Many members of Pittsburgh Pirates management as well as players spent a lot of time last weekend talking about the possibility of making the postseason this year.
Everyone in baseball is optimistic at this time of the year. Every team thinks it has a chance to be competitive in the upcoming season, especially during an event like PiratesFest.
Time will tell if the Pirates’ dreams of reaching the playoffs are realistic. Their reason for optimism stems primarily from a 14-win improvement last season when the Pirates finished with a 76-86 record after losing 100 games in 2022 and 101 in 2021.
Veteran outfielder/designated hitter Andrew McCutchen is the most even-keeled player in the Pirates’ clubhouse. After 15 years in the major leagues, he knows not ever to become too excited or too disappointed.
So, when McCutchen says it is at least possible that the Pirates could get to the postseason for the first time since 2015, it’s wise to listen to what he has to say.
This is what McCutchen said when asked if the Pirates would be disappointed if they didn’t make the playoffs in 2024.
“The way I look at it is there are definitely some things that need to be done internally,” McCutchen said. “There are things that we need to do ourselves individually and collectively as a team. All these things have to work. They have to work together in order to reach a goal. My goal isn’t playoffs. My goal is a championship. That’s why we play. At least that’s why I would think that’s why we play.
“I want a championship. The playoffs would be great. Being .500 would be great. But the ultimate goal is that. We have to look around and look at each other. We have to believe in that process. There’s a lot of things that we have to do to do that. It’s more than a piece of paper and reading names and saying, ‘OK, this is the team that we have.’ There are a lot of things we have to do to make that work.
It will again be an uphill battle for the Pirates in 2024, though.
As usual, they will have one of the smallest payrolls in the major leagues, which means the Pirates will need sizable contributions from young, low-salaried players. The current constitution of the starting rotation also doesn’t give the Pirates the look of a contender.
Yet the Pirates finished eight games out of a playoff spot last season. That’s not necessarily close but it also isn’t all that far.
As a point of reference, consider the Arizona Diamondbacks finished 84-78 last season, eight games better than the Pirates, and made it to the World Series before losing to the Texas Rangers in five games.
McCutchen, while speaking to reporters during PiratesFest, said he believes the 2023 Diamondbacks could serve as inspiration for the 2024 Pirates.
“Look at what the Diamondbacks did. Look at where they ended up,” McCutchen said. “Who had ‘em there? Nobody. I can’t say nobody. I’m sure some people, especially within that organization, that’s what they believed in. But I’m sure all of us standing here didn’t have that on their card at the end to say the Diamondbacks were going to be in the World Series. They were able to do that.
“I say all that to say, ‘Why couldn’t that be us? Why couldn’t we be in that position?’ I see us being similar to them. We’re not a team that’s going to slug and out-slug people. But if you play good defense, pitch when you need to pitch, make the pitches when you need to make them, do the job, get guys over, move ‘em, get ‘em in, play small ball, you can win the game.
“Sometimes we can lose sight of that because of the name on the back or the stature, the homers,” McCutchen added. “At the end of the day, baseball is baseball. If you play it the right way, you’ll have a good chance of success. If we can do that, maintain that and be consistent in it, we’ll set ourselves up to do what we want to do.
Spring training hasn’t started and opening day is more than 2.5 months away. The time might come to doubt McCutchen but not in January. It’s not the time of year for reality to set in.