The strange weight of optimism

When Parks and Rec ended its run on NBC last week, I spent a little bit of time thinking about what it was that I liked about the show so much. Given that the show spent most of its second half making references to sabermetrics and once made an entire episode dedicated to Infinite Jest, it could be that I was more or less the show’s target demographic. If I think about it a little bit more, though, I think it’s because the show was unfailingly optimistic without being overwhelmingly so. I don’t consider myself a pessimist, but I can admit that optimism isn’t necessarily easy for me. Watching Parks and Rec every week was always sort of a reminder for me that it’s OK to be excited about things and it’s OK to think that everything is going to turn out fine, even if it isn’t quite obvious how it’ll get there.

And so, here we are in March of 2015, and I feel like every post I write, every conversation I have, and every interview I give about the 2015 Pirates is incredibly positive. There is a palpable excitement about this team that I very literally cannot remember ever having about the Pittsburgh Pirates. There was a lot of apprehension heading into 2014 that 2013 was a weird fever dream, and for much of the season’s first half, it looked like that apprehension was warranted. And then the Pirates steamrolled through the second half of August and September, clinched a second straight wild card berth, and almost stole the NL Central from the Cardinals. We got a taste of F-You Gerrit Cole, we watched Andrew McCutchen make a comic book return from a serious rib injury, we saw Starling Marte accelerate, Josh Harrison and Neil Walker both did things we didn’t think they were capable of, and for a brief moment, it looked like maybe the Pirates were the team nobody wanted to see in the National League playoffs. And then Madison Bumgarner happened and whatever, that’s over now, and here we are in 2015.

The strange thing is this: it’s hard to really find anything bad to say about the Pirates, compared to what happened to them last year. Last year, their cleanup hitter and the reining NL home run champ forgot how to play defense and then hurt his foot, while their first basemen failed to hit at all, their two most important starting pitchers spent much of the early summer on the disabled list, their mid-rotation guy pitched through a hernia and busted his only remaining unbusted hip, and throughout the whole thing their best prospect mostly flailed at the plate. That should’ve been a recipe for disaster, and the Pirates still made the playoffs.

It is, of course, possible that Francisco Cervelli’s fragility makes losing Russell Martin an ever bigger deal that it could be, that Josh Harrison can’t produce for a second season, that Gerrit Cole [insert statement about what happens to young pitchers’ arms that I don’t want to type for fear of jinxing — and I’m not just talking about the most obvious one here], that Neil Walker’s back finally becomes a huge issue, that Pedro Alvarez has another disappointing year, that Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon can’t be ready in time to help a rotation that could be a bit thin, that Gregory Polanco can’t find his way, that AJ Burnett will just be an old man. It feels unlikely that all of those things will happen, though, and there are many more positive things that feel more likely to happen: Starling Marte extends his late-season breakout, Polanco finds his way, Cole becomes a fire-breathing dragon on the mound, Alvarez rebounds a bit, Jordy Mercer puts up a full solid season instead of just 2/3rds of one, etc. etc.

And why do I feel the need to sit here and find all of the negative things that could happen with this club anyway? This is a talented Pirate team, full of players that should be coming into their own, and teams like that are every bit as likely to find themselves with excessive good luck rather than bad (example: last year’s Pirates, who had plenty of good luck mixed in with the bad). Of course things might go wrong! Baseball would be boring if those possibilities didn’t exist and everything was set in stone in March. Being so openly and unabashedly optimistic feels weird, but the reality is that the biggest question for the Pirates right now is, “Are they good enough to be counted with the Dodgers, Nationals, and Cardinals as the National League’s best teams this year?” I’m not sure that they are today, but they’re close enough that my answer might be different in two months.

Saying that out loud makes me nervous, but I’m sure I’ll find a way to deal with it.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.