I don't know how I feel about there being two wild cards. I assume that I'll be against it if the Pirates finish ahead of the Reds and for it if the Pirates finish behind them. I don't know how I feel about the way the Pirates have played since the All-Star Break. On the one hand, it seems like they're going to stay in the division race right until the bitter end and that was all I really hoped for at mid-season. I can intellectually appreciate that the Cardinals and Reds are two of the best teams in the National League and that two teams have to lose a three-team race and that being one of those two teams doesn't have to necessarily reflect poorly on the Pirates. And on the other, I can certainly count enough games the Pirates should have won and didn't that could have flipped this division race. I don't know how to feel about the bullpen or what to make of the rotation or how to construct a playoff rotation in which the third and fourth starters are much more consistent than the first and second guys. I have no idea if the Pirates can score runs in a playoff series against teams like the Braves and Dodgers.
Here's what I do know: the Pirates are going back to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. I know that these concerns are so much better than wondering if Busted Prospect X could somehow find a way to regain his luster or if Waiver Claim Y was even worth opening up a laptop screen to write about. They're light years beyond legitimately wondering if Dave Littlefield was a robot sent from the future intent on eliminating the Pittsburgh Pirates as a viable entity. I know that it's this moment that I've been waiting for since 1992, and not an 82nd win.
Once upon a time, I used to predict a return to prominence for the Pirates every single year. I did it in 1994 and 1995 and 1996. I don't think I did it in 1997, but I'm sure that I did in 1998 and 1999. I don't remember exactly when I stopped. I think that it must've been right around when I read Moneyball, which was after the 2003 season. Like so many other people, that book flipped a light switch for me. Unlike most of those other people, it came with a depressing realization for me: the Pirates had no idea what they were doing. In 2005, when I started WHYGAVS, I started really trying to understand baseball analytically (I played through high school and, like most baseball players, never really thought much about the wheels and cogs) and I got more and more horrified by the Pirates every year. When the Pirates hired Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington late in 2007, it became simultaneously clear to me that they had a plan to build a good Pirate team, and that the hole dug by the previous front office was so much deeper than I had previously imagined. 2008 and 2009 and 2010 all passed without the Pirates sniffing a respectable team. They got closer in 2011 and closer still in 2012, but I still spent most of my week in Bradenton this spring fretting about the Pirates being incomplete and worrying about wasting another year of Andrew McCutchen and trying to figure out how the puzzle was going to fit together in 2014 or 2015 or 2016.
One of the things that I've certainly learned in life is that sometimes you are incapable of knowing how much something affects you until it's over. When it comes to the Pirates for me, it hasn't so much been the constant losing or the terrible baseball, it's been the complete and utter lack of hope that accompanies each Pirate season. I don't even know how to describe this without feeling foolish for being a Pirate fan; it's impossible to describe what it's like to be excited for baseball every spring, but resigned to know baseball will end in September for Pirate fans while other teams and their fans get to live through the playoffs. It's been profoundly strange to watch the Rays and Nationals rise to prominence over the last few years, fall short, see their fans wail in agony over finally having a real baseball team to care about only to have it break their hearts again, to sympathize with them, and then to think, "Why are you complaining? I would kill to just be in that position with the Pirates."
I understand that that sounds dangerously close to saying, "I don't care what happens from here on out, the Pirates made the playoffs and that's good enough for me," but that's not the emotion that I'm feeling or what I'm trying to convey tonight. What this is an incredible and unexpected relieving of a burden. The Pirates weren't really supposed to be this good this year, but suddenly, they are. They're in the playoffs and I have no idea what's going to happen next. They could get hot and shock the hell out of the world one or two or three more times, because why not? If they don't, well, that's something we can deal with when it happens.
I'm going to repeat a sentiment that I've been hitting on since the Pirates won their 81st game a few weeks ago, because I think that it's particularly true now that we know they're going to be in the playoffs. What's always been hard about being a Pirate fan is the concept that you are watching the Pirates and rooting for a future result. It's hard to have the best part of your year as a fan be seeing Andrew McCutchen in person in a Triple-A game and realizing that he might be the real deal. It's hard to isolate and distill the few good things from awful seasons into some sort of unknown building block for the future. What's great about clinching a playoff spot is that there's no more worrying about building blocks. There's no more wondering about windows and when they'll open or how long they'll stay open for. There's a real, tangible, good baseball team wearing a Pirate uniform this year, and that finally takes precedence over everything else. I don't know what's going to happen to the Pirates next and I can't promise that it will be good, but I do know that this is much better than the certain doom that's surrounded other Pirate teams of the recent past.
