Justin K. Aller
Who says 2012 Pirates more than anyone else?
It was, in the end, a disappointing season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But you can hardly blame MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, even though his performance did fall off quite a bit in the second half. Neither can you argue that McCutchen best symbolizes the 2012 Pirates, because he was great and they were non-great ...
Usually in these things, I work through the thought process for a while before revealing my choice (just in case the photo hasn't already given it away). But this time, I'll say this straightaway: It's possible that never in the history of baseball has one player epitomized his team's season more than James McDonald epitomized the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012.
In 2011, James McDonald posted a 4.21 ERA and the Pirates fell off a cliff in the second half of the season after contending for a playoff spot in the first half.
Incredibly enough, exactly the same things happened in 2012. Right down to McDonald's 4.21 ERA. Oh, and he pitched exactly 171 innings in both seasons, too.
At the All-Star break this year, a) McDonald's record stood at 9-3, with a 2.37 ERA, and b) the Pirates were in first place with a 48-37, one game ahead of the second-place Cincinnati Reds.
As James McDonald had gone in the first half, so had the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And as McDonald would go in the second half, so would the Pirates.
It wasn't pretty.
In McDonald's first start after the All-Star Game -- he didn't make the National League's squad, by the way, but certainly could have -- he didn't survive the fourth inning. Which was a terrible omen, as things turned out. In the second half of the season, McDonald went just 3-5 with a 7.52 (!) ERA. Finally, after yet another rocky outing in the middle of September, McDonald lost his job in the Pirates' starting rotation.
Of course, the Pirates were nearly as bad in the second half as McDonald. They went from 48-37 in the first half -- with a good chance of reaching the playoffs and a great chance of posting their first winning season in 20 years -- to 31-46 in the second half, which left them far behind the playoff teams and with their 20th straight losing record.
James McDonald has been demonstrating for some years now that he's capable of pitching well for a few weeks, even a few months in a row. But he's yet to put together a truly good season as a major leaguer.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.