The worst part of last night's Penguin game, other than the crushing defeat and the end of the Mellon Arena Era, was what it leaves us with in terms of Pittsburgh sports at the moment.
The Steelers have had their worst offseason in club history, dealing a Super Bowl MVP receiver and having their quarterback benched for 4-6 games for behavioral reasons. For curiosity purposes, it should be an intriguing season, but that's just about where it ends. I'm certainly not anticipating any members of the Black and Gold hoisting a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. So unless anyone else does anything dumb, it should be a quiet couple of months on that front.
Which brings us to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Major League Baseball's version of the D-student and our only active sport at the moment. Just when you thought that maybe, maybe, they might be on the right track after a three-game sweep of the Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds come to town and embarrass the Bucs in three consecutive games. For the series, the Pirates had 10 hits - 10! They also were outscored by a combined total of 16-1, and drew a paid attendance of less than 10,000 for two of the three games, with one of the crowds estimated as closer to 3,000. Worst of all, it seemed like the team wasn't even trying, as indicated by Homer Bailey needing just 90 pitches to blow through the Pirate lineup in Wednesday's 5-0 Reds win, and Johnny Cueto limiting the Buccos to one hit in Tuesday's 9-0 Reds romp. And in case you were wondering, Bailey and Cueto's respective ERAs coming into those games were 7.24 and 5.18. It wasn't like the Pirates were facing the second coming of Drysdale and Koufax.
As we check in on their rankings in relation to the rest of MLB, the Pirates rank 29th in runs scored, 27th in team batting average (.232), 29th in on-base percentage (.303), and 28th in slugging (.353). As far as pitching, their team ERA is still the worst of any organization, at a whopping 5.86. Of their 20 losses, 12 have been by six runs or more, and as a team, their run differential is an insane -97. How five teams have a worse record than the Pirates completely boggles the mind.
So here we are in mid-May, wondering where this team goes from here. In the coming games, they'll be at Chicago for a three-game series starting Friday, and if there's one team that's as pathetic as the Pirates, it's the Cubs, who are just 1/2 game better than Pittsburgh despite a payroll of $146 million, third in MLB. Our old friend Aramis Ramirez is hitting .159 for his $16 million-plus salary, while former Pirate fan fave Xavier Nady is at a robust .186. And for salt on the wound, $18 million man Carlos Zambrano has been exiled to the bullpen. Enjoy those Lovable Losers, Chicago.
So the Pirates might have a shot to slightly redeem themselves against the Cubs, but how about that May 17 matchup looming on the horizon, pitting Roy Halladay (6-1, 1.59) against Charlie Morton (1-6, 9.19) in Philadephia. Yikes and gadzooks. You might want to hold onto your ticket stubs from that one, because there's a chance fans might see the first 100-0 game in league history that night.
Long story short, the Pirates are playing horrible baseball but are in an equally awful division where they've racked up all but five of their 14 wins thus far. Remember, it wasn't so long ago that the Pirates were the ones sweeping Cincinnati, April 16-18, so I guess anything is possible over the course of a 162-game season. But basically, we're left with what we're left with: a bad team that can't hit or pitch in a divisional race that St. Louis should lock up fairly early, as long as an anvil doesn't fall on Albert Pujols.
We've been lucky the past two years, as the Penguins have played into June in both 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, their premature exit this year means one thing: we get two to three extra weeks of focusing solely on the Pirates. Is it too late to get a do-over Game Seven with the Canadiens?
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