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 1, 2014, 11:17 PM EDT
Miguel Cabrera had just one home run in August. He doubled that today.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:09 PM EDT
Bailey is currently deciding whether to undergo surgery for a flexor mass strain in his right elbow.
Jorge Soler is third player in last 100 years with an extra-base hit in each of his first five games
Sep 1, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Enos Slaughter (1933) and Will Middlebrooks (2012) are the only others.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:12 PM EDT
Acquired from the White Sox on Sunday, Adam Dunn made an instant impact in his A’s debut this afternoon.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:21 PM EDT
Franco got off to a slow start this season, but he has been on a tear in Triple-A since the start of July.
Sep 1, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
The Brewers have had at least a share of first place since April 4.
Sep 1, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
The Pacific Coast League MVP is on his way to L.A.
Sep 1, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT
Four pitchers, led by Cole Hamels, who handled six innings of it, combined to no-hit the Atlanta Braves.
Sep 1, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
It sounds like Manny is a changed man
Sep 1, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
As the Marlins’ playoff chances fade.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT
He was already unofficially shut down. Now it’s all official-like.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:38 PM EDT
Reports of strife between Porter and the front office were apparently right on the nose.
Sep 1, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
Old Hoss Radbourn is an amateur.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
The Brewers are tied for first place and need a boost.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
Maybe Yost should just tell Royals fans the exact number of people he needs in the seats for his team to play at its best.
Sep 1, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
The A’s were, quite recently, the best team in baseball. Now they’re five back of the Angels.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Well, it’s not his (or his estate’s) house anymore. Likely wasn’t for decades. But if someone wants Jon Voight’s LeBaron, someone will probably buy this, right?
Sep 1, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
And part of the reason for this reminder is that, while Major League Baseball sees fit to commemorate most other holidays that occur during the baseball season, it has always given Labor Day short shrift.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
The Blue Jays added an outfield bench bat, picking up John Mayberry, Jr. from the Phillies on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
The Brewers tried but ultimately failed to acquire David Price from the Rays in July because they refused to part with pitcher Jimmy Nelson.
- The Cardinals have moved ahead of the Brewers for first place in the National League Central 21
- No-hitter! Four Phillies pitchers combine to blank the Braves 60
- Bo Porter fired by the Astros 53
- Settling the Score: Sunday’s results — and a reminder of what Labor Day is all about 47
- Reds trade setup man Jonathan Broxton to the Brewers 18
- Miguel Cabrera sits Sunday with nagging ankle injury 13
- A’s acquire veteran slugger Adam Dunn from the White Sox 54
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 18
- Albert Pujols plays the “you never played the game!” card (104)
- Great Moments in Drug Testing and Punishment: The NFL Edition (101)
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (75)
- Baseball is dying, you guys, because no one would recognize Mike Trout in a bar (74)