It has been rather nice for the past few seasons to have my two favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, contend for their respective division titles and participate in the post season. The Pirates had an especially long drought period before emerging as contenders in 2013 and many of us who have been around since J. Fred Muggs had as many viewers as the Kardashians recall the woeful days of Kiner’s Korner and perennial last place finishes before the happy World Champion days of 1960, 1971, and 1979. The Giants have been, for the most part, flourishing ever since they moved to the Phone Booth in 2000 but there were many years of suffering prior to that in the Bay Area because even when they were winning one had to endure Candlestick Park to see them in person and they almost moved to Florida.
It was good while it lasted but this year it looks like neither team has what it takes to make the playoffs. Oh, sure, the Giants are in second place and there are still many games to play but they have played at a .323 winning percentage since the All Star break after boasting a surprising 57-33 record that had many of us fooled. The Pirates have perked up lately, on the other hand, going 28-17 since June 24. The Cubs faltered a bit over a month ago, but that has been followed by another winning surge that has just about clinched the division title already. The Cardinals and Pirates still have decent teams but will probably wear themselves out just trying to be wild card entries.
The Pirates shot themselves in the foot in the off season. Whether or not they were deliberately conceding to Chicago, the winter additions of David Freese and Matt Joyce did not scare people around the league. The trade of Neil Walker was only going to make sense if Jon Niese became an 18 game winner, but he was 8-6 with a 4.91 ERA for the Bucs. Francisco Liriano went from being a good five inning pitcher to being a mediocre at best one, going 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA. Juan Nicasio has seldom been good. Starting pitching is really all that Pittsburgh needs and there is hope for the future. Jameson Taillon has looked good and others with promise appear on the horizon. The outfield remains perhaps the overall best in baseball, especially defensively. McCutchen obviously needs his dreads back but seems to be snapping out of a year long batting funk. Marte and Polanco both strike out a lot but are otherwise superb. The Bucs were hurt badly by the loss to injury of so many games by Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart and catcher is, after all, a vitally important position. The infield defense is not terrible but does not rate with the best either. Jaso and Freese were not acquired for their gold glove potential.
Meanwhile, the Giants’ sterling infield defense took a hit with the late July trade of third baseman Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay, where he is evidently going back to playing shortstop. The Giants received a mediocre left handed starter, Matt Moore, in return and acquired a lefty reliever, Will Smith, from Milwaukee as well in an attempt to shore up a wobbly pitching staff. Smith gets the mediocre tag as well and San Francisco will have to hope that Eduardo Nunez, a journeyman infielder who reminds no one of Brooks Robinson or Omar Vizquel, is highly productive offensively. He was an All Star for the Twins, but every team gets an All Star.
Don’t get me wrong, either or both of these teams could end up in the 2016 playoffs somehow and I’ll be happy if they do. There are proven veteran winners on both squads. As for the World Series, that would be a bit of a reach. For the future, a fresh injection of youthful enthusiasm may be needed if the Giants and Pirates are to regain badass status.