Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview: Playoffs! (Or Just Another Tease?)

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Updated: March 21, 2013
Photo credit: Peter Diana/ Post-Gazette

Photo credit: Peter Diana/ Post-Gazette

The 2012 season appeared to be a turning point; a season in which the Pittsburgh Pirates would not only post their first winning season since 1992, but also the year they earned themselves a playoff berth. Then August came, and along came the skid with which Buccos’ fans have become so familiar. The Pirates faded quickly, going 20-39 over the final two months to finish 79-83. The lineup was replete with talent but equally rife with inexperience, and it proved to be their ultimate demise. Few alterations have been made to that lineup, and the Pirates are hoping that another year of maturity will solidify those early glimpses of excellence.

Projected Lineup:

  1. Starling Marte Lf
  2. Neil Walker 2b
  3. Andrew McCutchen Cf
  4. Garrett Jones 1b
  5. Pedro Alvarez 3b
  6. Russell Martin C
  7. Travis Snider Rf
  8. Clint Barmes Ss

Starting Roation:

  • A.J. Burnett
  • Wandy Rodriguez
  • James McDonald
  • Jeff Karstens
  • Kyle McPherson

Strengths:

They play in the nicest ballpark in America, so that has to count for something, right? Well, apparently that’s been irrelevant for the past 11 years so here we go…

Andrew McCutchen: An early candidate for NL MVP, McCutchen will be leading the charge offensively and that is a strength in and of itself. The young center fielder is expected to continue his stellar play, building off last season’s .327/.400/.523 with 31 bombs, 96 RBI, and 20 steals. Not to mention that he earned an All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove in center.

Corner Power: Garrett Jones (1B) and Pedro Alvarez (3B) are expected to lead the team in the long ball department, both possessing 30+ homer potential. Alvarez had somewhat of a breakout 2012, but will be looking to slow his prolific strikout rate and jumpstart his anemic walk rate. The same can, in general, be said for Jones. Expect 2011 All-Star Gaby Sanchez to come off the bench to form a platoon with Jones at first base.  The two should be formidable given their complementary skill sets (Sanchez’s high average skills and Jones’ monster power).

Overall Lineup: The addition of catcher Russell Martin should add to the team’s home run numbers, with the veteran backstop coming off of a power surge last season with the Yankees. Up the middle, we can expect average yet consistent numbers from Neil Walker (but not much offensively from Barmes). Starling Marte, an athletically gifted outfielder, will have the chance to make an impact in his first full season. Increased playing time projects a jump in OPS and SB numbers.

Pitching: Coming off a a team ERA of 3.86 in the 2012 season, there is a fairly high expectation to replicate that performance in 2013. Veterans A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez will serve as the one-two punch in the rotation, and should post consistently solid numbers. As for the rest of the rotation, expect thoroughly average performances. Luckily for the Buccos, prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon have been dominating the farm system. While Taillon may not “be ready” to be effective in the majors this year, Cole has great potential to be called up early and make an immediate impact. In his only start with triple-A Indianapolis he struck out seven, and if he can replicate a similar performance a few more times, expect to see him work his way into the Pirates rotation or bullpen. Closing for the Pirates this season will be Jason Grilli, who was very good last season, and should have no problems in the 9th inning assuming the Pirates’ offense can get him a lead.

Weaknesses:

Consistency: While the team has produced respectable numbers early in the season–all the way up until August last year–the Pirates can never seem to find a way to sustain a winning record.

Inexperience: The Pirates have been in a rebuilding stage for the past five, 10, even 20 years. Most players don’t know what it is like to play on a contending team. In order to be successful this season, they will need to carry the same energy they have in April-June, into the latter months of the long, 162-game season. We even saw team leader Andrew McCutchen showing signs of fatigue late in the year, taking a .362 BA into the All-Star break but finishing up at .327.

Bullpen: As mentioned earlier, closer Jason Grilli will be able to shut the door on some wins if the Pirates give him the opportunity. But middle relief is weak. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes are solid pitchers, but will most likely struggle against good hitting clubs. Mark Melancon came to the Pirates in the Hanrahan trade, and–save for one year in Houston–historically has not posted very good stats. He had a 6.20 ERA last season in 45 innings. The Pirates will need to rely on their starters to go deep into the game, so they can get the ball in Grilli’s hands.

Storylines:

Was the acquisition of LHP Francisco Liriano worth a two-year, $12.75 million contract? (Expected to return in May from injury to non-throwing arm.) 

Will the bullpen give the rotation a chance to get wins?

Is this the season for Starling Marte to reach his potential?

Can the loss of Hanrahan be absorbed by maturity in the offense?

Prediction:

83-79, Third Place in the NL Central behind the Reds and Cardinals. If the pitching staff can produce similar numbers as last season, and receive run support from the lineup, the Pirates finally have a chance to post a .500 or better record. I expect them to break their 20 consecutive losing season streak, and competitively contend for a playoff spot.

Bold Predictions:

  • Andrew McCutchen hits .330
  • Starling Marte wins NL Rookie of the Year
  • Pirates pitching staff posts a sub-3.75 ERA
  • Michael McKenry beats out Russell Martin for starting catcher

-Cory Wuenschell

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