On May 22, the Pirates were embarrassed.
The St. Louis Cardinals completed a three-game sweep at PNC Park with an 18-4 throttling of Pittsburgh with 20 total hits and scored a run against every Pirates pitcher who took the mound.
Something changed that day.
The Pirates’ philosophy changed that day. At least, to an extent.
With school out for the year and kids ready to enjoy the summer sun, the Pirates have begun to see their own “kids” play and make a major impact in the big leagues.
And they’re just getting the party started.
Following the 14-run loss, starting pitcher Roansy Contreras, reliever Yerry De Los Santos, infielder Tucapita Marcano, and outfielders Cal Mitchell and Travis Swaggerty have all been promoted to the Majors.
It doesn’t end there.
Rookie outfielder Jack Suwinski hit a walk-off, two-run home run to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1 on Saturday, and leads all rookies with six long balls.
Infielder Diego Castillo made the Opening Day roster and is the team’s primary shortstop after injuries and lack of production.
Play the kids? They’ve been the team’s best.
Contreras pitched 5.2 innings Saturday, allowing one unearned run scored by a wild pitch, and holds a 0.96 ERA in four career starts.
Swaggerty was a first-round pick in 2018 and has torn apart Triple-A pitching the past two weeks. Marcano homered twice in Los Angeles during the Pirates’ three-game sweep of the Dodgers, taking five-of-six from the best team in baseball.
The Bucs are 8-4 since their home humiliation, but maybe that’s just what they needed. No one ever wants to be destroyed by a division rival. No one desires it. No one likes it. No one enjoys tolerating it. But no one is complaining about what has followed.
A point needed to come when Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton took the training wheels off of the current rebuild. Sure they’re going to fall a few times, but so far the team has gotten right back up.
It’s a small sample size, no one is denying that. The identity? Seems a bit different at least. The Pirates are fun again.
The players fans have spent years hearing about in the Minor Leagues or as pieces acquired via trades are either knocking on the doorstep or walking right through the front gates of PNC Park.
Playing the kids has its perks. Bumps in the road are prone to happen, potentially sooner than later, but the decisions by Cherington and Shelton are apparent.
The Major League roster is being overhauled in an extremely quick amount of time to allow consistent playing time to become available.
Oneil Cruz is next. Then Mason Martin. Followed by Ji-hwan Bae. Canaan Smith-Njigba not far behind. In what order? It’s anyone’s guess. But at this rate, they might all arrive within two or three weeks of each other.
The youth movement is in full force and looking to start shining a light on the national stage. The regime is showing confidence in them, and the players sure have responded.
The crazy thing about it? Pittsburgh’s No. 1, No. 2, No. 4, and No. 5 prospects are all in Double-A.
2022 is just a start.
Sit back in your lounge chair or seat sectioned inside PNC Park to watch the Pirates' future take shape. It’s not going to always be pretty, it hasn’t been for years, but optimism provides a glimpse of hope. Hope provides belief. Belief brings people back.
Time will tell if the kids can keep up their contributions with someone different stepping up almost on a nightly basis. Regardless, the Pirates are interesting again. The Bucs are close to being relevant again.
It’s been 10 years since the 2012 team opened the eyes of the league en route to a historic 2013 season.
Some circumstances are different, but a lot are the same.
The kids are home, and their years of studying have prepared them for their toughest test yet.