It wasn’t long ago that the Pirates were World Series contenders. In 2015, the team won 98 games, the most in franchise history since 1991, but they lost the NL Wild Card game 4-0 to the Chicago Cubs. At home.
The year before that the Pirates won 88 games, just two back from the division-winning Cardinals, but lost 8-0 in the Wild Card game to the San Francisco Giants. At home.
The year before that the Pirates won 94 games — third-most in the NL — but had to play in the Wild Card game that year as well, actually winning (at home!) before falling to the Cardinals in the NL Division Series.
The run of three-straight playoff appearances seemed to be the new normal for the Pirates after 20-straight years of missing the playoffs with sub-.500 baseball. And yet, the last two seasons have been back to just that, with 78 wins in 2016 and just 75 this season. And so it’s understandable if Pirates fans don’t want to watch anymore baseball this year — most of you didn’t watch much during the year — but for those who just love the game and want to latch on to a team in the MLB postseason, here’s a guide for you.
Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees
This is a one-game Wild Card situation and it feels like a total no-brainer for any non-New York baseball fan. There is one former Pirate on the Twins roster in outfielder Robbie Grossman, who was drafted by the Buccos in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He never played in Pittsburgh, but he was eventually traded to the Astros in the Wandy Rodriguez deal in 2012. He hit .246 in 119 games this year for the Twins.
The Yankees have just one former Pirate on their latest roster in backstop Erik Kratz, though if he suits up in the postseason something has gone horribly wrong in the Bronx.
UPDATE: Of course the Yankees won.
Wild Card Winner vs. Cleveland Indians
Fun fact: Cleveland is just 147 miles from Pittsburgh, which makes the Indians the closest MLB foe to the Pirates. But because the teams have been in different leagues for so long, they’ve played just 36 times, with the Pirates owning a 19-17 record.
Advantage: Anyone but Cleveland.
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Rooting for the Red Sox is almost as bad as rooting for the Yankees. Still, the Pirates have two former players on the Boston roster this year in Brock Holt and Rajai Davis.
Holt was a 2009 draft pick of the Pirates and played 24 games for the team in 2012 before he was part of the Joel Hanrahan trade that brought Mark Melancon to town.
Davis was a 38th round pick of the Pirates in 2001 — the 1,134th overall pick that year — and played in 44 games across 2006 and 2007 before bouncing around the league with San Francisco, Oakland, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland again and then Boston. He only played in 17 games for the Red Sox this year, getting 36 at bats.
Houston, meanwhile, has two former Pirate pitchers. Francisco Liriano pitched for four seasons for the Pirates before getting dealt last season to the Blue Jays for Drew Hutchinson. He’s been used sparingly out of the bullpen for the Astros this season after being traded by Toronto.
Charlie Morton was in Pittsburgh for most of his career, pitching seven of his 10 seasons in the bigs with the Pirates. His best season came in 2011 when he went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 29 starts or 2013 when he went 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 20 starts. Morton was traded to the Phillies in 2016 then let go after he spent almost the entire season on the DL. He started 25 games for Houston this year, winning a career-best 14 with a 3.62 ERA. Does that want to make Pirates fans root for him more or root for him less? Let’s say more.
Advantage: Houston in that series, but really Pirates fans should be pulling for Cleveland in the AL. Yes, Steelers fans might have trouble aligning with Browns fans on anything, but other than the Cavs’ recent success, the city of Cleveland hasn’t won much of anything. Maybe the Pittsburgh championship magic can help them get that elusive World Series title.
Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
There’s just one former Pirate on the Rockies and that’s 2013 10th-round draft pick Shane Carle. He never played for the big-league club though, as he was traded in 2014 to the Rockies for righty Rob Scahill.
The D’Backs don’t have any former Pirates but they do have relief pitcher J.J. Hoover, who was born in Pittsburgh. So there’s that.
Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals
OK, hear me out on rooting for the Cubs.
Are you still there? Hello?
There is NO WAY IN THE WORLD any self-respecting Pirates fan would root for the Cubs unless they were maybe playing the St. Louis Cardinals. Besides, the only Cubs connection is that lefty Justin Wilson pitched three seasons for the Pirates before getting traded to the Yankees for catcher Francisco Cervelli.
The Nationals aren’t an easy team to root for either, but at least they’re not in the division. They have former Pirate Oliver Perez, who pitched from 2003 through part of 2006 for the Bucs. He made 50 appearances for the Nats this year as a LOOGY — that’s the official term for a left-handed one out guy — out of the bullpen.
Wild Card Winner vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Pirates traded their own LOOGY, Tony Watson, to the Dodgers at the deadline. So rooting for him is kind of like rooting for the 2017 Pirates. Kind of!
World Series: Indians vs. Dodgers
This is tough, because there’s really no long-time Pirate fans should root for this postseason. Morton isn’t exactly Doug Drabek, so let’s go with Cleveland over Houston and Los Angeles over the Not Cubs. In the World Series, if you’re still watching by then, root for Watson. He’s the most recent Pirate, so that’s success by proxy, at the very least.
Or just go watch the Pens game.