The 13-9 Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to a solid start in 2016 and are fresh off a 98-win campaign. The coaching staff was rewarded for its efforts on Friday. 

The team announced on its Twitter page that the entire staff received contract extensions through the 2017 season:

Manager Clint Hurdle took over the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 2011 season when they hadn’t reached the playoffs since they lost the 1992 National League Championship Series. What’s more, they were in the midst of a prolonged slump that saw them finish with a losing record every year from 1993 through 2010 (when they were an abysmal 57-105).

While Hurdle’s hiring didn’t immediately lead to a winning record, the Pirates showed steady improvement under his direction and have reached the last three postseasons:

Hurdle deserves plenty of credit for the turnaround in Pittsburgh, but it hasn’t all been his doing. The Pirates promoted Jeff Branson to hitting coach after the 2013 season when Jay Bell left the organization to join the Cincinnati Reds. As a result, the Pirates were fourth in the National League in runs scored in both 2014 and 2015 under Branson after they finished a middling ninth in 2013.

While the hitting improvement has been critical, so has the shutdown pitching Pittsburgh has displayed during its recent surge. Adam Berry of specifically singled out pitching coach Ray Searage when reporting on the coaching staff extension news on Friday.

That comes after Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated wrote a preseason article titled “The Pitch Doctor: The secret to the Pirates’ success is Ray Searage,” which underscores how important he has been for Pittsburgh.

Chen noted only the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals have been as successful as Pittsburgh in the last three years after the Pirates won 98 games in 2015, 88 in 2014 and 94 in 2013. He pointed to the pitching staff’s ability to exceed expectations on a team that “will once again rank among the bottom third of the league in payroll this season.”

According to Chen, the Pirates pitching staff has posted a 3.32 ERA since the beginning of the 2013 campaign, which is second-best in baseball behind only St. Louis’ 3.29. Chen praised Searage’s work because “Beyond 25-year-old ace Gerrit Cole, so many pitchers have found unexpected success in the Steel City that it has achieved a reputation as baseball’s Lourdes.”

Chen cited A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ, Vance Worley, Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton as players who have found renewed success under Searage’s tutelage.

Payroll disparity may be a concern for many teams, but the Pirates have thrived because names beyond stars such as Cole and Andrew McCutchen have anchored their efforts. That is a credit to the coaching’s ability to maximize the players’ talents. 

Pittsburgh figures to once again be part of a daunting NL Central race this season after the division sent three teams to the playoffs last year. While competing with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals will not be an easy task in 2016 and beyond, Pittsburgh at least knows there will be continuity in place with a coaching staff that has been quite successful the past three years.

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