Sports: Steelers vs. Giants December 1963. First and Last Chance at Glory.

The 1963 pro football season was odd and sad, and it was  the Steelers first chance at glory since pro football had become the up and coming sport, really challenging baseball as the number one sport in America. The season was sad because on November 22, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was sad for the Steelers because in May of that year Big Daddy Lipscomb had died of a heroin overdose.    The season was odd because the Steelers had 3 ties that year.  They tied the Philadelphia Eagles twice and Eagles only won 2 other games all year.  See, it just not Mike Tomlin teams that play down to their competition. The other tie was against the Chicago Bears  who would go on and win the NFL Championship that year. In 1963, if teams played to a tie, the NFL looked at the game as if it had never been played.  Going into the last week of the season, the Steelers record was 7 wins, 3 losses, and those 3 ties.  But their “real” record was just 7 and 3.  They would play the New York Giants at Yankee stadium, whose record was 10 and 3, and by today’s rules of ties, where ties count as a .5 loss and .5 win they would have the division clinched.  The Steelers record would have been 8.5 and 4.5.  Even with a win they would be 9.5 and 4.5 and the Giants would have been 10 and 4, which would have won the division.  But this was 1963, and the Steelers were very much alive.  With a win they would be 8 and 3 for a percentage .728 and that would beat  a 10-4 Giant team with .714.  Despite how unfair this would seem, the NFL did not change the tie rule until 1972.  We Steeler fans did not care.  This was best chance for the Steelers to win their first division title since 1947 when they lost a play off game to the Philadelphia Eagles 21 to 0.  But alas, the Steelers lost 33 to 17 and as a 13 year old I was devastated.  I felt we were never in the game as my Dad and I watched the game on our black and white TV.  But low and behold I found a radio broadcast of the game on You Tube and well the Steelers were in the game more than I realized.

The Giants were the kings of the Eastern Division, having played in the NFL Championship game 5 out of the last 7 years.  Unfortunately they won only 1 of those games, the 1956 Championship game beating the Chicago Bears, 47 to 7.  Then they lost 2 to the Johnny Unitas led Baltimore Colts, and 2 more to the Green Bay Packers.  If they had done better in the championship games, they would be considered one of the best dynasties in football.  They would go on to lose to the Chicago Bears 14 to 10, in 1963. They had lost to the Steelers in the second game of the year 31 to 0, but Y. A. Tittle their Hall of Fame quarterback was out with injury.  The Giants were a veteran seasoned group led by  Tittle, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff,  and Andy Robustelli.  The Steelers were also a veteran group, thanks to their coach Buddy Parker, who was the precursor to George Allen, giving up draft choices for veterans.  In fact it was not uncommon for the Steelers to trade away all their draft choices while Parker was the head coach.  The Steelers did draft one player in 1963 by the name of Andy Russell, not bad for a 16th round pick.  The Steelers were led on offense by quarterback Ed Brown,  running back John Henry Johnson, and wide receivers Buddy Dial and Gary Ballman.  On defense they had Clendon Thomas, Myron Pottios and John Baker.  Now to the game.

