CINCINNATI -- The Pirates' 81st win of the year no longer carries the same weight it did five years ago. After 20 years spent waiting for win No. 81, Pittsburgh raised the standard while reaching the postseason from 2013-15.But a winning record is better than the alternative, especially for a
CINCINNATI -- The Pirates' 81st win of the year no longer carries the same weight it did five years ago. After 20 years spent waiting for win No. 81, Pittsburgh raised the standard while reaching the postseason from 2013-15.
But a winning record is better than the alternative, especially for a Pirates team that was criticized in some corners this spring for "tanking" and is now looking to establish momentum for next season. So there was some satisfaction to be found in the Bucs' 8-4 victory over the Reds on Friday night at Great American Ball Park.
The Pirates will play their 161st and final game of the season on Sunday, as their rescheduled game against the Marlins on Monday was canceled, so they officially clinched a winning season -- their first since a 98-64 National League Wild Card campaign in 2015.
"You come into this clubhouse, you see we're in no way laying down and allowing the season to end," left-hander Steven Brault said. "We're trying to get some good work in before the season ends so we can come into next year ready to go."
The feat might not mean what it once did in Pittsburgh, even if this is only the club's fourth winning season since 1993. It is also their first winning, non-playoff season since '88. Without a trip to the postseason, it is not enough to consider this year a success. But it means something in the Pirates' clubhouse.
"I think that means a lot. Obviously it's not easy to win up here," said third baseman Colin Moran, who went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs. "I think we've got good momentum going into next year, [are] playing well and a lot of guys [are] getting a lot of experience. We've positioned ourselves well for the future."
The Pirates have restored some hope for next season by winning 15 of 24 games in September, even after admitting at the beginning of the month that they were shifting their focus toward next year. Their starting pitching has carried them, for the most part, by posting a 3.11 ERA in 24 games.
"I would say we surpassed expectations this year. We did some really good things. We were inconsistent as a club, individually, everything. That's why we have the record we do," Brault said, also noting the difficulty of playing in the National League Central. "I think we held our own really well this year. And next year, when we have a very similar team, everyone is a little older and a little more mature and we have the [great] rotation that we have, it's going to be awesome."
Right-hander Nick Kingham improved after a rough return to the rotation last Sunday. He gave up two runs, both of them on a Eugenio Suarez homer, over 3 2/3 innings. Brault, who recorded his sixth win, picked up the middle innings, recording seven outs without allowing a run. Richard Rodriguez and Michael Feliz each tossed a scoreless inning. Dovydas Neverauskas gave up a two-run homer to Tucker Barnhart, who went 5-for-5, before closing out the win.
Meanwhile, Corey Dickerson continued his surge toward the finish line -- and a .300 average -- with an RBI double as the Pirates put up two runs in the first inning. Elias Diaz launched his 10th home run of the season to the second deck in left field in the fourth. Moran knocked a sacrifice fly to center in the sixth before Kevin Kramer snapped an 0-for-21 skid with an RBI single to right.
Moran padded Pittsburgh's lead with a solo shot to right-center off reliever Jesus Reyes in the eighth and an RBI single in the ninth. After taking a slight step away from the plate, a tweak that paid off earlier this season for Gregory Polanco, Moran has hit .300/.373/.540 with three home runs this month.
"It's been a strong September. The swings have been good and clean and crisp," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Very pleased with his adjusting and counter-punching."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Most Valuable Pitcher: For all of the Pirates' notable offensive performances, Hurdle pointed to Brault as his "MVP of the game." Brault, who entered the game with two outs and Billy Hamilton on second base in the fourth, walked Joey Votto then retired Scooter Gennett. The lefty worked two more scoreless innings, maintaining the Pirates' lead as he allowed only three hits and a walk while striking out three.
"When I'm getting ahead of hitters and I'm able to use my offspeed stuff and throw it for strikes, it's a completely different ballgame for me," Brault said. "I need to be able to do that consistently looking ahead to next year."
Center fielder Starling Marte worked a pair of walks for the third time in his last four games. He has six walks since Tuesday, as many as he drew over 249 plate appearances from July 12 until Monday.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
After missing all of the 2017 season -- when he was unable to acquire a work visa -- and most of this season due to a combination of his visa issue and injuries, Jungho Kang stepped to the plate for his first at-bat since Oct. 2, 2016, as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. Kang laced a leadoff single.
"There was a small uproar [in the dugout] when he got the base hit," Hurdle said. "You could hear it."
HE SAID IT
"Seems like every time she shows up, I hit a homer. I'm going to have to pay for her to be at every game." -- Moran, on hitting another home run in front of his mother, who was in attendance along with his father and wife
"I really like facing him. I think it's really fun. It's one of those things I'll tell my kids, and they'll be like, 'We don't know who that is. That was 20 years ago, Dad. Stop.' And I still will, because that's so cool to me. He's a guy I look up to so much. It's wild. I really enjoy that." -- Brault, on facing Votto
Right-hander Jameson Taillon (14-9, 3.16 ERA) will make his final start of the season, looking to extend his streak of 21 straight starts allowing three earned runs or fewer as the Pirates face the Reds at 4:10 p.m. ET on Saturday. Right-hander Michael Lorenzen (3-2, 3.35) will start for the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.