2018 Pittsburgh Pirates highlights, lowlights

Analysis

A look at the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season:

Final regular-season record: 82-79.

Final National League Central Division finish: The Pirates finished in fourth place, 13 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, who won a tiebreaker game for the division title, 3-1 over the Chicago Cubs on Monday.

Notable: The Pirates notched their first winning season since 2015 and just their fourth in the franchise’s last 26 seasons.

Home record: 44-36

Road record: 38-43

All-stars: Closer Felipe Vazquez, who changed his surname from Rivero prior to the start of the season.

Season turning point: After getting back into the thick of the NL playoff picture with an 11-game winning sreak in July, the Pirates fell out of contention in August, when they won just 10 of 27 games.

Most valuable position player: Right fielder Gregory Polanco saw his season end prematurely when he suffered left shoulder and knee injuries during the same game Sept. 7, but he still played in 130 games and led the Pirates in home runs (23) and RBIs (81). Polanco’s shoulder required surgery in September, and he could possibly miss the first couple months of the 2019 season.

Most valuable starting pitcher: It has to be a tie between right-handers Jameson Taillon (14-10, 3.20 earned run average), and Trevor Williams (14-10, 3.11), both of whom came of age this year and had outstanding seasons.

Most valuable relief pitcher: Vazquez was the Pirates’ lone All-Star representative, converting 37 of 42 save opportunities and carding a 2.70 earned run average in 70 appearances.

Best newcomer (position player): Left fielder Corey Dickerson, acquired in a late offseason trade with Tampa Bay, batted .300 in 135 games, with 13 homers and 55 RBIs.

Best newcomer(s) (pitcher):. Right-hander reliever Kyle Crick (2.39 earned run average in 64 appearances), picked up by the Pirates from the San Francisco Giants as part of the Andrew McCutchen trade last January, was solid in the late innings, as was righty reliever Richard Rodriquez (2.47 in 63 appearances), a free-agent signee who pitched sparingly with the Baltimore Orioles a year ago.

Best reason to watch this year’s Pirates: Things heated up for the Pirates in July, when the Bucs were in the playoff hunt.

Best reason to tune out: The September games were largely irrelevant as the Pirates set their sights on trying to avoid a third consecutive losing season and upcoming prospects got an extended look on the field.

Biggest question marks entering the offseason: It’s doubtful, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility, that the Pirates will bring back either shortstop Jordy Mercer, who is a free agent, or second baseman Josh Harrison, who has an expensive contract option. Adam Frazier, who batted over .300 after the All-Star break, got extensive playing time at second base late in the season and is expected to return there in 2019. Shortstop is another question. Whether either Kevin Newman or Kevin Kramer, who both got limited looks late in the season, become the starting shortstop, or the Pirates pick up another shortstop either in the free-agent market or via trade in the offseason, remains to be seen. The Pirates, who were shut out a National League-worst 17 times and ranked third-to-last in the NL in home runs with 157 in 2018, face the possibility of being without Polanco until next June. The lineup is sorely in need of at least one power bat before the 2019 season begins.

Biggest trades: The Pirates pulled off a blockbuster 11th-hour trade July 31, picking up highly-touted right-hander Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays in a deal that sent prized outfield prospect Austin Meadows, once-heralded pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow, and the Pirates’ top pick in the 2017 draft, pitcher Shane Baz, to the Rays. Archer was a two-time American League All-Star selection in 2015 and 2017. Earlier in the day, the Pirates also acquired top-flight reliever Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers in exchange for top left-handed pitching prospect Taylor Hearn.

Longest winning streak(s): Eleven straight games from July 11-23 with the All-Star break sandwiched in between. The streak started with a win over the Washington Nationals at PNC Park, followed by a five-game sweep of the Mllwaukee Brewers at PNC, a three-game sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati’s Great American BallPark and two victories over the Indians at Cleveland’s Progressive Field — including a win over two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Cory Kluber. The Pirates last won 11 games in a row back in the 1996 season.

Longest losing streak(s): Five games in a row four times. From April 19-25, the Pirates were swept in a four-game series by the Phllies in Philadelphia and also lost the first game of a doubleheader with Detroit at PNC Park. From June 19-24 at PNC Park, the Pirates lost a game to Milwaukee and were swept in a four-game series by the Arizona Diamondbacks. From July 2-7, the Pirates were swept in a three-game series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and also lost two straight to the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park. From Aug. 12-17, the Pirates lost the finale of a four-game series at San Francisco, two straight in Minnesota and two more home games against the Chicago Cubs.

