2014 Pittsburgh Pirates
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2014 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Clinched Wild Card: September 23, 2014, At Atlanta Braves
Managed by Clint Hurdle
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2014 Pirates were coming off a playoff appearance in 2013 but that had been preceded by 20 consecutive losing seasons.
The team made few major moves over the off-season, relying on the returning corps of players led by 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, 2013 NL home run co-leader Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte and including Neil Walker, Russell Martin, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon. The biggest changes were the departures of slugger Garrett Jones and All-Star pitcher A.J. Burnett to free agency. Edison Volquez was signed as a reclamation project, hoping for a repeat of their success with Liriano in 2012, taking Burnett's spot in the rotation. If that did not pan out, the hope was that prospect Jameson Taillon would be ready to contribute before the end of the season, like Cole had been the previous year; however, it was soon discovered that Taillon had an injured elbow requiring Tommy John surgery and would not pitch at all that season. A similar hope existed for right field, with Gregory Polanco hopefully ready if Jose Tabata and Travis Snider did not succeed. Volquez wound up making the rotation despite an awful spring, during which Cole also struggled. Pittsburgh still finished 15-10 in spring training, tying for the best record in the NL; McCutchen had a great spring.
The only surprises on the final roster were mild ones - an injury to backup C Chris Stewart meant Tony Sanchez started in the majors, non-roster invitee Travis Ishikawa won a job at 1B alongside Gaby Sanchez and beating out favored Andrew Lambo, and Vin Mazzaro missed the bullpen cut after a fine 2013, due to a crowded field. Pittsburgh got off to a bad public relations start to the season when they announced Barry Bonds, a two-time MVP for the Buccos, would present McCutchen with his MVP award. Bonds had left town under mutual disregard after the 1992 season - not to mention his later involvement in the PED scandal that tainted his home run records - and was expected to be greeted with plenty of boos. Also presenting was 1960 NL MVP Dick Groat, a more popular figure in Pittsburgh. Former Manager of the Year Jim Leyland gave Clint Hurdle his Manager of the Year Award, while former award winner Jack Wilson was to present McCutchen and Alvarez their Silver Slugger Awards.
Pittsburgh won their opener in dramatic fashion, 1-0 in 10 innings, over the Chicago Cubs. Liriano fanned 10 in six innings and Tony Watson, Melancon, Grilli and Bryan Morris followed with a scoreless inning apiece. Hometown kid Walker homered off Carlos Villanueva to end the game. It was the first time Pittsburgh had won its opener on a walk-off homer since Bob Bailey had gone deep, also in the 10th inning, to give the team a 1-0 win in its 1965 opener. In their second game on April 2nd, the Pirates set a franchise record for the longest game played in terms of time, as it took them 5:55 to defeat Chicago, 4-3, in 16 innings (the previous record, which was 6 minutes quicker, had been set in an 18-inning game with the Houston Astros in 2006). The Bucs got another excellent performance from a starter, with Charlie Morton holding the Cubs scoreless over 6 innings, but Grilli failed to protect a 2-1 lead in the 9th and it took another 7 innings before pinch-hitter Tony Sanchez ended the game with a single off Carlos Villanueva, scoring Jose Tabata from third base, and rookie Stolmy Pimentel picked up his first big league win after pitching 4 scoreless innings.
Pittsburgh won each of its first three series by 2-1 margins, only the 4th Pirate team in 50 years to win their first three series, following the 1966, 1976 and 1992 editions. On the other hand, two of those three series were against the Cubs, a weak team in 2013 that was not expected to be very competitive in 2014 either. On April 14th, the Bucs matched a couple of marks in a crazy game at Great American Ballpark that was suspended after 6 innings. The Pirates and Cincinnati Reds combined for 10 homers in the 6 innings, the most in any major league game since June 18, 2006, when the Cubs and Detroit Tigers had hit 11 long balls. Neil Walker and Gaby Sanchez hit back-to-back homers twice, the second time in team history this had happened, after Toby Atwell and Jerry Lynch on April 27, 1954. Starling Marte and Travis Snider also went deep back-to-back in the abbreviated game, making it only the third time a team had performed the feat three times in a game, the last having taken place in 1977. Despite the pyrotechnics, the game was tied at 7-all when rain halted play and had to be continued the following day. Things went quieter over the last three innings played on April 15th, as a double by McCutchen and a single by Russell Martin led to the only run scored, in the 7th inning, for an 8-7 win.
