A season that was once filled with so much hope ended like it always has for the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1993 -- with a record under .500.
The Pirates finished 79-83. While that marked their top win total since they also had 79 victories in 1999, it also extended the franchise's streak of losing seasons to 20, the major North American professional sports record for futility.
After beating the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 8, the Pirates were 63-47. The talk in the clubhouse and among fans wasn't whether the Pirates would break their streak of losing seasons but if they would get to the postseason.
Alas, everything went awry as the Pirates collapsed. They went 16-36 the rest of the way.
"Nobody saw this coming," first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones said. "Everybody is pretty ticked off."
Having the most wins in 13 years provided little consolation for Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who figures to finish high in the National League Most Valuable Player voting after hitting .327 with 31 home runs, 96 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 157 games.
"Nobody will remember what we did in the first half of the season," McCutchen said. "We have to find a way to catch a second wind and keep moving forward."
The Pirates have gone a combined 38-77 from Aug. 1 forward the last two seasons. Having a limited payroll with the limited depth that goes along with it is part of the problem, but general manager Neal Huntington vows to dig deeper to find an answer.
"We're going to evaluate everything, but there is going to be an intense focus on the last two months of the season, when it all unraveled on us," Huntington said.
Once the Pirates figure out why 2012 went sour, they will start looking ahead to 2013.
Surprisingly, their wish list is short.
The Pirates believe they already have a solid lineup with McCutchen, second baseman Neil Walker, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Jones and shortstop Clint Barmes as the anchors. They believe Jones, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and outfielders Starling Marte, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata will give them strength at first and the corner outfield spots in some combination.
Catchers Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry are expected to switch roles in 2013 with McKenry becoming the No. 1 man behind the plate and Barajas being the backup. The Pirates don't plan to exercise Barajas' $3.5 million club option, but there are strong indications that he will re-sign with them for less money.
The Pirates would like to add a veteran starting pitcher if they are unable to work out a one-year contract with arbitration-eligible right-hander Jeff Karstens, who was limited to 15 starts this season because of shoulder and groin injuries.
Right-hander A.J. Burnett and left-hander Wandy Rodriguez are set at the top of the rotation, and right-hander James McDonald, who was awful after going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in the first half, will compete with young left-hander Jeff Locke, rookie right-hander Kyle McPherson and Karstens or whoever the Pirates bring in for the other rotation spots.