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2012 Pirates highlights, lowlights

October 7, 2012
By John Hartsock ( , The Altoona Mirror

Highs and lows of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 2012 season.

Final record: 79-83

Notable: The Pirates' 79 wins this year was their most since the 1997 team also won 79.

Final National League Central Division finish: Fourth place, 18 games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds.

Final wild card standing: Fifteen games behind the Atlanta Braves for the top wild card playoff spot, and nine games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild card spot.

Home record: 45-36 - the best in the Pirates' 12-year history at PNC Park.

Road record: 34-47

All-stars: Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, closer Joel Hanrahan.

Season turning point (division race): The Pirates were in second place with a 63-47 record and trailed the Reds by only 2 1/2 games entering play on Aug. 9. But a 5-13 skid over their next 18 games dropped the Pirates nine full games behind the Reds and into third place in the division on Aug. 27.

Season turning point (top wild card playoff position): The Pirates trailed top wild-card finisher Atlanta by just one-half game on Aug. 9. The Bucs won just nine their next 29 games, though, as the Braves expanded their lead over Pittsburgh to eight games by Sept. 10.

Season turning point (second wild card playoff position): After defeating St. Louis, 6-3 in 19 innings at Busch Stadium Aug. 19, the Pirates had a 67-54 record and were two games ahead of the Cardinals for the second wild card position. But the Bucs won only six of their next 24 games to fall three games behind St. Louis, two games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a half-game behind Milwaukee for the second wild card by Sept. 17.

Season turning point (winning season): The Pirates won just four of 21 games between Aug. 31 and Sept. 22, dropping three games under .500 at 74-77.

Biggest acquisition (trade deadline): The Houston Astros' massive fire sale continued this July, and the Pirates plucked veteran left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriquez from the Astros in a trade in which the Pirates relinquished several prospects, including standout pitcher Rudy Owens.

Biggest acquisition (offseason): Veteran right-handed starting pitcher A.J. Burnett got a new life in Pittsburgh after a so-so tenure with the New York Yankees. Acquired by the Pirates in a trade for minor league prospects last November, Burnett went 16-10 with a 3.51 earned run average and 180 strikeouts in 31 starts.

Biggest statistic: The Pirates' .308 winning percentage (16-36 record) from Aug. 8 through the end of the season was the National League's worst.

Hidden statistic: Hanrahan recorded his 34th save of the season Aug. 17 in St. Louis, then didn't get another save opportunity until September 15, when he picked up his 35th, at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs.

Interesting statistic: The Pirates scored a total of just 147 runs in April and May combined, then led all of Major League Baseball with 146 runs scored in the month of June. Pittsburgh averaged less than three runs per game through its first 50 games in April and May, before averaging 5.4 runs per game through 27 games in June.

Best run: The Pirates were 20-24 and in fourth place, five games out of first, on May 23. A 28-13 run in their next 41 games put them in first place, by one game, at the All-Star break with a 48-37 record.

Worst run: The Pirates won just 10 of 35 games from Aug. 9-Sept. 16, a slide that put a damper on their playoff prospects and began to call the prospect of a winning season into question.

Biggest question mark (s) entering the offseason: There are plenty surrounding the pitching staff ... again. After an outstanding first half that had his name bandied about for All-Star consideration, right-hander James McDonald faltered miserably in the second half of the season and was removed from the rotation in late September. Veteran lefty Erik Bedard, a free-agent acquisition last offseason, was expected to provide stability, but he didn't pitch well enough to last out the season. Right-hander Charlie Morton spent most of the season on the disabled list for the second time in three seasons, and right-hander Jeff Karstens missed considerable chunks of the season with various injuries. Righty Kevin Correia bounced around between the starting rotation and the bullpen. He's a free agent who may not be re-signed. Even staff ace Burnett slipped in August and September.

Best reason to watch this year's Pirates: Due to the newly-established second wild-card playoff spot, the 2012 season was the Pirates' most interesting one, wire-to-wire, in nearly two decades.

Best reason to tune out: None until late in September.

Longest winning streak: Five straight games from July 17-22. The streak included two wins at Colorado and a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins at PNC Park.

Longest losing streak: Seven straight games from Sept. 7-14. The Pirates were swept in three-game series at home by the Chicago Cubs, and at Cincinnati, before losing the first game of a series with the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

How sweep it is: The Pirates swept a four-game series from the Houston Astros (July 2-5), and three-game series from the Chicago Cubs (May 25-27), Kansas City Royals (June 8-10), and Miami Marlins (July 20-22) - all at PNC Park.

