2019 Pirates highlights, lowlights
The following are the highlights and lowlights from the 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates season:
Final record: 69-93
Final National League Central Division finish: Fifth place, 22 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals
Most noteworthy facts: Clint Hurdle’s tenure as manager of the Pirates ended after nine seasons when he was fired before Sunday’s season finale. Hurdle’s record with the Pirates was 735-720-1, and his teams made the playoffs from 2013-15, but the Pirates had averaged only 76 wins over the last four seasons.
Key statistic: In a season that featured more team turmoil than any in recent memory, the Pirates’ pitching staff finished second-to-last in the NL in team earned run average (5.18) Only the Colorado Rockies (5.58) had a worse team ERA.
Home record: 35-46
Road record: 34-47
All-Stars: First baseman Josh Bell, closer Felipe Vazquez
Season turning point: After winning 12 of 17 games, the Pirates entered the All-Star break just 2¢ games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in a jammed-up NL Central Division and also 2¢ games out of the NL’s second Wild-Card playoff spot. Things fell completely apart for the Bucs immediately after the break, however, as they lost 24 of their first 28 games to fall into last place, 15¢ games out of first place and firmly entrenched in last place in the division.
Season high point/celebrating Blass: Steve Blass celebrated his 60th season of affiliation with the Pirates as either a pitcher or broadcaster this season. Blass, now 77, is retiring from the broadcasting booth after a team-record 34 seasons as a color commentator with the Pirates. Blass, who helped pitch the Pirates to a World Championship in 1971, signed a professional contract with the club as an 18-year-old hurler in 1960. He spent 10 seasons as a pitcher with the Bucs, making the NL All-Star Team in 1972, before a mysterious loss of pitching control ended his career in 1974. Blass, who will remain with the Pirates as an alumni ambassador, was recognized by the Pirates this past Saturday with an on-the-field ceremony and a dual bobblehead giveaway that honored his days both on the field and in the broadcast booth. The Pirates also recognized Blass’ contributions with a ’60’ logo with his name on the outfield wall at PNC, and he will be enshrined in the Pirates’ inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2020.
Season low point: Vazquez’s arrest on multiple felony child sex charges in September made an already miserable season a surreal disaster. If the legal process plays out in a conviction, he will likely receive a long prison sentence and his pitching career could be over.
Dynamic rookie duo: Outfielder Bryan Reynolds (who finished the season with a batting average of .314, 16 home runs and 68 RBIs, and shortstop Kevin Newman, who finished with an average of .308, 12 homers and 64 RBIs) became the first Pirates rookies to bat over .300 in a single season since Manny Sanguillen and Richie Hebner accomplished the feat back in 1969.
Most valuable position player: Bell made the All-Star team after a dynamic first half of the season in which he belted 27 home runs and drove in 84 runs. Bell finished with 37 homers, 116 runs batted in, 37 doubles, and a .277 batting average. A groin injury prevented him from playing in the Pirates’ last 14 games, or he might have matched or surpassed the previous single-season team highs of 44 homers and 119 RBIs accomplished by Hall of Famer Willie Stargell in 1973.
Most valuable starting pitcher: Tough call, since nobody really stood out, but right-hander Joe Musgrove led the starting staff in victories (11), strikeouts (151) and innings pitched (170) while carding a 4.44 earned run average in 32 starts
Most effective relief pitcher: Vazquez was this team’s most effective pitcher this season, carding a 1.65 ERA in 56 games while converting 28 of 31 save opportunities.
Best newcomers: Reynolds (seventh) and Newman (eighth) finished among the NL’s batting leaders. Reynolds was a legitimate challenger for the NL batting title until mid-September.
Best reason to watch this year’s Pirates: Outstanding rookie seasons by Newman and Reynolds, along with the blockbuster first half by Bell, helped the Pirates lead the NL in team batting average and stay in playoff contention through the All-Star break.
Best reason to tune out: By late July, the terrible post All-Star break tailspin had rendered the Pirates’ games for the last two months of the season largely inconsequential — except for contending opponents.
