2017 Pirates highs, lows

Final regular-season record: 75-87

Final National League Central Division finish: Fourth place, 17 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs.

Notable: The Pirates were just 21⁄2 games out of first place in a mediocre NL Central on Aug. 12 but free-falled over the next six weeks, dropping to 17 games out on Sept. 19, when they led the last-place Cincinnati Reds by just 11⁄2 games.

Home record: 44-37

Road record: 31-50

All-Stars: Infielder/outfielder Josh Harrison

Season turning point (division race): The Pirates had a legitimate chance to win a very mediocre NL Central until mid-August, but losses in 10 of 13 games from Aug. 12-25 left them stranded in fourth place, eight games out and pretty much knocked them out of the running.

Season turning point (wild-card playoff position): The Pirates weren’t major players in the wild-card hunt, which Arizona and Colorado led for nearly all of the season, followed by Milwaukee and St. Louis.

Most valuable position player(s): Despite tailing off a bit in September, first baseman Josh Bell had a fabulous rookie season, tying Jason Bay for the Pirates’ franchise rookie single-season home run record with 26, while leading the Bucs in RBIs with 90. Bell appeared in 159 games, hitting .255 with 26 doubles. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen (team-leading 28 home runs, 88 RBIs, 30 doubles, .279 batting average) resurrected his season after a very slow start in which he was batting just .203 on May 26.

Most valuable starting pitcher(s): After an injury-plagued 2016 season in which he won only seven games, right-hander Gerrit Cole led the Pirates in wins, carding a 12-12 record in 33 starts with 196 strikeouts in 203 innings pitched. But he also had a 4.26 ERA and gave up 31 home runs. Newcomer Trevor Williams earned a starting job in May and was arguably the Pirates’ most reliable starter for much of the season, going 7-9 with a 4.07 ERA in 25 starts.

Most valuable relief pitcher: Fireballing left-hander Felipe Rivero took over the closer’s role in June and ran with it for the rest of the season, converting 21 of 23 save opportunities and posting a 1.67 earned run average in 73 games. Rivero struck out 88 batters in 751⁄3 innings pitched while showcasing a fast ball that repeatedly surpassed 100 miles per hour.

Best newcomer (position player): Bell

Best newcomer (pitcher):. Williams, a right-hander who joined the starting rotation in May after righty Jameson Taillon was diagnosed with testicular cancer and highly-touted prospect Tyler Glasnow struggled

Best reason to watch this year’s Pirates: Because of the World Champion Chicago Cubs’ failure to re-launch in the first half of this season, the Pirates were contenders in the division longer than they otherwise might have been. Bell’s sensational rookie year, McCutchen’s midseason hitting tear and Rivero’s outstanding performance in the closer’s role were all bright spots.

Best reason to tune out: Things got largely out of hand for the Pirates by the end of August, when the Bucs fell nine games behind in both the division and wild-card races.

Biggest question marks entering the offseason: The McCutchen drama continues. Even if the Pirates don’t trade him this offseason and wind up picking up his $14 million club option for the 2018 season, his days as a Pirates player appear to be coming to an end soon. Another popular and very versatile player, Harrison, might become a very desirable trade acquisition for a contending team, and third baseman Jung Ho Kang’s status with the Pirates remains very much in doubt after he missed the entire 2017 season.

Longest winning streak: A six-game winning streak from July 16-21 started with a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park and included a win over the Colorado Rockies in the first game of a nine-game western road trip. The streak helped the Pirates pull to within two games of first place in the NL Central.

Longest losing streak: Seven games, from Sept. 12-19, with two losses in Milwaukee, three in Cincinnati and two losses at home to the Brewers

Best stretch: A 12-2 run in 14 games played from July 4-21 pushed the Pirates to within two games of the lead in the NL Central.

Worst stretch: The Pirates won only 10 of 36 games in the period from Aug. 13-Sept. 19 and dropped 141⁄2 games in the division standings, from 21⁄2 games out with a 58-58 record on Aug. 13, to 17 games out with a 68-84 record on Sept. 19. They lost 12 of 13 games to end the stretch.

