High Seas: Go Law Abiding Merchant Sailors!
In the life of a Pittsburgh sports fan, this was a sad week, and if you’re reading Haley’s column, you’ll know why. For the past two weeks, the Penguins, Florida Panthers, and New York Islanders have been ensnared in a brutal struggle for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, vying for the prize of being used as batting practice for the Carolina Hurricanes (52-21-9) or Boston Bruins, the best team in the NHL, who have gone a frankly boggling 65-12-5 this season. For a brief, shining day — between when the horn sounded on the Islanders’ loss to the Capitals on Monday night, and when the puck dropped between the Pens and the pathetic Chicago Blackhawks, we controlled our own destiny. Then we got our asses handed to us. Then the Islanders won out. And now they and the Panthers are in the playoffs, and we — holders of the longest active postseason streak, 16 seasons, in pro sports — are not.
I am not a hockey fan anymore. I don’t know why I ever was a hockey fan, really. It’s a stupid sport where big bulky Canadian men shoot a tiny disc of rubber across an indoor lake and then get mad and slam each other into walls. It’s like if someone took soccer and made it impossible to run, impossible to see the ball, and replaced every man on the field with a balding kid who speaks French and pronounces sorry “souh-ree.”
I am not a hockey fan. I have never been a hockey fan. I did not care that we- I mean, they lost to the Blackhawks. Someone has been sending a rumor around that I cried when we- I mean, they lost that game. This is not true. I am a man. My eyes are red because I am tired from watching too much baseball. I’m unable to smile because of a medical condition. Leave me alone. Leave me alone! I’m fine!
Seriously, leave me alone. No, I don’t care about hockey. F$ck off.
I do care about baseball, though. After beating the White Sox 1-0 on Sunday, losing two out of three against the Astros, and then taking two of the first three in St. Louis, the Bucs have a 4-3 record on the week and a 9-6 record overall, and have put together their second consecutive solid week. Don’t get me wrong, it still feels like swimming against a current, and every bone in my body is absolutely certain that this is going to take a turn for the worse sometime in the very near future.
People react to fears like that in very different ways. Some answer fear with liquor, but it’s Carnival weekend, so that would be unthinkable. Some answer it with sleep, but it’s Carnival weekend, so that would be unthinkable. Traditionally, I’ve answered it by focusing on the Penguins, but after they broke my heart this week, that isn’t an option… sorry, my computer got stolen, this is Kyle again and I would like to say that I have never cared about igloo lacrosse.
So here we sit. The Pirates are third in the National League (a sentence which feels beyond good to say), and currently hold the top wild-card spot with the fifth-best record in baseball. The way the Bucs won — and, indeed, lost — was much the same this week as last week, so I’m not going to bore you by going over it again. (If you didn’t read High Seas last week, one, what the hell is wrong with you? and two, the TL;DR is that the pitching has been okay, and the bats have come to life in the Steel City.)
Instead, I’d like to talk about something that would have been unthinkable a month ago, but in this era of Piratemania, we can’t ignore. It’s the question captivating our city, our region, our country, our world. Are the Buccos in contention for their first playoff spot since 2015?
Here, I have two answers. My head says no. My heart says yes.
First, my head. As a team, the Pittsburgh Pirates suck. They suck on paper, with a roster only barely improved from the roster they fielded in 2022, going 62-100 and placing second-to-last in Major League Baseball. They’re outperforming, but since Bryan Reynolds leading baseball in home runs and Connor Joe hitting .341 aren’t sustainable (and they aren’t), eventually this team will regress to the mean. Sure, they’ll be three or four games ahead of where they should be because of this good start, but at its core, this is a team composed of triple-A players who made a wrong turn on their way to Indianapolis, guys that wouldn’t get so much as a cup of coffee in the majors anywhere else. Guys like Cal Mitchell, Jason Delay, Mitch Keller (although he’s an odd case; more on him in a future issue), and older-than-God Andrew McCutchen are not going to lead a team to the playoffs. The season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Bucs just might be out of energy.
Now, my heart.
Pittsburgh is a city of champions. We’re a small city, and punch further above our weight in professional sports than any other city in America. (We can make a possible exception for Green Bay, Wisconsin, but I would rebut the “city” part.) For the past 20 years, our fans have fallen into the same familiar pattern. The Steelers and Penguins alternate between greatness and merely being good (and one is always great, while the other is merely good; the designations just flip-flop), while the Pirates suck, languishing in obscurity. But there’s a realignment going on. After a long run of deep playoff runs and Super Bowl wins in 2006 and 2009, the Steelers went 9-8 last year and missed the playoffs. And hockey has been the same; after 16-straight playoff appearances and Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017… not that it matters. Like, it’s sad, because it’s Pittsburgh and we love Pittsburgh, but it’s a stupid trophy anyway, in a stupid game, and it doesn’t matter that we- I mean, they missed the playoffs. It doesn’t. Will you please shut up?
Note to Editor: the splotch marks on this manuscript are not tears.
But my heart says this might be it. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a championship since 2017, and for the Pirates, October hasn’t meant baseball since 2015. Are these Bucs going to win the World Series? No, of course not. That honor will probably fall to the Braves, or the Dodgers, or the Yankees, or the Rays. But could they make the playoffs? Honestly, yes, yes they could. This is a young team with a good farm system, and they’re excited, the park is excited, the city is excited.
Besides, I have personal reasons for wanting the Buccos to make the playoffs, too. If they don’t, the season ends at the end of September and all Pittsburgh will have left are football and hockey. The Steelers suck, and the Penguins, well, the Penguins-
“Are you okay?”
No, I mean yes, I’m not crying! Do I look like I care?? I don’t care that they missed the playoffs! It’s a stupid sport anyway! Leave me alone!
4/10 vs Astros L 2-8
4/11 vs Astros W 7-4
4/12 vs Astros L 0-7
4/13 @Cardinals W 5-0
4/14 @Cardinals L 0-3
4/15 @Cardinals W 6-3
4/16 @Cardinals L 4-5
4/20 vs Reds
4/21 vs Reds
4/22 vs Reds
4/23 vs Reds