Five years ago, it was a question so pressing it could steal September headlines from the Steelers.
These days, it barely rates as a footnote.
Still, it’s a topic worth pondering for at least a moment in between Le’Veon Bell takes.
Can the Pittsburgh Pirates finish the 2018 season with a winning record?
Heading into the start of a three-game series with the last-place Miami Marlins on Friday night, the Pirates were 69-71.
Matchups with Kansas City and Cincinnati also remain, so three of the Pirates’ final seven series will be against last-place clubs. Meetings with the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals also are on the schedule. Four of the last seven series will take place on the road.
Add it all up, and it’ll probably be a close call.
It’s unlikely anyone in the Pirates clubhouse will be following the quest for 82 wins with much intensity, however.
Shortstop Jordy Mercer was part of the 2013 team that snapped a 20-year streak of losing baseball. He won’t be nearly as excited if the Pirates can avoid a third consecutive losing season this year.
“Making the playoffs is the most important thing,” Mercer said. “Now that I’ve done it for three years, it’s a different feeling. It is. I think that’s ultimately where this organization wants to be, competing every year to make the playoffs, not just have a winning record. It was obviously a big point after the 20 seasons, but now that we made it, it’s just more important now than a winning season.
“If you do have a winning record, yeah, you’re a good team, but we know we’re a good team. We have a lot of good pieces. Whether it’s five wins or six wins or 10 wins (over .500), whatever, if you don’t make the playoffs, it doesn’t matter.”
After stealing nine bases in his first 123 games of the season, Gregory Polanco stole a bag in three of his past six games heading into Friday’s series opener.
Manager Clint Hurdle said it’s part of a team-wide effort to be more aggressive on the basepaths.
“Another part of our game that we’re trying to enhance as we look for areas to improve moving forward,” Hurdle said.
Lefty Steven Brault has been effective since an Aug. 20 call-up from Indianapolis. Coming into Friday’s game, he allowed a total of one earned run in five appearances, striking out 14 in 13 2/3 innings.
Hurdle said the Pirates won’t make a determination about Brault’s future role until the end of the season. He began the season as a starter, but given the success of the team’s rotation in recent weeks and Brault’s effectiveness as multi-inning reliever since the promotion, a bullpen spot seems like his likely destination.
“Where does he fit?” Hurdle asked. “There’s always going to be a conversation about a guy that can pitch multiple innings, a job like (Andrew) Miller has done or Brad Hand has done. Is he one of those guys or is he a guy that you want to get back in the starting rotation? Those conversations will take place.”
Chad Kuhl continued his rehab from a forearm injury that has kept him out since June, throwing 20 offspeed pitches Friday. He threw 30 fastballs off a mound earlier in the week.
The Pirates hope to get him into a game situation, either in the majors or an instructional league, by the end of the season.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.