Raise the Jolly Roger: Pirates Futile No More

by Jason Epstein

Congratulations to the Pirates and their fans.

Last night, the city of Pittsburgh was celebrating the home team’s 90th win and its clinching of a playoff spot — their first since the George Herbert Walker Bush administration — after a bizarre play at home plate cemented a 2-1 victory in Wrigley Field and subsequent Nationals loss.

Two weeks ago, a few of the faithful might have performed cartwheels immediately following the club’s 82nd victory, guaranteeing the first winning season in 21 seasons, but the players and front office kept their eyes on the prize — a postseason slot, preferably as the NL Central champs. Alas, a first-place finish now appears remote, as the Cardinals have a two-game advantage with five to play and the Bucs are still tied with the Reds in the standings, but at minimum a wildcard berth has been secured.

Two recent stories on the franchise’s emergence from the abyss are worth click-throughs: Mike Axisa story over on CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball detailing how the current roster came into being and a profile from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Travis Sawchik on Baseball Prospectus alumnus Dan Fox, the club’s analytics master.

I opined three springs ago that the Pirates appeared to have a promising future under the tutelage of team chairman Bob Nutting, president Frank Coonelly, and general manager Neal Huntington, noting that Huntington had “tak[en] over a wreck of a franchise after the 2007 season” and needed to rebuild from the ground up, a task arguably as daunting as what Andrew Friedman faced when he assumed the Rays’ GM position at the end of 2005, and one currently in progress with Jeff Luhnow and the Astros.

However, others were decidely less enthused, even after the 2011-12 clubs had flirted with first place for a time before slumping, with one columnist going so far as to label catcher Russell Martin’s $17 million, two-year contract — the Pirates’ largest-ever investment in a free agent but chump change to nearly every other organization — an “overpriced desperation move.” Another went even further by demanding that Huntington get canned.

Fast forward to right about now: I am pretty confident that even the Tribune’s Dejan Kovacevic would agree that the Pirates aren’t “clueless about winning.”

Raise the Jolly Roger!

Right Field

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