After beating the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 8, the Pirates were 63-47. The talk in the clubhouse and among fans wasn't whether the Pirates would break their streak of losing seasons but if they would get to the postseason.
Alas, everything went awry as the Pirates collapsed. They went 16-36 the rest of the way.
"Nobody saw this coming," first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones said. "Everybody is pretty ticked off."
Having the most wins in 13 years provided little consolation for Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who figures to finish high in the National League Most Valuable Player voting after hitting .327 with 31 home runs, 96 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 157 games.
"Nobody will remember what we did in the first half of the season," McCutchen said. "We have to find a way to catch a second wind and keep moving forward."
The Pirates have gone a combined 38-77 from Aug. 1 forward the last two seasons. Having a limited payroll with the limited depth that goes along with it is part of the problem, but general manager Neal Huntington vows to dig deeper to find an answer.
"We're going to evaluate everything, but there is going to be an intense focus on the last two months of the season, when it all unraveled on us," Huntington said.
Once the Pirates figure out why 2012 went sour, they will start looking ahead to 2013.
Surprisingly, their wish list is short.
The Pirates believe they already have a solid lineup with McCutchen, second baseman Neil Walker, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Jones and shortstop Clint Barmes as the anchors. They believe Jones, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and outfielders Starling Marte, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata will give them strength at first and the corner outfield spots in some combination.
Catchers Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry are expected to switch roles in 2013 with McKenry becoming the No. 1 man behind the plate and Barajas being the backup. The Pirates don't plan to exercise Barajas' $3.5 million club option, but there are strong indications that he will re-sign with them for less money.
The Pirates would like to add a veteran starting pitcher if they are unable to work out a one-year contract with arbitration-eligible right-hander Jeff Karstens, who was limited to 15 starts this season because of shoulder and groin injuries.
Right-hander A.J. Burnett and left-hander Wandy Rodriguez are set at the top of the rotation, and right-hander James McDonald, who was awful after going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in the first half, will compete with young left-hander Jeff Locke, rookie right-hander Kyle McPherson and Karstens or whoever the Pirates bring in for the other rotation spots.
CF Andrew McCutchen was a unanimous choice for the Roberto Clemente Award as the Pirates' Most Valuable Player in voting by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association. McCutchen hit .327 with 31 home runs, 96 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 157 games. The Pirates signed McCutchen to a six-year, $51.5 million contract in March, and the 25-year-old became the clear face of the franchise this season while establishing himself as the one of baseball's top young talents.
RHP A.J. Burnett was selected as the Pirates' Pitcher of the Year by the Pittsburgh chapter of the BBWAA after going 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA in 31 starts following his acquisition from the New York Yankees in a trade just before the start of spring training. However, Burnett also won high marks from management for his willingness to work with the young pitchers and provide advice to them. In every game in which he didn't start, the 35-year-old Burnett could be found sitting at the end of the dugout with many of the Pirates' other starting pitchers.
1B/OF Garrett Jones was voted the Pirates' Unsung Hero Award by members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the BBWAA. The 31-year-old had the best season of his five-year career, hitting .274 with 27 home runs and 86 RBI in 145 games. Jones figures to be the full-time first baseman or right fielder when next season begins. That's a far cry from the early part of this season, when he shared time at first base with INF Casey McGehee, who eventually was traded to the New York Yankees on July 31.
LF Starling Marte finished his rookie season hitting .257 with five home runs, 17 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 47 games. Marte was benched for a few days late in the season because manager Clint Hurdle thought the 24-year-old wasn't giving his full effort. However, Marte responded well to the benching and finished strong.
OF Alex Presley, the Pirates' leadoff hitter on Opening Day, wound up hitting .237 with 10 homers, 25 RBI and nine steals in 104 games. Presley is mulling the Pirates' request to play winter ball and was given a laundry list of things to improve upon during the offseason by manager Clint Hurdle, including first-step quickness, bunting and hitting off-speed pitches.
Hitting coach Gregg Ritchie resigned after the season finale Wednesday in order to become the head coach at George Washington University, his alma mater. Ritchie spent the last two seasons as the major league hitting coach after previously serving as the Pirates' minor league hitting coordinator.
By The Numbers: 20—Consecutive losing seasons by the Pirates, a major North American professional sports record.
Quote To Note: "It is disappointing, especially because we got to the point where we were talking playoffs. Unfortunately, it all got away from us." —Manager Clint Hurdle, whose team lost 36 of its last 52 games to finish 79-83.