Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals ousted the Pittsburgh Pirates from the playoffs with a 6-1 win in Game 5 of the NLDS. The Cardinals have reached the NLCS for the third straight season thanks to Wainwright going the distance and Cardinals hitters making the Pirates pay for mistakes.
Gerrit Cole gave the Pirates a fighting chance, giving up two runs and three hits in five innings pitched. His one mistake was leaving a hanging slider to David Freese in the second inning who hit a two-run homer off Cole.
At the end of the day, there’s no shame in losing to a very good Cardinals team in five games but the Pirates golden opportunity was Game 4 at home where against a battle tested team like St. Louis, you have to put them away in that spot.
If there’s one disappointment for the Pirates in the last two games, it was the top of the order, where Starling Marte went 1-19 in the series, Neil Walker 0-19, Andrew McCutchen was 5-18 in the series but had just one extra base in the series and was 0-8 over the last two games. Justin Morneau’s time as a Pirate will be remembered as a singles hitter. Morneau was 6-20 in the series but like McCutchen, had just one extra base hit.
For the Pirates, this was a huge breakthrough season and the future looks very bright due to arms in the system, core in place, Gerrit Cole emerging into a star pitcher already, among other reasons, but the difficult part starts now for management and ownership in sustaining a winner.
Ownership took a big step this season in being financially committed to building a winner but in Major League Baseball, small market teams sustaining a consistent winner is no guarantee and it’s hard.
Ownership is going to have to dish out the check book to improve this team through free agency or trade, as the Pirates have to get better offensively and also retain the young players that are going to start getting real expensive such as Pedro Alvarez who is arbitration eligible.
The Pirates hit big in free agency last off-season with Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano. That type of luck doesn’t happen every year.
If there’s an ideal model for the Pirates to follow, it’s the Tampa Bay Rays who have made the playoffs in four of the last six years. The Rays draft really well, spend on the right players for the most part in free agency and know when to trade their young talent at the right time when salaries of those particular players start to escalate, giving them the ability to keep restocking their system.