On the final day of September, the Pittsburgh Pirates assured themselves of a 20th straight losing season with a 4-3 loss to division rival Cincinnati Reds.
The Battlin’ Buccos were up in the ninth inning and sent in closer and all-star Joel Hanrahan to shut down the Reds, and that’s when things went wrong.
Reds’ pinch hitter Xavier Paul led off the inning with a solo home run, and Zack Cozart blasted a go-head double for Cincinnati, securing a win and home field advantage for them in the National League Division series.
With the loss, the Pirates extended their North American professional sports record for consecutive losing seasons at 20.
This year’s losing season is especially difficult for many Pirate fans to swallow because of the early success they saw. The Buccos were 16 games over the illusive .500 mark on August 6 and were in prime position for a potential birth as a wild card team in the playoffs.
After the disaster at the end of the 2011 season, many Pirate fans were hoping this year would be different and they would avoid that long losing streak that sunk their ship in the previous year, and their prayers were not answered.
The Pirates had lost 18 of 23 games since August 6 and had fallen to 77-82.
Despite the immediate disappointment, Pirates fans have reason to be excited going forward.
The Pirates have shown flashes of brilliance this year, starting with young center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen finished the 2012 season with a .327 batting average (2nd in the National League), 31 home runs, 96 runs batted in (RBIs), and an OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) of .953
Those stats are good for a WAR rating (wins above replacement) of 7.0, second in the National League. WAR measures the value of a player by determining how many more wins that player can help give a team then the average replacement player at the same position.
Another bright spot for the 2012 Buccos has been the play of veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett.
Burnett joined the Pirates this year after being traded from the Yankees and became the Pirates go to guy on the bump. Burnet finished the year with a record of 16 wins and 10 losses, a 3.51 earned run average, 180 strike outs, and WHIP (walks and hits/innings pitched) of 1.24.
Burnett, who will be a free agent, is expected to return to the Pirates in 2013, giving them a legitimate #1 pitcher.
Pedro Alvarez also showed spots of brilliance this year, putting up a .243 batting average, 30 home runs, and 85 RBIs.
Despite the seemingly neverending futility, the future looks bright for the young Battlin’ Buccos.