Biggest question marks entering the offseason: Hurdle’s firing leaves a big question mark heading into the offseason. Will new field leadership that will presumably include an entirely new coaching staff help the Pirates in 2020? The loss of ace right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon for the entire 2020 season after he underwent his second Tommy John elbow surgery in August leaves a tremendous void on the Pirates’ starting pitching staff, and the Vazquez calamity will add more questions about what was a very shaky bullpen this season. The Pirates should be looking for at least one, if not two, starting pitchers, as well as relief help, in the trade or free-agent market this offseason. With the release of Francisco Cervelli in late August, the Pirates could also be looking for a front-line catcher, despite the fact that Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings were adequate in sharing that role this season. Right fielder Gregory Polanco’s health is a big question after he played only 42 games because of left shoulder inflammation this year.
Longest winning streak: Five games from April 14-20, winning a series finale in Washington against the Nationals, two straight in Detroit over the Tigers and the first two games at home in a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants.
Longest losing streaks: Two nine-game losing streaks topped the list. From Sept. 13-22, the Pirates were swept in three-game series by the Cubs in Chicago’s Wrigley Field, by the Seattle Mariners at PNC Park, and by the Brewers in Milwaukee. From July 21-29, the Pirates lost the finale of a three-game home series with the Philadelphia Phillies. four straight games to the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park, were swept in a three-game road series by the New York Mets and lost the opener of a three-game series to the Reds in Cincinnati. The Bucs also lost eight straight games in both April and August, and seven in June.
Best stretches: The Pirates won 11 of 14 games from April 4-20 after opening the season with a 1-3 record and won 12 of 17 games from June 16 through July 7, climbing within 2¢ games of both the division lead and a Wild-Card playoff spot while doing so.
Worst stretches: None was more damaging than the Pirates’ 4-24 skid that included losing streaks of nine and eight games following the All-Star break. The Pirates also lost 18 of 24 games from May 21 through June 13.
Most success against: Cincinnati (12-7), San Diego (6-1), Texas (3-1), Detroit (3-1), San Francisco (5-2), Colorado (5-2)
Least success against: Los Angeles Dodgers (0-6), Arizona (1-6), New York Mets (1-5), Milwaukee (4-15), St. Louis (5-14).
Best home records: Cincinnati (8-2), San Diego (3-0), Chicago Cubs (7-3, counting an Aug. 18 “home” game at the Williamsport Little League World Series Classic that the Cubs won)
Worst home records: Arizona (0-4), Los Angeles Dodgers (0-3), Seattle (0-3), St. Louis (1-8), Milwaukee (3-7)
Best road records: Colorado (4-0), Detroit (2-0), Texas (2-0), San Francisco (3-1), San Diego (3-1)
Worst road records: Chicago Cubs (1-8), Milwaukee (1-8), Atlanta (0-4), Los Angeles Dodgers (0-3), New York Mets (0-3)
Best homestand: The 5-2 stand against two division rivals from July 1-7, with the Pirates winning three of four games against the Chicago Cubs and two of three games against the Milwaukee Brewers, helped the Bucs close to within 2¢ games of the then first-place Cubs at the All-Star break.
Worst homestand: The Pirates went 1-6 on a seven-game homestand with Philadelphia and St. Louis July 19-25, losing two of three to the Phillies and getting swept in a four-game series by the Cardinals.
Best road trip: The Pirates went 7-4 on an 11-game, three-city road trip from May 9-19, winning three of four games in both St. Louis and San Diego and one of three in Arizona.
Worst road trips: The Pirates staggered through a 2-8 trip from June 7-16 in which they were swept in three games in Milwaukee and four games in Atlanta before they won two of three games in Miami. At the conclusion of the trip, the Pirates were seven games below .500 (32-39), eight games out of first place, and seven games out of a Wild-Card playoff berth. The Pirates’ 1-5 trip to the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis immediately after the all-star break dropped the team from 2¢ games behind the Cubs in the division race to 6¢ games behind. The Pirates were swept in a three-game series at Wrigley Field and lost two out of three games to the Cardinals.
Best month (team): At 15-14, May was the Pirates’ only winning month.
Worst month (team): An 8-18 July knocked the Pirates out of contention for either a division championship or Wild Card playoff berth.
