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Burnett, McDonald Lead Pirates to Playoffs

That’s the headline every Pirates fan wants to see in October. In 2011, it seemed as if the streak, then 18 consecutive seasons of losing records and missing the playoffs, was going to end. Headed into the All-Star Break, the Pirates were just one game out of first place with a 47-43 record. Pitchers Joel Hanrahan and Kevin Correia, as well as center fielder Andrew McCutchen were elected to the All-Star Game, with McCutchen being the first Pirate to be voted in to the Midsummer Classic since Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez were elected in 2006.

Then something happened. The pitching reverted to the mean, raising their ERA from 3.46 in the first half to 4.78 in the second. The Pirates were 25-47 in the second half, the worst second half record in the National League, behind even the last-place Houston Astros by two games. A ten-game losing streak in July-August was the longest losing streak for the Pirates since a 12-game streak in 2006.

The Pirates finished 72-90, eighth worst in the Majors.

Derrek Lee declined the Pirates’ arbitration offer of $7.25 million.

Edwin Jackson declined the Pirates’ contract offer of $30 million over three seasons, signing a one-year, $11 million deal with the Washington Nationals.

Roy Oswalt refused to even answer calls from Pirates general manager Neal Huntington.

All three players didn’t want to go to baseball purgatory in Pittsburgh. They knew that it was, and still is, unlikely that the Pirates will be winning. They would rather take less financial security or play less — or not at all — than sign a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

So Neal Huntington did the only thing he could, which was signing free agents very few teams wanted. Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas, and Erik Bedard have all made impacts this season, and all of them are playing for $13 million, only two million more than Edwin Jackson’s salary. Huntington also acquired pitching outcast A.J. Burnett from the New York Yankees in exchange for peanuts.

 And now the Pirates are in first place. They have won 32 games, the most a Pirates team has won through 59 games since 1992. They have won five straight series, once again for the first time since 1992.

The Pirates were spat upon and turned away by top-notch free agents, and even a middling free agent, because, let’s face it, anybody who receives offers from teams that can contend doesn’t want to play for a team which hasn’t done anything for 20 years. Yet now the Pirates are in first.


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