Most success against: Milwaukee (10-9), Atlanta (5-2), Philadelphia (5-2)

Least success against: Los Angeles Dodgers (1-6), San Francisco (1-5), Cincinnati (6-13)

Best home record(s): Milwaukee (7-3), Atlanta (3-0)

Worst home record(s): San Francisco (0-3), Cincinnati (3-6)

Best road record(s): Chicago Cubs (5-4), Philadelphia (3-1)

Worst road record(s): Los Angeles Dodgers (0-3), Boston (0-3), St. Louis (2-7), Cincinnati (3-7)

Best homestand: The 6-1 post All-Star break homestand from July 14-20 that featured wins over St. Louis in two of three games, along with a four-game sweep of Milwaukee, helped the Pirates momentarily get back into the thick of the NL Central race.

Worst homestand: The 2-4 stand from June 26-July 2 started with wins over Tampa Bay in two of three games but concluded with three straight losses to the last-place San Francisco Giants.

Best road trip: The Pirates went 5-2 on a seven-game trip to Philadelphia and Chicago July 3-9, winning three of four games from the Phillies and two of three games from the Cubs.

Worst road trip: The Pirates won just one of nine games on a September trip that saw them getting swept in two three-game series in St. Louis and Cincinnati and winning just one of three games in Milwaukee.

Best month: A 14-11 July helped the Pirates get back into the thick of the NL Central race. It was the Pirates’ only winning month.

Worst month: A 12-17 August knocked the Pirates 101⁄2 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central. The Bucs followed that up with an 11-16 September.

Most games over .500: The Pirates were over .500 for only one day, when a July 21 victory at Colorado gave them a 49-48 record.

Most games under .500: The Pirates fell 16 games under .500 at 68-84 on Sept. 19 with a 1-0 loss to Milwaukee at PNC Park.

Best month (pitcher): Right-hander Ivan Nova was named the NL Pitcher of the Month for April, when he posted a 3-2 record and 1.50 ERA in five starts. He struck out 22 batters during the month and walked just one.

Best month (player): McCutchen was named the NL Player of the Month for June, when he hit .411 with 37 hits in 90 at-bats, six home runs, five doubles and 23 RBIs.

Best turnaround: McCutchen’s revival after being moved from the third spot in the batting order down to the sixth spot on May 26 was eye-opening. McCutchen was batting just .203 on May 26, but after the move, he raised his average nearly 70 points to .272, by hitting .380 (38 hits in 100 plate appearances) in 22 games through June 25 with eight homers, five doubles and 24 RBIs. McCutchen returned to the third spot in the batting order on June 27 and stayed there for the rest of the season.

Best inning: Led by catcher Francisco Cervelli’s grand slam, the Pirates exploded for 10 runs on seven hits in the first inning against Chicago Cubs left-hander Jon Lester on July 9 at Wrigley Field en route to a 14-3 victory. It was the Pirates’ highest-scoring inning since May 17, 2009, when they also scored 10 runs in the seventh inning during a game with the Colorado Rockies.

Best return (position player): Infielder/outfielder Sean Rodriquez, re-acquired in a trade for a minor leaguer with the Atlanta Braves, returned to Pittsburgh on Sunday, Aug. 6 and made his impact known immediately, belting a 12th-inning home run that broke a 4-4 tie and lifted the Pirates to a 5-4 win over the San Diego Padres in the rubber game of a three-game series at PNC Park.

Best return (pitcher): Taillon made his return to the mound on June 12, just five weeks after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer and pitched five scoreless innings to lead the Pirates to a 7-2 win over the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park.

Historic debuts: The Pirates celebrated the distinction of having players from two different countries become their country’s first-ever MLB representatives during a span of two days in late April. On April 24, reliever Dovydas Neverauskas allowed a run on two hits in 12⁄3 innings in his major-league debut against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. Neverauskas became the first player born and raised in Lithuania to reach the major leagues. Two days later, infielder Gift Ngoepe became the first African-born player to reach the major leagues, singling in his first plate appearance in the Pirates’ 6-5 win over the Cubs on April 26. The debuts became historic moments not only for the Pirates, but for Major League Baseball in general. The caps that both Neverauskas and Ngoepe wore in their debuts were sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Passing Kiner: Bell became the first Pirates rookie in club history to hit 16 home runs before the All-Star break when he connected for his 16th against the Phillies July 6 in Philadelphia. Hall-of-Famer Ralph Kiner hit 15 before the break as a Pirates rookie in 1946.

