Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again.
Sorry, Pittsburgh Pirates, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.
The Pirates, for as young and talented as they are and as potentially good as they could have been, just couldn’t get it done in 2017. Unexpected medical scares and suspensions didn’t help them either. Nor did playing the Cardinals and Cubs so much.
There were bright spots for the Pirates — like Jameson Taillon’s return from a cancer scare and Andrew McCutchen’s return to being a productive player. But there are still some lingering questions too.
Let’s further break down the season that was in Pittsburgh:
UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
Though not entirely back to his previous MVP level, Andrew McCutchen bounced back with a pretty nice season (.273/.358/.470 with 26 homers and 79 RBIs). The same could be said for ace Gerrit Cole (4.32 ERA in 32 starts), who was limited to 21 starts in 2016 due to injury. If nothing else, both players boosted their trade value should the Pirates front office decide to move in a different direction this winter. If that’s the case, Josh Bell (23 homers, 83 RBIs) could be the new foundation in Pittsburgh’s lineup after flashing some serious power this season. (Mark Townsend)
THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
Starling Marte’s 80-game suspension set the Pirates season back before it really got started. The Pirates clearly missed Marte’s offense and defense throughout an uneven first half. Pittsburgh’s bullpen also struggled to find it’s footing, going through several late-inning options before trading former All-Star Tony Watson to the Dodgers and awkwardly releasing Juan Nicascio. Though talented and competitive, the Pirates seem stuck in the mud in one of baseball’s most competitve division. (Mark Townsend)
THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
One of the best moments of the Pirates season came when pitcher Jameson Taillon returned to the team just five weeks after surgery for testicular cancer. He learned about the cancer in May and was back on the mound by mid June.
When he returned, he did so in style — he pitched five scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies, striking out five and giving up five hits. Taillon, a lauded Pirates youngster, didn’t have the big breakout season that some predicted. He’s 8-7 with a 4.62 ERA, but he achieved plenty by just getting back on the mound this year. (Mike Oz)
WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
The Pirates are in an unenviable position. They’ve got most of the pieces to be competitive, but they’re in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. They play the Cardinals and the Cubs 19 times a year — each. And with the Brewers looking good again, it just makes things even more difficult for the Pirates. Do they continue to tread water in the middle of the division, somehow try to make some big moves to become fully competitive again, or just decide to rebuild? It looked like they were flirting with the idea of a teardown, especially when they made McCutchen so publicly available, but nothing ever came from that. They’ll have to decide soon, because their current path doesn’t seem to be leading them anywhere. (Liz Roscher)
A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
Andrew McCutchen complicates things. The 30-year-old bounced back in a big way, but is only under contract though next season. Now, the Pirates need to make one of their biggest decisions in recent history.
The good thing is that the team should have some help on the way through the system. Austin Meadows had somewhat of a down year, but he’s considered close to ready. Pitchers Mitch Keller and Nick Kingham could also make an impact. Infielder Kevin Newman may also get a shot, though maybe not right out of spring training.
It’s tough to argue they have a standout, especially because Meadows didn’t have a great year. That makes it even more difficult. They can probably keep McCutchen and be competitive next season. But that would be short-lived, as he’s leaving and a rebuild is inevitable. Will their superstar get one more chance to lead them to glory? (Chris Cwik)
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