Best stretch(es): The Pirates won 13 of 14 games from July 8-July 24 to move to within six games of the division lead and three games of the second wild-card playoff spot. They also started the season with 11 wins in their first 15 games and went on an 8-1 tear from May 6-17 that included a pair of two-game sweeps from the Chicago White Sox and put the Pirates into first place by one-half game in the NL Central Division.

Worst stretch(es): A 14-31 stretch from May 18 through July 7 left the Bucs with a 40-48 record and in fourth place, 121⁄2 games out of first place, as well as 10 full games out of the second wild-card playoff spot. A 5-14 skid from Aug. 12-Sept. 2 left the Pirates all but mathematically eliminated in both the division and wild-card playoff races.

Most success against: Cincinnati (14-5), Milwaukee (12-7), Chicago White Sox (4-0), Detroit (5-2), Miami (4-1)

Least success against: Arizona (1-6), Philadelphia (1-6), Los Angeles Dodgers (1-5), Atlanta (1-5)

Best home record(s): Cincinnati (8-2), Milwaukee (7-3)

Worst home record(s): Arizona (0-4), San Diego (1-3)

Best road record(s): Detroit (3-0), Cincinnati (6-3), Milwaukee (5-4)

Worst road record(s): Washington (0-4), Philadelphia (0-4), Los Angeles Dodgers (0-3), St. Louis (3-7)

Best homestand(s): The Pirates swept all five games in an abbreviated homestand with Cincinnati and Miami Sept. 3-8, taking three games from the Reds and two from the Marlins, with the third game being postponed by a torrential rain and later cancelled. The Pirates won five straight games en route to a 5-1 homestand against Detroit (2-1) and St. Louis (3-0) April 24-29. They also went 8-3 on an 11-game homestand July 6-15, winning two of three games from Washington and sweeping the five-game series with Milwaukee.

Worst homestand(s): The 3-6 homestand from June 15-24 thudded to a close with the Pirates being swept in four straight games by Arizona after winning a series with Cincinnati (2-1) and splitting a pair of games with Milwaukee. The 2-5 homestand from Aug. 16-22 that wrapped up with three straight losses to Atlanta following a split of a four-game series with the Chicago Cubs left the Pirates with slim hopes of making the playoffs.

Best road trip: The Pirates won five of six games on a two-city trip through the state of Ohio July 20-24, sweeping Cincinnati in a three-game series and winning two out of three games in Cleveland.

Worst road trip(s): The Pirates were swept in a four-game series in Philadelphia April 19-22 and went 3-6 on a three-city trip through Milwaukee, St. Louis and Atlanta Aug. 24-Sept. 2, losing two of three games in each city.

Best month: The Pirates got into the NL playoff hunt by putting together a 17-9 July.

Worst month: They essentially fell out of playoff contention after a 10-17 August.

Most games over .500: The Pirates’ 26-17 record after play on May 17 was their high-water mark this season.

Most games under .500: The Pirates’ 40-48 record on July 7 was their low-water mark.

Best streak (hitting): Center fielder Starling Marte put together a 17-game hitting streak from July 4-24. During the streak, he had 28 hits in 71 plate appearances, including seven home runs and four doubles, while driving in 20 runs.

Best streak(s) (starting pitching): Taillon put together a streak from May 26 through Sept. 29 in which he allowed three earned runs or fewer over 22 straight starts. It was the most impressive such streak by a Pirate pitcher since Bob Friend put together a string of 23 straight games in 1963. Over nine starts between July 11 and Sept. 3, Williams allowed a total of just four earned runs in 542⁄3 innings pitched for an 0.66 earned run average. That stretch included a consecutive scoreless-inning streak of 211⁄3 innings in four starts from July 11 through Aug. 5. Williams’ ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star break was 1.38.

Best streak (relief pitching): Vazquez put together a string of 24 consecutive saves from June 6 through Sept. 16.

Best gesture: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made sure that veterans Harrison and Mercer, who were both probably playing their final home games in a Pittsburgh uniform, enjoyed standing ovations during the Bucs’ last home game Sept. 23. After taking their positions in the infield, the players were separately removed from the game by Hurdle late in the contest with Milwaukee so both could leave the field greeted by the ovations from the fans and hugs from their teammates.

