World Series Game 7 – Lessons for the Pittsburgh Pirates

With the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season over a month ago, was there anything the team and its fans could learn from the 2016 World Series? Yes. A lot.

I’m a little groggy this morning.

I stayed up all the way until the thrilling end of what was hyped to the be the World Series game that will go down in history. And for the first time in as long as I can remember, the game actually lived up to all of the drama manufactured by Fox and its merry band of broadcasting men.

Cubs versus Indians. Game 7. Blown 3-1 lead. Rain delay. Extra Innings.

I’ll admit that as soon as that final out was recorded I turned off the TV. I mean, it was an incredible game, and fantastic series, but the Cubs won. And this Pirates fan just wasn’t ready to watch that on-field celebration. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about the game, and baseball in general, long after the glow of the TV screen faded into the night.

I’m a big believer in taking lessons from every experience. That’s what makes those things that we go through worth it, right? The wins, well that’s easy. But the losses…you have to take something from them, otherwise, why would we get out of bed in the morning?

Lesson 1 – Small Market Teams Can Win at the Highest Level

It was the David vs. Goliath story that just didn’t quite go as written – after 64 innings of spectacular baseball. But damn did those Indians, with their $114 million slingshot, get close to slaying that $186 million Cubs giant.

I’ll grant you the Indians had about $9 million more to work with this season than the Pirates – which equates to a couple of more bullpen arms – which many believe was the key to Cleveland’s success. However, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, aside from bullpen management – platooning multiple positions, getting your lead-off man on first and a “cost-efficient approach to pitching” were the keys to Cleveland’s success in 2016. (I’ll sit quietly while you mull over the Pirates’ 2016. While obviously not as well executed as the Indians, that game plan feels a lot like the one we heard about coming out of Bradenton in early April).

No more bemoaning the cash big market teams have. No more crying foul that small market teams can’t win championships because they can’t afford elite players. The Royals did it in 2015 and the Indians came damn close in 2016. It can be done, you just have to be savvy enough to create the winning formula.

Lesson 2 – This Isn’t the One and Done League

While some sports are based on a one game a season match-up versus an opponent, baseball is not. As Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen told The Post-Gazette in February, “Baseball’s built for a series more than a one-game [wild card]. You don’t ever see anywhere in the game of baseball where 30 teams play a team one time. Doesn’t happen. I believe the reason behind that is because the game is so unpredictable you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

This World Series showed us that in spades.

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Baseball is a game of strategy. A pitcher gets through the batting order once, then he and his catcher understand every hitter better – what they’re taking, what they’re waiting on, what they are expecting – and they adjust. Hitters do the same with pitchers. Indeed, it appeared that in Game 7 the Cubs had figured out the enigma that was Corey Kluber since they’d seen him two other times during the series.

That’s why all of this one-game wildcard nonsense must stop. To get to the postseason, MLB is expecting teams to compete in a very un-baseball-like way. Beyond that logical argument, there’s the marketing one to think of. The amount of money invested in baseball tickets and periphery items from this World Series will be mind-blowing. I’m not saying that we’d see as great an impact for a three-game wild card playoff, but I know I have a pretty nice collection of post season t-shirts in black and gold dating back to just 2013, and I have to think that TV rights would be mighty nice for that series, too.

Lesson 3 – Chris Coghlan is Actually a Dirty Player

Join me, if you will, in my time machine. We’re going back to September 17, 2015. Coghlan, in an attempt to break up a double play, slides spikes high into Pirates Korean phenomenon Jung Ho Kang, breaking his leg and ending an amazing rookie season in the MLB. At the time, many believed that it was a take-out slide through and through. But Coghlan supporters, Cubs faithful and even just fans of the rough and tumble way baseball used to be played before things like the Posey rule were put into effect argued that he was just playing a “heads-up” brand of baseball. Heck, Kang himself said so (although it has since been revealed that he may have made that statement to temper Korean fans, who were rumored to have issued death-threats against Coghlan).

Since that time, the neighborhood play, which Kang was executing when maimed for life, has been abolished by MLB (after the same damn thing happened to a Ruben Tejada on a Chase Utley slide during the 2015 playoffs) in an attempt to thwart these types of slides and injuries. So players all have the memo, right?

And yet, there he was, doing the same damn thing to Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor last night! Photos don’t lie – he’s REACHING for the base with this hand, while his feet are directed at the vulnerable knee joints of his opposition. Dirty.

(While he was found not to have broken the now-named Utley Rule, he was called out on the play, so at least he wasn’t rewarded. And thankfully Lindor escaped the situation unscathed so we were all spared Joe Maddon’s diagnosing him with plantar fasciitis.)

What Now?

If the 2016 baseball season taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen and any one team is capable of walking away a winner. Now, who’s ready for Spring Training? Only 114 days before the Pirates’ Grapefruit League split squad opening games vs. the Orioles and the Rays.

For more detailed lessons the Pirates can learn from the 2016 Indians, read this fantastic article from our esteemed Jason Rollison. I hope someone in the Pirates’ front office read it and was nodding their heads furiously in agreement the whole time.

Photo Courtesy of ABC News

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