Offensive woes catch up with Bucs in season-ending loss

A truly great season, one not seen by a generation of Pirates fans, ended Wednesday night, and the way it ended should not have been a surprise.

The Pirates’ offense isn’t good enough. It never was.

Pitching carried this team all season, but the deeper you get in the playoffs, everyone has good pitching.

You could have picked any point throughout the year and asked Pirates fans what would prevent this team from getting to the World Series. The answer – on April 1 or even October 1, after the big acquisitions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau was always the same.

The offense didn’t have enough firepower.

The Pirates scored one run in each of their three losses to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. They scored 12 runs in their two wins to take a 2-1 lead in the series, then managed only one run and one hit at home in a blown opportunity in Game 4 and only one run in the deciding Game 5.

Pedro Alvarez was their entire offense the final two games, driving in both runs. No one else, including likely NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, did anything close to enough to win these kinds of games against this caliber of competition in October.

Are the Cardinals that much better than the Pirates? Absolutely not.

But the Cardinals have been here before, they’ve won many big games – including a World Series just two years ago – and they’ve done so by putting together an offense that delivers clutch hits to complement a strong pitching staff.

The Pirates had only half that equation this year, and particularly in this series.

Leadoff man Starling Marte went 1-for-19 against the Cardinals.

Neil Walker, hitting in the two hole, went 0-for-19.

You’re almost never going to beat any quality team in a series when your top two hitters combine to go 1-for-38.

Don’t get me wrong: The Pirates had a terrific team this year. The only thing that matters is wins and losses, and they won 97 times while losing 71. That’s fantastic.

But the underlying problem was always there, everyone knew it, and everyone had their fingers crossed that somehow the pitching would be so awesome that it could continue to help the club squeak by.

Then you run into a tremendous rookie in Michael Wacha and a terrific veteran in Adam Wainwright, and just like that, your season is over.

The Pirates have an outstanding young nucleus of players and can get back here in the next few years, perhaps several times, although that’s in no way guaranteed because making the postseason is very difficult.

But if they do get this far again and hope to go any further, they must address their offensive issues.

Clint Barmes is not the answer at shortstop and never was. Byrd and Morneau fit in nicely late this season, but they are 36 and 32, respectively, so even if they are resigned, there are no guarantees they’ll be as productive.

Getting to the playoffs after 20 losing seasons certainly was a blast for the Pirates and their fans. And the memories made this year will be cherished by everyone.

Now the front office needs to remember what happened to the offense once it reached this point and go out this offseason ready to make moves to correct those problems.