Milestone birthday for Phil: Long-time Pirates usher Phil Coyne celebrated his 100th birthday at PNC Park on April 27, watching the Pirates rally for a 6-5, 11-inning victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Coyne retired as an usher in 2017 at age 99 after 81 seasons with the Pirates. His tenure included duty at Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park.

Milestone win for Hurdle: Hurdle earned his 1,200th career managerial win when the Pirates closed the season with a 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Cincinnati’s Great American BallPark this past Sunday. Only four other managers who were active in 2018 — Cleveland’s Terry Francona, San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy, Baltimore’s Buck Showalter and the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Scioscia — had reached the 1,200-win plateau. Hurdle, who spent eight years as the manager of the Colorado Rockies, has a record of 666-628 in his eight seasons as the Pirates manager.

Historic debut: Right-hander Nick Kingham made his MLB pitching debut April 29 at PNC Park a very memorable one. Kingham carried a perfect game into the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals before yielding a single to the Cards’ Paul DeJong. Kingham and two Pirates relievers, Michael Feliz and Edgar Santana, combined on a three-hit shutout in the Pirates’ 5-0 victory. Kingham, who retired the first 20 hitters that he faced in order, struck out nine and walked zero, and became just the second MLB pitcher in the last 100 years — joining Johnny Cueto (2008) — to strike out as many as nine batters, allow only one hit, and walk none in his big-league debut.

Anticipated debut: The arrival of Archer from Tampa Bay was met with more fanfare than any Pirates acquisition in recent memory. Archer’s first appearance came on Friday, Aug. 3 at PNC Park against St. Louis, and although it was less than stellar — he didn’t get out of the fifth inning, allowing seven hits and five runs, three earned — Archer did receive a standing ovation.

Celebrated debut: An oblique injury put center fielder Marte on the 10-day disabled list and opened the door for Meadows to make his much-awaited major-league debut May 18 against the San Diego Padres. Meadows had two singles and stole a base in his first game, and two days later, he belted his first big-league home run in his third game. Meadows earned the NL Rookie of the Month award for May by collecting 18 hits in 44 plate appearances (a .409 batting average), with four homers, seven RBIs, three doubles and a triple. Meadows eventually came back down to earth, however, and was sent back to Class AAA Indianapolis prior to the All-Star break before being traded to Tampa Bay as part of the Archer deal July 31.

Impactful debut: Right-handed pitcher Joe Musgrove, acquired from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade last January, got a late start to his 2018 season due to stiffness in his pitching shoulder. He made a big impact in his first start, May 25 against St. Louis at PNC Park, throwing seven scoreless innings, limiting the Cardinals to just five hits, striking out seven and walking none. He also threw just 67 pitches in helping the Pirates to an 8-1 victory.

Elite company: New third baseman Colin Moran, acquired by the Pirates from the Astros in the Cole trade last offseason, made his first home run in a Pirate uniform a memorable one. Moran belted a grand slam off Minnesota Twins right-hander Lance Lynn to highlight a five-run first inning and help the Pirates to a 5-4 win in their home opener April 2. Moran joined Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner (1949) and Roberto Clemente (1962) as the only Pittsburgh players in team history to hit a grand slam in a Pirates home opener.

Ahead of the Curve: The Pirates carded a complete starting lineup consisting of former Altoona Curve players for the first time ever on Sept. 12 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Pitcher Taillon, catcher Jacob Stallings, first baseman Josh Bell, second baseman Frazier, shortstop Newman, third baseman Kramer, left fielder Pablo Reyes, center fielder Marte and right fielder Jordan Luplow were all former Curve players. The Pirates, behind three RBIs from Stallings, won the game, 4-3.

Series business: At PNC Park, the Pirates won 11 series, lost 10 and split five. On the road, the Pirates won 12 series, lost 12 and split two.

How sweep it is: On the road: The Pirates swept a season-opening, three-game series against the Tigers in Detroit’s Comerica Park March 30-April 1, concluding with a sweep of an Easter Sunday doubleheader, a two-game series from the Chicago White Sox May 8-9 in Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field and a three-game series with the Reds in Cincinnati’s Great American BallPark July 20-22.

