The Pittsburgh Pirates have made the playoffs each of the last two seasons, but they’re still searching for their first NLCS appearance since 1992 – and their first World Series appearance since 1979.
In 2013, the Pirates lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals, who went on to win the pennant, and in 2014, they lost to the Giants, who went on to win the World Series. At this point, the Pirates want to do more than just make the playoffs; they want to make some noise when they get there.
That all starts in spring training, which, according to manager Clint Hurdle, went about as well as possible.
“Focused and fun,” Hurdle said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We had a blast. We worked our back sides off. We covered all the ground that we had put down to cover. We hit every one of the target points. Obviously once you get in the season, your level of execution is going to dictate the won-and-loss column. However, our men took the task at hand. They’re hungry. We’ve got more to do, and they did it collectively as a unit. Just an ideal spring training.”
The Pirates went 88-74 last season, finished second in the NL Central and lost, 8-0, to Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card game. Pittsburgh also lost Russell Martin, who provided great veteran leadership down the stretch last year, but returns most of its core, including, of course, 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen.
Even without Martin, Pittsburgh’s expectations will not change.
“Our expectations are ours,” Hurdle said. “We’re not focused or really listening to anybody else’s. We’ve been picked high, we’ve been picked low. People say we’re going to be better, and people say we’re going to be worse. We expect to win the division. That’s our goal. Our goal is to win our division.”
The Pirates haven’t done that since 1992, but this year is as good a time as any to buck the trend, especially so they can avoid a one-game playoff.
“The Wild Card game’s a really cool thing to play when you win it; it’s an abrupt halt in your season when you lose it,” Hurdle said. “That five-game playoff in the NLDS to get you started and then to carry on through October and to actually play in November and in the World Series – those are our goals. That’s what we’re focused on.”
The Pirates will rely on McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco, among others, to carry the offense.
“We believe that every man that’s in the lineup will step up and cover the loss of Martin,” Hurdle said. “We’ve got a lot more talent available to be squeezed out from the guys that are on the field right now.”
The Pirates added Francisco Cervelli, who’s been “a very energetic and impactful player during the spring.” Hurdle likes how Cervelli has gotten to know the staff, how he’s swinging the bat and how his defense has looked behind the plate. Cervelli and Tony Sanchez figure to split time at catcher in the early season, as Chris Stewart has been out with a hamstring strain.
Hurdle said that Sanchez has had a “fantastic spring” and is “catching and receiving the ball as well as ever.”
“So the Martin transition, hey, we’ve been fortunate,” Hurdle said. “We brought some guys in from the outside that have done well here and been able to go other places and make a whole bunch of money – and God bless them. We’re focused on what we have, though – not what we don’t have.”