For the first time since the glory days of 1990 to 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are headed to the playoffs in consecutive seasons. The Pirates have been among baseball’s best teams down the stretch and clinched no worse than a wild-card spot with their win over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.
Story of the season
The Pirates don’t have a 25-homer hitter or a 15-game winner. But they do have a lineup and pitching staff with depth in a lot of spots.
The team ranks in the top three in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The six pitchers who have made the most starts this season all have ERAs below 3.80 and the team’s top two relievers (Mark Melancon and Tony Watson) both have ERAs below 2.00.
The Pirates also have modest skill in the field, with four positions contributing at least 10 defensive runs saved to a team that ranks third in the National League in that stat.
Most valuable player
McCutchen has basically matched his performance from 2013, when he won the NL MVP award. He’s headed toward his third straight season with a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage, with at least 20 home runs each season.
Martin could hit .300 for the first time in his career (after hitting .237, .211 and .226 the past three seasons) and has a chance for his best single-season OPS (his current benchmark is .843 in 2007). He has 11 defensive runs saved this season and leads all catchers with 27 runs saved since the start of last season.
Harrison has emerged as a star, winning fans over with his hustle and versatility. He’s a contender for the batting title, has 56 extra-base hits and has 15 defensive runs saved despite not having played more than 50 games at any position.
Coming on of late
The Pirates' best hitter the past two months has been left fielder Starling Marte.
Marte, who had the game-winning hit in Tuesday’s clinching win, is hitting .358 with an NL-best 1.005 OPS since Aug. 1.
Marte has taken to the idea that making contact more often can mean only good things for him. He’s gone from missing on 31 percent of his swings (from April to July) to missing on only 20 percent (in August and September). He had 26 extra-base hits in his first 314 at-bats, but now has 20 in his past 159.
Circle these games
What were the most notable wins for the Pirates this season?
The Pirates' season got off to a dramatic start with a 10-inning 1-0 win over the Cubs on Opening Day (on Neil Walker’s game-ending home run) and a 4-3 win in 16 innings on Tony Sanchez’s walk-off hit two days later.
Pirates Win Pct by Month
Past 4 Seasons
The Pirates didn’t have a lot of early success. They were 37-38 through 75 games. Most of their really good wins came in the latter part of the season, though they did get a nice spark from Gregory Polanco’s five-hit day June 13, in which he homered in the 13th inning to win.
Among the catalysts for the team's success was a 3-2 win over the Mets on Harrison’s 11th-inning hit June 27.
Most of the Pirates' really good wins have come in the past two months. The best of those came last Friday, when they won their series opener with the Milwaukee Brewers on Martin's go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.
Did you know?
The Pirates are 15-6 in September, and have won 15 of their past 18. They have a chance to finish with a .700 winning percentage in September/October for only the third time in the past 100 seasons. The 1978 Pirates went 22-9 (.710) and the 1937 Pirates were 24-10 (.706).