Most success against: Houston (12-5), Miami (4-1)

Least success against: Los Angeles Dodgers (1-6), San Diego (1-5), Milwaukee (4-11)

Best home record: Houston (8-2)

Worst home record: Milwaukee (1-5)

Best road record(s): St. Louis (5-4), Chicago Cubs (4-3)

Worst road record(s): Milwaukee (3-6), Cincinnati (3-6)

Best homestand: The Pirates went 6-1 on a seven-game homestand with Houston and San Francisco July 2-8, sweeping a four-game series with the Astros and winning two of three from the Giants.

Worst homestand(s): The Bucs went 2-4 on a critical six-game early September homestand against the worst two teams in the major leagues, the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs. A 4-7, 11-game August stand with Arizona, San Diego, and the Los Angeles Dodgers started the Pirates' downward spiral.

Best road trip(s): The Pirates went 6-3 on a three-city road trip to Houston (3-1), the Chicago Cubs (2-1), and Cincinnati (1-2) July 26-Aug. 5. Losing two of three games to the Reds, however, pushed the Pirates backward in what was then a tight pennant race. In June, the Pirates went 4-2 on a two-city trip to Milwaukee and Cincinnati, taking two of three games in both cities.

Worst road trip: The Bucs got two wins in Arizona at the end of a nine-game, three-city trip to salvage a 3-6 record in their first trip of the season, April 10-18. They were swept in three games by the Los Angeles Dodgers and won just one of three games in San Francisco before winning two of three games in Arizona.

Best month(s): The Bucs went 17-10 in June, and 17-9 in July, when they took over first place in their division.

Worst month(s): The roof caved in on the Pirates in September, when they won just seven of 28 games. But things began to unravel during an 11-17 August.

Most games over .500: Sixteen games over .500 on three different occasions in late July and early August, the last being 63-47 on Aug. 8.

Most games under .500: Five games under .500 twice - at 76-81 on Sept. 28 and 77-82 on Sept. 30.

Highest spot in standings: After sweeping a four-game series with the Houston Astros at PNC Park, the Pirates were in first place in the National League Central Division, two games ahead of then second-place Cincinnati, entering play on July 6.

Lowest spot in standings: Fourth place, 19 games behind Cincinnati, on Sept. 27 and 30.

Most valuable position player: Even though his batting average and overall offensive production dropped off a cliff in August and September, McCutchen finished with excellent overall season numbers. His .327 batting average placed him second in the National League behind the San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey's .336. McCutchen led the National League in hits (194), and was tied for second in the league in runs scored (107). McCutchen led the Pirates in home runs (31) and RBIs (96). He hit .446 in July and .370 in June, with seven homers each month, and was named the National League's Player of the Month in both months.

Most consistent position player: First baseman-outfielder Garrett Jones enjoyed a career year at the plate, working his way from a platoon situation into an everyday spot in the lineup. Jones finished with a career-high 27 home runs and tied his career high in RBIs (86). Jones was arguably the Pirates' only real productive hitter in the month of August, collecting 31 hits in 96 at-bats (a .323 batting average), and hitting six homers, while driving in 23 runs during the month.

Most valuable starting pitcher: Burnett

Most valuable relief pitcher: Hanrahan, who converted 36 of 40 save opportunities.

Comeback player of the year: After languishing through his second major league season last year, third baseman Pedro Alvarez bounced back with the type of power production that the Pirates envisioned when they made him Major League Baseball's second overall draft pick in 2008. Though his .244 batting average left something to be desired, the streaky Alvarez crushed 30 homers and knocked in 85 runs.

Biggest disappointments (position players): Outfielder Nate McLouth's Pittsburgh homecoming was a sour one. McLouth, who was an All-Star with the Pirates in 2008, was acquired as a free agent last offseason and drew a standing ovation from the fans at PNC Park on Opening Day. The Pirates were looking at McLouth as a fourth outfielder in his second tenure with the club, but he could never regain his former touch with the Bucs, and was released after just 34 games while batting only .140 (8-for-57) with 18 strikeouts and two RBIs. He was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles in the second half of the season, and helped the Orioles during their playoff drive. Both outfielders Alex Presley and Jose Tabata were sent to the Pirates' Class AAA Indianapolis club for extended periods of time this season after struggling at the big-league level.

