MLB, Pittsburgh Pirates

Chris Archer enters next phase of career as he makes Pirates debut

Chris Archer makes his debut Thursday night for the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates after being acquired at the trade deadline

Chris Archer realizes Thursday marks the beginning of a new chapter in his baseball career.

The 29-year-old Archer takes the mound tonight for his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates acquired Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays at the Tuesday trade deadline for Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow.

Archer has spent the previous seven seasons in Tampa, winning 54 games with an ERA of 3.69. But with three years and $27.6 million left on his contract, the Rays decided to part with their longtime staff ace.

The move to Pittsburgh gives Archer the chance to experience something he hasn’t often in his career: a playoff race.

The Pirates (56-53) have won 16 of their past 21 games, including an 11-game winning streak. They are now within 6.5 games of the NL Central lead and four back of the second Wild Card spot. The success of the team this year came as a surprise.

This was going to be a rebuilding year for the Pirates, who saw Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole leave in the offseason. Archer says he’s  excited to join a club that has exceeded all expectations this season.

“They went through a lot of changes this offseason and got a lot of scrutiny, but I feel they reversed that with the way that they played,” he said after being acquired on Tuesday. “And the ownership and the front office stepped up with the couple moves they made at the deadline, so I’m stoked. It’s been a while since I played winning, meaningful baseball.”

Indeed, Archer last played for a playoff team in 2013. He only made two relief appearances in the ALDS that year, and has yet to start a postseason game in his career.

Archer wasted no time endearing himself to the Pittsburgh fans. He arrived in town wearing an Antonio Brown Steelers jersey, and turned down his usual No. 22 jersey out of respect for McCutchen. He will instead wear No. 24 when he starts Thursday.

He says the move came at a perfect time for him. He realizes he is in the prime of his career, and didn’t want to waste these years playing for a rebuilding team. The Pirates, he believes, are giving him the opportunity he has craved.

“There’s different phases,” he said. “You become a big leaguer and you’re content and you have a little success. I’m in the phase where I want to win, and I think I’m in the right environment to do that, and the commitment from the ownership and the front office is to win.”

Archer has not been his usual self this season. He is just 3-5 on the year with a 4.31 ERA, but has rebounded from a poor start to have a 2.70 ERA in his last eight starts.

In the three days since arriving in Pittsburgh, Archer has recognized the excitement his arrival as generated among fans.

“Everybody knows who I am,” he said.

Next: Every MLB team’s post-deadline grade

The Pirates have given fans something they weren’t expecting this season: hope. The expectations heaped on Archer is one example of that. He thinks he is ready for the challenge, however. After all, it is the chance he has long waited for.

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