The Pittsburgh Pirates were an NL Wild Card team for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15.
But the 2016 campaign was a step back, with the club finishing 78-83 in third place in the NL Central Division, a distant 25 games behind the Chicago Cubs.
It was a disappointing 20-game drop for the Bucs from their 98-win season in 2015.
Now a team that finished within three games of the division crown in each of the last three seasons is looking like it has a way to go before it can get back to that level.
Manager Clint Hurdle just wrapped up his sixth season at the helm. He has a 509-462 record as the Pirates skipper, with three winning and three losing campaigns.
General manager Neal Huntington and his team have their work cut out for them as they try to provide Hurdle the extra pieces it will take to again catch up with the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in the division.
2016 PIRATES STATS LEADERS
Pitching was the biggest problem factor in Pittsburgh’s fall during the 2016 season. The only pitcher to win in double-digits was 29-year-old swing man Juan Nicasio, who won 10 games while making 10 starts and 42 appearances in relief.
A pair of youngsters are the most talented on the staff. 25-year-old Gerrit Cole went 7-10 over 21 starts with a 98/36 K:BB ratio. But the would-be ace of the staff missed a dozen starts with a triceps injury and elbow troubles.
24-year-old Jameson Taillon was promoted in June for the first time and went 5-4 over 18 starts. He produced a 3.38 ERA and 1.115 WHIP, with an 85/17 K:BB ratio over 104 innings in which he allowed 99 hits.
Mark Melancon registered 30 saves before being dealt away to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline. Tony Watson then produced 15 saves and led the staff with 70 total appearances.
In the lineup, center fielder Andrew McCutchen hit 24 homers with 79 RBI and 81 runs scored in what was easily the worst season of his perennial All-Star career up to this point.
Right fielder Gregory Polanco banged 22 homers while driving in 86 runs and scoring 79 times. The 24-year-old Polanco also roped 34 doubles and stole 17 bases.
Shortstop Jung Ho Kang was in his second year after coming over from his native Korea, where he spent parts of nine seasons in the KBO. Kang blasted 21 homers with 62 RBI. Second baseman Josh Harrison hit .283 with seven triples and 19 stolen bases.
MARTE TAKES OVER AS PITTSBURGH’S TOP PLAYER
After spending his first four seasons largely in McCutchen’s shadow, Starling Marteemerged as the Pirates’ top player this year.
The now 28-year-old led the club with a .311 average, .362 on-base percentage, and 47 stolen bases. He also tied for the team lead with 34 doubles and scored 71 times.
Marte was a first-time NL All-Star this season. He also was recognized for his defensive excellence, winning a second consecutive NL Gold Glove Award for his left field play. His 19 defensive runs saved was fourth in baseball, and he led the big leagues with 17 outfield assists.
There was a somewhat solemn ending to his season, as a bad back limited Marte to just one start after September 5.
“I’m not happy about that because my back (hurt), and I only played one game, then my back felt bad again,” Marte said per RotoWire as reported by CBS Sports. “That happens. I was still working on my back. I was working to get back into the lineup, but it still hurt.”
When he was in the lineup during the majority of the 2016 season, Starling Marte emerged as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Player of the Year.