The Road to 17 is a look at each losing season that the Pirates have had since their last playoff appearance in 1992. The object is not to wallow in the misery of the Pirates, but instead remember just what it is that makes us Pirate fans in the first place. Every team has their great moments, the Pirates' are just fewer and further between. Today, we hit the sixteenth stop on the Road to 17: 2008
Writing these last few parts on the Road to 17 have been weird, because it's pretty hard to be nostalgic about things that have happened so recently. 2008 just ended!
For the last few years of the Dave Littlefield era, all I really wanted to see was for DL to give up on a year or two, embrace the fact that rebuilding was a long and painful process, and start building from the bottom up. That's what Huntington did in his first full year as general manager and I've got to say that while I'm really encouraged by the draft and the team's new committment to Latin America, the Pirates were no fun to watch at some points last year.
Through the entire losing streak, I'm not sure the Pirates have had a worse month than August of 2008. We knew going in that the schedule was brutal and that was before we traded Jason Bay and Xavier Nady away. That resulted in a month where the Pirates lost 21 of 28 games and only scored 82 runs. 82 runs in 28 games is 2.93 runs per game and given the 150 that they allowed, that means that they got outscored by an average of 5.36 to 2.93 in August. I'm struggling to even find the phrase I want to use to describe that sort of thing and I keep coming back to, "That's just so bad," so I'm going to stick with that.
What I hope 2008 is remembered as is the year that we got Pedro Alvarez into the system. We went through a brutal cycle with him this year; there was disbelief that would be drafted and elation when he was, disbelief he would sign and elation when he did, and finally disbelief we'd get the grievance filed by Boras resolved and mostly happiness with some grumbling when he did. And if he tanks, none of that will ever be worth it. If he turns into the hitter we think he can be, well, it will all have been worth it.
Really, things like the draft and the awful August make 2008 a really two-sided year. The Pirates finally got some bats with Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit breaking out and joining Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, but Bay and Nady were traded. The Pirates' pitching staff was as bad as anyone can ever remember it being, but they spent $9 million on the draft broke ground on a new academy in the Dominican. This is how it's going to be over the next couple years, I'm afraid, but at least we started to get a foundation down in 2008.
Of course, it would be unfair to remember 2008 without one of the wildest games in Pirate history. I'm not talking about the huge comeback against the Cardinals in July, I'm talking about Opening Night in Atlanta. Thanks in large part to a three-run homer by Nate McLouth in the eighth inning, the Bucs held a 9-4 lead going into the the bottom of the ninth, looking to get John Russell his first big league win in fairly easy fashion. After Damaso Marte struggled, Matt Capps walked two batters, gave up a single, and still had victory firmly in hand when he induced a two-out pop-up from Brian McCann that somehow fell harmlessly between Jason Bay and Nate McLouth, neither of whom seemed to have any idea where the ball was landing. That tied up the game and it stayed tied until Xavier Nady hit a three-run homer in the 11th, but the Pirates nearly blew that lead as well in the bottom of the inning before Franquellis Osoria finally shut the door on the 12-11 win. I'm sure every manager remembers their first win, but I think only John Russell has nightmares about his.
In the short term, 2008 will be remembered more for the two July trades than anything else. A lot has been written about those trades in a lot of places, but right now the only way to look at them is like this: Xavier Nady and Jason Bay were not going to be a part of the Pirate team that breaks this losing streak but Andy LaRoche and Jose Tabata could both play important roles on that hypothetical future team. We'll be a lot more certain if they will or not after the 2009 season (and given the huge upside and huge risks of both players, it could really go either way), but right now the potential is still there for both of them and that's what matters.
If the Pirates are indeed on a road right now, they spent the better part of 15 years driving in the wrong direction. In 2008, they realized they were going the wrong direction, but they realized in the dark on a country road with nothing around them for miles. Rather than turning around, they've decided the only way to get where they're going is to keep driving in the wrong direction while trying to figure out where they are and what they're going to do when they eventually come to an intersection.
Have you ever been lost before? I don't mean kind of unsure if you missed an exit or not, I mean full-blown middle of the night on a country road with nothing around it for miles and you're not even sure why the road exists or where it's going and you don't have cell reception and you're driving and your friend next to you has a roadmap out and you're trying to figure out where you really might be and what you need to do if you ever see a turn on this road but you're honestly not even sure it's coming. The only thing you know for sure is that you've been driving down this stupid road for way too long and you can't turn around because it'll take you longer to get back to where you were than it will for you to get where you're going.
That's where the Pirates are right now and it took until 2008 to even get a map out.