Mar 18, 2013, 10:47 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Big Question: Can the Buccos break .500 for the first time since the 1992 season?
It is absolutely possible. The Pirates finished only four games under the .500 mark (79-83) in 2012 and seem capable of significant improvement in 2013. Andrew McCutchen has been a star for years but truly had a breakout 2012 campaign, posting career highs in batting average (.327), homers (31), RBI (96) and runs scored (107). His .953 OPS was higher than his previous best by a whole 112 points. Maybe some regression is coming, but then again maybe it’s not.
McCutchen isn’t the only difference-maker in the Pirates’ lineup. Starling Marte hit .286/.347/.500 with 12 homers, 13 triples and 21 stolen bases in 100 games last season at Triple-A Indianapolis before getting called up to Pittsburgh and giving the National League a taste of his potential down the stretch. He’ll bat leadoff this year in front of Neil Walker, who proved his legitimacy in 2012 by producing a career-high 14 home runs in 129 games while lifting his average, OBP and slugging percentage all from where they were in 2011.
Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones also produced a career-best home run total last season, slugging 27 in 145 games. He had 16 homers in 148 games in 2011. And then there’s third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who is entering his physical prime at age 26 and tallied 30 big flies last year at age 25. The Bucs have a handful of legitimate power bats, and free agent acquisition Russell Martin should only help the run-production. He was handed a two-year, $17 million contract this winter to provide needed stability behind the plate.
This is not a bad National League offense, and the rotation looks better than it has in over a decade.
Wandy Rodriguez registered a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings with the Pirates last season after arriving in a July 25 trade with Houston. The veteran left-hander owns a 3.48 ERA in 934 2/3 innings since 2008. A.J. Burnett has found new life in the Steel City and was almost ace-like in 2012, spreading a 3.51 ERA over 200-plus frames. James McDonald has flashed potential, and Gerrit Cole — the No. 1 overall pick from 2011 — is expected to reach the major leagues in June. Jameson Taillon — the No. 2 overall pick in 2010 — is also getting close.
These aren’t your older cousin’s Pirates. Las Vegas gives them an over/under of 77.5 wins. I like the over, and I think they can approach something like 85 victories if their most important players stay healthy all year.
What Else Is Going On?
- Left-hander Francisco Liriano could also be of help to the Pittsburgh rotation at some point in 2013. He originally agreed to a two-year, $14 million free agent contract with the Bucs in December, but he injured his right (non-throwing) arm before making that deal official and had to settle for an adjusted two-year, $12.75 million pact. Liriano has posted an ugly 5.23 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over his last 291 innings, but he was a force for the Twins in 2010 and he’s only 29 years old. Liriano will be recovered by May.
- The Pirates held a share of first place in the National League Central on July 25, 2011, only to go 19-43 over their final 62 games. They had a share of first place on July 18, 2012, and then came another late-season fade. Fair or not, much of the blame for this inability to finish strong has fallen on the broad shoulders of manager Clint Hurdle. He is currently under contract through 2014, but failing to meet expectations this year could irk the club’s higher-ups to the point where they want to make a change.
- The Pittsburgh bullpen isn’t great. Last year’s closer, Joel Hanrahan, was traded to Boston this winter in a six-player swap. Jason Grilli was very good last season and should do fine as the new ninth-inning man, but getting leads to him may be an issue. Mark Melancon, who came to Pittsburgh in that Hanrahan deal, posted a 6.20 ERA across 45 innings with the Red Sox in 2012. Tony Watson is solid but not dominant, and Jared Hughes fits that same profile. It’s not an especially exciting group.
- Those back-to-back late-season tumbles have only been made possible by back-to-back early-season success, which has helped pumped life into one of the most well-designed sports stadiums in the world. PNC Park hosted 2,091,918 fans in 2012, up from 1,940,429 fans in 2011 and 1,613,399 million in 2010. Pittsburgh is among the best pro sports towns in the country, and Major League Baseball is always going to better off when its team there is worth watching. “Raise the Jolly Roger” and all that.
Prediction: Third place in the National League Central, behind the Reds and Cardinals.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:58 PM EDT
A’s left fielder Coco Crisp has been bothered by discomfort in the middle of his right arm for much of spring training, limiting him to seven Cactus League games. And the injury isn’t getting any better.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:02 PM EDT
Is the fun over in Cincy?
Mar 31, 2015, 10:26 PM EDT
As first reported by beat writer Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays have acquired right-handed starter Erasmo Ramirez from the Mariners in exchange for left-hander Mike Montgomery.
Mar 31, 2015, 9:40 PM EDT
Gregerson figured to get the job after signing a three-year, $18.5 million free agent contract with Houston in early December and he pitched well enough this spring to fend off any potential competition.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:36 PM EDT
The 20-year-old right-hander announced the news on his Twitter account Tuesday …
Mar 31, 2015, 7:41 PM EDT
Baseball is not dying.
Mar 31, 2015, 6:54 PM EDT
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com shares the news …
Mar 31, 2015, 6:09 PM EDT
Adam Wainwright tossed a spring-high 93 pitches in a Grapefruit League appearance Tuesday afternoon against the Marlins and was officially declared the Cardinals’ Opening Night starter after the outing by manager Mike Matheny.
Mar 31, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
Lefties never die. But Mijares is going to have a harder time now.
Mar 31, 2015, 4:42 PM EDT
Why is this man smiling when his team appears to be destined for last place?
Mar 31, 2015, 4:17 PM EDT
“Sheer panic … things got very bad, very quickly.”
Mar 31, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
Nice little loophole.
Mar 31, 2015, 3:02 PM EDT
WIll this man be smiling in October?
Mar 31, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
Chavez appeared in 80 games for the Mariners last season.
Mar 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
It’s supposedly just an arm cramp, but Brad Ausmus isn’t ruling out the DL.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
A long-overdue measure will, apparently, soon be in place.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Wright had a rough spring, allowing 11 runs in eight appearances.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
With this team, they’ll need it.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:16 PM EDT
Petricka saved 14 games with a 2.96 ERA and 55/33 K/BB ratio in 73 innings last season.
- 2015 Preview: Cincinnati Reds 11
- The average Major League Baseball salary this year will be more than $4 million — a record 16
- 2015 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays 17
- The Cubs assign Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to the minors, option Javier Baez as well 70
- 2015 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks 8
- 2015 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays 69
- Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez has died 26
- 2015 Preview: Chicago White Sox 15
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (122)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (118)
- The MLBPA releases a statement on Kris Bryant, mentions possible litigation (90)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (89)
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? (88)