Wednesday, February 19, 2014

2014 NL Central Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Can the Pirates build upon the success of 2013 or will they fade back to irrelevance?

The Pittsburgh Pirates finally did it in 2013. After a couple years of teasing their fans with hot starts and cool finishes, they finished 94-68 which was good for a second place finish in the NL Central and a wildcard berth into the postseason, their first since 1992. They held first place for 25 days from 7/30 to 8/23, and never fell lower than second place after 6/21. Then, not only did they show up in the playoffs, they beat our Cincinnati Reds for their first playoff win since '92 as well. Their October mission however was cut short in the National League Division Series when they lost to the Cardinals. Led by NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, a fantastic starting rotation, and an unwavering bullpen, the Pirates had their best season in over 20 years.

The Buccos will not be the same team in 2014, as several key contributors from 2013 will be gone. They still have their core in tact for the most part however with McCutchen and manager Clint Hurdle piloting the ship. Though unlikely, could they re-sign A.J. Burnett who says he will pitch in 2014? Literally as I'm typing this, Burnett has just signed a deal with the Phillies. Will they be able to fill the voids left by the likes of Burnett, Justin Morneau, and Marlon Byrd?
bye bye Burnett
Notable Additions: RHP Edinson Volquez (free agent), OF Chris Dickerson (FA), 1B Travis Ishikawa (FA), 1B Chris McGuiness (acquired from Texas Rangers), C Chris Stewart (acquired from New York Yankees)

Notable Losses: OF Byrd, 1B Morneau, 1B Garrett Jones, C John Buck, RHP Burnett, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, RHP Jeff Karstens

Manager: Clint Hurdle (4th season, 245-241)
2013 Payroll: $79,555,00 (20th in MLB)
Avg. Home Attendance: 28,210 (19th in MLB)

2013 Records
Overal: 94-68 (2nd in NL Central)
Home: 50-31
Road: 44-37
Vs NLC: 45-31

Notable 2013 stat rankings
Runs - 20th (634)
HR - 14th (161)
AVG - 22nd (.245)
SB - 13th (94)
ERA - 3rd (3.26)
BAA - 2nd (.238)
WHIP - 7th (1.23)
Errors - 22nd (106)

2014 Projected Lineup
OF Starlin Marte
2B Neil Walker
OF Andrew McCutchen
3B Pedro Alvarez
1B Gaby Sanchez
C Russell Martin
OF Jose Tabata
SS Jordy Mercer

2014 Projected Rotation
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Gerrit Cole
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Charlie Morton
RHP Edinson Volquez

Closer: RHP Jason Grilli

Jolly Roger
The Pirates and their fans want desperately to be able to remain contenders. They do have a few questions, as do most teams though, namely how they will replace Burnett. Burnett was the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff, not only providing excellent pitching but also a veteran presence. Young fireballer Cole will be relied upon to continue his fantastic performance. They also gave Volquez five million dollars to round out the rotation, but I'm not sure what they expect from him because honestly, he's just not that good. There will also be a dropoff at first base, where last year's rental of Morneau has expired. Can the Pirates compensate enough to make it back to the postseason?

Best case scenario: 2014 is the year of the Pirate. The rotation steps up big time and Burnett is only missed in person and not by his performance. McCutchen puts another MVP season on display and goes on to win the award for a second consecutive year. Alvarez continues to crush balls well through October, leading the league in home runs and Mercer plays so well that Barmes isn't on the team anymore. Despite the moves made by the Cardinals and the lack of moves made by the Reds, neither team can match the winning ways of the Pirates who go on to win the Central. The Pirates roll through the NLDS and meet the Braves in the NLCS where Alvarez hits a 460-foot walkoff homer in Game 7 to avenge 1992. The Bucs then win the World Series and ride on a gigantic pirate ship through the streets of Pittsburgh. Sid Bream is publicly not invited.

Worst case scenario: The rotation falls apart. Liriano is unable to repeat his 2013 performance and 35-year old Rodriguez starts to show his age. Volquez throws a one-hitter in his first start for the Pirates then finishes the year with an ERA over five. The offense isn't able to dig itself out of the holes into which its starting rotation keeps throwing it. Alvarez turns into Adam Dunn and starts pressing and in turn starts whiffing even more. McCutchen puts together another solid season, but with nothing to show for it. The Pirates miss the playoffs due their sub-.500 record and finish in fourth place in the Central. Little does anyone know, it is the first of another 21 straight losing seasons.

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