America has always had a soft spot for the underdog, from Rudy to The Little Engine That Could, we are always rooting for the little guy to stand up and shock the world. That being said, it was no wonder that people across this grand country stoop up and noticed that the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that has made losing into an art-form since 1992, was in first place in the National League Central Division past the All-Star break.
Was this going to be the season the Pirates broke their losing record? Could they possibly even have a shot at the postseason?
Not so fast…
The Pirates, after 6 straight losing games, are reverting to past form and have not only fallen from first place but are also 1 game below .500. Manager Clint Hurdle, who has been the architect of this miracle season so far, has his first real challenge as Pirates manager, keeping his team motivated and in the proper mind-frame because losing is contagious, especially when you're wearing a Pirates uniform.
"The greatest challenge is that they don't get where their confidence becomes more reflective of last night's performance," Hurdle said, speaking generally.. "We're at a point where we feel like we're a pretty good team, then, 72 hours later, we feel like we're not good at all. You've got to reach a point where your confidence isn't shaken by a bad game or a bad week."
"You've got to keep encouraging them and coaching them up," he said. "One thing this group doesn't need is to be bullied, ripped up in the newspaper or have its manhood challenged. The game is challenging enough. They know that and we need to respond with action."
With a third of the season still remaining, anything is possible, and while it is unlikely that the Pirates will win the NL Central or make the postseason, a winning record is attainable. It will be a big test of character for this team and it's coaching staff not to fold under the expectations that the city has placed upon it, but I believe they are up to it.
They have skill, youth and talent. Enough that they should be able to break this string of consecutive losing seasons.
Even if they don't, though, they deserve some credit for reinvigorating baseball in Pittsburgh and giving people hope for the future of this team. Heck, if they can keep me interested in baseball in August, then they must be doing something right.