Winning is hard.
I think most people understand that. Especially those who have observed the Pittsburgh Pirates for decades.
Being in my early 20s, I haven’t experienced the same hardships that those growing up in the early 90s felt, being three outs away from the World Series before 20 straight years of losing.
I grew up with Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, and Jason Grilli. While the Steelers and Penguins fell short of lofty expectations following championships to end the decade, the Pirates stole the hearts of Pittsburgh for three unforgettable summer seasons.
2013-2015 was the best baseball anyone my age has ever seen at PNC Park. It doesn’t look like it will return anytime soon. Unless something drastically changes.
The Pirates lost 8-7 Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, being walked-off to conclude the sweep. Derek Shelton’s team trailed 5-0, came back to grab a 6-5 lead, gave it right back, took it right back, then were walked off on a Thairo Estrada two-run homer.
It’s hard to turn the corner, and the Pirates are feeling every last ounce of it.
Possible cornerstones of the next contender like Oneil Cruz, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Jack Suwinski, and a handful of pitchers have flashed signs of success, but they have shriveled in critical moments when depended on.
Yes, Suwinski single-handedly won a game with three homers and is in Triple-A. Yes, Cruz has driven in a ton of runs and is the best power threat on the team. They need to be better all-around baseball players.
But it’s not just them. The lack of starting pitching talent in the Minor Leagues should leave fans concerned.
Quinn Priester is going to have a solid career. Roansy Contreras will be an impactful starter. Mike Burrows has a chance to crack the rotation. Who else is there above Single-A?
I’m not here to be a complete downer or be too critical on what can be described as an overreaction Monday, but being the fourth-worst team in baseball for the second-straight year doesn’t shine a bright light of optimism.
I tend to believe the Bucs have a chance to be relevant in 2023 due to my belief in Henry Davis, Travis Swaggerty, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, along with Reynolds’ consistency and Hayes taking a step up at the plate.
This team needs pieces, especially pitching. Pitching and defense is the backbone to every successful team, and the Pirates banked on both during their previous run of success. It will be the same if the next group of Pirates fans growing up feel the same magic as those past playoff summers.
But Ben Cherington has a ton of questions to answer for the currently 45-70 club before 2022 even concludes: Is Derek Shelton the right guy inside the clubhouse? The players play hard for him.
Is the organization going to be more aggressive with promoting prospects? Will pitchers earn a longer leash to pitch a third time around? Will Bryan Reynolds be committed to long term? When will spending money in free agency be, if at all?
All great questions. I’ll ask again later. Then again after that, until the corner is finally turned.