PITTSBURGH — For the second time this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates watched an opposing National League team punch their ticket to the postseason.
On Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Phillies clinched a Wild Card spot with an extra-innings win over the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park.
On Saturday night in Pittsburgh, it was a fellow National League East team earning a playoff spot. By defeating the Pirates 7-3 at PNC Park, the Miami Marlins returned to the postseason for the first time since 2020.
Marlins’ players rushed from their positions in the field and poured out of the dugout to meet on the mound to celebrate, and more than a few Pirates’ players and coaches stuck around to watch.
As the celebration carried on, the Pirates gathered their things and headed to the clubhouse, but Joshua Palacios stayed behind a few moments longer than the rest.
“I was just watching the guys celebrate, great for them. They worked hard and everything,” Palacios said. “I just wanted to envision us doing that next year. I kinda reflected on the year that we had, the ups and downs. Coming here, being in first place and knowing that we had an opportunity to be on that field and just reminding myself of that.”
As April ended, it looked like the Pirates could send a shockwave through the league and compete for an unexpected playoff birth. Pittsburgh ended the month of April with a 20-9 record and were in first place. In fact, they were atop the National League Central as late as June 15.
The hot start, however, proved to be a mirage. Over the next couple months, the Pirates plummeted all the way to last place in the division towards the end of July.
The Pirates will do everything in their power to avoid a pitfall similar to what happened to them this year and do what is needed to try and compete for a chance to play deep into October.
“There’s a couple things we need to do,” said Palacios. “No. 1, I think we needed to gain experience and we gained a lot of experience. No. 2, I just think that we need to take the offseason, take what we learned here — what our weaknesses were and where things were going right and really attack them. Grind it, get better everyday like the guys have been doing. Come in next year game one to game 162, just playing every game like it’s a playoff game.”
Despite another losing season, their 20th in 24 seasons during the current century, the Pirates have hope — at least more than they have for much of the 2000s.
Since the Pirates made a full regime change following the 2019 season, they’ve been mired in what at times has seemed like a never-ending rebuild.
There was a global pandemic mixed in there. In the shortened season that year, the Pirates finished 19-41. The next two years, the Pirates lost 101 and 100 games, respectively.
While the end result isn’t the desired outcome, the Pirates have improved by 13 games from a season ago with one game left on the schedule.
A big reason for the improvement is that the Pirates have finished this season on a relatively strong note and hovered around .500 since the end of July.
“Shoot, that gives us a lot of confidence — like a lot of confidence. We’re playing in playoff atmospheres against teams going all-out to win and try and get to the playoffs,” Palacios said. “It was inspiring because it kind of showed the boys that we can do this. We’re in the mix with the best of the best. It makes us excited for next year and gives us something to work for.”
It would be nearly impossible to say that the Pirates will be bonified playoff contenders next year, but a lot can certainly happen over the next 12 months.
But seeing two teams do it against them this year, they certainly have a little extra motivation.