In a lot of ways, I feel like i've been watching the Pirates build and build and build during the Huntington years, but I've been doing it without ever looking up from what I thought the blueprints were. Suddenly, the building is finished and I'm not sure that it looks like what I thought it'd look like, but all I want to do is go inside and explore it. The Pirates are in the playoffs. They made it. I made it, as a fan. You made it. We all made it through the worst times. There's something new and different ahead, and whatever it is, it has to be better than what's behind us.
Arguably some of the best writing I've seen this year ... maybe in any number of years. You summed up my own feelings succinctly. I haven't been able to articulate them, but you did very nicely. Thank you.
@Shafferrrr We made it.
I'll get the horse in front of the cart with this.... Any chance or thought that the Pirate FO might make a push to offer an attractive contract this offseason to Justin Morneau for 2014 and beyond?
Back in June it became clear that September/October would be the best time for my vacation. I made sure the flight back was on September 30. Sad to miss the stretch run, but so, so happy to buy playoff tickets. Congrats to everyone wearing black and yellow today.
New goal for the team, Cutch gets to play the day after his birthday.
@whygavs You nailed it. I did a Bucs blog for several years before burning out during the DL years. You stuck it out. Enjoy the moment.
@whygavs That post is perfect, Pat. So happy for you, me, and all of us.
Does anyone know what happens if there is a tie for the wild card with either the Cardinals and/or the Reds?
Great post. I have never commented but I'm one of what I'm sure are many who religiously follow your blog. You've been one of the few sources of grounded and rational thought as it relates to the Bucs. Strangely, I never appreciated or needed that more than during this season's pennant race (I thought this was supposed to be the fun part?!). Well done Bucs and well done Pat.
Kinda strange. I celebrated win 82 like the Pirates were celebrating last night...with lots of tears mixed in. While I am happy, I felt more like the wild card birth was inevitable with this team once win 82 was behind us. Looking forward to an October 1st celebration!
Thanks for another great post. Just this morning I was worrying about how the Pirates might or might not contend next year, but you are right... why worry about next year, when we can enjoy the present for once. More to come for this Buccos team.
Extremely well written, Pat. Thanks for your dedication and keeping many Bucco fans better informed about everything Pirates! Beat 'em Bucs!!!
@mwr505 I think he's gonna command more than he's worth. Jones and Gaby are both arbitration-eligible (both for the second time, I believe), and they should both be non-tendered. Personally, I think it's time to move Pedro to first and either move Walker back to third (which I think is better for him long-term), Mercer to second and find a shortstop who isn't getting the love he deserves or leave Walker and Mercer where they are and find a third baseman.
@mwr505 They shouldn't. He's maybe a 1 WAR player who should be at most the big half of a platoon, but will get paid like a full-time 2-3 WAR player on reputation. They could get better performance out of a strict Gaby/Lambo platoon at less than half the cost.
@PatStuart The host is decided by head-to-head record. The Pirates and Reds are 8-8 against each other, so more than likely seeding will be determined by whoever wins two games this weekend.
@PatStuart If two teams end up with the same record, HFA is decided by head-to-head record (which can't be tied, because the three teams involved each played 19 games against each other). PIT leads STL 10-9; STL leads CIN 11-8, and PIT/CIN will be decided in the last three games of the season (currently tied 8-8).
If all three teams are tied, #ChaosEnsues.
@wkkortas @mwr505 Has Pedro ever played much 1st base? I sort of like the idea of that move. Has this been discussed by Pirate brass or are you just dreaming up "What ifs"? He's too inconsistent at 3rd for my taste but then his at bats are too inconsistent for me also but he has shown some improvement on that recently. How Walker would react to moving to 3rd would be curious now that he's become one of the better mlb 2nd basemen and I agree that Mercer is not the best answer at SS - but, I like him there a lot more than when it was Ronny Cedeno! Do you think Barmes will come back for a much lesser 1yr deal at say $1-1.5mil or do you want him gone? Just curious. Thnx.
@DGL @mwr505 I haven't seen enough of Lambo at 1B to get a feel that he's ready to play a full platoon position at mlb level. Perhaps Lambo has not been given enough mlb at bats for a fair assessment but I've been a bit underwhelmed. I understand that Morneau will be much more costly and maybe that's enough to leave him out of the equation but I like his solid 1B glovework this past month and his at bats, while not great, have shown an approach that often makes contact and he draws walks. Regardless of Morneau's employment in 2014, is it safe to assume that G Jones will not be in Pirate black & gold next year?
@mwr505 @wkkortas I don't think he's played any first, and I've never heard any official discussion of the move--but I've never seen a guy Pedro's size who could really play third, but he's got pretty good hands and a good arm--he could be like Pujols, who was a negative at third but a defensive asset playing first base. Walker's turned into an OK defensive second baseman, but he's a big guy with a bad back, and I think moving to third would extend his career. I can see bringing back Barmes as a stop-gap at a discounted rate; there aren't just any good shortstops in the free agent class, so he could keep a spot warm until Hanson is hopefully ready.