Unpopular opinion alert: I agree with Neal Huntington.
When the Pirates general manager, on his weekly Sunday pregame radio show, said that this year’s Pirates probably didn’t ever deserve to be 16 games over .500, I have to admit I feel the same way.
This isn’t hindsight, either. When the Bucs embarked on their remarkable midseason surge that had them in a wild-card position and challenging for the NL Central lead, I was ecstatic, but also waiting for the bottom to drop out a bit.
Part of that dreadful feeling was scar tissue from following years of losing Pirates teams. But a greater portion of my pessimism arose from the way the team seemed lucky to be within shouting distance of the division lead after looking like yet another sad sack club through most of April and May.
Yes, the pitching was largely very good through the early season struggles, but any level-headed observer could tell you
that the talent level didn’t match the extraordinary production. Fortunately, the somnabulant offense responded in remarkable fashion as spring turned into summer, while the pitching held up for the most part.
Even in those heady days, I was merely hopeful that the Pirates would be playing meaningful games in September, figuring they would fall back at some point. Huntington said Sunday that he was expecting the team to settle in around eight games above the break-even point, and I think an 85-77 record would’ve been reasonable to expect.
As of Monday, the Pirates would have to win all of their remaining 10 games to reach that point. The degree of the team’s fall has been alarming, but as I said last week, perhaps this is just a team finding its talent level over the course of a 162-game season.
My only problem with what Huntington said Sunday is that he made those remarks in a public forum. I don’t care what Pirates fans think about it, but I do think players shouldn’t be made privy to comments about how they were playing over their heads.
Even at the highest levels of sport, confidence can be very important. If Huntington thought his roster was less talented than what they were showing, perhaps he should’ve kept it private. It seems – understandably – that his desire to defend his work took precedence over worrying about his athletes’ morale.
Of course, since this team isn’t making the postseason, maybe Huntington thinks there’s limited harm in being candid at this juncture. I can buy that, but he’s got to sell owner Bob Nutting on the idea that this current slide is just a bump on the road to ultimate success. After back-to-back late-season collapses under his watch, that will be a challenge.
If the Pirates are able to make the right adjustments this winter, this year’s faltering could be very constructive. It’s not difficult to imagine a winning season and a potential wild-card berth obstructing the view of critical flaws in the team’s makeup.
Yes, when a team is 16 games over .500 with two months to go and finishes well back in the playoff race, that’s an opportunity missed. The Baltimore Orioles are presumably unconcerned with their negative run differential as they prepare for the MLB postseason.
However, each team starts over in the winter. If the Pirates can use lessons learned from August and September to get better for next season, at least all the recent anxiety and anguish won’t be for naught.
In the meantime, getting to 82 wins would be nice, wouldn’t it?