If you are looking for a feel-good story in MLB in 2013, look no further than the Pittsburgh Pirates. They have clinched their first winning season since 1992; they are also close to clinching a playoff spot for the first time since, you guessed it, 1992. Along with the team success, the Bucs also have several players in the running for individual awards, including an MVP candidate, a Cy Young award candidate and a couple Comeback Player of the Year candidates.
The first, most obvious choice for Comeback Player of the Year is left-handed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano. Liriano began his career as one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League with the Minnesota Twins, but after his first couple seasons he struggled to sustain his success. After going 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA and allowing 5.0 BB/9 in 2012 with the Twins and Chicago White Sox, he has bounced back this season. Liriano is 16-7 with a 2.92 ERA with the Pirates in 2013. Liriano is also in the Cy Young race, but he’s a long shot to win because Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers is on a completely different level.
Marlon Byrd is the Pirates’ second candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Byrd spent 2012 with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, but played less than half of the season after he was suspended 50 games for taking PEDs. In 153 plate appearances, he slashed .210/.243/.245 with a 26 wRC+. This season, Byrd has a .287/.331/.513 slash line with a 135 wRC+ in 544 plate appearances.
It sure is fun to watch the Pirates this season, not only because the team as a whole is winning, but because so many players on the roster are taking their game to a whole new level in 2013. The present, and the future, are bright for the Pirates.