Opinion: Pittsburgh sports can expect at least one championship this decade

But from whom?

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Dylan Shields, Opinions Editor

So, the 2010s wasn’t the greatest decade for sports in the Steel City.  I mean, the Pens won two Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.  And the Pirates made the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in 20 seasons.  Besides that, there was a whole lot of nothing.

Now, Pittsburgh fans tend to get spoiled due to expecting championships on a consistent basis, especially since the 2000s was one of the greatest decades in Pittsburgh sports history with the Steelers winning two Super Bowls (’05, ’09) and the Pens consistently making the playoffs, eventually winning the cup in ’09.  For the Pirates, yeah let’s not talk about that decade.  It was a disaster.

However, in the 2010s, the Pirates finally got the monkey off their backs and made the playoffs in ’13.  They beat the Reds in the Wild Card game but lost to the Cardinals in the NLDS.  In the years afterward, they would lose in two straight Wild Card games at home to the Giants and Cubs.

Then, the team started to underachieve for the rest of the decade, missing the playoffs the last four seasons.  The pitching and hitting were inconsistent, and managers were getting fired.

In general, the Pirates are rebuilding.  They do have some young talent like slugger Josh Bell, speedster Starling Marte, and Corey Dickerson.  It may take a couple of years due to the long development of players, but if the Pirates can build around these three stars, they will be a playoff contender before you know it.

(Keith Allison
Pirates at Orioles 6/6/17)

Next, let’s go to the most popular sports team in Pittsburgh, the good old Steelers.  For Steelers fans, this was a really frustrating decade.  It was a good start, making it to Super Bowl XLV after being 12-4, but they fell in defeat to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, 31-25.

In 2011, another spectacular 12-4 season occurred, but due to the Ravens rising as a great team, the Steelers were the No. 5 seed and had to play Tim Tebow and the Broncos in Denver.  As inaccurate as Tebow is, he somehow beat the Steelers winning the game in the first play of overtime, 29-23.

After that, the Steelers would constantly underachieve, going 8-8 in two straight seasons, losing to the No. 6 seed Ravens in ’14, losing to an out-of-his-prime Peyton Manning in the divisional round in ’15 (although in my opinion that was a really good year), and getting blown out by the arch-rival Patriots in the AFC Championship in ’16.

However, 2017 seemed to be their year, going 13-3 (should’ve been 14-2), and being the No. 2 seed.  However, the defense found a way to play horribly and lose to BLAKE BORTLES of all people, 45-42!

The next year, they went from 7-2-1 and a 96% chance to make it to completely missing the playoffs.  To top it all off, last year, injuries including Big Ben cost the Steelers their playoff dreams.  Let’s not forget off the field with the drama of AB and Bell.

Overall, it wasn’t a good decade for them.  Yes, they made the playoffs, but could never get it done when they should’ve.  The defense is star-studded, but Big Ben is coming off of elbow surgery, and Rudolph hasn’t proven to be the guy after Ben.  Unless they can improve him, this could be a long decade.

(Keith Allison
Steelers at Redskins 9/12/16)

Finally, let’s talk about the best Pittsburgh sports team today, the Penguins.  At first, it was a bit rough.  Losing a lot of playoff series, including losing to three rivals, the Flyers, Bruins, and Rangers, in three straight years.

However, in 2016, the Pens finally broke out.  Not in the regular season, but they did it in the playoffs.  As underdogs, they went through the Rangers, Capitals, and the Lightning in a tough series.  Then, they played a tough San Jose Sharks team and beat them 4-2 to win their first cup since ’09.

The next year, fans expected a bit of a downgrade, and they didn’t get that.  Instead, they beat the Blue Jackets, Capitals (AGAIN), and the Senators including an OT goal in Game 7 to meet an underdog Predators team in the Stanley Cup.  They beat them 4-2 to win their second straight cup.

In 2018 and 2019, the Pens underachieved a bit, but that will happen when you win a couple of championships.  Crosby, Malkin, and Letang may not have many years left, but the Pens do have some good youth in the offense.  As far as the defense, well they are struggling.  Murray is inconsistent, and the defense will usually let up two or three goals a game– not too good.  They have improved the past month but if they want playoff runs, the defense has to stand their ground.  Or else, the Cup may not come to the Burgh this decade.

(Michael Miller
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skates with the Stanley Cup during a pregame ceremony before a game against the St. Louis Blues, October 4, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA.)

To conclude, I would like to state my opinion on which sports team has the most potential to win a championship this decade.  For my verdict, as insane as this sounds, the team with the most potential is the Pirates.  Now before you start screaming at me and saying, Have you seen how they’ve played the past four years? Yes, I’ve seen the past four years.  They’ve been rough.  But fans have to notice that the Pirates were purposely doing that.  They knew they weren’t a championship team with the low salary they have.  As I mentioned earlier, they got young stars like Polanco, Marte, Dickerson, and Bell.  And the Bucs are building a young, upcoming team around these four players.  Now, the pitching needs to step up the most, especially the bullpen.  But with a new general manager and team manager, they have the ability to draft some pitchers, develop them in the minors, and bring them up at the right time.  As long as they develop players instead of chasing for names, this team will be championship ready in about four or five years.

A lot of people would expect me to say the Pens.  Yes, they’ve been successful with championships, but the window is fading.  Crosby and Malkin won’t last much longer, and the defense has been pretty flat.  Also, the east division is stacked with the Capitals, Lightning, Flyers, and Bruins.

Finally, the Steelers are the team least likely to win this decade.  It’s simple, Big Ben only has about two years left in him, and they lack a game-changing QB after him, especially in a league where the QB is more of a skill position.  The Steelers have a lot of work to do with the offense before they even think about a Super Bowl.

Overall, this should be an interesting decade.  Now can we please see at least one championship in the next 10 years.