Lets face it, the Pittsburgh Pirates being relevant again would be good for baseball. Other moribund teams have enjoyed short revival runs that energized their fan base and became the league’s big story for that given year. The Pirates haven’t finished a season over .500 since the first President Bush was in office. I still believed in Santa Claus.
Last season that was supposed to all change. The Pirates had that .500 finish in the bag it appeared. And then it all came crashing down–another horrible chapter in the Pirates recently horrible history.
But not all is lost. The Pirates have one of baseball’s top five players at the center of their franchise in Andrew McCutchen. They have the only two Clint’s in baseball donning their threads (Hurdle, Barmes) and that counts for something. Expectations are so low in the Steel City that if the Pirates can just win more games then they lose, it will become a league-wide story.
For a team that failed to get it done last season, they’re dressing a lot of the same guys up in the same part in the play this year.
Major Off-Season Moves:
Seems like a little bit of shuffling deck furniture on the Titanic doesn’t it? Don’t feel that way, Bucco-faithful. The Pirates have shored up some key areas just a bit. If a few guys can realize their potential and others return to their old form, the Pirates are going to treat you to a fun season.
Here’s a look at the Pirates in-full after the jump.
The Pirates build their lineup around one of baseball’s biggest studs, Andrew McCutchen. There aren’t five guys I can name in all of baseball who are more fun to watch, and we rejoiced when McCutchen signed a long-term extension with the team he broke into the big leagues with. Eschewing the opportunity to go to a larger market city and stay in Pittsburgh through his prime to maybe play in one or two postseasons realistically is something that really pleased us.
There are other attractive aspects in Pirates lineup, though. This will be the year that one of either Jose Tabata or Starling Marte proves to be a really nice player. Marte appears to have first bite at the apple. Don’t sleep on Tabata though. We were high on him before 2010 got underway and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the guy breaks out.
Neil Walker is a fine offensive second baseman. He finished last season at .280 with 14 homers and 67 RBI. If Walker can improve those numbers just a little bit he’ll be among the top offensive players at the position.
Garrett Jones seems underwhelming as your clean-up hitter, but it’s easily forgotten that he hit 27 home runs and drove in 86 last year in just 475 at-bats. It’s easy to see Jones bottoming-out and becoming public enemy number one in Pittsburgh though.
Pedro Alvarez has light-tower power (30 HR, 85 RBI) but isn’t ever going to be able to hit for much average. Russell Martin and Clint Barmes are decent offensively as well if they can stay healthy, but the real ‘X’-factor in this lineup is Travis Snider.
It’s sink or swim time for the once highly-touted Blue Jays prospect. His career numbers are a mess and this will be his age-25 season. If Snider flounders, he likely continues to kick around baseball as a known flop. If he provides Pittsburgh with a shot in the arm, this team has a suddenly dangerous lineup with an added dimension and the ability to be baseball’s 2013 Cinderella, at least until midnight strikes.
The Pirates just didn’t have starting pitching for so long. At least now entering this season they have some dependable names with a little bit of upside.
A.J. Burnett is the staff ace. He went 16-10 last year with 180 strikeouts. Considering where the Pirates finished last year, that’s a true ace. Burnett was young what seemed like not long ago, but will be entering his age-36 season. He’s at an age where it wouldn’t be surprising to see him falter. Burnett has to stay healthy and productive for this team to reach new heights.
Wandy Rodriguez was acquired to get this team to the playoffs last season. He went 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA which was satisfactory but not superb enough to get the Pirates out of their usual season-end doldrums. He enters 2013 as the number two.
We absolutely love the three guy, James McDonald. He’s got a big breaking ball and flashy stuff. He’s going to be 28 years old this season, so he’s a boom candidate that on any given night can strike out the entire lineup twice each. To have him as your number three is a huge commodity. He’s better than a lot of other team’s three spot starters around the National league.
Jeff Karstens isn’t bad. Decent stuff and a solid four. He’s not the type of guy who probably makes it into a lot of playoff team’s rotation, but he won’t likely hurt the Pirates with his efforts.
Francisco Liriano is the likely five guy at the back of the starting rotation. As Snider is the offense’s ‘X’-factor, the artist formerly known as “Lights Out” assumes the same role for this staff. If he can find his old self early enough in the season and return to dominance, the Pirates will be in the thick of things in the divisional and Wild Card race.
Jason Grilli had a phenomenal year last season with 90 strikeouts against just 22 walks. He slides into the closers role, but doesn’t possess closer’s stuff. We expect him to do just fine. He’s obviously got some nasty stuff in his repertoire, striking out over 13 hitters per nine innings last season. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, and Chris Leroux will all play key roles in the bullpen.
Mevs’ Projected Season Record:
83-79, third place in the National League Central
Clint Hurdle is a phenomenal manager, he really is. This team will play hard for the old war horse. Expect another MVP-type season from Andrew McCutchen and some strong contributions from some of the other young guys in the lineup. If the starting rotation stays completely healthy, this team has a lot of upside.
This will be the year that the Pirates end the drought. They’re going to finish .500, finally.