It had to come to an end sooner or later for the MLB Pirates and that happened to be last night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
It was quite the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had their first winning season since 1992 and won an exciting NL wild-card playoff against the Cincinnati Reds — also their first playoff win since 1992.
They then pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to a fifth and deciding game in the NLDS, finally falling in defeat, 6-1, to a simply overpowering Adam Wainwright.
As disappointing as the loss to the Cardinals might have been for the Bucs, I think there is greatness ahead for this team if they make a few shrewd moves. Here’s what I see as their priorities for this winter.
If there was ever any doubt regarding the affection the city of Pittsburgh has for its pro baseball team, a quick look at what your Pittsburgh-area Twitter followers are saying, tells you just about everything you need to know:
1. Jason Grilli @GrillCheese496h
Hardly slept thinking of what great a ride we had. Came up a bit short but pumped for Pittsburgh. Change has come. Gotta enjoy the grind.
Retweeted by Pittsburgh Pirates
1. Pittsburgh Penguins @penguins16h
@Pirates It’s been a great ride. We can’t wait until next spring. Love our Bucs. #BurghProud
Retweeted by Pittsburgh Pirates
9:49 PM – 9 Oct 13 • Details
Reply to @penguins @Pirates
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2. Steve Peresman @StevePeresman16h
Agreed “@penguins: @Pirates It’s been a great ride. We can’t wait until next spring. Love our Bucs. #BurghProud”
3. Pittsburgh Steelers @steelers7h
Congratulations to the Pittsburgh @Pirates on a great season, and a heck of a ride. You made us all #BurghProud pic.twitter.com/LE4mvgWrnG
Retweeted by Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s harder to follow the @Pirates on this side of the border but thanks to Twitter, it is made possible.
The @Pirates stopped a record streak of 20 straight losing seasons this year. The seemingly easily knocked off the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card game with a loss so dejecting to some of the Reds that some players questioned their own dedication in that loss.
“We were able to take a huge step forward this year in restoring the pride and the passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization,” manager Clint Hurdle said, “and rebonding our city with a ball team.”
Despite their charming turnaround and a victory over Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game, the Pirates haven’t won a postseason series since the 1979 World Series.
Cardinals’ starter Adam Wainwright was helped by three double plays — two when Pirates runners strayed too far on line drives. The right-hander struck out six and walked one in a 107-pitch, complete game.
“Every time we turned around, Wainwright got in the way tonight,” Hurdle said. “The at-bats were better, the approach got better, but he kept making pitches.”
Sidelined with an arm injury when the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series, Wainwright threw seven innings of three-hit ball to beat Pittsburgh 9-1 in the series opener.
He is 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and four saves in 15 career postseason games, including six starts. He even helped the Cardinals to a championship as a rookie closer in 2006.
The 23-year-old Gerrit Cole beat the Cardinals with an impressive effort in Game 2. They got to him early this time even though his fastball hit 100 mph in the first inning against Matt Holliday. He did not have the same magic last night.
David Freese made the kid pay for a full-count walk to Jon Jay with two outs in the second, lining a 1-2 pitch into the visitors’ bullpen in left.
Cole gave up just three hits over five innings, but was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
At 23 years, 31 days, Cole was the youngest NL pitcher to start Game 5 of a division series and the fifth-youngest NL pitcher to start a winner-take-all post-season game, according to STATS.
Freese and Matt Adams each hit a two-run homer, and Wainwright scattered eight hits for his second dominant win of the division series.
Freese homered in the second inning off rookie Gerrit Cole, and Adams connected in the eighth against reliever Mark Melancon to make it 5-1. Pete Kozma added an RBI infield single, and Wainwright finished it off by striking out Pedro Alvarez with two on.
Jay made it 3-0 Cardinals in the bottom half with a two-out RBI single off Justin Wilson.
Freese struggled this season to overcome a back injury in spring training and had nine homers and 60 RBIs. But just like teammate Carlos Beltran, he’s an October star with seven homers, 29 RBIs and a .325 average in 36 career postseason games.
Adams’ power hitting helped the Cardinals overcame a mid-foot sprain to cleanup man Allen Craig in early September. And on this night, Adams hammered a first-pitch fastball from Melancon well over the right-field wall for his first RBIs of the series.
Freese struggled this season to overcome a back injury in spring training and had nine homers and 60 RBIs. But just like teammate Carlos Beltran, he’s an October star with seven homers, 29 RBIs and a .325 average in 36 career post-season games.
The Pirates lacked support at the top.
The Pirates got some punch from Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen had his share of base hits, but a couple of hitters didn’t perform as they usually did.
The Pirates’ 1-2 punch of Starling Marte and Neil Walker were a combined 1-for-38 in the series.
Cardinals’ pitchers put on a clinic in how to get Marte out, getting him 13 times on pitches on the outer half of the plate or off the outside corner.
Walker set a Pirates postseason record for worst oh-fer in a series with his 0-for-19.
The talk in Pittsburgh was whether Clint Hurdle should move around his lineup since Starling Marte and Neil Walker, the first two players in the lineup, are a combined 1-for-32 in the series. Hurdle’s rationale to keep things as is: “They’re due.”
I see this one both ways, but for me the biggest reason to shuffle the lineup would be that Pedro Alvarezand Russell Martin, hitting sixth and seventh, have been having good at-bats all postseason. Why not move them up in the order to try to get them an extra at-bat? Cleanup hitter Justin Morneau hasn’t homered since joining the Pirates (although with a .363 OBP, maybe it would be wise to move him into Walker’s spot). You could hit Morneau second, move Alvarez to the cleanup spot, keep Marlon Byrd in the five-hole and move Martin up to sixth, sliding Walker down to seventh.
David Freese always has been a clutch performer in the postseason, especially with his team facing elimination. Here’s a look:
H-AB 9-for-25 (.360)
Freese also has the most postseason HRs when facing elimination in franchise history:
David Freese 3
Matt Holliday 2
Allen Craig 2
Albert Pujols 2
Jim Edmonds 2
— ESPN Stats & Information
The Pirates scratched out their lone run on two infield hits and the single by Alvarez that looked to be a harmless inning-ending groundout before it hit the bag.
It was the 24th meeting between the teams this season, with each team winning 12 times.