Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
All of the heartbreak and pain throughout the years was seemingly excised in 2013. The Pirates not only finished above .500, but they made the Postseason. Pittsburgh also came within one win of advancing to the 2013 NLCS, and it took a pair of otherworldly pitching performances from Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright to stop the Pirates from continuing their miraculous season.
Preseason Prediction: I think the Pirates are going to have a year in 2013 much like they did in 2012, finishing around 76 to 80 wins and trudging along in the NL Central while making some small strides forward. With nearly the entire roster returning for 2014, they don't *need* to have a breakthrough season, but it would help a lot.
What Went Right: Nearly everything. Andrew McCutchen followed his MVP-caliber 2012 with an even better MVP-caliber 2013. Starling Marte's first full year in the majors was a success, as he stole 41 bases and got on base at a .343 clip at the top of Pittsburgh's lineup. Russell Martin had his best all-around season in years, and handled a young pitching staff brilliantly. Pedro Alvarez tied for the NL home run crown. Neil Walker put together yet another solid year at second base. August acquisition Marlon Byrd was phenomenal, After a pair of lost seasons, Jose Tabata rebounded quite well. AJ Burnett was great once again. Francisco Liriano shined with his new club, and proved to be one of the best free agent signings of the winter. The bullpen, led by Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli, was pretty awesome. Gerrit Cole shined in his rookie year. Charlie Morton starred in his return from Tommy John surgery. Jeff Locke had a ridiculous first half.
What Went Wrong: James McDonald had an awful year, refused an assignment to AAA, and became a free agent. Jonathan Sanchez was horrendous in 13 2/3 innings for the club and was released in early May. Wandy Rodriguez dealt with injuries and made just 12 starts. Justin Morneau wasn't much of an upgrade over Garrett Jones (who was pretty bad) in September. Travis Snider was awful. Locke's production tanked so much in the second half that he was shut down for the year in September.
Most Surprising Player: For as awesome as Liriano was, he had shown flashes of brilliance before. But what about Mark Melancon? This is a guy who was joining his fourth organization in four seasons, and was essentially a throw-in to the Joel Hanrahan trade (which by the way, worked out brilliantly for Pittsburgh). Considering how dreadful he was in Boston in 2012, who could have expected Melancon to be much of a contributor to the Pirates in 2013? Of course, all he did was strike out 70 and walk eight in 71 innings, post a 1.39 ERA, make the All-Star Team, save 16 games when Grilli was on the DL, and put together a 2.5 fWAR season. Not bad for a guy who was traded for Lance Berkman, Jed Lowrie, and Hanrahan in three straight seasons.
Most Disappointing Player: There aren't many guys that did disappoint in Pittsburgh this season, but Garrett Jones has to be the answer here. After smashing 27 homers in 2012 with a .274/.317/.516 triple slash, he only hit 15 bombs in 2013 while slashing .233/.289/.419. Even with Clint Hurdle strictly using Jones against right-handers, he couldn't hit enough for the team to continue to play him in a platoon at first base with Gaby Sanchez. But then again, Morneau struggled just as much when he was brought to Pittsburgh in August, so maybe there was something about lefty hitting first basemen at PNC Park this year.
The Future: Pittsburgh won't be losing much this offseason, with Burnett being the most crucial free agent. But with the team's young pitching depth, he might be a luxury that the team doesn't necessarily need to break the bank for, The Pirates contended a year early, and more of their young reinforcements are coming in 2014 and beyond. Are they a surefire playoff team next season? No, of course not. But are they a one-year wonder? Not a chance.