One for the record books: The Pirates won in rare fashion Aug. 23 at PNC Park when Harrison became the first player in MLB history to win a game for his team by ending an opposing pitcher’s no-hitter with an extra-inning home run. Harrison hit a solo shot off Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Pirates a 1-0 victory at PNC Park. Hill had pitched a perfect game into the ninth inning before Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer had reached base on an error.

A Little League Classic: The Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals participated in the first-ever Little League Classic Aug. 20 at Williamsport’s historic Bowman Field. The game, which was played in conjunction with the Little League World Series and televised nationally on ESPN as the Sunday Night Baseball Game of the Week, was won by the Pirates, 6-3, as Bell drove in four runs with a two-run home run and two-run single. A crowd of 2,596 fans — mostly Little League World Series players and their family members — was on hand to watch the game, in which the Pirates were the designated home team.

A classic gesture: The Pirates hosted three Little League World Series teams — from Italy, Venezuela and Japan — for the Aug. 24 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park. Cervelli, a native Venezuelan, coordinated the good-will gesture.

Three’s a charm: The Pirates hit three consecutive homers in the same inning for the first time since 2013, when third baseman David Freese belted a two-run shot and rookie infielder/outfielder Jose Osuna and shortstop Jordy Mercer followed with solo blasts to highlight a seven-run 10th-inniing outburst that broke a 5-5 tie and lifted the Pirates to a 12-5 win over the Atlanta Braves at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park on May 24.

A milestone for Cutch: McCutchen belted his 200th career home run Sept. 13 in Milwaukee. McCutchen became just the fourth player ever to hit as many as 200 homers as a Pirate, joining Hall-of-Famers Kiner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente.

Another trifecta for Cutch: McCutchen’s third career three-homer game sparked the Pirates to a 7-1 victory over the Padres July 30 in San Diego’s Petco Park. Kiner and Stargell are the only players in Pirates history to have four three-homer games.

A night to remember for Cutch: McCutchen hit his first career grand slam while homering twice and driving in a career-high eight runs as the Pirates pummeled the Baltimore Orioles, 10-1, at PNC Park on Sept. 26.

Diaz carves niche: Rookie catcher Elias Diaz had a night to remember on June 2 at New York’s CitiField, driving in six runs with a three-run double and three-run homer to lead the Pirates to a 12-7 victory over the Mets. Diaz became the first Pirate rookie to achieve six RBIs in a single game since McCutchen pulled off the feat as a rookie in 2009.

Series business: At home, the Pirates won 14 series, lost nine and split three. On the road, the Pirates won seven series, lost 14 and split five.

How sweep it is: At PNC Park, the Pirates swept a three-game series from the Atlanta Braves April 7-9, a four-game series from the Milwaukee Brewers July 17-20, a two-game series from the Detroit Tigers Aug. 7-8 and a two-game series from the Baltimore Orioles Sept. 26-27 … On the road, the Pirates swept the Cubs in three games at Chicago’s Wrigley Field April 14-16 after having won just one of nine games at Wrigley during the entire 2016 season.

