By John Perrotto
The Pirates have assured themselves of another losing season.
That, of course, is nothing new. The Pirates have had 19 of them in a row, extending their record for most consecutive sub-.500 seasons by a major North American professional sports franchise.
The Pirates broke the record two years ago of 16that had been set by the 1933-48 Phillies. Things got so bad for the Phillies during that span that they went into the witness protection program for a while and were known as the Blue Jays for two seasons in the late 1930s. However, the Pirates have no plans to change their name. In fact, there is a feeling of optimism that the streak of losing seasons will end soon.
“It’s going to happen,” right-hander Charlie Morton said.
“The atmosphere is totally different now. We know we can win. We got a taste of it this year. We were in contention for a long time. This season isn’t going to end the way we are hoping but it’s definitely a step in the right direction and something we’re going to build upon.”
The Pirates seemed on their way to breaking the streak in July. They moved atop the National League Central standings and seven games over .500 at 48-41 with a 1-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds on July 19 at PNC Park.
Then the plummet began. The Pirates have gone 20-41 since then and are now fourth in the division, 19 games behind Milwaukee. The Pirates are also just three games ahead of the fifth-place Chicago Cubs.
Much of the Pirates’ downfall stemmed from injuries and fatigue.
Among the regulars who have spent time on the disabled list this season are catcher Ryan Doumit, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, shortstop Ronny Cedeno and outfielders Alex Presley and Jose Tabata. Left-hander Paul Maholm and right-hander Kevin Correia, the anchors of the starting rotation, suffered season-ending injuries in August, and Morton and right-hander Jeff Karstens have missed starts this month because of arm fatigue.
The Pirates insist they will be better in 2012 for having gone through the adversity.
“The baseball we’re playing now isn’t the baseball we played in the first four months of the season,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “We’ll learn from it, though. We’ll be stronger next year. We have a young team and we’ll be better prepared to go from start to finish for six months.”
That is what manager Clint Hurdle hopes the takeaway is for his team from his first season on the job. The constantly optimistic skipper refuses to be disappointed about the season even though the hopes were so high just two months ago.
“We want to win,” Hurdle said. “That said, we haven’t won enough. We’ve got a core group in place, we’ve made some strides in areas, and we’ve seen there’s some work in front of us. We’ve got room for improvement across the board. These guys have tasted it. But our how-to has got to improve for us to get past the point where we’re talking about consecutive losing seasons.”
If nothing else, all has not been lost this season just in the fact that the Pirates are no longer the laughingstock of the major leagues. They have earned respect, something in short supply during their 105-loss debacle of 2010.
“I really think the Pirates should be congratulated for what they’ve done this year,” said St. Louis’ Tony La Russa, the second-winningest manager in baseball history. “Clint and his coaching staff have done a really good job of getting those guys to play hard for nine innings. They’ve played us tough all year. They’ve played everybody else tough, too. You can’t take them lightly.”