Best month (position player): Bell won the NL’s Player of the Month Award with an historic month of May in which he matched some of Major League Baseball’s all-time greats in the record books. Bell batted .390 during the month, with 94 total bases, 46 hits, 24 extra-base hits, and 31 RBIs — all major-league highs for the month. Those extra-base hits included 12 home runs and 12 doubles, marking the first time that a major league player had as many in both of those categories during a single month since Hall-of-Famers Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson accomplished the feat in July of 1961. Bell’s 94 total bases during the month eclipsed the previous Pirates team record of 92 that was set by another Hall-of-Famer, Ralph Kiner, in June of 1947. Bell’s 24 extra-base hits tied an all-time Pirates team record that was set by Hall-of-Famer Paul Waner in both June of 1927 and August of 1928.
Best weeks (position player): Bell won the NL’s Player of the Week Award for the week of May 13-19, when he hit .407 with 11 hits — including four home runs and a double — in 27 at-bats over seven games. He also drove in 10 runs during the week. Second baseman Adam Frazier won the NL Player of the Week Award for the week of July 1-7, collecting 18 hits in 30-at-bats (a .600 average) over seven games, with seven doubles, a homer, seven RBIs, and 11 runs scored.
Best month (pitcher): Vazquez was named the NL Reliever of the Month for August, when he carded a 3-0 record, converted three of four save opportunities, and allowed just one earned run and four hits in 10• innings while striking out 11 batters and walking only one.
Most games over .500: The high-water mark was 24-20 after a 6-4 win at San Diego May 19.
Most games under .500: Rock bottom was a 65-91 record after a losing streak reached nine games on Sept. 22.
Best streaks (hitting): Newman put together a 19-game hitting streak from June 10 through June 29. The streak was the longest by a Pirates’ rookie dating back to 1900. During the streak, Newman had 30 hits in 77 plate appearances (a .390 average), with six doubles, a triple, three home runs and 14 RBIs. He had one four-hit game and one three-hit game during the streak. Reynolds put together a 17-game hitting streak from May 23 through June 9 in which he collected 25 hits in 65 plate appearances (a .385 average), with two homers, a double, a triple and 13 RBIs. Bell had a 15-game hitting streak that stretched from April 28 through May 15. During the streak, Bell had 26 hits in 61 plate appearances (a .426 average), including eight doubles and six home runs, while also driving in 21 runs. Bell’s streak also included a pair of two-homer games.
Best career debut: Shortstop Cole Tucker, called up from Class AAA Indianapolis on April 20 to play shortstop for the Pirates after starter Erik Gonzalez had suffered a broken collarbone, made his big-league debut a very special one when he belted a two-run homer that proved to be the difference as the Pirates topped the San Francisco Giants, 3-1 in a five-inning rain-shortened game at PNC Park.
Best career start: Reynolds, summoned from the minor leagues because of injuries to starting outfielders, put together an 11-game hitting streak from April 20 through May 4. The streak matched the longest by a Pirates rookie since Gregory Polanco also put together an 11-game streak in 2014.
Most anticipated debut: Highly-touted right-handed pitching prospect Mitch Keller made his major-league debut in the second game of a doubleheader on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 against the Reds at Cincinnati’s Great American BallPark. Keller had a rocky first inning, allowing six runs, but settled down and pitched three scoreless innings after that. The Pirates lost the game, 8-1.
Record night: The Pirates mashed out a single-game season-high 23 hits in an 18-5 rout of the Chicago Cubs July 1 at PNC Park. Bell became the first switch-hitter in franchise history to hit three home runs in a game, driving in seven runs with a three-run homer, a two-run homer, and a solo shot. Frazier and third baseman Colin Moran had five hits apiece, with Frazier’s four doubles tying a single-game Major League Baeball record.
Record-tying: This year’s Pirates team became the organization’s first since 1936 to string together three games with at least 15 hits in each game when it accomplished the feat in games Aug. 29-31 at Colorado’s Coors Field against the Rockies.
