Coming on the heels of an 87 loss season, and two straight years of a slight decline in attendance, Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting gave the team’s Executive VP/GM Neal Huntington the go-ahead to slash payroll and re-stock the farm system. Within a two-day span in mid January, the Pirates jettisoned starting pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, moves so unpopular with the fanbase that thousands of Pirates fans signed a petition urging owner Bob Nutting to sell the team. Veteran utility-man Josh Harrison was so upset with the moves that he issued a statement to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wishing to be traded if the Pirates weren’t intent on winning.
The Pirates began the 2018 season with Harrison and a nice mix of everyday players that includes veterans Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Francisco Cervelli and Corey Dickerson (who is hitting .303 , but or some reason the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t want) to go along with an exciting young nucleus of Austin Meadows, Josh Bell and José Osuna. Meadows, a first round pick in 2013, logged 15 hits in his first nine major-league games and is currently hitting to the tune of .326/.351/.598.
On the mound, Pittsburgh has a young core at the front of their starting rotation, with Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams. Seasoned vet Ivan Nova is the elder statesman on the staff at age 31. The results have been up and down with these youngsters, as happens with them, but the raw talent is there. The Pirates bullpen is anchored by flame-throwing lefty closer Felipe Vazquez (formerly Felipe Rivero), who has 14 saves as of this writing.
Collectively, this Pirates squad started the season off hot, winning eight of their first 10 games, easing some of the angst within the team’s fanbase as well as in the clubhouse. At April’s end, the Bucs’ record stood at 17-12. Their play has since leveled off, but they are only six games out of 1st place almost halfway through the season in a very competitive National League Central Division. Longtime manager Clint Hurdle and his staff have long had a history of getting more out of less, they are good at what they do.
I sympathize with small market teams, being a fan of Buffalo sports teams. Unfair or not, it’s a sobering reality when teams are dismantled due to high salaries. But I encourage Pittsburgh fans (and any baseball fans) to get to beautiful PNC Park to watch what should be a fun and exciting second half of 2018.