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Starkey: Pirates have a precious opportunity | TribLIVE.com
Breakfast With Benz

Starkey: Pirates have a precious opportunity

Tribune-Review
| Monday, August 15, 2016 8:54 p.m
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Jung Ho Kang went 3 for 6 with two homers and three RBIs in two games against the Dodgers over the weekend. He could be an X-factor for the Pirates down the stretch.

I’m not thinking about bridge years. Or leap years. Or next year.

The Pirates have a precious opportunity THIS YEAR. Right now. Contrary to the cynics’ wail, the race for the second wild-card spot (the first remains very much in play) is not something to be ashamed of. The participants don’t deserve scarlet letters.

So if you’re suffering from wild-card fatigue, get over it. A lot of cities would welcome that disease. Every playoff spot is a coveted prize — a golden ticket — and fending off, say, the St. Louis Cardinals to earn one would constitute a significant accomplishment. Three teams in all of baseball (Pirates, Cardinals, Dodgers) have qualified for three straight postseasons.

Life can’t be that bad if you’re a game or two out of a playoff spot with more than a quarter of a season left. Yet, I hear so much talk of how it’s just too hard for the Pirates this season, how they’ve been stuck behind multiple teams and would have to face somebody’s ace in a one-game playoff and even if they survived would have to face those big, bad Cubs, and, and, and …

Please.

These same theorists promise the Pirates will be much better positioned to make a serious run next year, or the year after that and definitely the year after that.

Really?

How do they know?

Last I checked, the Cubs have tons of money and tons of young talent. I don’t think they’re going anywhere. They’ll have Kyle Schwarber back next year, too. I can assure you nobody will be picking the Pirates to win the NL Central in 2017. The Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers don’t figure to fall apart over the next few years, either. Other contenders will emerge.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m bullish on the Pirates’ future. I like their young talent. But this is baseball. There is no guarantee the Pirates will be in this good a position — tenuous as it is — anytime soon. The Tyler Glasnow situation should remind us of the fragility of all things “future.”

Glasnow left his Double-A rehab start Sunday because of some sort of “discomfort” after leaving his most recent major league start and heading straight for the disabled list.

Will we ever see a Cole-Taillon-Glasnow top of the rotation for a full season? Maybe. Hopefully. But you never know.

Are prospects such as Josh Bell and Austin Meadows ticketed for stardom? Maybe. Hopefully.

Will the Pirates soon field another team that is as deep and versatile as this one?

Maybe.

Point being, no matter what you thought of the Pirates’ trade-deadline maneuvering — and maybe it’s turning out better than a lot of us thought — this is the season to embrace. So why not embrace it? With nearly 30 percent of it left, there is cause for optimism.

Despite Gerrit Cole’s recent issues, the rotation finally appears to be moving toward stability. Chad Kuhl looks like a keeper. Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang were showing serious signs of life going into Monday’s game in San Francisco, and Jameson Taillon seems like a guy who gladly would take the ball in a one-game playoff and do something positive with it.

Despite the obvious challenges of trying to add players after the non-waiver trade deadline, the Pirates absolutely should be looking to supplement this year’s team (I hear they have some financial flexibility).

Obviously, the wild-card game is not ideal. It’s a 50/50 proposition. But in this sport, so is a seven-game series. Tiny sample size. Lotsa luck involved. Since the second wild card was added four years ago, we’ve seen three of the eight wild-card winners advance as far as the league championship series and two go to the World Series.

Who cares about the mediocre records in the wild-card race? Who cares if all the contenders have serious flaws? The Cardinals won a World Series after going 83-79 in the regular season. The Giants parlayed 88 wins and the second wild card into a championship two years ago.

This isn’t about next year, or the year after, or 2023. Opportunity knocks. A race is unfolding. The only bridge in play is the one that leads to the precious postseason.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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