I’ve been pulling back a bit lately. As the Pirates approached their 81st win (and then more importantly their 82nd win), I realized more and more how conspicuous my fandom is. I observed that I was trying a little too hard to care about breaking the losing streak and found, in all honesty, that watching the Pirates to a winning season is not all that interesting to me. Does that make me less of a Pirates fan? Probably. But I’m not kidding anyone here. I don’t presume to be anything more than I am: Some guy that started following one team on a daily basis after his team-of-origin betrayed him. I do think, however, that this gives me a neat perspective on the 2013 Pirates to this point.
The fact that Gerrit Cole pitched a gem to clinch a winning season is not lost on me. Neal Huntington’s approach to the draft has been aggressive and, frankly, a bit reckless (in draft spending terms) for the past 5 years or so. I once heard him summarize his thoughts very succinctly with two questions: What does $5M get you on the free agent market? What does $5M get you in the draft? And relevant to Monday night’s game: What does $8M get you in the draft?
Some people say there are no coincidences, and I’ll choose to be one of those people while writing this piece. Gerrit Cole was nothing short of dominant. He outpitched a Cy Young candidate against a strong(ish) American League offense. He struck out nine in seven innings, at times making good hitters look foolish. He just turned 23. Theoretically, he’ll still be pitching in his ‘prime’ years in a decade.
If this is what we can expect from Gerrit Cole, the all-but-guaranteed game(s) in October should be very, very intriguing. And that’s what I’m interested in. I love experiments – and that’s exactly what small market teams have to do to compete. There are no sure bets in baseball and the high-stakes riverboat gamblers General Managers must be in MLB’s second-tier cities is the kind of drama I love. Sure, fans in New York and LA can fabricate interesting sub-plots when a $150M free agent get signed: Can he stand the pressure cooker? Will the power numbers improve with the little league right field fence? But nothing beats the long-term soap opera of the draft-high and develop story line – especially when it culminates with a call up into a pennant race. And that, fans, it what we saw in Monday night’s game.
And let’s not overlook the additions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. Waiver trades rarely (never?) get a team middle-of-the-order bats, and that’s just what the Pirates pulled off – not once, but twice. The Pirates somehow got past the trade deadline in (or close to) first place on pitching, defensive, and bunts alone. With only one offensive star and a few spare parts with spike skills, the Pirates have managed to outscore opponents more often than not. This is true mainly because they pitch, throw, and catch the ball very, very well. So without losing any of the winning combo that got them to this point, they added a couple 4-6 hitters.
September should be entertaining. But based on the emergence of Gerrit Cole and more shrewd personnel moves by Neal Huntington, October should be even better – this year, and likely for years to come.