Pirates raise expectations of fans this season

Here at the end of August, I find the state of the Pittsburgh Pirates fan base to be perplexing.

If I said your team was third in the division and seven games out of first, how would you feel? Does being fourth in the wild card race make you feel any better?

However, the Pirates seem to have built up a fury of spirit and enthusiasm among the Bucco faithful. While there isn’t a lot to be excited about, it’s understandable that after two decades of sheer mediocrity, it’s easy to please the city of Pittsburgh.

The last time the Pirates finished with a win-loss record above .500 was 1992. With roughly a month left this season, the Pirates sit 10 games above that .500 mark at 68–58. The last time the Pirates had a Most Valuable Player was in 1992 as well, when outfielder Barry Bonds won his second MVP before leaving for the San Francisco Giants. But this year, outfielder Andrew McCutchen is leading the MVP race with a .346 batting average to lead the National League, and is posting 24 homeruns and 78 runs batted in.

No player is more valuable to his team than McCutchen, who has a 6.0 wins above replacement rating, a tie with New York Mets third baseman David Wright. It seems the Pirates are headed in the right direction. But very quickly this façade of success — let’s call it the “era of mediocrity goggles” — will fade and the Bucco Nation will expect more.

For example, the Pirates’ pitching has been fantastic this season. But while pitcher A.J. Burnett could be an ace over the next few seasons, it’s hard to believe that the team can count on pitchers John Karstens and James MacDonald to consistently play well. MacDonald has yet to finish a season with an earned run average under 4.0, and Karstens has been injury prone, to say the least.

On the bright side, Joel Hanrahan has been the second-best closer in the National League — behind the Reds’ Aroldis Champan — without argument.

There are certainly some good things happening with Pittsburgh’s baseball scene, and fans should be excited about what the team has done on the field. But I’m afraid that excitement will quickly result in setting unrealistic expectations.

Simply put, the Pirates is not a playoff team. There is not enough offense, there are pitching uncertainties, and the team plays in the toughest division in the National League. The Cincinnati Reds hold a seven-game lead over the Pirates, which is a lot to make up in a month.

They still have a chance for one of two wild card spots and a chance to play the Atlanta Braves, miles ahead of the rest of the wild card race.
But with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ new ownership bringing in over $250 million of payroll in one trade, the wild card race may not be close for long.

But what the Pirates do have a chance at — other than ending the streak of losing seasons — is rebuilding a fan base that was indifferent after seasons of mediocrity.

I am a strong believer in a superstar’s ability to ignite excitement among fans.Although McCutchen has been the only bright spot in this season’s offense, if he can get MVP at the end of it, those aforementioned and horribly named goggles will last a little longer.