Thursday, October 08, 2015

Pirates' loss doesn't ruin a special season

Andrew McCutchen gets the first hit for the Pirates during the National League wild-card game on Wednesday at PNC Park.(Lucy Schaly/The Times)

A quick exit in the postseason for a second year in a row should not overshadow the fact that the Pirates went 98-64 in the regular season, the second-best record in the major leagues.
Buctober turned out to be the shortest month of the year, rather than February, for a second consecutive year.
That is a depressing thought for the Pirates and their fans following a regular season in which they won 98 games, the second-highest total in the major leagues and third-highest total in franchise history, yet saw the postseason end in one night for a second straight year.
Cubs ace pitcher Jake Arrieta was too much for the Pirates to handle  Wednesday night as he pitched a four-hit shutout to lead the Cubs to a 4-0 victory in the National League wild card game at PNC Park.
Of course, Arrieta likely would have overpowered the 1927 New York Yankees, 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates or any other big-hitting team in baseball history with both the way he pitched Wednesday night and since the All-Star break.
Arrieta went 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA in the second half of the regular season. He carried that right over to his first postseason start of his six-year career. It also helped that home plate umpire Jeff Nelson had a large strike zone, especially on the outside corner.
It was very reminiscent of how San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner carved up the Pirates in last year’s wild card before dominating October and leading the Giants to their third World Series title in five years.
Yet before we say the Pirates’ season was a disappointment because of the way it ended, let’s back up for a second.
The Pirates were 98-64 in the regular season. It wasn’t their fault that they happened to be part of a historical aberration in which the teams with the three best records in the major leagues --- the St. Louis Cardinals were 100-62 and the Cubs were 97-65 --- all played in the same division, the NL Central.
Thus, the second-best and third-best teams were forced to play in a winner-take-all game for the right to face the best team in a best-of-five National League Division Series.
There isn’t any fairness in that, and it certainly does nothing to determine the best team in baseball.
The phrase “on any given Sunday” was once popular in the NFL if a team would pull off an upset.
However, because of all the variables that go into a given baseball game, even the worst team in the major leagues is capable of beating the best team at any time.
Put two of the three best teams in the game together, and it truly is a coin flip.
And with Arrieta pitching, the home team was in the unenviable position Wednesday night of it being heads the Cubs win and tails the Pirates lose.

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