5 reasons the Pirates were disappointing in 2018
With the Pirates recording their final out Sunday, the Trib looks back at the season in a four-part series.
The Pirates began 2018 with Josh Harrison grousing about the trade of his buddy, Andrew McCutchen.
Then, David Freese reported to spring training and questioned -- out loud -- the team’s top-to-bottom accountability and sense of urgency to win.
Somehow, the Pirates gained enough of what Freese said was lacking to win 82 games. But that wasn’t nearly good enough -- the Pirates finished 12½ games out of first place -- and they spent September holding tryouts for infielders Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer. Spring training all over again.
Here are five reasons the season was a disappointment:
1. Lack of power
Home runs excite the masses, provide sudden run production and increase a team’s payroll. The Pirates could use a boost in all three categories.
The lack of home runs probably was the biggest reason hitting coaches Jeff Branson and Jeff Livesey were fired with a year left on their contracts and the Pirates were never a genuine threat to reach the postseason.
Eight of the 10 teams in the playoffs finished in the top 10 in home runs, led by the New York Yankees (267) and Los Angeles Dodgers (235), who hit 110 and 78 more homers than the Pirates’ meager total of 157 (not even an average of one per game).
In the biggest mystery of the season, Josh Bell hit only 12 homers -- he had six through Aug. 8 -- after belting 26 as a rookie last season. And there was no corresponding increase in his batting average. Bell batted .261, up six points from his rookie season.
2. Too many shutouts lost
Other than unpopular trades, nothing turns off a fan base more than a team that can’t score.
The Pirates were shut out 17 times, including nine at PNC Park. Three of those were in a span of five games in August.
Overall, the bats were inconsistent, averaging only 4.3 runs per game. The starting pitching kicked in later in the season, so the lack of offense was of smaller consequence. At that point, the Pirates were able to win 16 of 26 games in September while scoring only 109 runs.
What good is a review of a Pirates season without mention of the number of people who don’t show up for games?
Fans were disillusioned by the offseason trades of McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, and they stayed away in record numbers. Cold, gloomy April weather didn’t help.
The attendance total of 1,465,316 was the smallest since 1996 -- Jim Leyland’s last year as manager -- and the worst in PNC Park history.
No amount of giveaways or fireworks nights can do what winning does for attendance. The Pirates have drawn more than 2 million people eight times, and six of those years were accompanied by a playoff berth. The exceptions were the first season at PNC Park when they lost 100 games (2001) and Clint Hurdle’s second year as manager in 2012, a year before the run of three consecutive playoff appearances.
4. Newcomers’ struggles
There was a buzz around town and at the ballpark when the Pirates traded for pitchers Chris Archer and Keone Kela on July 31. There was a postseason chase at hand, and two new, accomplished pitchers for the rotation and bullpen were going to facilitate the quest.
The Pirates were only six games out of first place when the trades were made, but they never got any closer. By the end of the August, the margin ballooned to 131⁄2.
Archer struggled in his new surroundings -- he rallied later -- and Kela looked like a keeper before he was shut down in early September to save his arm for bigger games next year.
The buzz turned into a cry of “Wait ’till next year,” which is all too common in referencing the Pirates.
5. Harrison’s final season?
Harrison never has been anything but a good teammate and a useful player who can play several positions.
But his batting average declined every year since hitting a career-high .315 in 2014, and the Pirates appear ready to move on without him and his $10.5 million salary.
Harrison, 31, ended this season nursing a sore hamstring, and he finished at .250, with a .656 OPS (on-base, plus slugging).
He still wears a reliable glove at second base -- his best position - and can help at third base and in the outfield. He has multiple years left, just not in Pittsburgh.
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