Biggest disappointments (pitcher): After a spring training injury forced Burnett to miss the first three weeks of the season, Bedard was named the Pirates' Opening Day pitcher. He pitched reasonably well in the early part of the season, but wound up being granted his unconditional release by the Pirates Aug. 27 after posting a 7-14 record and 5.01 earned run average in 24 starts.

Best streak (batting): Second baseman Neil Walker put together a torrid 17-game streak from June 27-July 18. He hit safely in 32 of 66 official plate appearances - a .485 average - while belting three homers, six doubles, and driving in a total of 15 runs.

Best streak (pitching): Burnett won eight consecutive starts from May 19 through June 28.

Worst streak (team): The Pirates had lost 11 straight games to the San Diego Padres at PNC Park over four seasons before the Bucs finally beat San Diego at PNC, 11-5 on Aug. 12.

Best inning: The Pirates sent 14 men to the plate during a nine-run fourth-inning explosion in the Aug. 12 win over San Diego.

Worst inning: The "Friendly Confines" of Chicago's Wrigley Field were anything but for the Pirates July 30, when the Cubs scored nine runs in the fifth inning en route to a 14-4 rout of the Bucs.

Flirting with destiny: Burnett had a no-hitter going for 7 2/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs on July 31 at Wrigley Field before Adrian Cardenas pinch-hit a sharp single to right field. Burnett settled for a one-hit shutout and 5-0 complete-game victory in what was one of the most masterful outings by a Pirates pitcher in recent memory.

Witnessing destiny: The Pirates were no-hit for the first time since 1971 when Cincinnati right-hander Homer Bailey achieved the feat in a 1-0 masterpiece Sept. 29 at PNC Park.

Sharing history: Walker had two five-hit games with a home run this season, joining Hall-of-Famers Willie Stargell and Arky Vaughn as the only Pirates in team history to accomplish that feat.

Deuces wild for Alvarez: Alvarez homered twice in two consecutive games at Cleveland's Progressive Field as the Pirates defeated the Indians, 9-2 on June 16 and 9-5 on June 17. Alvarez knocked in three runs in the first outing, and six the next day.

Two of a kind for Jones: Garrett Jones hit a pair of three-run homers to lead the Pirates to a 10-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers Aug. 16 at PNC Park.

Tigers by the tail: McCutchen single-handedly led the Pirates to a 4-3 win over the Tigers at Detroit's Comerica Park May 19, slugging a pair of two-run homers to account for all the Bucs' offense that day.

Tale of the tape: Alvarez hit the longest home run hit by a Pirate in the history of PNC Park - a 469-foot blast against the St. Louis Cardinals' reliever Brandon Dickson in the sixth inning of the Bucs' 9-0 win Aug. 28.

Power outings: A season-best 19-hit attack that featured four homers - a two-run shot by Jones and solo blasts by McCutchen, Presley and Clint Barmes - propelled the Pirates to a 14-5 rout of the St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium June 29 ... McCutchen, Jones, Rod Barajas and Barmes all homered in a 6-5 Bucs' win in Milwaukee's Miller Park June 3, and Jones, Casey McGehee, Alvarez and Barajas each homered in a 9-6 win at Colorado's Coors Field July 18. ... Along with Alvarez's two homers, McGehee - who the Pirates traded to the New York Yankees prior to the July 31 trade deadline - and Presley also connected in another four-homer game in Cleveland June 16.

Power outages: The Bucs were shut out on one single twice, 5-0 by the Giants' Matt Cain in San Francisco April 13 and 6-0 by the Tigers' Justin Verlander in Detroit May 18.

Longest game: The Pirates' 6-3, 19-inning win in St. Louis Aug. 19 took six hours and seven minutes to complete. Alvarez broke a 3-3 tie with a solo homer in the 19th, and McCutchen added a two-run single, as Pirates' starter Rodriquez picked up the victory in relief.

Latest game: The Sept. 17 game with the Cubs at Wrigley Field didn't start until 11:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, after a three-hour, 37-minute rain delay. It was worth the wait for the Pirates, who won, 3-0.

