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.
Aug 1, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
The Dodgers aren’t paying much of Bronson Arroyo’s tab at all.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Struggling lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty was designated for assignment by the Athletics on Saturday.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
Chad Billingsley will meet with a doctor in L.A. He’s dealing with more elbow problems.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT
Lucas Duda doesn’t want to run the bases.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Steven Souza, Jr. was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken hand, so he’ll hit the disabled list for a spell.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Rays lefty Matt Moore will try to fix himself in a low-pressure environment, as the Rays will demote him following Saturday’s poor start against the Red Sox.
Aug 1, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
Kyle Schwarber is staying in the big leagues when Miguel Montero returns, which is bad news for opposing pitchers.
Aug 1, 2015, 7:19 PM EDT
There’s a shakeup in the Red Sox front office, as Larry Lucchino is stepping down from his role as president and CEO.
Clayton Kershaw blanks the Angels over eight innings, runs consecutive scoreless innings streak to 37
Aug 1, 2015, 6:56 PM EDT
Clayton Kershaw is good at baseball, the lefty confirmed on Saturday.
Aug 1, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Matt Harrison has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The diagnosis, he hopes, allows him to deal with his various issues, including his back problems.
Aug 1, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT
The second-place Mets have been without Wright since mid-April.
Aug 1, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
Saturday’s game marks the first time in MLB history that two reigning MVPs have squared off against each other.
Aug 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Davis hadn’t allowed a home run since August 24, 2013.
Aug 1, 2015, 3:26 PM EDT
Rogers made 18 appearances with the Yankees earlier this season, but now he’s headed to the Korea Baseball Organization.
Aug 1, 2015, 2:41 PM EDT
The speedy outfielder has made a good first impression in his Blue Jays debut.
Aug 1, 2015, 2:25 PM EDT
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was ejected from Friday’s game against the Mets in the top of the 11th inning after arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Jerry Meals.
Aug 1, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Wilson has a 3.89 ERA and 110/46 K/BB ratio in 132 innings over 21 starts this season, but the Angels will likely have to make due without him the rest of the way.
Aug 1, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT
Wheeler, who was part of Wednesday’s failed Carlos Gomez deal, reached out to Mets GM Sandy Alderson to express his desire to stay with the team.
Aug 1, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Kennedy pitched seven innings against the Marlins after watching the birth of his daughter.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT
Danny Valencia is batting .296/.331/.506 with seven home runs and 29 RBI over 58 games this season, but the Blue Jays cut him loose Saturday.
- Lucas Duda’s last eight hits have been home runs 7
- Report: Larry Lucchino stepping down as president and CEO of the Red Sox 22
- Clayton Kershaw blanks the Angels over eight innings, runs consecutive scoreless innings streak to 37 13
- Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout make MLB history in Saturday’s matchup 12
- Matt Williams on Bryce Harper’s ejection: “He needs to stay in the baseball game” 38
- UPDATE: C.J. Wilson needs elbow surgery and will likely miss the rest of the season 12
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 43
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game 186
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game (187)
- Blue Jays acquire David Price from the Tigers (112)
- Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies (106)
- Royals make another big move, get Ben Zobrist from A’s (95)
- Report: Rockies trade Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and prospects (90)