MLB Playoffs: For Pittsburgh Pirates, Missed Opportunity Means Real Disappointment


Oct 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The Pittsburgh Pirates stand for the National Anthem prior to the 2014 National League Wild Card playoff baseball game against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Call this the first real postseason disappointment of the current Pittsburgh Pirates era.

Losing in Game 5 of the National League Division Series last year was rough for sure, but that pain was blunted by the lingering euphoria of a long-awaited return to the postseason.

This time was different, though. This time there were expectations. Boasting one of the best offenses in MLB and a surprisingly deep pitching staff, the Pirates were a legitimate pick to play deep into the autumn, especially after they reeled off 17 wins in 21 games at one point in September.

But although their late burst kept the National League Central in doubt until Game 162, it forced the Pirates to burn their two best starting pitchers on the final weekend in hopes of avoiding the wild card game. They couldn’t, and as a result Edinson Volquez got the call Wednesday night against the San Francisco Giants.

To be fair, having Francisco Liriano or Gerrit Cole on the mound probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference with Madison Bumgarner in prime form. The Giants’ top gun threw a total of four balls in the first three innings, showing right from the start that he was going to force the Pirates out of their usual patient approach.

Nevertheless, with Bumgarner on his way to authoring one of the best pitching performances in the 14-year history of PNC Park, the Bucs needed a similarly strong outing. Volquez just wasn’t up for it, even if he meandered his way through three scoreless innings to keep Pittsburgh on level footing.

His lack of command got the better of him in the fourth, however. Brandon Crawford‘s grand slam was the first in MLB postseason history by a shortstop, not the type of indelible moment the largest crowd in ballpark history had planned on seeing.

And so it was that the Pirates fell victim to the very same type of winner-take-all ambush they laid upon the Reds one year ago. Those who live by the sword can die by the sword.

Ironically, staying in the running for a valuable division championship may have cost the Bucs their best chance to win Wednesday night. Unlike the Giants, who could line up their best pitcher because of a lackluster final month, the Pirates didn’t have the luxury of a clear decision. Perhaps they chose unwisely.

Putting that drama aside, 2014 represented a missed opportunity for the organization. Guys like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are likely at their peaks, the National League seemed vulnerable, and who knows what becomes of pending free agents like Liriano and Russell Martin.

Making the playoffs still represents a measure of success, but the Pirates’ World Series drought stands at 35 years. If the time for moral victories hadn’t passed before, it has now.