This year’s World Series provides hope to a group of people who have had little of it in recent years – Pittsburgh Pirates fans.
The Texas Rangers host the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the Fall Classic on Friday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Both were among the worst teams in the major leagues just two years ago.
The Diamondbacks finished with a 52-110 record in 2001. The Rangers were 60-102.
Yet here they are in a most improbable World Series matchup that gives Pirates fans reason to dream. The Pirates were 61-101 in 2021 and 62-100 in 2022, terrible records for sure but better than either the Diamondbacks or Rangers had two seasons ago.
Som can the Pirates could follow the same path and reach the World Series in 2024?
There is no simple answer. However, the two World Series participants give reason to think the Pirates can and cannot start dreaming about playing into the early days of next November.
On the no side are the Rangers.
They built their pennant-winning team much differently than the Diamondbacks. The Rangers spent a whole lot of money to get to this point.
Following the 102-loss season, the Rangers spent a half billion dollars in free agency to sign the middle infield duo of shortstop Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) and second Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million). General manager Chris Young – the Pirates’ third-round draft pick in 2000 – also lured right-hander Jon Gray with a four-year, $56-million deal.
Last winter, the Rangers landed two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom with a five-year, $185-million contract, though he made just six starts before having season-ending Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
I will become an F-15 fighter pilot before the Pirates spend three-quarters of a billion dollars in free agency over two winters. So don’t expect the Pirates to imitate the Rangers.
However, the Pirates could follow the Diamondbacks’ plan.
When the Diamondbacks hit bottom two years ago, ownership and management did not panic. They retained general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo – both highly regarded within the game — and weathered the storm.
The Pirates have done the same with GM Ben Cherington and manager Derek Shelton. Despite the back-to-back seasons of triple-digit losses, neither of their jobs were ever in jeopardy and the Pirates improved to 76-86 this season.
The Diamondbacks also showed similar improvement from 2021 and 2022, going from 102 losses to a 74-88 record.
One of the main similarities between the 2021 and 2023 versions of the Diamondbacks is they still have their two best starting pitchers (Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelley) and one of their key hitters (second baseman Ketel Marte). Hazen resisted the urge to trade the trio for prospects.
The Pirates have followed a similar path by signing third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and left fielder Bryan Reynolds to eight-year contract extensions. They also have interest in signing right-hander Mitch Keller to a long-term deal.
Now comes the difficult part in the Pirates’ attempt to imitate the Diamondbacks because there are two other reasons why Arizona won the National League pennant.
One is a trade they made last winter when the Diamondbacks shipped outfielder Daulton Varsho to the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Gabriel Moreno and left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Both newcomers have become integral parts of Arizona’s lineup.
Cherington must make a similar trade to push the Pirates to the next level.
The Diamondbacks have also watched rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll emerge as their best player. The 23-year-old is the odds-on favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .285/.362/.506 with 25 home runs and 54 stolen bases in 155 games.
The Pirates need that type of young star to emerge. Shortstop Oneil Cruz is the logical candidate if he fully recovers from the broken left ankle that limited him to nine games this year.
What the Diamondbacks have done is doable for a low-budget franchise like the Pirates. It also should be noted that Arizona won just eight more games than the Pirates this season. That is not a very big gap.
It gives hope that better days might soon be ahead for the Pirates — if they keep taking the necessary steps to get there.