It’s been a funny season. Coming in to the year, people expected 100 losses. A 72-90 season would have been seen as a good step in the right direction. If I would have been able to promise you a 75 win season this year, following a 105 loss season last year, the optimism for the future would have been pretty high.
I talked the other day about the many ends to the 2011 season. Every time the Pirates have struggled this year, people have been quick to call the struggles the beginning of the end of the season. There’s no doubt that the current struggles are the worst of the year. The Pirates are 1-9 in their last ten games, including a seven game losing streak that took them from a 54-49 record, and 1.5 games out of first place, to a 54-56 record, and 7 games out of first. Naturally, the first 100 games of the season, where the Pirates went 53-47, were the fluke. The real team is the one that has gone 1-9. End sarcasm.
I’ve talked about how people go the doom and gloom route when the team hits a bad spot. What about the flip side? We came in to the year expecting another horrible season, with 72-75 wins viewed as a strong improvement. Somewhere along the way, we went from that, to thinking the season is a loss because the Pirates slipped to two games below .500 in early August. There’s a reason for this. Every time the team loses, people predict the end of the season. However, every time the team goes on a nice run, people raise their expectations.
A lot of people are looking at the Pirates and their 1-9 stretch and saying “same old Pirates”. The bandwagon just got a lot lighter, and people are embracing football season. All over a ten game stretch, which is a pretty small sample size in a 110 game season. But is that not the same thing that Pirates fans have done all season, good or bad?
What about the ten game stretch in early June, where the Pirates went 7-3, improving from 29-30 to 35-33? That was enough for people to start questioning whether the Pirates could put up a winning season.
Or, how about the ten game stretch in early July, where they went 7-3, improving from 42-40 and three games out of first place, to 48-43 and being tied for first place? Suddenly, the expectations were raises from “will they reach .500” to “will they win the NL Central?”
In each case, the Pirates went on a small hot streak, and fans adjusted their expectations. After the June hot streak, a 72 win season was no longer good enough. After the July hot streak, .500 was no longer good enough. Ultimately the goal should always be contending, but considering the Pirates lost 105 games last year, what would be considered a success this year?
I had reservations about the Pirates during each of their hot streaks this season. I pointed out how bad the offense had been, and that the pitching staff would regress. I pointed out that they were just beating up on bad teams, and weren’t really beating good teams (although they took two of three against Philadelphia right after that, followed by two of three against Boston later in the month, but have since struggled against teams like St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Atlanta). Just like my reservations with the hot streaks, I have reservations about making too much over a cold streak.
These are the same old Pirates. But not in the snarky “here we go with another year of the losing streak” way. These Pirates that we’ve seen over the last ten games are the same old Pirates we’ve seen all year. When they get hot, people start thinking playoffs. When they get cold, people start thinking 90 losses. However, this is a team that has hovered around .500 the entire year. They’ve been five games below .500, and they’ve been seven games above .500, but for the most part they’ve revolved around the .500 mark.
Despite the doom and gloom after a seven game losing streak, and a 1-9 run, the Pirates are two games under .500. The big difference is that, a month ago, being around .500 would put you in contention for the weak NL Central. The Milwaukee Brewers have been on a hot streak, and are now leading the division while sitting 12 games above .500. Even if the Pirates had swept the Cubs in their four game series, rather than being swept, they’d still be three games back in the division.
The Pirates might not be contenders for the division right now, but you could argue that they never really were contenders. The reason they were contending last month was that four games above .500 put you a game out of first place, and five games above .500 put you in the lead in the NL Central. There is now a clear leader in the division, and hovering on the positive side of .500 no longer is enough to put you in contention. That doesn’t change the fact that the Pirates are still hovering around .500.
That brings me back to my question: what would be a successful season this year? The Pirates have fallen out of contention, which has just as much to do with Milwaukee’s hot streak as it does with the Pirates’ losing streak. However, they’re still two games below .500. They were five games below .500 in mid-May, and one month later sat two games above .500. Suggesting the team won’t contend might be valid, but suggesting they’ll go in a tailspin to 90 losses is making too much out of the current stretch.
The Pirates have hovered around .500 all year. They’re looking like a .500 team, with the normal hot and cold stretches that a .500 team experiences. Prior to the 2011 season, people would have been ecstatic if you said the team had a shot at .500 this year. That’s not the ultimate goal, but considering the team had 105 losses in 2010, I’d say hovering around .500 all year so far in 2011 has to be considered a success. Obviously it’s only a success if the team continues to hover around .500, but anyone suggesting less right now is probably making too much out of a ten game stretch, and ignoring the overall results after 110 games this year.