The Pittsburgh Pirates have returned to respectability over the past couple years thanks to a promising young nucleus who probably can’t remember the last time this franchise had a winning season.
Yes, it’s the obligatory stat that surfaces every time Opening Day approaches on the banks of the three rivers: 21 years. Back when Barry Bonds‘ head was human-sized and in a Pirates ball cap, Pittsburgh approached the verge of the 1992 World Series before falling in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Bonds left, ownership grew cheap and the team never again finished above-.500.
The Pirates have, however, reeled off a few decent campaigns in the meantime; teams that showed promise that the fans’ rut would be soon escaped. The 1997 squad featured a solid lineup including athletic 23-year-0ld catcher Jason Kendall, Kevin Young and Joe Randa with Esteban Loaiza and Jon Lieber heading the rotation. Pittsburgh finished second in the NL Central that year with 79 wins.
Yet the next real glimmer of hope didn’t come until 2011 when the Pirates entered the All-Star break with a winning record for the first time since 1992, sending Andrew McCutchen, Kevin Correia and Joel Hanrahan to the mid-Summer Classic. It would be all for naught, however, as Pittsburgh faded fast down the stretch.
Though Correia and Hanrahan are no longer around to spearhead the return of this once-great franchise, McCutchen and a talented young cast appear primed to improve upon last year’s post-Bonds high-water mark of 79 wins. If McCutchen’s 2012 breakout campaign is any omen, the Buccos could tack on those three extra wins and more.