Although it was disappointing to watch the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Pirates on Wednesday night, this season has been tremendous for area baseball fans.
Many of the same players that we watched at our local ballpark as members of the Altoona Curve were instrumental in making this season a success.
The Pirates have turned the corner and are no longer fearful of playing any team, no matter how talented they might be. Even with multiple injuries to the pitching staff this season, something that derailed the team in prior years, the pitching was still outstanding for most of the year, with even more strong pitching currently in the minors.
As a result, the Pirates have the ability to be a successful franchise for a long, long time.
If you had told me at the start of 2013 that the Pirates would have a winning season and would be playing in this year's postseason while the Steelers would be winless and wallowing in last place, I would have considered that prediction utterly insane.
Still, for all the progress the Pirates have made, more work needs to be done.
If the Bucs are to make it to the World Series in our lifetimes, the ownership needs to make prudent moves during the offseason to improve the team's hitting. If they can do that, expect Pirate fans to make many trips to PNC Park in 2014.
Hurdle didn't push right buttons
One key difference in the Pirates success this season was manager Clint Hurdle's willingness to implement sabermetrics into his game strategy.
For instance, for most of the second half of the season, Neil Walker didn't start often against left-handed pitchers because statistics showed Walker struggled mightily when he batted right-handed against them.
Even defensively, the Pirates improved drastically by implementing alignment shifts based on opposing players tendencies to hit to specific areas of the field.
In the NLDS, however, Hurdle failed to adjust the lineup at all despite statistics that supported change.
For instance, Starling Marte and Walker were a combined 1-38 for the NLDS and posted a batting average of .026 at the top of the Pirates' lineup. Walker failed to collect a single hit in the series.
Reserve outfielder Jose Tabata had a career .375 batting average against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright coming into the series.
Albeit a small sample size, utility infielder Jordy Mercer was 2-for-3 with a home run (and added another pinch hit in Game 5) in his career vs Wainwright. Despite the success, neither player was given an opportunity to ignite the Pirates' punchless offense.
Pedro Alvarez was the Pirates' best hitter in the postseason. He batted .300 with three home runs and six RBIs with a slugging percentage of .800. Alvarez was slated in the sixth spot of the lineup as Justin Morneau remained a fixture in the cleanup role, even though he failed to produce an RBI in six postseason games.
Morneau technically didn't deserve to be rooted in the fourth spot as he only produced three RBIs in 25 regular-season games with the Pirates.
Furthermore, Hurdle announced before Game 5 that Pirates ace Francisco Liriano was available to be used in a relief role.
Hurdle pulled Gerrit Cole after throwing five innings (75 pitches) and allowing two runs. Rather than inserting his best pitcher (Liriano) in the winner-take-all game, he threw a blend of five relievers who gave up four runs and put the game out of reach.
It was a great season, and the Pirates rekindled their relationship with the fan base, but the team will need better in-game managerial decisions to advance further in the coming seasons.
Hats off to a fun season, but it feels like they could still be playing into mid-October.