The game could not have started out worse for the Steelers, as running back Theron Sapp fumbled the ball on the opening play, and the Giants recovered.  But the Steeler defense was able to hold the Giants and Don Chandler kicked a 34 yard field goal, which was a 34 yard field goal since the goal posts were on the goal line in 1963. The goal posts were not as long either but that’s a story for another blog.   Gary Ballman returned the ensuing kick off all the way to the Giant 28 yard line.  But the Steelers could not move the ball and Lou Michaels missed a 30 yard field goal. The Giants on their next series fumbled the ball right back to the Steelers and they had the ball  at the Giant 33 yard line.   Ed Brown hit Gary Ballman around the 10 yard line and was getting ready to score but lost control of the ball and fumbled it into the end zone and the Giants  returned it  to their own 34 yard line.  The Giants had a third and inches on their own 44 yard line and threw a 16 yard pass to Del Shofner and then  on the next play, Tittle  hit Shofner again for a 41 yard touchdown and when Chandler missed the extra point they led 9 to 0.  On the next series Brown threw an interception and the Giants had the ball on their own 44. The Giants moved down the field to the Pittsburgh 5 yard line, first and goal.  The Giants tried a halfback pass with Frank Gifford but wound up having 3 laterals, yes that’s 3 laterals,  and finally Y. A. Tittle wound up throwing the ball incomplete. To make matters worse the Giants were called for holding, which was a 15 yard penalty in 1963.   On the next play Andy Russel intercepted a Tittle pass, and the Steelers had the ball on their own 4 yard line. Mercifully the 1st quarter ended, with the Steelers losing 2 fumbles and throwing an interception, and the Giants fumbled twice, but lost only one, and threw one interception. The second quarter did not go much better. After an exchange of punts, the Steelers had to punt again, and the Giants fumbled, with the Steelers recovering on the Giants 24 yard line.  On two running plays the Steelers make 9.5 yards and it is 3rd and inches.  The Steelers do not make an inch in 2 plays and turn the ball over to the Giants on the 14 yard line. On their next possession  the Steelers  move the ball to the 37 yard of the Giants and are stalled with a 4th and 7. They elect to kick a field goal and back up quarterback Bill Nelson fumbled the snap and the Giants take over at their own 44.  The Giants move quickly. Long pass to Shofner to the Steeler 13 and then a TD pass to Joe Morrison and Giants lead 16-0.   But just like in todays game, with only 1:05 to go in the half, the Steelers move right down the field and Lou Michaels finally makes a field goal of 27 yards, and it is 16-3 at the half.   The Giants don’t move the ball to start the half and punt to the Steelers and they start at their own 34 yard.   On third and 2 at the 42 John Henry Johnson finally breaks one and goes 48 yards to the Giants 10 yard line, first and goal.  A holding penalty pushes the Steelers back to the 25 and on third down Brown finds Ballman in the end zone from 21 yards out, and with the conversion the score is 16 to 10 about one third  through the third quarter and we have a football game.  The Giants hold on the kick off and have to start on the 14 yard line.  But then it’s slam bang thank you mam.  Third and 7 from the 17 yard line,  30 yards to Gifford to the 47, then 25 yards to Gifford to the 22, and TD to Morrison from the 22.  Three plays, 83 yards, touchdown, its 23 to 10 Giants. The Steelers go 3 and out, when they try a long pass on 3rd and 2 and the avalanche continued.  First and 10 on the Giants 36, first play 31 yard pass with a face mask penalty tacked on, it is first and 10 on the Steeler 16 yard line.  Fifteen yard pass to Gifford to the one, and Joe Morrison over the top for his 3rd TD of the game,  and Giants lead 30 to 10 and the game is essentially over.   The Steelers have a nice drive but Brown throws an interception in the end zone.  The Steelers score on their next possession on a 40 yard bomb to Buddy Dial.  The Steelers try another field goal, for what ever reason and of course it was missed from 48 yards.   The Giants start on their own 8 yard line because of a clip and go on a long ball control drive that results in no points but eats up enough of the clock and then Chandler adds a field goal with about 2 minutes to go that locks up the game, and sends the Giants to the Eastern Division Championship and a date with the Chicago Bears.

It was a game of missed opportunities for the Steelers. In the first half they were inside the Giants 25 yard line four times and came away with only 3 points. Ed Brown did not have a good game and was crucified for it, but did not get a lot of help. Critical fumbles, dropped passes and missed field goals hurt them  as much as anything.  Myron Cope related the story that he knew that Ed Brown was not going to have a good game, because he was not seen at the favorite watering hole for the Steelers that week.  Cope deducted that this was not a good week for Brown to take the game too seriously, and stop drinking for that week.  He may have been right, but the loss was a team effort.  But the game was better, than I remembered as a devastated teen in 1963.  For both teams, it was their last shot at glory for awhile .  This would end the reign of the New York Giants as the elite team of the Eastern Division, in a big way.  It would take 23 seasons before the Giants would win the division they were in and then would go on to win the Super Bowl.  In that 23 year span the Giants had only 6 winning seasons and 2 seasons where they played 500 ball.  They fell long and hard.   The Steelers would fall apart in 60’s winning only  19 games in the next 6 seasons.  But we all know what happened in the 70’s as the Steelers became the elite franchise.  It would have been nice to see that team of Buddy Parker’s beat the Giants on a cold and half frozen field, at Yankee Stadium, that would have sent the Giants to their 23 year swoon, one season early.

