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Those odds-defying 2013 Pirates have finally seen their season end at the hands (claws?) of the Cardinals. And now the time has come to remember and mourn them. All things considered, though, there's nothing unhappy about the 2013 Buccos, even on the occasion of their demise. So consider this a jazz funeral of sorts ...
What went right
Save for their narrow defeat in the NLDS, everything went right. First and foremost, the Pirates barged to 94 wins and their first winning season (and first playoff berth) since 1992.
Specifics … Andrew McCutchen is the heavy favorite for NL MVP. The defense -- thanks to aggressive shifting informed by data analysis -- was among baseball's best. The pitching staff induced groundballs by the sherpa's load, and the bullpen posted a collective 2.89 ERA. Starling Marte began realizing his potential (122 OPS+, Gold Glove-caliber fielding in left), and the remarkably consistent Neil Walker churned out another quality season.
Was Francisco Liriano, thanks to 3.02 ERA across 26 starts and his recalibrated contract, the bargain of last offseason? Quite possibly. Russell Martin provided excellence and a stabilizing presence behind the plate, and Gerrit Cole established himself as a future ace. Pedro Alvarez won the NL home run crown, and the steady and affable Clint Hurdle will deservedly win NL Manager of the Year laurels.
Mostly, though, this was pretty much the best possible season a franchise could have without winning the World Series. Hats off to the Pirates and hats off to Pittsburgh's re-emergence as a cradle of baseball. What unfolded in the Steel City in 2013 is one of the best baseball stories in a long time -- a renaissance in every sense of the word.
What went wrong
It bears repeating: It the full light of the franchise's long-standing struggles, nothing went wrong.
In narrower terms, Clint Barmes didn't hit, and Pittsburgh pinch-hitters combined to bat just .206/.288/.356. Jason Grilli lost time to a forearm injury, and Mark Melancon, in an otherwise dominating season, faltered down the stretch. Alvarez posted a sub-.300 OBP.
MVP: Without question it's McCutchen, the Pirates' acknowledged leader and best player. This season, he put up an OPS+ of 158, played standout defense in center and swiped 27 bags. In a related matter, McCutchen deserves to be National League MVP for 2013.
LVP: We'll go with Barmes. He's a sound defender at shortstop, but he batted a measly .211/.249/.309 against a positional average of 255/.308/.373. As a general rule, shortstops don't hit, but Barmes really didn't hit.
Gameplan heading into the offseason
As our own Danny Knobler has already reported, Pirates GM Neal Huntington wants to keep the team largely intact, which should mean good-faith efforts to re-sign Burnett, Byrd and Morneau. You can argue that all three make sense for the Pirates in 2014. Elsewhere, an upgrade at shortstop is called for -- but that upgrade could entail merely signing a defensive caddy for Jordy Mercer. Is Jameson Taillon ready for the big-league rotation? Spring training may provide some insight.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2014
It's a second straight winning season and plenty of hometown enthusiasm for the Pirates, but they'll miss out on the postseason.