Watching baseball's playoffs this year has been a strange experience. The playoff teams themselves are a weird mix of baseball's old guard (the Yankees and Cardinals), teams like the Tigers and Reds who've been good for a few years now and are possibly hitting the peak of the proverbial window, the Nationals just starting to hit their stride, and the two completely unexpected entrants from Oakland and Baltimore.
Seeing the Orioles and A's in the playoffs is like seeing a through-the-looking-glass version of the Pirates' 2012. Neither team was expected to do much, but they've somehow combined castoffs and young players and good luck to create contenders long before anyone really expected either club to contend. The crowds in Oakland and Baltimore in the ALDS have been crazy with fans that have fallen in love with their crazy, unlikely contenders. Every time I see the fans in Oakland going flat-out nuts, I think to myself, this could've been us.
That's a great way to torture yourself, of course, and it doesn't really accomplish much, but maybe the most torturous thing for me as a Pirate fan is that some of the cast-offs that these unlikely runs have been built on are ex-Pirates. Brandon Moss hit .228/.295/.373 with 13 homers in 195 games for the Pirates from 2008 to 2010. He only played five games in the majors for the Phillies last year. He hit .291/.358/.596 with 21 homers in 84 games for Oakland this year. Nate McLouth hit .134/.210/.175 for the Pirates this year. The Pirates let him go, and it looked like his baseball career was over. The Orioles picked him up and he hit .266/.342/.435 for them in 55 games and he came up with big hits in both the wild card game and ALDS.
This is the route to endless personal torture, and it's not necessarily a good direction to be headed in. The Pirates did nothing wrong in cutting Brandon Moss or Nate McLouth when they did. While you can make an argument that they failed by not getting the most of either player, those waters are murkier and I'd guess that in the long run both players' careers will more closely mirror their time with the Pirates than their time in Oakland or Baltimore. It's still hard not to see these guys and think about the Pirates' own failures on the scrap-heap and free agent markets and wonder how 2012 could've been different with a supporting cast that was better than Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes and Erik Bedard.
It's really, really heartening to see teams like the Orioles and A's in the playoffs. It means that things don't necessarily have to be perfect to get the Pirates into the playoffs, that if the Pirates keep things moving in the right direction that it's possible that someday they'll get a few breaks and that maybe that will be enough to push things towards a higher ground. Still I see these teams and I see Moss and McLouth and I can't help but feel a little bit of resentment just because they're doing it and the Pirates aren't.