2018 Pittsburgh Pirates
2018 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Managed by Clint Hurdle
History, Comments, Contributions
The hopes for the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season were low as spring training opened. Following two straight sub-.500 finishes, they had traded former MVP Andrew McCutchen (their top star of the decade) and former #1 overall pick Gerrit Cole (who had been up and down over the past few years) for a slew of mid-level prospects, most notably 3B Colin Moran. That led to numerous complaints from the fan base, with letters to the editor and many saying they would be attending fewer games. Several Pirates players complained as well, with Josh Harrison requesting a trade and Sean Rodriguez and David Freese also speaking up. That said, Pittsburgh was returning almost all of its starters from 2017 and had not undergone a Fire Sale like the Miami Marlins: C Francisco Cervelli, 1B Josh Bell, 2B Harrison, SS Jordy Mercer, 3B Freese (with Moran expected to platoon with him) and OFs Starling Marte (moving to CF) and Gregory Polanco all were due back, with an expected battle for LF between Adam Frazier, Jose Osuna and possibly free agent Daniel Nava. The rotation returned starters Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams with Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow and off-season acquisition Joe Musgrove expected to compete for the 5th spot. The bullpen changed over a little more - closer Felipe Rivero was back along with George Kontos and Daniel Hudson. Musgrove, two other acquisitions in Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz, and 2017 rookie Dovydas Neverauskas were among those counted on to round out the bullpen.
Early in spring training, the team shuffled things up by trading Hudson and minor leaguer Tristan Gray to Tampa Bay for 2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson, who would then fill the spot in left field. A few days later, Nava was lost for approximately three months when he had to undergo surgery to alleviate pain in his lower back. The team struggled in Grapefruit League play despite impressive power numbers, not something that was expected to be a strong point. Many of the pitchers did poorly. The team opted to start the year with 13 pitchers and only 12 position players, sending Osuna down despite an excellent spring training. The season got off to a delayed start when the opener was rained out. When the first game was played on March 30th, the Pirates defeated the Detroit Tigers, 13-10, in a wild 13-inning game. They trailed 6-4 in the top of the 8th but tied it with 2 runs, then scored 4 more in the top of the 9th only to see closer Rivero, who would announce a few days later that he had changed his name to "Felipe Vazquez", fall apart in the bottom of the inning, issuing four runs on three walks and a double while recording just two outs. The Tigers' Nicholas Castellanos apparently scored the winner in the 10th but the ruling was overturned on video replay, as Castellanos had not touched home. Polanco hit a three-run homer off Alex Wilson in the top of the 13th and Brault was the winner with three innings of scoreless relief. After another rainout the next day, the Pirates swept a doubleheader on April 1st, 1-0 and 8-6 behind a strong start by Williams in the opener and a win by Kuhl in the nitecap. Rivero redeemed his opening day cough-up by saving both wins to get the Bucs off to a 3-0 start before moving to Pittsburgh for their home opener on April 2nd. The Pirates continued to be one of the surprise team in the majors over the next week. On April 6th, a four-hit night by Moran was key to a 14-3 beatdown of the Cincinnati Reds that improved the Bucs's record to 6-1. It was the team's best start since 1976, when they had also started 6-1.
The team finished April a solid 17-12, right in the mix for the race with St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago in a strong division to that point. The offense had been the strong point, like in the preseason, ranking second in the NL with 142 runs, almost 5 per game. Newcomers Dickerson (.313/.358/.515, 139 OPS+) and Moran (.280/.362/.415, 115 OPS+) had helped out returning players Marte (.286/.365/.446, 124 OPS+, 21 R, 8-10 SB) and especially catchers Cervelli (.308/.391/.564, 162 OPS+, 20 RBI in 78 AB) and Elías Díaz (.484/.529/.677, 232 OPS+ in 34 PA). Interestingly, Jung-ho Kang had gotten an unexpected visa, though whether he would return to the majors to contribute, with Moran ensconced at third and backup Freese playing well, was less clear. The pitching had not been as sharp, with a 3.98 ERA ranking 10th in the NL. The bullpen seemed to be recovering after a terrible start while Williams (4-1, 2.29) and Nova (2-1, 3.32, 4 BB in 38 IP) were pacing the starters; Taillon had been inconsistent and Brault and Kuhl okay but unspectacular. Nick Kingham had come up originally for a one-game stint but retired his first 20 batters to earn a second game in May.
