CHICAGO -- Many of the players on the Pirates roster have recent postseason experience.
The Indianapolis Indians, their Class AAA affiliate, finished the season with the best record in the International League and earned a playoff berth. They lost to Charlotte, three games to one, in the first round of the Governor's Cup playoffs.
"It was a lot of fun," said shortstop Chase d'Arnaud, who spent the season with Indianapolis before joining the Pirates. "It was fun coming to the park winning. You always have fun when you're winning. There's a good group of guys there, too."
Indianapolis finished 89-55, a 13-win improvement over last season and 18 more than in 2010. Against the backdrop of organizational goals, minor league success only matters if it translates to major league success down the road, but those Indianapolis players have a chance to do so.
"Their bullpen was anchored by some guys that are going to help us," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Their position player group was anchored by some guys that are going to help us."
The pitching staff, which tied Charlotte for a league-best 3.15 ERA, anchored the playoff run. They allowed 162 fewer runs than the Indians scored. Starters Jeff Locke and Rick van den Hurk finished third and fifth in the league in ERA. Locke, for the time being, is in the Pirates rotation, and van den Hurk recently joined the bullpen.
Justin Wilson and Kyle McPherson, also now in the Pirates bullpen, played important roles as well, with Wilson throwing one rain-shortened no-hitter and contributing to another.
Manager Clint Hurdle recently said the Pirates would like to get McPherson, a starter all season, a chance to make a start in the majors.
"It was great, man, it was really great," said van den Hurk, who signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent in April. "We won a lot of games and just continued to play well. A lot of guys, obviously, that were there are here as well. It was great to be a part of."
The Indians received help on offense from Starling Marte, a top prospect now with the Pirates. Marte hit .286 with a .500 slugging percentage and hit 12 home runs, 21 doubles and 13 triples before his call-up. They got a shot of adrenaline from Brock Holt, who, in 24 games between Class AA Altoona and his call to the majors, hit .432 with seven doubles.
No less important, said d'Arnaud, was the relationships the teammates had with one another. It produced an environment conducive to success.
"It makes a huge difference because everybody's looser," d'Arnaud said. "There's less pressure put on each other. You just go out there and expect to win. There's no pressure to win and no fear of losing. That's when athletes' athleticism plays, when they're able to just go out there and play really free. Tension just deters athletic movement, mentally and physically."
The Indians dropped the first two games of the series against Charlotte before winning the third game. The Pirates fell behind, 9-0, in the second game after top prospect Gerrit Cole, who had recently joined the club from Altoona, allowed eight runs on nine hits in two innings.
"I think probably the biggest lesson is, [Class AAA players] can hit 100 [mph]," Huntington said. "If you keep coming with 100, they're going to keep hitting it. You've got to locate it, you've got to use all your pitches."
The Indians rallied to make it close, including five runs in the eighth, but lost, 14-13. A 6-4 loss in the fourth game sealed their fate.
The roster turnover after Sept. 1 meant minor league teams employed a different lineup each day. Meanwhile, the players kept track of the Pirates because so many of their teammates bounced between the two clubs.
"A lot of us go up, so you follow what they're doing," van den Hurk said. "It's obviously been great to watch as well."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 14, 2012 4:00 AM