In the This Is My Nightmare series, we'll take a look at what the absolute worst case scenario for each team would be in 2013. Think of it as the negative complement to our You May Say I'm A Dreamer series that we'll be running during our preview series.
Nightmares can come in many different forms. For most of the teams that we've been covering in these series, the nightmare prominently involves their best player getting hurt, some rookies failing to pan out, some young players regressing and some old players feeling their age.
That could easily be done for the Pirates too, really all it takes is one major injury to Andrew McCutchen and the Buccos might as well just burn the whole thing down. It could even be reeled in a bit, leaving poor Cutch alone, but instead predicting Starling Marte playing so poorly he gets back to the minors and Pedro Alvarez tanking and Russell Martin becoming a free agent bust. And that's before ever even addressing the pitching staff.
No, the true Pirates nightmare is more subtle. It is also more familiar because it is essentially them simply having to relive their last two seasons all over again.
As Pirates fans know all too well, this is a ballclub that hasn't seen the post-season or the sunny side of .500 since 1992. That's 20 uninterrupted seasons of losing and nothing but. That's a horrid punishment for any fanbase, but after all that time, there is a certain comfort in knowing that losing is Pittsburgh's lot in life. The worst possible thing that could happen to a Pirate fan is giving them hope.
That's exactly what happened in 2011 and again in 2012. The Pirates started the season surprisingly well, giving their supporters the faint dream that they might finally escape from their losing ways and once again taste post-season glory. Both seasons, the Bucs collapsed in the second half of the season and finished far out of the race for a playoff berth and once again under the .500 line.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me three times? Well, that's almost too cruel to even imagine.
Living through a third season of that Groundhog's Day pattern that Pittsburgh seems to have fallen into would be more painful than occupying the NL Central basement from wire-to-wire. At least then the fanbase can make their peace with the pointlessness of the season early and go about their normal routine. Just imagine how heart-wrenching it would be if the Pirates increased the degree of difficulty on their surprise-and-collapse act.
This year, instead of simply hanging around the NL Central race in the first half, they could jump out to a big lead, which isn't implausible given how the injury bug has bitten the Cardinals thus far and how the Reds seem like they could get hit hard by regression in their rotation. They could then carry that lead into the second half only to once again see the wheels on the bandwagon start to go wobbly again. Only this time, they keep it together… at least until September where they'd enter the month with a nice cushion, albeit in a watered down division. But in classic Pirates fashion, September quickly devolves into a flaming wreck on the side of the road. The team falls apart at the seams as McCutchen slumps at the absolute wrong time, their rotation wears down after a long season and their patchwork bullpen completely unravels. The end result is a 6-21 September, one of the most epic divisional collapses in history and the poor, hapless club wins exactly 80 games.
Once again, there will be no post-season. Once again, there will be no winning season. Once again, the Pirate faithful end the season forlorn and heart-broken.