Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pirates next lesson: Learning how to win

Living in the Philadelphia area, it's been hard to avoid all the success that has come the way of the Philadelphia Phillies. But for Pirates fans looking toward that standard of success in the Bucs' future need to exercise just a little patience.

Even as players like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard became household names, the Phillies were struggling to overcome the Braves and even win games late in the season against the Marlins that would have put them in the playoffs before they finally got there in 2007. And then they lost to the Rockies....

The Phillies organizational plan is totally different, as they have developed their players. They've also been in position to acquire high-priced talent by trading minor league talent and then being able to afford to keep it because they have a very good TV deal and have over 180 straight sellouts.

The Pirates had to hit the reset button in 2008. There was very little talent in the organization, and almost zero pitching. The Bucs have started to take steps to build up the quality pitching in the organization while allowing the couple of good hitters they have to play everyday and began to flourish. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are strong building blocks. Pedro Alvarez has struggled at the start but will certainly get there. The Phillies had their share of fill-ins. Jim Thome was there before Ryan Howard and couldn't get them over the top. They acquired players like Eric Milton, David Bell, Freddy Garcia....all who didn't work out.

The team has high hopes for Starling Marte in Double-A to be a corner outfielder with speed and power. Jose Tabata has proven he can be a quality everyday player when healthy. Is Alex Presley the next Shane Victorino? Maybe. Victorino never really gave the impression of being the player he is now in the minor leagues.

And the Pirates have had their demons. Albert Pujols and the Cardinals. The Brewers, especially in Milwaukee, is another. It's a learning experience that Clint Hurdle was brought in to teach. The Pirates are now facing the pressure of all the world watching, coming off seven tough road games against the NL's best. It's a new situation for everyone in the clubhouse to now be expected to win games. And this team, especially the starting pitching, has played better than anyone expected. A jump of 10 wins with team's talent could be expected by to still be over .500 is a remarkable achievement that has ridiculous thoughts placed in the heads of Pirates and baseball fans alike. It's something young players need to adjust to and learn how to deal with.

Remember, this team was 57-105. Even if they would win just 75 games this season, it would be the biggest season turnaround since the 1958 Pirates improved by 22 games over the 1957 squad. And Pirates fans know a World Series title followed that just two years later.

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