Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Pittsburgh Pirates. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season.

The poor Pirates. It’s been two decades since they mounted anything substantial. I mean, 1997 wasn’t bad for a while. I remember those guys underneath Gene Lamont, making things interesting until September (they had at least a share of the division lead as late as July 17th, and were just 1.5 games back when play ended on September 2nd).

But let’s put it all in perspective. They won just 79 games that year. That’s not a good year. In the last five years, they’ve gone for 67, 68, 67, 62, and 57 wins. That’s so terrible. You let the team from Pittsburgh steal a series from you, and you are going to get a good ass-chewing from your manager. That’s one thing that even at the Major League level will get every old dog of the game fired up. You want to get healthy against teams like the Pirates.

The good news should be that in 2011 we think that teams are going to spend at least a little bit less time getting fat off the Pirates. The bad news is they’re not the franchise that the Steelers or Penguins are right now and they’re not close to it.

When your franchise is in a state of disarray like the Buccos are, you look around to see what are the few building blocks that you have and you cling to them like they’re the last life-line you have on earth. Let us point you to those resources. In this order: Andrew McCutchen, the Ballpark they play in every night (PNC), Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Evan Meek, and manager Clint Hurdle. Yes, we said Clint Hurdle. And that’s about it.

When you have to tell it like it is, sometimes you have to just say a harsh truth or two. The Pittsburgh Pirates are very bad.

Reasons to watch?

If you’re a Pirates fan, continue to go out to the ballpark (it truly is a beautiful place to watch baseball) and support the local nine. You’re going to be one of the keys to getting all of this turned around. It’s a rallying cry I’m never going to get everyone fully on board for; but I’ll tell you Pirates fans the same things I tell Reds fans. If you want things to really get turned around you have to grind it out like your team does. You have to show up when you’re 15 games out and still support the product. If you don’t, you’re going to be mired in a losing culture where they continue to field teams that close out games with Octavio Dotel and call your ace Paul Maholm.

That’s just the way it is. These owners want to make money too. It’s simple economics.

So go out there in what figures to be another 90+ loss season, enjoy the atmosphere of taking in a ballgame 15 times. Even if you’re going to stay a few innings then hit up Jerome Bettis ’36’ bar with your friends. It’s a great social event, I swear it is. I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. I’m only here to tell you that if you don’t want your team to suck as badly, the onus is partly on you to get it turned around.

Plus, the kid playing out in center field is what dreams are made of if you’re a fan of this game.

McCutchen, the lone star

This is Andrew McCutchen’s team by golly. If only they had someone to play Andy Van Slyke to his Barry Bonds. The dude is a flat out ballplayer. We love the way he hits, the way he runs, the way he plays defense. He’s just 24 years old. And if we were the Pirates the first order of business would be to sign him to an 8 or 10 year deal and build around him the best we could. Print his face on every ticket sold, because this is why people are going to go out and watch your club. If I lived in Pittsburgh, I would pay money to see him run down balls in center and the gaps. And he’s the one guy in the lineup you don’t leave to go grab an Iron City light or take a pea while he’s hitting because you could miss something special.

There’s something to be said for that kind of talent. And I put him right there with the Bruce’s, Heyward’s, Stanton’s as the guys who will be playing in 10 years that my kids will be talking about. Let’s just hope for the sake of this franchise that he’s still wearing black and gold. It’s been too long since the Pirates have kept around a star for the length of their career.

Some were disappointed that he didn’t build around his rookie campaign better. But it’s possible that the kid just wore down playing in 153 at age 23, he still managed .286 with 33 steals, 16 home runs, and 94 runs on a bad team. Do you know how hard it is for a guy on a team that bad that loses 105 games to get out there and turn it up for 153 games? This kid is a star in the making.

The Power of Pedro Alvarez

The 2nd overall pick of the 2008 draft, Pedro Alvarez showed us that he has what it takes to be a big league player last season hitting 16 home runs in about a half a season. The short right field porch is perfect for his stroke and since he’s just 23, he is going to hit a lot of bombs over the course of the next five or so years. The key to him being great is can he find his way on base enough to make less outs? Can he find a way to strike out less? Can he limp to .270ish so that he’s not just a one dimensional power hitter.

A key cog at a young age in the middle of the lineup, you hope that he doesn’t get a steady diet of breaking balls and nothing else. His sources of protection in the lineup are not favorable.

One of Baseball’s two ‘Clint’s’

How could we not love Clint Hurdle? Great baseball name, Clint. On the cover of Sports Illustrated as a young prospect, until he drank his way out of the big leagues. He sobered up, found the Lord and then found himself learning his craft as a big league manager of the Colorado Rockies. He peaked by taking an upstart group all the way to the World Series in 2007.

Hurdle’s teams are high energy, higher on character, and routinely streaky. Remember, he had teams in Colorado that went on absolutely insane winning streaks.

He’s been to the top of the mountain in this game, albeit brief. But he can be a leader on a young Pirates team that needs to be taught how to win. Here’s to Clint making good on this opportunity, which might be his last to manage a big league team.

The Final Verdict

The Buccos will not lose 100 games. They’ll lose somewhere between 88 and 92, which is still abhorrent. People want to talk about how much more talent the Pirates have assembled now then when Neal Huntington took over. Really? Because I don’t see it.

Let’s see the Pirates get some valuable pieces in return for once, eh? If Evan Meek comes out and strings together a solid first half of the season, let’s make him a building block instead of sending him to Boston or Anaheim to help their pen in the playoffs.

Cling to these assets and add to the core. And if you’re a Pirates fan have patience. Yes, even more. Your team needs you.