Best wins: In games played at PNC Park: Starling Marte’s two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning lifted the Pirates to a 6-5 win over Atlanta on April 9 and completed a sweep of the three-game series … Reliever Tony Watson worked out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the ninth inning as the Pirates held on to win the rubber game of a three-game series with the New York Yankees, 2-1, on April 23 … Harrison’s one-out RBI single in the 10th inning scored Ngoepe from third base and produced a 2-1 victory over Milwaukee on May 6 … After tying the game with an RBI single in the ninth inning, John Jaso knocked in the winning run with a bases-loaded single in the 10th as the Pirates came from behind to defeat the New York Mets, 5-4, on May 27 … McCutchen’s walkoff solo homer in the bottom of the ninth inning snapped a 3-3 tie and lifted the Pirates to a 4-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 29 … Overcoming 3-0, 5-3 and 6-4 deficits, the Pirates rallied for three seventh-inning runs on Mercer’s two-run triple and Jaso’s pinch-hit, RBI double, to defeat the Miami Marlins, 7-6, on June 10 … Bell’s three-run ninth-inning home run produced a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on July 14 … Adam Frazier’s RBI single capped a two-run ninth-inning rally that gave the Pirates a 4-3 win over the Cardinals on July 16 .. Harrison’s two-run homer highlighted a four-run sixth-inning rally that helped the Pirates wipe out a 3-0 deficit and beat Milwaukee, 4-3, on July 18, while rookie infielder Max Moroff’s RBI single in the 10th gave the Pirates a 3-2 win over the Brewers on July 19 in a game in which Pittsburgh had trailed 2-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning before Cervelli’s run-scoring single tied the score and forced extra innings … Gregory Polanco’s three-run pinch-hit homer highlighted a six-run seventh-inning rally that lifted the Pirates to a 10-6 victory over the San Diego Padres on Aug. 4 … Run-scoring singles by Moroff and Freese in the eighth inning rallied the Pirates to a 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 5 … Frazier’s two-run walkoff homer in the ninth inning lifted the Pirates to a 4-3 win over Milwaukee on Sept. 20.

In games played on the road: McCutchen’s three-run homer highlighted a five-run seventh inning rally that led the Pirates back from 4-0 and 6-2 deficits for an 8-7 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 15 … Osuna’s two-run homer in the 10th inning produced a 6-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 14 … Jaso’s ninth-inning solo homer broke a 3-3 tie and sparked a 4-3 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium on June 23 … Rodriquez’s RBI single, followed by Moroff’s bases-loaded, three-run triple, highlighted the Pirates’ four-run ninth-inning rally in a 4-1 win over the Nationals at Washington’s Nationals Park on Sept. 30.

Best-pitched games: Nova pitched a sparkling three-hit complete-game shutout, facing just two batters over the minimum, as the Pirates blanked the Marlins, 4-0, in Miami’s Marlins Park on April 29. Nova also worked an eight-inning complete-game in a losing cause, 2-1, at St. Louis on April 17, when he allowed just five hits … In a game which was delayed in the middle by rain, five Pirates pitchers — Chad Kuhl, Wade LeBlanc, Juan Nicosio, Felipe Rivero and Daniel Hudson — combined on a seven-hit shutout to lead the Bucs to a 4-0 win over Milwaukee at PNC Park on May 5 … Cole, Rivero and Juan Nicasio limited the powerful Washington Nationals offense to just three hits in a 6-1 Pirates victory at PNC on May 17 … Five pitchers — Chad Kuhl, LeBlanc, Nicasio, Rivero and Watson — limited the Philadelphia Phillies to just three hits in a 1-0 Pirates victory at PNC on May 21 … Kuhl pitched seven scoreless innings and teamed with relievers A.J. Schugel and Neverauskas to blank the Chicago Cubs, 12-0, at PNC on Sept. 4 … Taillon and three relievers — Watson, Nicasio and Edgar Santana — teamed to shut out the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-0, on eight hits at PNC on June 29 … Taillon and four relievers — Hudson, Watson, Nicasio and Rivero — combined on a 3-0, six-hit shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies at Phladelphia’s Citizens Bank Park on July 6 … Taillon, Schugel, Hudson and Rivero teamed on a five-hit, 5-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds at PNC on Sept. 2 … Kuhl pitched seven scoreless innings and teamed with Schugel and Neverauskas on a four-hit shutout in a 6-0 victory over Cincinnati on Aug. 3 at PNC … Williams held the Detroit Tigers to just one hit over seven scoreless innings, and relievers George Kontos, newly-acquired, and Nicasio, pitched the final two innings in a 3-0 Pirates shutout win on Aug. 7 at PNC … Cole pitched seven scoreless innings, teaming with Nicasio and Rivero on a five-hit shutout, and also accounted for the only run of the game with a sixth-inning solo home run, in a 1-0 win over Cincinnati at Great American BallPark on Aug. 26 … Lefty Steven Brault pitched six scoreless innings and teamed with Schugel, Hudson, late-season addition Dan Runzler and Rivero on a three-hit shutout in a 7-0 win over Milwaukee at Miller Park on Sept. 12.

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