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.
Apr 28, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Mookie Betts has started 18 of 20 games in center field.
Apr 28, 2015, 2:49 PM EDT
The disruption to the Orioles’ schedule is pretty darn interesting.
Apr 28, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
The former All-Star and former prospect is back in the bush leagues.
Apr 28, 2015, 1:21 PM EDT
Howie Kendrick Lamar.
Apr 28, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT
Awful news for one of baseball’s toughest customers.
Apr 28, 2015, 12:16 PM EDT
Crawford may be joining Yasiel Puig on the shelf.
Apr 28, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Turning back into a pumpkin?
Apr 28, 2015, 11:36 AM EDT
Baseball takes a back seat as unrest continues in Baltimore.
Apr 28, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
CSNBaltimore.com’s Orioles beat reporter Rich Dubroff on his experience Monday night.
Apr 28, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Returning to Houston as a free agent on a three-year, $23 million contract, Lowrie is off to a very strong start.
Apr 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
The fan was taken from Wrigley Field in an ambulance.
Apr 28, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
In calling up Cole for his debut the Nationals bypassed Tanner Roark.
Apr 28, 2015, 9:31 AM EDT
They’re right not to be.
Apr 28, 2015, 8:59 AM EDT
Note to Nori Aoki: if the ball is heading to center field against the Dodgers, you want to get back to the bag more quickly.
Apr 28, 2015, 7:21 AM EDT
The Mets continue to be Amazin’.
Apr 28, 2015, 12:17 AM EDT
Jose Reyes has been trying to play through a small crack in his left rib, but he’ll now get an extended absence.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
The Mets are now 15-5 on the young season and already hold an eight-game lead over the Nationals in the National League East.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
The Nationals mapped out a plan that could have had Rendon make his season debut as soon as Thursday against the Mets, but that’s on hold for now.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:04 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks are reportedly among the potential landing spots for Saltalamacchia.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
Bailey is coming off flexor tendon surgery. Could Tommy John surgery be next?
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 115
- Monday’s White Sox/Orioles game postponed due to ongoing protests and violence in Baltimore 155
- Cardinals confirm Adam Wainwright is done for season with torn Achilles 22
- Deal done: Josh Hamilton traded to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations 56
- Pitchers batting is dumb and the DH should be universal 356
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 88
- Alex Rodriguez hits 659th career home run, now one shy of tying Willie Mays 60
- Pitchers batting is dumb and the DH should be universal (356)
- Comment of the Day: do not underestimate the seriousness of the anti-DH crowd (199)
- The Royals and White Sox had a benches-clearing fracas, five players ejected (173)
- The early leaders in MLB’s “Franchise Four” thing have been announced (166)
- Monday’s White Sox/Orioles game postponed due to ongoing protests and violence in Baltimore (155)