For the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 2020 MLB season was one to forget. The Bucs finished 5th in the National League Central for the second consecutive year and had the worst record in the entire league. In fact, if we’re going by Win Percentage, this was the 5th worst season in Pirates history, as the Pirates finished with their worst Win% since 1953.
But we’re all hoping for a brighter future in 2021, and for the residents of PNC Park, it might just happen.
2020: Record: 19 – 41, .317 Win%
2020 Finish: 5th in the NL Central, 15th in the National League
Surprises in 2020
While we were all anticipating Ke’Bryan Hayes‘ ascension to the majors, I don’t think anyone was expecting him to hit the ground running as he did.
Despite only playing in 24 games, Hayes was 7th on the Pirates in hits and 4th in doubles. In only 24 games, a 23-year-old Hayes out-hit Gregory Polanco and just barely missed passing Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds. I mean, with a .376/.442/.682 slash line and a 1.124 OPS in his first stint in the majors, Pirates fans can only believe that bigger things are on the way for Hayes down the line.
Another surprise was that the Pirates’ rotation was not completely terrible. With the exception of Derek Holland, every Pittsburgh pitcher who started five or more games had an ERA north of 5.00. That’s not too shabby. It should also be mentioned that once again with the exception of Derek Holland, every Pittsburgh starter is under 30-years-old.
This rotation shouldn’t have been fifth in the NL in strikeouts for the 2020 season. And yet, they were. Can they keep that success going in 2021? That all depends on what kind of support they get on the other side of the ball.
Disappointments in 2020
The only offensive category where the Pirates weren’t in the bottom half of the NL is Sacrifice Flies. That’s bad. Coincidently, “bad” is the perfect way to describe the Pirates’ offense. The chief offenders in 2020 for the Bucs were Bryan Reynolds and Gregory Polanco.
Polanco went through it in 2020, hitting below .200 for the first time in his career. With Starling Marte out of the picture in 2020, it seemed like Polanco was the perfect option to take his place as the big bat in the lineup. Perhaps he packed wrong, but Polanco forgot to bring the lumber to PNC last season. Let’s hope he can turn it around in 2021.
Reynolds’ decrease in production, on the other hand, is a bit of a head scratcher. How does the heart of the Pirates 2019 offense, the only player on the team to hit above .300, the 4th-place finisher for Rookie of the Year, fail to stay above the Mendoza Line? Call it a sophomore slump, but Reynolds didn’t have it in 2020. The talent is there, but the shutdown in March definitely took its toll on Reynolds in 2020.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Derek Shelton‘s first year as skipper in Pittsburgh didn’t go as expected, that’s for sure. The 2021 season, however, doesn’t have to follow the same path.
The Pirates were careening towards disaster after the 2019 season as Clint Hurdle left his post at the top of the stairs. Starling Marte left in free agency, and past deals like the one that sent Gerrit Cole to Houston and the one that landed them Chris Archer, never panned out. Well, they didn’t pan out for the Pirates that is.
However, it’s very possible that the Pirates might be able to flip the script as Joe Musgrove draws interest from teams who missed out on Blake Snell.
The road ahead is rocky, but the Pirates have sailed these waters before. The last time the Bucs had two consecutive last-place finishes in the NL Central was 2010, a season that capped off a decade of despair in Pittsburgh. The next season the Bucs would hire Hurdle. In 2013, they were in the playoffs.
These are not uncharted waters for the Pirates. They know how to turn things around. They’ve done it before, and they can do it again. It might not happen in 2021, but the winds are shifting. Expect the Pirates to be contenders in the near future.
Projected 2021 Finish: 67-95, 5th in the NL Central.
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