Sports: College Football Saturday Two Games Four Teams 8-0

Today there are two big games in college football, with four teams having the same record of 8 wins and 0 losses.  The games have completely different significance when deciding the final four in the College Football Playoffs. The first game will see Penn St. playing the University of Minnesota, one of the surprise teams of the year.   The second game will see perennial powers LSU and Alabama facing off in Tuscaloosa. All four teams are undefeated and untied at 8-0.  Of the two games, the Penn State vs. Minnesota game is the much more significant.  The team that loses, will be virtually eliminated from the football playoffs, whether they like it or not. If Penn St. loses today, but wins the rest of the their games and beats Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship Game,  they would still need some losses from other teams to get into the final four.  The same thing can be said for Minnesota.   On the other hand the only way the Alabama-LSU game becomes this significant is if the game happens to be a blow out.  As long as the game is reasonably close and the losing team runs the table they will get into the four team playoff.  The loser of this game may have  a better chance of getting into the playoffs, because they do not have to worry about losing the SEC championship game.   Such is the goofiness of college football, that everyone seems to accept. It is fine to decide which 4 teams make the  play offs, based on subjective decisions, made by people behind close doors.

The BCS system was a far superior system to pick teams to make a playoff. It had to be tweaked once, and the BCS system had only one flaw.  It was  allowed to pick only two teams. When the NCAA finally decided on a four team playoff , they fouled it all up by going to a committee to pick the four teams.   The committee usually gets praise for their selections, but the No 1 team has never won in 5 tries.   The number 4 team has won twice.   Seven of the ten semi final games have not been all that close with 4 being real blow outs.  Let’s face it, most of time the committee has not picked the right 4 teams, and have not ranked them very well. The committee doesn’t need tweaked, it needs to be dissolved.  We should go back to the BCS system to pick the teams.  What would even be better would be to go to an 8 team playoff.  People feel that this is too many games for college players to play, and I agree completely.  The simple solution is to take away one regular season game.  Every one of these football powers plays at least one game against a very small school, that they blow away.  The excuse is that these schools reap the benefits of the gate receipts, at these large sold out stadiums.  Let them share in the much greater revenue of the quarter final games of a college football playoff,  and avoid the pounding they take playing one of these games.  Have the five conference champions and the top 3 teams in a BCS ranking system that are not conference champions be the 8 teams in the play offs.  A system that would make two games, where all four teams are 8-0, equally significant.

Sports: College Football, Super Teams Not Conferences

The college football season is in full swing, and the game never seemed better.  The college game is exciting, and the 4 team play off system seems to be working out ok. When the play off system was about to supplant the BCS system, the powers to be in college football tried to create  4 super conferences, with the math being fairly simple.  If the conferences were super then the 4 conference champions would most likely make the college football playoffs and make it fairly easy for the selection committee, who would now determine which teams would make the playoffs.  But the big 12 would have nothing to do with it and even though they suffered some big losses with teams leaving the conference, they weathered the storm, adding some teams and the conference seems to be pretty healthy for the moment.  However, it sets up this problem of 5 Major conferences. and 4 playoff spots.  So far the scenario of 5 undefeated conference champions. with one missing the play offs has not happened, but there has been plenty of controversy when selecting the 4 playoff teams. While the super conferences did not materialize, it seems that super teams in college football have.  There are over 100 college football teams that are eligible for the playoffs.  There is however, a very distinct line between these teams.  You can divide college football into four groups.   The Super Teams, The Use to Be’s, The Up and Comers, and the Have Nots.

