There's been a running joke in Pittsburgh for years that once Steelers training camp starts, the Pirates season is officially over. Well, this year, when the Steelers reported to Latrobe on July 25th, the Pirates were still pretty relevant and were doing quite well for themselves. They were 60-44 at their apex, four games up on the rest of the field in the National League wild card standings, and in very close proximity to the Cincinnati Reds in the Central Division.
However, since that point in the season, the Pirates have fallen on hard times and so far out of the NL Central race, if it were a Presidential election, they would have conceded a long time ago. At 72-67, I don't know if the Pirates have reached rock-bottom just yet, but they sure have reached a new low by getting swept by the lowly Chicago Cubs this weekend at PNC Park.
The Pirates are now 12-23 in their last 35 games, and only a totally blind and eternal optimist would even suggest that this team is even close to being a playoff contender.
The Pirates have already reached their win total of a season ago, so I guess no matter what happens, one might consider it a step up. However, this will mark the second straight August/September collapse for the team. The fall hasn't been as swift as last season, but it sure feels just as bad. And because MLB added an extra wild card team to each league, the Pirates still only find themselves 2.5 games back in the standings.
However, instead of being a hopeful sign, it's more of a torturous reminder of where this team could be right now had it won even a few more games over the last month or so.
What has transipred over the past 35 games is quite a shame, really, and it has nothing to do with the playoffs, either. Oh, sure I wanted a postseason berth as much as anyone back in June and July when the Pirates were rolling. But more than anything, I was just happy to watch a wonderful baseball team day in and day out.
I was pumped about Andrew McCutchen's MVP-like numbers, and the 1-2 pitching punch of A.J. Burnett and James McDonald. I watched in delight as Pedro Alvarez was hitting monster home runs and reminded us all why the Pirates risked a lot to draft and sign him back in 2008. I enjoyed the heck out of the absolutely dominant performance by the bullpen as well as the absolutely delightful Zoltan phenomenon.
The rest of the fan base was enjoying it, too, and they started to come out to the games for a tangible baseball reason.
Now, that all seems so long ago. The Pirates are on life-support, and whatever excitement that remained before this just completed six-game home-stand, is probably dead and gone after Pittsburgh went 2-4 against two of the worst teams in baseball.
Even if the Pirates manage to get their act together long enough to win another nine or 10 games and end the streak of consecutive losing-seasons, many fans, including yours truly, will still be left with a sense of emptiness.
Well, at least the Pirates waited until the start of the Steelers regular season to finally fold it in and call it a day.
Get'em next year, Pirates.