Burnett works out during camp at McKechnie Field. (Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE)

2012 NL Central Sneak Peek: Pittsburgh Pirates

If there was one team that kept the Reds in check last season, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates. It didn’t matter who was on the mound, it seemed the Pirates were on the winning end. Well, they did go 10-5 against the Reds in 2011.

Time to turn that back around…

Rum Bunter‘s Senior Editor Tom Smith fielded three question and also provided a couple of other things for us as the 2012 Pirates sneak peek…

BRM: The Pirates pitching staff posted nice numbers against the Reds last season (10-5, 3.29 ERA), but struggled against the Brewers (3-12, 5.25) and, to a lesser extent, the Cards (7-9, 4.28). Can this staff take that step forward in 2012 especially with the addition of A.J. Burnett?

TS: The staff pitched above their head during a nice run in the beginning of the year. Down the stretch, the staff was broken down, struggling, and not getting deep in games. It should be a rotation that takes a step forward with the addition of Erik Bedard and AJ Burnett. We think the rotation improves, but trying to keep them all healthy hasn’t got off to a great start with AJ Burnett bunting a ball off his right eye.

This question was just before we all found out that Burnett was to have surgery due to a broken orbital bone and miss 8-12 weeks.

BRM: There seems to be a number of starting positions that are still up for grabs. Which one(s) intrigues you the most?

TS: Third base is fascinating. We were at spring training at the end of February and Casey McGehee is really pushing Pedro Alvarez.

My initial thought when I heard McGehee was sent to Pittsburgh was that of the “no big deal” variety. Now that McGehee is pushing the younger Alvarez, things could get a little intense.

BRM: There’s a general feeling that 2011 saw Andrew McCutchen “regress” at the plate. I don’t buy it. Do you?

TS: We think McCutchen tried to do too much. The Bucs were playing well and Cutch wanted to carry the team. When the team began to struggle, he pushed even harder at the plate. In spring training, Cutch opened up his stance and it appears to be helping him as he was stinging the ball and putting together line drive after line drive.

Despite the 27 point loss in batting average from 2010 to 2011, Cutch managed to keep his OBP only 1 point lower over the same period of time. If he is to be the everyday #3 hitter and he is stinging the ball as Tom tells us, “oh-oh” will be a phrase opponents attach to McCutchen for the 2012 season.

So, Tom, the Pirates key position player and pitcher…

Key Position Player: No question it’s Pedro Alvarez. We think he will put up nice numbers allowing Casey McGehee to split time at first base with Garrett Jones, who has really struggled against left handers. If Alvarez struggles, the lineup is punchless as McCutchen is unlikely to see any pitches unless Jose Tabata and Neil Walker hit like Hall of Famers.

The Key Pitcher: Erik Bedard. If he can stay healthy, the possibilities in Pittsburgh can really change. But we’ve been dreaming about that for 19 years.

And your final standings for the 2012 NL Central are…

1. Pirates
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Cardinals
5. Cubs
6. Astros

no just kidding….
1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Buccos
5. Cubs
6. Astros

I have to say that after this the third sneak peek, the bottom three teams seem to be constant. The top three create the difference in opinion.

Here’s Ryan Lester of Lester’s Legends for his take on the Pirates top position player, pitcher and fantasy sleeper….

Top Position Player: Andrew McCutchen is choice here. He is a bona fide number one fantasy outfielder and is strong in all five offensive categories.

Top Pitcher: Joel Hanrahan is the only reliable pitching option the Pirates have. He collected 40 saves last year with a sparkling 1.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

Fantasy Sleeper: Pedro Alvarez was one of the biggest busts of 2011. Given his production as a rookie, a rebound would not be unexpected.

The Chicago Cubs will be the focus tomorrow…


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Tags: A.J. Burnett Andrew McCutchen Baseball Erik Bedard Joel Hanrahan MLB Pedro Alvarez Pittsburgh Pirates

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