Best wins/comebacks: None was quite as good as the marathon victory in St. Louis, but there were several others. The Pirates enjoyed two walk-off victories over the Philadelphia Phillies on consecutive days at PNC Park during the first homestand of the season April 7-8. Presley's infield single chased home Michael McKenry in the 10th inning for a 2-1 win April 7. The next day, McCutchen's two-out, ninth-inning single off the center field wall scored McGehee, who had doubled, as the Bucs won, 5-4 .... McCutchen's two-out RBI single in the ninth inning gave the Bucs a 5-4 win at Arizona April 17, and Barmes' solo homer and McGehee's RBI single in the eighth inning produced a 5-4 win over Colorado at PNC Park April 24 ... Barajas' two-run, ninth-inning homer gave the Pirates another 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals May 8 at PNC, and Josh Harrison's two-out RBI single in the 12th inning finished a 3-2 Mother's Day win over Houston May 13 at PNC ... The Bucs overcame an early 4-0 deficit to beat the New York Mets, 5-4 on May 21 at PNC, as Walker scored the winning run in the eighth inning after reaching third base when his routine fly ball was dropped ... McKenry's run-scoring double in the 10th inning off Reds' relief ace Aroldis Chapman led the Pirates to a 5-4 victory at Cincinnati's Great Amercian Ball Park June 7 ... Drew Sutton's walk-off solo homer in the bottom of the 10th inning produced an 8-7 win over Houston at PNC July 3 ... The Bucs rallied for two ninth-inning runs in a 6-5 victory at Houston's Minute Maid Park July 27 ... Barmes' grand slam keyed the nine-run fourth-inning rally that sparked the 11-5 win over San Diego Aug. 12 at PNC ... McCutchen's solo homer in the ninth inning helped the Pirates walk off the Reds, 2-1 at PNC Sept. 29.

Worst loss: None was worse than the 9-8 collapse against San Diego Aug. 10 at PNC. The Pirates squandered a 7-1 lead when San Diego scored five runs in the fifth inning and two more in the seventh.

Best debut (position player): Outfielder Starling Marte, who won an Eastern League batting championship as a member of the Altoona Curve in 2011, opened eyes by hitting the first major league pitch he saw, from Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel, for a home run in Minute Maid Park July 26. Marte became the first Pirate since Walter Mueller in 1922 to hit the first major league pitch he saw for a homer. Prior to this season, the last Pirate to homer in his first major league at-bat was Don Leppert in 1961.

Best debut (pitcher): In his first appearance as a Pirate on April 21, Burnett pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits, as the Pirates blanked the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-0 at PNC. Burnett, who had suffered a fracture to the right orbital bone in his face during a bunting drill in spring training, was scheduled to make his final minor league rehab start April 21 with the Curve at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Instead, he was re-assigned to pitch in Pittsburgh that night when the Bucs' regularly-scheduled starter, Correia, was scratched because of an injury.

Best-pitched games: Burnett's one-hit, 5-0 shutout of the Cubs at Wrigley Field July 31 trumped them all. Burnett also teamed with three relievers for the 2-0, five-hit shutout of St. Louis April 21 at PNC. On May 25, Burnett and four relievers teamed to shut out the Cubs, 1-0 on seven hits at PNC. Five days later, on May 30 at PNC, Burnett and two relievers allowed the Cincinnati Reds only four hits in a 2-1 win. Burnett came within one out of another complete game on Aug. 5, allowing the Cincinnati Reds only three hits in 8 2/3 innings at Great American Ball Park. Hanrahan got the final out in the Pirates' 6-2 win that day. McDonald pitched a complete-game, six-hitter in the Pirates' 9-1 win over Minnesota June 21 at PNC. He also teamed with two relievers in a 3-1, five-hit win over San Francisco at PNC July 7. McDonald pitched two outstanding games against St. Louis in August, teaming with four relievers in a 2-1, four-hit win at Busch Stadium Aug. 17, and joining forces with two relievers in a five-hit, 9-0 shutout win at PNC Aug. 28. Karstens was the starter in three shutout performances at PNC - a 2-0 win over Houston July 5 in which he and Hanrahan allowed only four hits, a 3-0 win over Miami July 22 in which he and two relievers allowed just five hits, and a 4-0 win over Milwaukee Aug. 25 in which he and three relievers spaced nine hits. Rodriquez and three relievers shut out the Cardinals, 5-0 on five hits at PNC Aug. 29, and Bedard and two relievers blanked the Arizona Diamondbacks on just two hits, 4-0 on Aug. 6 at PNC. Correia teamed with two relievers for a 3-0 shutout of the Cubs at Wrigley Field Sept. 17, and Brad Lincoln, a versatile reliever-spot starter who was traded to Toronto in late July, pitched six innings and teamed with three relievers to limit Detroit to just four hits in a 4-1 Pirates win June 23 at PNC.

Worst performance: The Pirates made seven errors - the most the Bucs have made in a single game since 1985 - in a 12-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park Sept. 7.

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