd Pirates Highlights

Even though he played just a little over a month in Pittsburgh, Marlon Byrd made a nice impact. He had a huge bounce back year in 2013 and had the opportunity to finish it off with the Pirates.

Here’s a quick highlight video I put together featuring a few of his best Bucco moments. Enjoy:

[Note: Video may not be available on mobile devices due to YouTube copyright issues. Sorry.]

Music is “Work” by Gang Starr, one of Byrd’s walk-up songs.

Would love to see him back in the black and gold next season, but he’ll definitely draw some big contract offers. No matter where he ends up, best of luck to Marlon Byrd in 2014.

Go Bucs

Countdown to 82: ONE MORE WIN

Pittsburgh Pirates Winning Season 2013 Countdown 1

Date: September 3rd, 2013
Pittsburgh Pirates Record: 81-57

With Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over Milwaukee, the longest losing streak in North American professional sports is over. At 81 wins, the Pirates will not endure a losing season in 2013. With one more victory, they will officially have a winning campaign.

Plus, the Bucs have found themselves a nice little lead in division. Here are your updated NL Central standings:

nl central september 3

Go Bucs