Last year the Pirates were tied for the NL Central lead with a 53-47 record on July 25 and then went 19-43 down the stretch, finishing in fourth place at 72-90 for their 19th consecutive losing season.
This year Pittsburgh got off to an even better start with a 63-47 record through August 8, at which point there were lots of articles about how the Pirates wouldn’t be collapsing down the stretch again.
Unfortunately they’ve done just that, going 9-21 since then to fall from 2.5 games back in the NL Central to completely out of the division race at 12.0 games back. They’re still very much in the Wild Card mix, but unless the Pirates turn things around in a hurry they might have enough trouble simply remaining above .500.
Pittsburgh must finish no worse than 8-13 to avoid a 20th consecutive losing season. The good news is that their next two games are in Cincinnati and then their only remaining road series are against the Cubs, Mets, and Astros. The bad news is that their home schedule consists of series against the playoff-bound Reds and Braves along with a Brewers team that’s won 16 of 21.
On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”
There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.
It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:
On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.
“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”
One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.
None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”