With 79 wins, the 2012 season was the best for the Pirates in the past decade. In many respects, the 2006 season, with its 66 wins, was third worst, ahead only of the 62 wins in 2009 and 57 wins in 2010.
But there were bright spots in the the 2006 season that have not been matched since, which provide lessons for the current Pirates team.
1. Have a Winning Second Half of the Season
The 2006 team got off to a bad start with tired "veterans" like Jeremy Burnitz, Joe Randa, and Sean Casey. But when the team ditched those players midseason and replaced them, the win percentage shot up to .514 (37-35) after the All-Star Break.
Essentially, the 2006 Pirates were a different (and better) team in the second half. That was not the case in either 2011 or 2012.
2. Have At Least Two Star Players
In 2006, the team sent Jason Bay to the All-Star game, while Freddy Sanchez had the National League's best batting average.
Nowadays, the Pirates have an even more stellar player than Bay in Andrew McCutchen who captured the National League batting crown and was an All Star. But the team needs at least one more player that's a "strong second" to protect him in the lineup. Garrett Jones? Neil Walker? Pedro Alvarez?
3. Beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the Season Series
A major hindrance to the Pirates progress in the National League Central has been their lack of ability to win more than five games a season against this team since 2006, when the Bucs were 9-7 against the Brew Crew.
In one memorable (four-game) series, Pittsburgh outscored Milwaukee 36-8 and won all four games. They lost most close games but still came out with a winning season series.
Nine wins against Milwaukee in 2012 (five more than were actually achieved) would have meant a winning 84-78 record.
4. Have a Catcher and Shortstop Who Can Actually Hit
Many of them can't because these are key defensive positions that often call for a sacrifice of hitting ability. But catcher Ronny Paulino had his best year (.310 batting average) in 2006. Shortstop Jack Wilson had one of his better years, hitting .272.
On the other hand, the 2012 batting averages of catcher Rod Barajas and, to a lesser extent, shortstop Clint Barnes, approached the Mendoza Line. The Pirates have a clear upgrade behind the plate with Michael McKenry. It's less clear what they can do about shortstop.
5. Have Late-Season Call-Ups Who Make an Immediate Contribution
In 2006, this was Tom Gorzelanny, whose 3.79 ERA was better than that of the full-year starters, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Ian Snell. Unless you count Jeff Locke's last, well-pitched game, that was not true in 2011 or 2012.
But Gerrit Cole and/or Jameson Taillon figure to greatly improve the rotation when they are called up in the summer/fall of 2013.