First, the Super Teams.   Alabama has been in all 5 playoffs and looks like it is headed for a 6th.  Clemson has been in 4 and again looks like it is headed for a 5th.  The other contenders this year are Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Penn State, Oregon and Utah.  I would put Utah in the Up and Comers group for now.  Other Super Teams with only a slight chances of making the playoffs are Notre Dame, Michigan, and  Auburn. The list is not a big one.   I define a Super Team as a team that year after year has a legitimate chance of making the playoffs.   Since the BCS started only Michigan and Penn State have not been in the playoffs or a BCS final.  The list has only 11 teams.  Let’s move on to the Use to Be teams, which is the group that at one time would have been considered super teams, but now the programs are on hard times, with no light at the end of the tunnel. This list includes, Florida St., Miami, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Stanford, Arkansas, Michigan St, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma St., UCLA and USC.  These are programs that during the late nineties and the first 10 to 15 years of this century had some really good runs, of 3 to 5years  losing only 3 to 5 games during the span.   Tennessee was a BCS champion. Michigan St. and Florida St. made the playoffs and Florida St.  was a BCS Champion and runner-up  Miami won and lost a BCS championship game.   In the last 2.5 seasons all of these teams have lost at least 12 games. Arkansas, Tennessee, and UCLA have lost over 20 games.  There have been stretches where it took these teams 4 to 5 years to lose 20 or more games. There does not seem to any resurgence happening anytime soon. This leads us to the Up and Comers, and this list is the smallest.  They are Washington, Utah, Wisconsin and Florida. Washington was in the 2017 play offs and was in contention the last 2 years, but having an off year this year.   Florida at one time looked like it might make the list of the Use to Be’s but they seemed to on the way up.   They were a big time power under Urban Myer, then fell on some hard times but unlike the other Use to Be’s they seem to be having a resurgence.  The other two teams would have been considered the Have Nots but in recent years have made it to championship games and could be on the verge of making the playoffs. That leaves the Have Nots which make up the rest of college football.  These are teams that have not smelled the playoffs and probably never will.

What does all this mean?   The NCAA wanted to develop these so called power conferences and was hoping to keep the number to 4.  It did not work but what developed instead is the super teams.   Even when you throw in some teams that have potential to develop into super powers,  the list only contains  15 teams.   With two thirds of  the college football season completed there are only about 6 teams with a real shot at making the playoffs.  There is still a lot football to be played and upsets do happen, but it looks like  Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, and Oklahoma, have the inside edge with Oregon ready to step in, if chaos happens.  There are 12 teams in the Use to Be group and I think their problems are tied to the Super Team outbreak.   If you want a chance to be on a National Championship team then you had better go to one of the 15 teams.  Playing pro football may not even be the no. 1 consideration  for recruits, considering what the pro game can do to your brain.  Even playing in the playoffs however, I think enhances  a player’s draft status.  How he performs in the playoff environment does not go unnoticed.  In the long run, on the national scene, I think this will help college football to even greater heights and appeal.   As a general rule dynasties have made a sport more popular.  This also makes the surprise team an even bigger surprise and story.  It will be interesting to see if any of the Use to BE  programs can make a comeback. In my view they won’t.  So if you like the teams that are winning big in college football right now, you should be happy for a long time, because change is not on the horizon.

Sports: World Series Wrap Up

The World Series came to an end last night, as the Washington Nationals pulled off their second big upset in this post season, winning the Series 4 games to 3 over the Houston Astros.  On the way to becoming world champions, the Nationals knocked off two of the so called super teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the aforementioned Astros.  Since the middle of May, the Nationals matched these teams victory for victory.  The fact that they were able to take it all the way, should not be all that surprising.  After the sixth game  MLB Network was describing this series as  epic  trying to increase the hype, and to obscure the fact that this World Series was anything but epic.  This is not to take anything away from the Washington Nationals great victory, and a nice win for the National League.  In fact, this may have been one of the most deserving victories in a long time.  The Nationals played better than the Astros in every phase.  The best way to describe this series was odd.   Let me count the ways.