Pittsburgh started May well and reached first place by mid-month but then went into a tailspin, in large part due to failures by the bullpen. They finished the month 12-15 to fall to 4th, 6 1/2 games back. Cervelli, Dickerson and Marte were all still hitting very well as was Rookie of the Month Austin Meadows, who came up when Marte got hurt and played so well he hung around. The offense was still one of the best in the NL but the relief corps was definitely bringing the team down. June was all bad as the team was 10-16 and the offense, which had been doing well, went cold, including leaders Marte, Dickerson and Cervelli (who got injured). The Pirates reached a low point on July 7th when after a fifth straight loss, they were at 40-48, 12 1/2 games back. However, they began to turn things around the very next day, starting a streak of 11 wins in 12 games that brought them back above .500 and allowed them to pass the third-place St. Louis Cardinals on July 22nd, the first time since late May that they had been in any position other than fourth in the division. They also won their next two games to make it 11 wins in a row before losing on July 25th. It was their longest winning streak since 1996 and they were now within striking distance of the second wild card.
They finished July 56-52, 3rd in the NL Central and 6 games out. At the trading deadline, they made their biggest deal of prospects in years, sending away Meadows, who had been mostly down in AAA as Marte, Dickerson and Polanco were all doing well but who had hit .292/.327/.468 (114 OPS+) in Pittsburgh, and Glasnow (1-3, 4.34), another former top prospect, in return for Chris Archer. They also picked up reliever Keone Kela for AA prospect Taylor Hearn. Their offense was in the middle of the NL pack (7th with 489 R), with solid contributions from Dickerson (.318/.351/.517, 134 OPS+), Polanco (.254/.348/.518, 19 HR, 60 R, 48 BB, 133 OPS+), Marte (.285/.331/.489, 16 HR, 25 SB, 121 OPS+), Cervelli (.244/.372/.463, 127 OPS+), Moran (.265/.334/.389, 116 OPS+) and Díaz (.286/.332/.450, 111 OPS+). The team ERA of 4.20 was only 10th in the league but the bullpen had solidified and several starters were coming off strong months. Musgrove (4-5, 3.63, 110 ERA+), Taillon (8-8, 3.74, 106 ERA+) and Williams (9-7, 3.89, 102 ERA+) were pacing the starters while Crick (1-1, 2 Sv, 1.98, 202 ERA+), Richard Rodriguez (2-2, 2.76, 144 ERA+) and Edgar Santana (2-1, 3.00, 133 ERA+, 6 BB in 48 IP) were proving to be solid late-inning relievers with Vazquez (4-2, 24 Sv, 3.15, 126 ERA+, 64 K in 45 2/3 IP) closing things out well.
If the Pirates had briefly flirted with contention at the start of August, the month did not go well as the Bucs were 10-17. Realizing that they would not be playing into October, they unloaded a couple of veterans on August 31st by sending 3B-1B David Freese to the Los Angeles Dodgers and SS Adeiny Hechevarria to the New York Yankees. Still, the Pirates hung in the race longer than anyone expected, not being mathematically eliminated until a loss to the Brewers on September 23rd. Granted, they had always been just hanging on on the fringes of the postseason race, but it was still a successful outcome when most fans had thought before spring training that the team had written off the season before it had even started. The second half was marked by the emergence of Trevor Williams as one of the best starters in baseball, as his ERA since the All-Star break was a sparkling 1.08 in 11 starts.
Awards and Honors
- Associated Press: "Pirates enter 2018 with retooled roster, modest expectations", USA Today Sports, March 22, 2018. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Pirates pull off stunner: Trade for Chris Archer signals team all-in", USA Today Sports, July 31, 2018. 
- Bob Nightengale: "As Pirates gear up for playoffs, Andrew McCutchen wonders why this season is different", USA Today, August 6, 2018.