Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington announced Saturday that the club would be extending the contract of Manager Derek Shelton. Cherington didn’t share the terms of the deal, however, it has to be because Shelton has this ball club off to its hottest start since the 1992 season, a season older Pirates fans would most likely love to forget.
Rewind To The 1992 Pirates
Let’s rewind back to 1992 for a second. The Pirates still called Three Rivers Stadium home, sharing it with the Steelers. Barry Bonds was still a Pirate, winning National League Most Valuable Player in 1992. Bonds finished second in the National League in Home Runs with 34 and hit .311. It’s always been said that Bonds, longtime Pirates Manager, and the 1992 NL Manager of the Year Jim Leyland didn’t get along, and Leyland often called Bonds out.
The Pirates had three Gold Glovers that year between Second Baseman Jose Lind and the combo of Bonds and Andy Van Slyke in the Outfield. The two outfielders added to their great year by adding Silver Sluggers to the trophy case in 1992 as well. Pittsburgh hummed along, finishing the season 96-66, good enough to finish first in the NL East, clinching a trip to the four-team playoff tournament for a third straight year. All was good in the Burgh, right?
Pittsburgh was set to face the Atlanta Braves for a trip to the World Series. Atlanta almost fumbled a 3-1 series lead, but ended up pulling it off with one out to spare in game seven. Francisco Cabrera hit a two-run single to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, sending the Pirates directly into 20 years of losing seasons and depression. It would end up being the last playoff game the Pirates got to play until 2013.
What’s similar between that team and this team, you ask? Probably not as much as we think. This team doesn’t have a player of Bonds’ caliber, but a bunch of guys who seem to have bought in and banded together to go 14-7 in the first 21 games. The last time the Pirates did that? You guessed it, 1992.
Pitching Staff Leading The Way
Pitching has led the way for the Pirates. They strung together 11 consecutive Quality Starts, getting quality innings out of starters. Something that hasn’t been here in years passed. Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras have done their thing. Combing to appear in 40 innings for the Pirates and both have two wins. Johan Oviedo has opened some eyes as he’s started the season hot, winning two games and posting a 2.22 ERA to go with 25 Strikeouts.
Vince Valasquez and Rich Hill are the veterans of this rotation, but both have had good and bad days, combining for 32 strikeouts and three wins between them. Dauri Moreta has been a marvel of Pirates fans’ eyes out of the bullpen. He’s struck out 11 hitters in eight innings pitched. Colin Holderman made the Daniel Vogelbach trade last year look like highway robbery for the Pirates. In Holderman’s 10 innings pitched, he has a 1.80 ERA and 10 Strikeouts.
The Mars Missile David Bednar has done his thing as well. Seven saves on eight opportunities. He’s struck out 12 batters in his 10 innings pitched—consistency for the Renegade himself.
Offseason Additions Making An Impact
Cherington brought in Connor Joe and Carlos Santana this year in free agency to add some veteran presence in the locker room to go with guys like Andrew McCutchen and Rich Hill.
Both Joe and Santana have started the season on the right foot, coming up big for the Pirates in some moments.
Joe was originally drafted by the Pirates in the first round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. He spent 2019 with the Giants, along with being with the Colorado Rockies for two years before coming back to the Pirates. This year for the Pirates, Joe is hitting .377 with 20 Hits including six Doubles, two Triples, two Home Runs, and eight RBIs.
Santana, or as some like to call him, Slamtana, has seen the ball well to start the season too. The 14-year vet spent time in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Seattle before finding his way to Pittsburgh. In 20 games, Santana has 19 Hits that include seven Doubles and two Home Runs for an average of .253. He won a Silver Slugger and made the All-Star game in 2019 with Cleveland.
Guys like Cutch, Brian Reynolds, Jack Suwinski, and Rodolfo Castro have been hitting their stride at the plate as well. Cutch is swinging the bat like it’s 2013, hitting .277 with four home runs. Reynolds has certainly cooled off after terrorizing the league during Opening Week. He’s hit five Home Runs this year and is still awaiting a new contract. Suwinski has also hit five Home Runs and is hitting .244 with 10 RBIs. Castro has been surprising everyone, hitting .288 with two Home Runs and eight RBIs.
It’s too early in the season to make any kind of rash takes on the Pirates. It’s a long season. Comparing them to the 1992 Pirates is fun though. That’s the last time the city got to experience good baseball with the exception of 2013 and a couple of Wild Card losses in the same time frame. With lots of buzz at PNC Park for the first time in a long time, we’ll see how the Pirates fare down the stretch without Oneil Cruz who broke his ankle in the White Sox series.