Monday, February 18, 2013

2013 NL Central Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Today we begin our series of previewing the Reds 2013 divisional opponents. The landscape of the NL Central is about the same as last year except for one glaring omission. The Houston Astros are now in the American League.

We begin with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have become the division's tease in the past two years. Can they get over the hump in 2013?

Just like in 2011, the Pirates got off to a hot start in 2012, but completely fell off the wagon late in the year and just barely ended up with another losing season. They actually led the division by a season-high two games after a win on July 5th and were a season-high 16 games over .500 as late as August 8th. This is where Zoltan would abandon them. From that point on, they finished the season 16-36 in their final 52 games. On September 28th, the Pirates were no-hit by Homer Bailey in a 1-0 loss to our beloved Cincinnat Reds for their 81st loss. Two days later, the Reds handed them their 82nd loss, securing them a 20th consecutive losing season. It is the longest in North American sports history. They ended up 79-83 for the season, in fourth place, and 18 games back of the first place.
That's one sad pirate.

Things could have been so much better, but the Pirates did win 79 games for the first time since 1997, and improved on their 2011 win total by seven games, and their 2010 win total by a whopping 22 games. With a young core from which to continue building, and a MVP-candidate in the fold, could the once-proud franchise of Pittsburgh finally be ready to return to the playoffs in 2013 or at least lock down a winning season?

Notable Additions: C Russell Martin (Free agent, signed 11/30), LHP Francisco Liriano (Free agent, signed 1/21), LHP Jonathan Sanchez (Free agent, signed 2/6), IF Brandon Inge (Free agent, signed 2/12)

Notable Losses: RHP Kevin Correia, C Rod Barajas, RHP Chad Qualls

Youngsters to Watch: LF Starling Marte, SS Jordy Mercer, RHP Gerrit Cole, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Kyle McPherson, RHP Bryan Morris

Manager: Clint Hurdle (3rd season, 151-173)
2012 Payroll: $62.46M (26th in MLB)
Avg. Home Attendance: 26,148 (22nd in MLB)

2012 Records:
Overal: 79-83 (4th in NL Central)
Home: 45-36
Road: 34-47
Vs NLC: 39-42
2012 Expected W/L: 75-87

Notable 2012 stat rankings:
Runs - 23rd (651)
HR - 12th (170)
AVG - 25th (.243)
SB - 28th (73)
ERA - 13th (3.86)
BAA - 11th (.249)
WHIP - 14th (1.29)
Errors - 24th (112)

2013 Project Lineup per
LF Starling Marte
2B Neil Walker
CF Andrew McCutchen
1B Garrett Jones
3B Pedro Alvarez
C Russell Martin
RF Travis Snider
SS Clint Barmes

2013 Projected Rotation per
RHP A.J. Burnett
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP James McDonald
LHP Franciso Liriano
RHP Jeff Karstens

Closer: RHP Jason Grilli

theCutch22. Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates best asset. The 26 year old center fielder has established himself as one of the premier players in the league. In 2012, he enjoyed his best year yet, hitting .327/.400/.553 with 31 home runs, 96 RBI and 20 steals. The two-time All-Star led the National League with 194 hits and was one of three players in all of baseball to hit at least 30 homers and steal at least 20 bases, joining Ryan Braun and Mike Trout. All his feats led to him finishing third in NL MVP voting, as well as garnering him an All-Star berth, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger Award. There's no reason to believe he'll slow down anytime soon.

Best case scenario: 2013 is a new year. The Pirates once again start red-hot, riding Cutch's bat and a strong rotation performance to a 1st place spot at the All-Star Break. Only this time, they're not going away. They continue their strong play and contend for the NL Central crown all season and up to the very last day, trying to fend off the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. Playing the Reds in six of its last nine games, the Pirates emerge victorious when all is said and done to win the NL Central and go on to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. The losing seasons streak ends! McCutchen wins the MVP without question and A.J. Burnett turns in Cy Young-like numbers, finishing in the top three. Francisco Liriano shows flashes of his 2006 self, broken arm be damned. In a total display of vindication, the Pirates beat the Braves on a walkoff in Game 7 of the NLCS to go on and play in the World Series. Final record: 95-67 (1st place in NL Central)

Worst case scenario: 2013 is a new year. The Pirates once again start red-hot...for the first week of the season anyways. Then the wheels fall off quickly as they finish under .500 in April and never break even again for the rest of the season. McCutchen still has a good season, but he's about the only one. A.J. Burnett's 2011 proves to be a fluke as 2012 is a mess for him. The rest of the pitching staff follows suit and the Pirates just cannot overcome poor play from the mound and the plate. Players choke all over the field and not even Todd Frazier can manage to save them. Pirates fans settle back into their losing routine of the past 20 years, when the unthinkable happens and all Primanti Bros. locations are shut down by the health department. Chaos ensues. Final record: 69-93 (Fourth place in NL Central)

NL Central preview schedule:
Today: Pittsburgh Pirates
Tuesday: Chicago Cubs
Wednesday: Milwaukee Brewers
Thursday: St. Louis Cardinals
Friday: Preseason All-NL Central Team

Vote here for the 2013 Preseason All-NL Central Team.

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