The visitors won every game.   That has not happened before in any 7 game series in any sport.   How about this betting parlay, The Nationals would score 3 runs in 3 home games and win the World Series.  There are no wilder and raucous fans than the fans at the World Series, especially a Game 7.  After every game that wild and delirious fan base went home sad.  The last World Series to be clinched at home was in  2013 by the Boston Red Sox.  Home field has seemed to have lost it’s advantage in baseball, and it’s hard to say why, but this was an extreme example.  Other than Game 1 the games were not very close.  The only games in doubt after the 7th inning were 1 and 7, and that quickly changed in game 7 as the Nats added on in the 8th and 9th, with the Astros not threatening in the bottom of either inning. This series was odd but not very tense or exciting.  The smallest margin of victory in each game was 1,9,3,7,6,5, and 4.  But despite these lopsided margins in the games, the overall stats of the series, shall we say , was oddly close.   Try this on for size.   Both teams hit 11 home runs.  Both teams walked 27 times.  Both teams had the exact ERA of 4.39.  The Nats scored 33 runs and the Astros 30 runs.  The Astros had a slight edge in OPS .794 to .739.  The Astros had the slight edge in Whip 1.34 to 1.50.    Every time it seemed that a team was going take the series by the throat and win, they fell flat on their face.  After game 2 it looked like the Nats had the potential to sweep the series but then the bats went dead the next 3 games.  Going into game 6 it looked like the Astros had righted the ship, ready to win their second championship in three years, but instead the ship sank. Finally the interference call at first base and the reviewing of a non reviewable play in game 6. What more can you say.   It was an odd World Series.

Why did the Nationals win.  It boiled down to two things.  Garrit Cole picked the wrong day to be human.  The ace of the decade,  who had not lost a game since mid May, just had an off day for him.  It was by far the key win of series.  The big names for the Nationals performed and the big names for the Astros did not.    Verlander continued to have problems in the World Series. Strasberg was the Series MVP.    Rendon and Soto  had a combined OPS of just over .2000, while Altuve and Bregman’s OPS was just over .1500. The Nationals simply out played the Astros when it counted the most.   I don’t think managerial strategy and decision making played a big role in the outcome.  But I am going to nitpick and second guess at the same time.  Houston manager  A. J. Hinch seemed to have no confidence in Zack Greinke.   Taking him out in the 7th after only 80 pitches seemed a little premature considering he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.   I know about all the reasoning behind the third time through the line up and this is the age of great bullpens, but this is Zack Greinke and he seemed to be getting out of trouble just fine in this post season.  If the outcome had been the same, then he would have been criticize for leaving him.  I said this was nitpicking and I think the eventual outcome would have been the same, because the Astros bats went dead.   Congrats to the Nats. It’s nice to see the World Series trophy back where it belongs, in the National League.

Sports: The World Series

The World Series starts tomorrow, with the Houston Astros hosting the Washington Nationals.  Since the middle of May,  they have been the two best teams in baseball.  The Astros go into the series as heavy favorites.  This is the biggest odds differential since the 2007 series, when the Red Sox were big favorites over the Colorado Rockies.  That series went according to plan, as the Red Sox swept the Rockies in 4 games.  The Rockies were red hot going into that series having an unbelievable finish to the season going 21 and 8 and sweeping both the division series and N.L.C.S. going 7 and 0.  The oddsmakers knew something, making the Red Sox big time favorites, and they came through just as predicted.   This Series has a similar feel, with the Nationals coming off a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and upsetting the favorite L. A. Dodgers in the division series.  Yet again, the Astros are considered the overwhelming favorite.  Will the oddsmakers be right again?  I am not too sure.  There are some things in the Nationals favor, that says this should be a tight well played series, that will go 6 to 7 games.

