As spring training winds down, an air of inevitability will soon settle over Pittsburgh and its fans. Hope will most likely quickly  be replaced with resignation and indifference and fans counting the days until football training camp begins.

It's really a shame what has become of the Pittsburgh Pirates. From the lofty highs of World Series wins in 1971 and 1979, to the current state of affairs.

Since their 1992 NL East Division title (the third of three consecutive titles), they've not had a winning season - a stretch of 15 seasons. At the zenith, they won 79 games in 1997 and at the nadir, they lost 100 games in 2001. Quite a reversal for this once proud franchise that had won 98 games in 1991.

They've had some great players throughout the years from Honus Wagner, Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner, Arky Vaughan, Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell, Dave "The Cobra" Parker, and Barry Bonds. And that's just the hitters.

The pitching names aren't as well known (at least not to me), but here are a few men who've thrown some heat for the Buccos: Jack Chesbro, Rip Sewell, Roy Face, Bob Veale, Steve Blass, John Candelaria, and Doug Drabek.

But these names are lost in time and may as well be a thousand years in the past to any Pirate fan.

And yet, for two years - 1998 and 1999 - they had pitchers that, if they had been retained, might have been able to help bring winning back to the Steel City. Obviously, this did not happen. But it's a great what if...

Here are four pitchers who toiled for the Buccos at some point in either the 1998 or 1999 season, or both:

Many would argue that out of these pitchers, only Schmidt has put together consistently good years, and this would be a fair argument. Schmidt has a 128-94 overall record, and in 2003 he had a pretty good season: 17-5, 208 K, 2.34 ERA.

Lieber (129-121 overall) had a nice 2001 season: 20-6, 3.80 ERA and he's been a fairly solid pitcher over the years.

Loaiza put together a masterful 21-9, 207 K, 2.90 ERA campaign in 2003 for a second place White Sox team two years away from winning the World Series.

And Benson has been a middle-of-the-road pitcher, earning 10-12 wins per season since entering the league. Nothing spectacular or flashy, but enough to nail down a fourth starter role on a mediocre to decent team.

What's the point of this? It's the what if. The potential.

What if the Pirates had been able to keep this staff together? They all showed flashes of pitching ability that could have blossomed into some quality pitching. Unfortunately, financial considerations have not really been the Pirates stock-in-trade and each pitcher moved on before having their breakout seasons.

Overall, these pitchers clearly don't measure up to pitchers such as Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte, Roger "misremember" Clemens, Barry Zito, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and so on.

But for the Pirates, they'd have been world beaters. At least they might have been able to work with decent hitters like Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Aramis Ramirez, and Jose Guillen to fend off 15 losing seasons.

One more sub .500 season and the Buccos will tie the 1933-1948 Philadelphia Phillies for the dubious distinction of having the the longest team losing streak in baseball history.

If recent history is any indicator, the Phillies will probably not be a solo act for much longer.

Background source and clarification reference: and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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