Pondering the Pirates

Mercifully, the Pirates 2011 baseball seasons have only a handful of games remaining. I wrote “seasons” because the Pirates have had two distinct halves. For the first 100 games, the Pirates went 53-47 and for a couple of weeks were either in or flirting with first place. Pittsburgh was in a state of baseball induced euphoria. Pirates’ games were sold out; Pirates’ tee shirts and caps were the wardrobe of choice for town locals.

At the All Star Game, the Pirates sent three players, triple its obligatory single representative. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, starting pitcher Kevin Correia who had notched a league leading 11 wins and lights out closer Joel Hanrahan.

Since the midseason classic, McCutchen is hitting about .200 while Correia, after winning one more game, went on the 60 day disabled list and was lost for the season. As for Hanrahan, there simply weren’t many more save opportunities. Since July 20, the Pirates are 17-46.

The post-All Star Game Pirates are as awful as last year’s 105 game losing Bucco squad. What started out so hopefully in April and May has crashed and burned beyond recognition. Even the most devoted fans can’t bear to watch.

As of Tuesday, the last two games the Pirates played were a dismal Sunday affair in Los Angeles that the team lost 15-1 and a 1-0 defeat in Arizona when Diamondbacks’ ace Ian Kennedy limited the Pirates to two hits while striking out 13.

Speaking of strike outs (which I wish I wasn’t), if watching batters whiff with frightening frequency is your thing, you should become a Pirates fan. Since the ASG, the Pirates have struck out more than any team in baseball; before the break they ranked seventh.

I’ve saved the worst for last. Nothing is more deflating than to see Pedro Alvarez come to the plate. In 2008, Alvarez was the second player chosen in the Major League Baseball Draft and signed a $6.3 million bonus. Last September Alvarez seemed to be on his way when he finished the season by winning the NL Rookie of the Month Award, hitting .311 and leading all Major League rookies with 26 RBIs in his final 27 games.

This year Alvarez, who bounced back and forth between the Pirates and AAA Indianapolis has been, to be kind, a complete bust. As of September 20 Alvarez, in 214 at bats is hitting .189 with 3 home runs and 15 RBIs. Alvarez strikes out about once per every 3 times at the plate. Of the five essential baseball tools—hit for average, hit for power, run, field and throw—Alvarez can only throw, assuming he fields the ball cleanly.

No one really knows what to make of Alvarez. According to some, he’s a tireless worker determined to forge a Hall of Fame career. To others, he’s a surly underachiever. The best thing about Alvarez is that he’s 24 and may yet have a future, although I wouldn’t bet on it.

The 2011 Pirates—so magnificent in the spring and so ugly in late summer– remind me of Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

But what does Tennyson know? After all, he was never a Pirates fan.

6 Replies to “Pondering the Pirates”

  1. I’ve been keepin’ track of how they’re doing compared to other teams during their 19 seasons of junkball. It was sad this summer… mores than any other, ’cause I really believed they would reach 82 wins. When they had 53 wins after 100 games, how could you NOT believe they’d find a way to squeak out 29 more over the next 62? They didn’t even have to go .500 to pull it off! I like the Pirates, and I love to see underdogs surprise everybody. This was deflating… I can only imagine how deflating this 2nd half has been to die hard Pirates fans. Are there die hard Pirates fans still out there?

  2. As always, well summarized, Joe. I am planning on waiting until the season mercifully concludes next week to do my own post mortem. When the final history of the ’11 Pirates is written, the key element will have been the complete failure of Pedro Alvarez. As you said, no one knows what to make of it. I would not bet a single dollar as to which direction his career will take beginning in 2012. It is a true conundrum.

  3. What does it say about me Joe, that I bought tickets to the final game of the season? I guess it’s like the feeling of closure one gets after attending a funeral. What a discouraging summer!

  4. I am sorry gentlemen, but to quote one of my father’s truisms, it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Signor Guzzardi’s misplaced optimism to the contrary notwithstanding, the dismal performance of Senor Alvarez did not solely account for the spiral downward of the Pirates; that was a team effort, or lack thereof.
    Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s when baseball was the only game in town, and the Pirates claimed to be the owners of the cellar of the National League, I can only refer to Pittsburgh not as the Pirates, but the Patsies.
    But have heart: for many years the on-going dirge sang by many a Brooklynite was, “Wait til next year,” a mantra that Patsy fans should adopt.

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