You never know  how a team is going to perform from series to series in the playoffs but so far the Astros are just not hitting.  They have four players with an OPS under 600.  Alex Bregman has walked a lot out of respect but is hitting only .257 with one home run.  You have to wonder if Washington will challenge him more.  One reason the Astros beat the Yankees is that they hit worse.  Even the bullpen game did not produce a lot of runs between these so called offensive juggernauts.  I am not to sure a team can get hitting healthy against the Nationals starting rotation.   The Nationals have a good DH line up for a National league team.  Howie Kendrick seems like the perfect DH and the Nationals will be better defensively for the games in Houston.  The Nationals starting rotation stacks up well against the Houston big three.   If  Anabel Sanchez can continue to pitch the way he has, then it is certainly deeper.  For whatever reason the Astros seem to make things hard on themselves.  When they won in 2017, both the N.LC.S. with the Yankees and the World Series against the Dodgers  were hard fought and went 7 games.   As great as this  team always looks on paper, you could argue that if they had not acquired Justin Verlander on August 31st at 11:59 pm, they would not have been World Champions.

Will the Astros prevail?  Yes, I think they will, but just barely.  They have 2 advantages.  One is Garrit Cole.  He is has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball, not just for this post season, but for about the last 5 months. There are not too many sure things in life, but he looks like he will continue to be excellent  for the next 7 days.  There is more pressure on the Nationals starting pitchers to perform because of the weak bullpen of the Nationals. This could finally take its toll.  Even the bullpen members that have performed reasonably well, like Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle could easily wilt under the pressure. There is no question, the Achilleas heel of the Nationals is that darn bullpen, and  you have to wonder if they can manage to get through one more series against a quality opponent.   There is one interesting strategy situation  that might determine the final outcome.  Is Houston going to go with the 3 man rotation, with the starters then going on short rest, or will game 4 be a bullpen game again.   In my view, as good as the three starters for Houston are, trying to pitch them on short rest could be the big mistake of the Series. Cole has never pitched on short rest and the one time they did it with Verlander it was a failure.  Of course if they win the first 3 games it won’t make any difference.   However if Houston decides to go with that 3 man rotation, then I am really liking the Nationals.  Can’t wait to see what happens as another fall classic begins.

Sports: Baseball The Championship Series

We start the baseball championship series tonight with the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Washington Nationals.  On the American League side we have the two so called super powers, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees beginning tomorrow night.  Both the Cardinals and the Nationals are the surprise teams. The Nationals pulled the shocker by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in 5 games and sending the defending National League champs home very very early.  What did we learn from these division round games?

We learned that Dodger manager Dave Roberts, still cannot manage in the post season.  Trying to get 2 innings out of Joe Kelly was just what the doctor ordered for the Nationals and they took advantage in the 10th inning by scoring 4 runs.  You are eliminated from the playoffs with your best reliever looking through a fence.  They just gave Roberts a nice extension so here is what I propose.   As soon as the regular season ends just send Dave Roberts home and let Brian Kenny manage the team during the playoffs.  I am sure he would do it for nothing, so no extra expense for the Dodgers.   We learned that Garrit Cole  is just starting his post season resume, which could develop into one of the best of all time.  We will just have to wait and see.  One thing for sure, the Astros would have been the other super power to fall if it were not for Cole.  What a pitching performance in his last 2 games.  We learned that the Cardinals still have some of that post season magic left. From little bloops, to playing small ball better than anybody, the Cards may become the shocker of them all.

I am not a prognosticator, but there are some things that I do know will happen.  The winner of the Houston-New York series will be heavy favorites to win the World Series. If the Yankees do not go to and win the World Series, there will be  massive  fan disappointment  and backlash.   Both series should be extremely entertaining and fun to watch.  How super are the two super powers of the American League.  I am not too sure they are all that super. My view is both teams beat up on a lot of bad teams that are in the American League. The media mentions this from time to time, but mostly glosses over this point.  I admit, the most amazing of the two teams are the Yankees, who ran away with the Eastern Division, despite having more injuries than you would think possible.  I think the Astros and the Yankees are very good teams but I do not think that either one of them would have won 100 games if they played in the more balanced National League. I still feel the best team in baseball is gone. The Los Angeles Dodgers  needed a post season manager.  Maybe they will get one next year.  As they say on the airplane, it’s now time to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.  The semi-finals are ready to begin.

