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Twenty Years and Counting…

ERIC: 2012 was the 126th season as a major league team for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And, despite have a record of 67-54 on August 19, the Buccos collapsed, finishing 79-83. Their collapse was THE worst ever recorded in the long history of Major League Baseball. This means that 2012 was the 20th consecutive losing season for the Pirates, who extended the Major League record that no team ever wants to hold. 

The Pirates have a number of talented young players. One, in particular, center fielder Andrew McCutchen, is one of the elite young players in the National League. He is the sort of player that franchises build teams around. McCutchen hit .331, with 31 homers, 96 RBI’s, 107 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases. He was the National League Player of the Month for the months of June and July and had a truly outstanding season. With McCutchen to build around, things look brighter for the Pirates than they have in years. 

The Pirates were competitive for the entire season, and actually sat in first place in the National League Central Division for a while during the spring. Pirates fans rejoiced, thinking that the ugly streak of losing seasons was finally going to end. And then the wheels came off.

They went 11-18 in August and a brutal 7-21 in September that featured a 7-game losing streak and a 5-game losing streak. While it looked like the Bucs might have a shot at making the playoffs in early August, hope for a .500 season faded as loss after loss was tallied. When the bleeding was over, their 20-40 finish meant that the team had registered yet another losing season, even though they did manage a third-place finish in their division. 

As one writer, put it: “At midseason, everyone said it — to ourselves, and to everyone within earshot — the Bucs are going to the postseason! Buy your playoff tickets now! (No, really, playoff tickets were actually a thing.) But then, as happens so often in Pittsburgh, the axle snapped off the bandwagon. Clint Hurdle, who was the witty puppetmaster pulling all the right strings as the team surged, went from being a lock for manager of the year to holding the reins of the bandwagon that was breaking down in city after city.

Unfortunately, James McDonald’s second-half was as shocking as the Bucs freefall from the elite teams in MLB. A.J. Burnett and Andrew McCutchen turned the Bucs into a real life gong show in August. The bullpen went right with them.

Suddenly Buccos fans waded out of the fog and looked to find the team was playing just barely above .300 baseball. .300 baseball!” Sadly, there isn’t much else to say. In short, the 2012 Pirates embody the truth of Murphy’s Law: anything that could go wrong for them did. In spades. 

Here is a list of the 20 most depressing facts about the 2012 Buccos, which appeared here (http://espn.go.com/blog/playbook/fandom/post/_/id/12516/the-20-most-depressing-pirates-facts-of-2012):

 1. The Pirates finished 79-83. That record extended their North American professional sports record for consecutive losing seasons to 20. 

2. The Pirates were 16 games over .500 at 63-47 as late as Aug. 8. Their fall from that many games over .500 to a sub-.500 finish is the greatest collapse in the history of Major League Baseball, a league which dates back to the 1800s. 

3. The 2011 Pirates also collapsed after being in playoff contention and well above .500, finishing 18-41. So manager Clint Hurdle came up with a motto for 2012. That motto? “Finish.” 

4. The Pirates lost their 81st game of 2012, thereby clinching a non-winning season, on Friday, Sept. 28. How did they lose that 81st game? At home. 1-0. By getting no-hit for the first time since 1971. 

5. Two games later, the Pirates lost their 82nd game and clinched their 20th consecutive losing season. That historic loss came on Fan Appreciation Day. 

6. The 82nd loss came when the Pirates blew a ninth-inning lead. Before that 82nd loss game, the Pirates had been 69-0 on the season when leading after eight innings. 

7. The tying run in loss No. 82 came on a home run from Reds bench player Xavier Paul, who played for the Pirates in 2011 and hit two home runs for them in 230 at-bats. The winning run was scored by Denis Phipps, who came in to pinch run after Ryan Ludwick singled. Ludwick was a deadline acquisition for the Pirates in 2011. He performed terribly in Pittsburgh, with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 38 games. In just 14 games against the Pirates in 2012, Ludwick had two home runs and eight RBIs. 

8. On July 24, the Pirates made their biggest trade deadline acquisition in modern times, acquiring Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros — the worst team in baseball. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, over the final two months of the season his new team had a worse record than his old team. 

9. On Aug. 17, the Pirates began mailing out playoff ticket ordering instructions to season-ticket holders. Team president Frank Coonelly said he was overjoyed to have to read MLB’s manual on postseason protocol for the first time: “Every year, I took it and tossed it into the corner. Last year, I took it and started dusting it off. This year, we’ve been very pleased to actually have to go through it in detail.” The Pirates went 13-30 from the day that playoff ticket information started showing up in mailboxes. 

10. A’s first baseman Brandon Moss fueled Oakland’s playoff run, hitting 20 home runs and knocking in 52 runs since joining the team in June. Moss, a major piece acquired in Pittsburgh’s blockbuster trade of JasonBay in 2008, was an unmitigated disaster as a Pirate, hitting .228 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs in three seasons. 

11. Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth has played an important role in getting Baltimore into the playoffs. McLouth hit .140 with the Pirates this season before getting released in May. 

12. In the offseason, the Pirates signed 33-year-old free agent shortstop Clint Barmes to a two-year, $10.5 million contract. Barmes hit .229 and had a .272 OBP. Also in the offseason, the Pirates released 27-year-old shortstop Pedro Ciriaco. He became a regular for the Red Sox from July on and hit .293 with a .315 OBP and 16 steals in 19 attempts. 

13. The Pirates were dead-last in stealing bases in baseball with a 58 percent success rate. Andrew McCutchen, thought by many to be the fastest player in baseball, was successful only 62 percent of the time -– a rate worse than any team in baseball (other than the Pirates). 

14. McCutchen ended play on Aug. 3 hitting .373. Buster Posey’s average on that date stood at .325. McCutchen lost the batting title to Posey by nine points. 

15. The Pirates threw out just 19 of 173 attempted base stealers all season –- an 11 percent success rate, dead-last in baseball by a large margin

16. In the offseason, the Pirates signed 37-year-old free-agent catcher Rod Barajas to a one-year, $4 million deal with a club option for 2013 of $3.5 million. Barajas hit .206. Also in the offseason, the Pirates chose not to offer a free-agent contract to 31-year-old incumbent catcher Ryan Doumit. Doumit signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the Twins and hit .275 with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs. The Twins threw out 18 percent of attempted base-stealers. 

17. On Sept. 7, in what would become the first loss in a seven-game losing streak that essentially ended their playoff hopes, the Pirates made seven errors against the Cubs. 

18. The Pirates had a September schedule that was ideal for a playoff contender, getting to play the Astros, Cubs and Mets a total of 17 times. They went 6-11 in those games. 

19. At one point this season, the Pirates were more than 10 games ahead of both the Brewers and Phillies -– the closest teams they have to rivals after 20 seasons of irrelevancy. Both teams finished with a better record. 

20. Pittsburgh’s 79 wins ties for the most the franchise has had in a season since 1992.

79 wins–2 games under .500 is the best record in 20 years. That, in and of itself, is a depressing statistic. In all fairness, the team did improve from 2011, when they went 72-90. They have talented young players on both the major league roster and in the farm system. Sooner or later, the streak WILL end. But the question is: when?

Will there be an incredible 21st consecutive losing season in 2013? Will the Pirates further ensconce themselves in the You Stink! Hall of Shame? Only time will tell. This is why we love baseball.

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