At PNC Park: The Pirates swept a three-game series from the St. Louis Cardinals April 27-29, a two-game series from the Chicago White Sox May 15-16 and a five-game series with Milwaukee July 12-15. The Pirates’ five-game sweep of the Brewers was the first accomplished in the major leagues since 2006, when the New York Yankees pulled off the feat against the Boston Red Sox. The Pirates also swept a three-game series with Cincinnati Sept. 3-5 and a three-game series with Kansas City Sept. 17-19.

Best wins: In games played at PNC Park: None was better than the Pirates’ 7-6, 10-inning win over Milwaukee July 15. It was a game in which the Pirates ralilied back from a 5-3 ninth-innnig deficit and a 6-5 10th-inning deficit to win on Bell’s two-run double in the bottom of the 10th that scored Polanco and Moran … Dickerson’s solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning lifted the Pirates to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on April 26 in a game in which Ivan Nova pitched eight scoreless innings … Marte’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning scored David Freese from third base, capping a rally from a 5-0 deficit for a 6-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on April 27 … The Pirates’ 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs May 30 was a well-played game in which Musgrove pitched seven strong innings, allowing only one run … Freese’s bases-loaded, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Harrison from third base and lifted the Pirates — who had rallied from an early 3-0 deficit — to a 5-4 victory over the New York Mets July 27 … Frazier’s solo homer in the bottom of the 11th inning lifted the Pirates to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs Aug. 19 … Stallings’ two-out single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Kramer from second base and lifted the Pirates to a 7-6 win over Kansas City Sept. 17.

In games played on the road: Polanco’s three-run homer in the 13th inning broke a 10-10 tie and lifted the Pirates to a 13-10 victory over Detroit in the season opener March 30 in Comerica Park … Moran’s two-run ninth-inning homer capped a four-run rally that lifted the Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field May 9 … Sparked by Freese’s two-run single, the Pirates staged a four-run ninth-inning rally to defeat the New York Mets, 5-3, at Citi Field June 27 … Harrison’s three-run homer led the Pirates to a 7-0, six-inning, rain-shortened victory over the Cleveland Indians and Kluber July 23 at Progressive Field.

Best-pitched games: Kingham’s flirtation with perfection on April 29 at PNC Park was one of the season’s true pitching gems … Williams was involved in nine of the Pirates’ 16 shutout efforts. He pitched six scoreless and hitless innings and combined with relievers Michael Feliz, George Kontos and Vazquez on a two-hit, 1-0 shutout of Detroit in the first game of a doubleheader in Detroit’s Comerica Park April 1. Williams worked seven shutout innings and teamed with relievers Crick and Rodriquez on a seven-hit 7-0 shutout of the White Sox on May 15 at PNC Park. Williams also worked seven scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, and teamed with Crick and Vazquez on a two-hit 1-0 shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park June 18. Williams pitched five scoreless innings and joined Rodriquez, Crick, Edgar Santana and Vazquez in a 2-0 shutout of the Washington Nationals July 11 at PNC Park, and in the rain-abbreviated game at Cleveland July 23, Williams pitched a six-inning complete-game 7-0 shutout of the Indians … Williams pitched six scoreless innings and teamed with Santana, Crick and Rodriquez on a six-hit shutout to defeat the New York Mets and Jacob deGrom, 5-0, at PNC Park July 28, and Williams pitched seven scoreless innings and combined with Kela and Vazquez on a six-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over the San Francisco Giants at San Francisco’s AT&T Park Aug. 11. Williams pitched six shutout innings and combined with Santana, Kela and Vazquez on a three-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium Aug. 29, and Williams pitched six more scoreless innings, teaming with Rodriquez, Crick and Vazquez on a five-hit 3-0 shutout of Milwaukee at PNC Park Sept. 22 … Taillon tossed a complete-game, one-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park April 8. Taillon pitched six scoreless innings and joined Feliz, Kontos and Vazquez on a six-hit shutout in the Pirates’ 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park April 14. Taillon pitched eight scoreless innings and teamed with Santana on a four-hit shutout as the Pirates blanked the Cardinals, 4-0 in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium June 1 … Chad Kuhl pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit, and teamed with Rodriquez on a two-hit shutout as the Pirates blanked Milwaukee, 9-0 at Miller Park May 6 … Archer pitched six scoreless innings and teamed with Dovydas Neverauskas and Steven Brault on a five-hit shutout as the Pirates blanked the Chicago Cubs, 6-0 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field Sept. 25.

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