Honoring the champs: The Pirates rolled out the welcome mat for their last World Championship team, the 1979 “We are Familee” team, on Saturday, July 20 prior to a game with the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park. It was a nostalgic event, with star outfielder Dave Parker and pitching standout John Candelaria, among the honorees. This year’s Pirates obliged on the field that night as well, defeating the Phillies, 5-1 before a sellout crowd.
Reaching the river (twice): Prior to this season, only three players had hit a home-run ball into the Allegheny River on the fly since PNC Park’s opening in 2001. This season, Bell accomplished the feat twice within two weeks. Bell hit a 472-foot blast May 8 against the Texas Rangers, and followed that up with a 454-foot drive against the Colorado Rockies May 22. Bell joined Daryle Ward (then with the Houston Astros in 2002), Garrett Jones (2013) and Pedro Alvarez (2015) as players who have reached the river on the fly. Neither of Bell’s home runs was actually his longest this season. He belted a 474-foot homer over the batter’s eye in center field at PNC on April 7 against the Cincinnati Reds.
Seeing Red: The Pirates were involved in two bench-clearing brawls this season, and both were against the Reds. On April 7 at PNC, Pirates’ right-hander Chris Archer threw behind Reds second baseman Darren Dietrich after feeling that Dietrich spent too much time admiring a long home run. That set off a bench-clearing incident in which no punches were thrown but in which volatile Cincinnati outfielder Yasiel Puig became the leading man. Puig, Cincinnati manager David Bell, Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett, Pirates reliever Keone Kela, and hitting coach Rick Eckstein were the primary combatants in what became a full-scale on-the-field riot at Great American BallPark July 30. That melee really got out of hand when an enraged Garrett challenged the entire Pirates’ dugout and was swarmed over by a half-dozen Pirates players.
Streaking Red: The Pirates compiled a 11-game winning streak at PNC Park against the Cincinnati Reds over the past two seasons, including an 8-0 start this season. The Pirates were 8-2 against the Reds at home this season.
Snakebitten: The Pirates have now lost 10 straight games over three seasons at PNC Park to the Arizona Diamondbacks, including two four-game sweeps in both of the past two seasons.
Snake pit: The Pirates were swept in a three-game series by the Los Angeles Dodgers in Dodger Stadium this season, marking the third straight year that has happened.
Series business: At PNC Park, the Pirates won nine series, lost 15 and split two. On the road, the Pirates won 10 series, lost 14 and split two.
How sweep it is: On the road: The Pirates swept a two-game series from the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park April 16-17, a two-game series from the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park April 30 and May 1, and a four-game series from the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field Aug. 29-Sept. 1.
At PNC Park: The Pirates swept a four-game series from Cincinnati April 4-7 and a three-game series from the Reds Aug 23-25. The four-game sweep was the Pirates’ first against the Reds since August 1969 … The Pirates swept a three-game series from the San Diego Padres June 21-23, and a three-game series from the Chicago Cubs Sept. 24-26..
Best wins: In games played at PNC Park: Newman’s RBI double in the 10th inning lifted the Pirates to a 6-5 victory over Cincinnati April 6, and his two-run ninth-inning homer produced another 6-5 win over the Reds Sept. 27. Newman’s RBI single capped off a two-run rally in the ninth inning that earned the Pirates a 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs August 16 ….Center fielder Starling Marte’s three-run homer capped off a four-run rally by the Pirates in the 13th inning that produced a 5-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics May 5, and his three-run homer finished off another four-run rally by the Pirates in the eighth inning of a 4-1 win over the Washington Nationals Aug. 20 … The Pirates overcame a 7-1 deficit to defeat the Detroit Tigers, 8-7, with Reynolds’ three-run sixth-inning homer the game-winner … Wiping out three-run deficits in both the ninth and 11th innings, the Pirates completed their three-game sweep of San Diego with a spectacular 11-10, 11-inning win June 23. Newman drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the winning run … Rallying for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Pirates clipped the Chicago Cubs, 6-5 on July 3. Third baseman Jung Ho Kang doubled, and eventually scored the winning run on left fielder Corey Dickerson’s sacrifice fly … Reynolds’ three-run seventh-inning home run broke a 3-3 tie and helped the Pirates to a 6-5 win over Milwaukee July 7, and his two-run single capped off a three-run ninth-inning rally in a 6-5 win over the Miami Marlins Sept. 5 … An RBI single by outfielder Pablo Reyes culminated a two-run ninth-inning rally that gave the Pirates a 3-2 win over the Reds Aug. 23 … Rallying from a 4-1 deficit, the Pirates scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-4 Sept. 6, with Frazier’s two-run triple highlighting the big inning … Keyed by infielder Kevin Kramer’s two-run double, the Pirates erupted for seven runs in the seventh inning in a 9-2 win over the Cubs Sept. 24.
