Wednesday, March 7, 2012

NL Central preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

In today’s NL Central preview we feature the swashbuckling Buccos from Pennsylvania – the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The 2011 campaign brought forth a renewed sense of hope for the Pirates. First year skipper Clint Hurdle guided the club to the All-Star Break with a winning record for the first since 1992. A week later the team took over sole possession of first place – a feat they hadn’t achieved that late in a season since 1997. However, just eight days later a controversial call proved to be the beginning of the end for the upstart Bucs. On July 26th Braves infielder Julio Lugo was ruled safe at home plate even though replay clearly showed Lugo should have been called out. The run resulted in a 4-3 defeat in 19 innings to Atlanta and it was all downhill from there.

Andrew McCutchen
The team just recently locked up
McCutchen through 2018
Pittsburgh would go on to lose 42 of their remaining 61 games to secure their 19th consecutive losing season – the longest such streak of any pro franchise in North American sports. Still, their 72-90 record and 4th-place finish in the division marked an improvement over the 57-105 mark and last-place finish they posted in 2010. They will no doubt be looking to build upon last year’s resurgence in hopes of securing their first playoff berth since ’92.

Here is my best attempt at previewing the 2012 edition of the Pirates:

Notable Additions: RHP A.J. Burnett (Acquired via trade from NYY on 2/19), LHP Erik Bedard (Signed as free agent on 12/7), CF Nate McLouth (Signed as free agent on 12/7), 3B Casey McGehee (Acquired via trade from MIL on 12/13), C Rod Barajas (Signed as free agent on 11/10), SS Clint Barmes (Signed as free agent on 11/21)

Notable Losses: SS Ronny Cedeno (Signed as free agent with NYM), C Ryan Doumit (Signed as free agent with MIN), LF Ryan Ludwick (Signed as free agent with CIN), LHP Paul Maholm (Signed as free agent with CHC), C Chris Snyder (Signed as free agent with HOU)

Youngsters to watch: 3B Pedro Alvarez, INF Josh Harrison, RHP Gerrit Cole

Manager: Clint Hurdle (72-90, 2nd season)
2011 payroll: $46.05M (26th in MLB)
Avg. home attendance: 24,255 (22nd in MLB)

2011 records:
Overall: 72-90 (4th in NL Central)
Home: 36-45
Road: 36-45
Vs. NLC: 39-41
2012 Exp W/L: 75-87

Notable 2011 stat rankings:
Runs – 27th (610)
HRs – 27th (107)
AVG- T-24th (.244)
SBs – 15th (108)
ERA – T-17th (4.04)
BAA – 28th (.270)
WHIP – T-25th (1.41)
Errors – 23rd (112)

Projected lineup:
RF Jose Tabata
LF Alex Presley
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
1B Garret Jones
3B Pedro Alvarez
SS Clint Barmes
C Rod Barajas

Projected rotation:
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Jeff Karstens
RHP Kevin Correia
RHP Charlie Morton
RHP James McDonald

RHP Evan Meek (SU)
RHP Joel Hanrahan (CL)

Best case scenario: The young Buccos take full advantage of a weakened division and contend for the title. McCutchen rewards the team on giving him a six-year/$52M contract by turning in an MVP-caliber season. The decision to bring in veterans Burnett and Bedard pay huge dividends as the hurlers turn in career seasons. McClouth returns to the player he used to be and the team’s young guns begin to blossom. The club finishes with a winning record for the first time in 20 years, yet falls just shy of claiming the last Wild Card spot. However, Pirates fans happily settle for a non-losing year. Final record: 83-79 (3rd place in NL Central)

Worst case scenario: The Pirates are well, the Pirates. Many start to believe 2011 was a fluke as the team reverts back to its losing ways. Burnett and Bedard turn out to be overpriced busts, and McCutchen struggles to live up to expectations. The young players fail to develop and the Bucs find themselves as “sellers” at the trade deadline once again. Fans lose hope, the seats are empty and people are gearing up for Steelers football by the time July rolls around. Pittsburgh holds off a feisty late-season push by the lowly ‘Stros to avoid ending up in the division cellar. The continent’s longest losing streak is alive and well as they secure their 20th straight losing season. Final record: 66-96 (5th place in NL Central)

What are your expectations for the Pirates in 2012? Do they have a shot at the postseason with the new playoff format? Or will they continue to serve as doormats in both the division and the league?

And in case you missed a preview from earlier this week...

NL Central preview schedule:
Monday: Houston Astros
Tuesday: Chicago Cubs
Today: Pittsburgh Pirates
Thursday: Milwaukee Brewers
Friday: St. Louis Cardinals

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