After their 6-3 start, Pittsburgh hit a 3-11 skid. Finding Ishikawa (.206/.263/.282 in 15 G) ineffective, they let him go and picked up former 30-homer man Ike Davis, who had hit .227 in 2012 and .205 in 2013; they got him for minor league reliever Zack Thornton and a player to be named later. The plan was to pair Davis with Gaby Sanchez. During the skid, the team also was involved in a brawl, resulting in suspensions for Snider and Martin, though the Brewers' Martin Maldonado and Carlos Gomez were hit with harder penalties for their leading roles in the incident. Grilli, Wandy Rodriguez and Martin all hit the DL in late April. While all those problems hit, the Brewers were off to the best start in the majors, while the St. Louis Cardinals were also playing well, putting the sputtering Pirates and Reds under pressure even though the season was barely a month old. They finished the month 10-16 for the third-worst record in the NL at that point, ahead of only the Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks. The offense was 13th in runs and the pitching was 9th in fewest runs allowed. McCutchen (.286/.408/.500, 21 BB in 26 G, 161 OPS+) had the only OPS+ better than 105, while Walker (.235/.291/.431, 6 HR, 105 OPS+) and Martin (.242/.342/.355, 102 OPS+) were the only other starters over 91. Alvarez had six homers but a .172 average and 90 OPS+, Marte was hitting .229/.308/.305 and had dropped from the leadoff spot and Jordy Mercer was at only .167/.222/.182. Cole (2-2, 3.18) and a surprising Volquez (1-2, 3.21) were the top starters while the bullpen was doing well.
After slowly climbing their way out of their early hole, the Pirates were in the thick of the playoff race as of August 12, 1 1/2 games out of first place. They then dropped seven in a row to seemingly fall out of contention but recovered to win 7 out of 9 from contenders Detroit and St. Louis and division rival Cincinnati. That brought them back within two games of first. They then dropped four in a row to continue their roller-coaster, including a sweep by St. Louis, and even a .500 season seemed in danger at 71-68.
They turned it around once more and reached a key milestone on September 7th, when a 10-4 win over the Cubs, completing a three-game sweep a Wrigley Field, put them in a virtual playoff spot for the first time of the season, as the second wild card team in the NL. The Cardinals were by then consolidating their lead atop the NL Central after getting hot in late August, while the Brewers were now on the outside looking in after a very rough two-week stretch. For the Pirates, the going had not been easy, as they had also withstood losing streaks of 7 and 4 games since mid-August but had managed not to fall out of contention in spite of this. The story of the season had been utility man Josh Harrison, who had forced his way into the regular line-up by his steady production, being a surprise addition to the All-Star team, and then, instead of falling back to earth, winning Player of the Month honors in the National League in August and also taking over first place in the batting race.
On September 20-22, the Pirates became the first team since the 1960 Philadelphia Phillies to play three consecutive 1-0 games. The Phillies had lost all three contests, but the Bucs won the final two, with great pitching performances by Vance Worley and Francisco Liriano aided by a clutch RBI single by Russell Martin and a solo home by Andrew McCutchen. After those games, their magic number to clinch a postseason slot was down to 2. They did just that a day later when they defeated the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, after falling behind 2-0 early, while the Cardinals lost. The win made them 15-3 in their last 18 games, and they were now within one game of the Cards in the NL Central.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen and Tony Watson
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Andrew McCutchen (OF) and Neil Walker (2B)
- Associated Press: "Pirates edge Braves to clinch at least an NL wild-card berth", ESPN.com, September 24, 2014