In games played on the road: Moran’s three-run home run in the 10th inning lifted the Pirates to a 6-3 victory over the Washington Nationals April 12 at Nationals Park, and Moran’s RBI single in the 10th inning sparked the Pirates to a 3-2 win over Detroit at Comerica Park April 17 … Rookie outfielder Jason Martin’s RBI double in the ninth inning sparked the Pirates to a 4-3 victory over Washington April 14 at Nationals Park … Marte’s two-run homer in the 10th inning gave the Pirates a 5-3 win over the Tigers at Comerica April 16 .. Reynolds belted a two-run homer to highlight a three-run 11th inning in the Pirates’ 6-4 win over the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park April 30 … Bell drove in five runs, including three with a home run that tied the game in the seventh inning, and Frazier added a big two-run pinch-hit double in the seventh, as the Pirates rallied for a 10-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium May 12. The Pirates also scored two runs in the ninth inning, with Moran’s RBI infield single breaking a 1-1 tie, to log a 3-1 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium July 16 … Outfielder Melky Cabrera’s pinch-hit RBI triple and Bell’s run-scoring double sparked a two-run seventh-inning rally that helped the Pirates overcome a 4-2 deficit and log a 5-4 win over Miami June 16 at Marlins Park … The Pirates pushed across single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to rally for a 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers June 28 at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. Reynolds walked and scored the tying run in the eighth inning, and catcher Elias Diaz walked and scored the winning run in the ninth inning … Led by Bell’s solo homer and three RBIs, the Pirates overcame an early 4-0 deficit and defeated the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 10-7 Aug.13 at Angel Stadium … Newman’s two-run single and Reynolds’ game-winning RBI single sparked a four-run rally in the ninth inning that lifted the Pirates to a 6-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park Sept. 9.
Best-pitched games: Trevor Williams: Right-hander Williams pitched six scoreless innings as the Pirates blanked the Reds, 5-0 at Cincinnati’s Great American BallPark March 31. Regular starter Musgrove appeared in relief and pitched two scoreless innings, and relievers Vazquez and Kela completed the four-hit shutout.
Joe Musgrove: Right-hander Musgrove pitched seven scoreless innings and teamed with Kela and Vazquez on a three-hit shutout in the Pirates’ 2-0 win over the Reds at PNC Park April 5 … Musgrove threw seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit, in the Pirates’ 6-2 victory over the Diamondbacks at Arizona’s Chase Field May 14 … Musgrove pitched six scoreless innings, and teamed with relievers Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes and Geoff Hartlieb on a nine-hit shutout, as the Pirates blanked the Houston Astros, 10-0 on June 27 at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
Steven Brault: Left-hander Brault pitched six scoreless innings and teamed with relievers Clay Holmes, Michael Feliz and Richard Rodriquez on a nine-hit shutout as the Pirates blanked the Miami Marlins, 11-0 on June 14 at Marlins Park.
Jordan Lyles: Right-hander Lyles, who was traded back to Milwaukee in late July, pitched five scoreless innings, and teamed with relievers Nick Kingham, Richard Rodriquez and Vazquez on a six-hit shutout, to lead the Pirates to a 2-0 victory over the Reds at PNC Park April 4 … Lyles allowed only one hit over six innings and teamed with relievers Rodriquez, Francisco Liriano, Kyle Crick and Vazquez to allow the Cardinals a total of just two hits in a 2-1 Pirates victory at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium May 11 … Lyles struck out 12 batters over seven innings, allowing only one run and five hits, in the Pirates’ 5-3 victory over the Padres at San Diego’s Petco Park May 17.