PITTSBURGH -- The year began with renewed expectations and anticipation stemming from sweeping changes in the front office that took place at the end of the 2007 season. However, a change in decision makers ultimately did nothing to change the results in '08.
For the third time in four seasons, the Pirates finished at the bottom of the National League Central and with just 67 wins. It was a season in which the club surprised many with its early offensive capabilities, yet endured pitching struggles from Opening Day until the end of September.
Of the number of storylines that presented themselves over the past 12 months, it would have to be those pitching woes that defined the season. For the first four months of the year, new manager John Russell pleasantly watched his offense become one of the best run-producing units in the league. Simultaneously, however, the Pirates endured rotation-wide struggles.
"You think we pitch better, the way we were hitting, yeah," Russell said recently when asked if he often wonders how different the team results would have been if the starting pitching had been up to par.
As a result, the Pirates found themselves out of the playoff hunt midway through the season, which resulted in two immediately debilitating Trade Deadline deals. Though the Pirates netted eight young players in return, the last two months were tumultuous, as the pitching continued to struggle and the offense stumbled.
The starting staff finished the season with a Major League-low 33 wins and a National League-worst 5.36 ERA. No starter finished with 10 wins, the first time that had happened since 1890.
Still, despite another losing season, there are signs that the organization has laid the groundwork for steps forward. The 2008 season showcased the emergence of three young players -- Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm and Nate McLouth -- who are all likely to be fixtures with the organization for many years. And Russell's mantra about changing the clubhouse culture did seem to have an impact.
Hopefully if Gorzelanny, Snell, Duke can retain there fromer playing form. Especially Duke, if Jim Tracy didnt mess with his pitching delivery, Duke wouldnt be doing so bad. and as for Maholm, I just hope he continues what he did last year, with Grabow, setting up closer Matt Capps, I can see some glimmer of hope with the pitching. IF the pitching gets better, and the offense plays like it did the first 4 months of last year, the Bucs could be a scary team.