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.
Sep 18, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Rizzo won the award in recognition of his community work with pediatric cancer patients.
Sep 18, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
That’s right: for the 2,559th time, Barry Bonds is gonna walk.
Sep 18, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
We learned late last week that Wally Backman will join the Mets coaching staff on Friday to finish out the season. Now there’s a chance that he could remain in the major leagues to begin 2015.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
After snapping an 0-for-28 hitless streak last night, Derek Jeter homered at Yankee Stadium tonight for the first time all season.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:58 PM EDT
Stanton suffered facial fractures and dental damage when he was hit in the face by a fastball last Thursday.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT
It’s possible Zimmerman could be activated from the disabled list as soon as this weekend.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Ramirez has missed back-to-back starts with an elbow strain.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton rejoined the Angels’ lineup Tuesday after sitting out 10 games with a right shoulder injury, but he missed last night’s game and is out of the lineup again tonight with more shoulder problems.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT
Hudson made it back to the majors this month for the first time since June 26, 2012.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is still a long way from pitching in the majors again, but he’s very close to picking up a baseball for the first time since his Tommy John surgery on May 16.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Arenado has taken a strong step forward during his sophomore season in the majors, batting .287/.328/.500 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI over 111 games.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:08 PM EDT
“Good news, but not as good as it could have been.”
Sep 18, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
Khalil Greene was a first round pick compared to Cal Ripken. Then he was a decent and at times excellent Major League shortstop. Then he disappeared.
Sep 18, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
When you’re mocked by the auto-complete function, you’re pretty much mocked by everything.
Sep 18, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Wade LeBlanc is taking his place, but don’t worry.
Sep 18, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Perez had a sub-2.00 ERA before recent problems.
Sep 18, 2014, 4:02 PM EDT
It’s like it’s happening in slow motion and every A’s fan is yelling “nnnnnoooooooo!”
Sep 18, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Pedro Florimon is not a starting-caliber shortstop because he can’t hit, but his defense is good enough to make him a decent utility man at age 27.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
In pinstripes no less.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
The only thing more painful than hitting rock bottom is thinking you’ve hit it, only to find out there’s still more room to sink.
- It certainly looks like Barry Bonds’ criminal conviction is going to be overturned 2
- VIDEO: Derek Jeter hits first home run at Yankee Stadium this season 4
- Ron Washington claims he resigned because he cheated on his wife 83
- No, baseball does not need to “announce a domestic violence policy ASAP” 51
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 48
- Video: Rusney Castillo notches his first major league hit 7
- Michael Wacha cleared to return Saturday vs. Reds 2
- Marlins officially shut down Giancarlo Stanton for the season 6
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (90)
- Ron Washington claims he resigned because he cheated on his wife (85)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)