Sports: Pittsburgh Pirates

Yesterday, the season mercifully ended for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It ended with Steve Blass being honored for 60 years of service, and Clint Hurdle being fired. Leave it to Pirate ownership to even screw that up.   It was two seasons, one before the all star break, and one after the all star break.  Before the All Star break, this seemed to be a gritty team, that seemed to be overcoming devastating injuries and was only 2.5 games out of first place, and only 1 game below .500 at 44-45.  Even though the all star game is considered the half way point, it is slightly beyond the half way point. There were only 73 games left in the season.  It was like a switch was flipped after the break.  The Pirates went on a total collapse and lost 24 of the next 28 games and the season was quickly over shortly after August first.  They went from this gritty battling team to a team that fought among themselves, got arrested, and simply could not play the game anymore. I feel that it was this stretch of games and the depth of the collapse that led to Clint Hurdle being fired.  What the hell the happened?

First the cold hard facts.   They were one of the worst pitching and fielding teams, in the National League.   One of the  three most important pitching stats are ERA+, FIP, and Whip.  The Pirate staff ranked Last in ERA+, 11th in FIP, and next to last in Whip.  Their strike out to walk ratio was 13th.   They went from a little above average in 2018 to one of the worst staffs in the National League. Going into this year, this was supposed to be their strength.  On defense they were even worse.   Defensive Efficiency Rating, they were last. Defensive Runs Saved, they were next to last.   Total Zone Defense, they were last.  They went from a below average fielding team to one of the worst in the National League.  They had the worst fielding 3rd baseman in all of baseball this year and maybe in this century.  They had only one player who fielded his position at above average,2ond baseman Adam Frazier.  Even Starling Marte was way below league average this year.  This could not be offset by having  only an average run producing team. Runs scored the Pirates ranked 10th in the league.   Their OPS+ was 7th and OBP was 9th.   However, this team was able to stay in the race for 89 games.  Let’s move on to some subjective things and things that were not done that could have helped this team.

Injuries were a big part of this season for the Pirates, when in other years they have been very fortunate in keeping players healthy.  But not all injuries were a bad thing. If it were not for injuries, Kevin Newman and Brian Reynolds would not have had the opportunities to have the good years they had, with Reynolds being the WAR leader at 3.9. It was the pitching injuries, that were the most devastating, in more ways than one.  Jamison Talion won’t be pitching until 2021 and he was the ace of the staff.  Every member of the starting pitching rotation spent some time on the IL.  When they came off the IL they still did not seem to be back to 100%.  Trevor Williams and Chris Archer never seemed to regain their form once they returned from being injured.  Despite the bad fielding the  team collapse can be tied to the total pitching collapse. During the 28 game stretch the Pirate pitching staff gave up an average of 6.3 runs per game. The four games they won they gave up 2.5 runs per game and the 24 they lost they gave up 6.9 per game.   It was just horrible and they had worse stretches than that, later in the year.   Then, there was the clubhouse tensions. Even though most of the fighting that was reported was after the 4-24 collapse you had to know that this was not a happy clubhouse from  the start of the season.  Usually clubhouse harmony is not an essential part of winning, but I think it is more important when the teams talent level is middle of the road.  I think you have to have a bit of mutual respect and loyalty on the team to get the most out of the unit.  I have always felt in years past that this  was the case with the Pirates.  They seemed to be a close knit bunch. That was not the case this year.   Management did next to nothing to help the team combat the injuries.  They could have gotten pitching help that was desperately needed and some defensive help.  It was like they knew this was coming and that the team was going to take the plunge.  In the end it cost Clint Hurdle his job and the future is looking bleak.   The pitching staff has to be almost completely rebuilt.  This will cost money and this ownership has not done this in the past.  As the GM likes to say they will look to improve internally.  Don’t look now but your innards are pretty well diseased.   Naturally they will look for a new manager.  Who they choose under the current situation won’t make any difference.    It’s going to take some bold moves to get this organization back to contend. Don’t hold your breath.