For the past two seasons the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a great first half and a miserable second half. In 2012 at the All-Star break they were leading the NL Central by one game with a record of 48-37. At the end of August their good fortune left them with a 4-18 spell that essentially ruined their season. The ended the campaign with a fourth-place finish and an overall record of 79-83.
In 2011 they were just one game off the pace at the break and had a record of 47-43. The post-intermission part of the season was a disaster. They ended the season 24 games out of first – fourth place – with a record of 72-90. Clint Hurdle‘s hair got whiter and whiter.
Closer Joel Hanrahan was traded to Boston along with second-baseman Brock Holt to the Boston Red Sox for four guys most people never heard of. Jason Grilli is expected to be promoted to that position in 2013.
Prior to the ’12 season the Pirates received corner infielder Casey McGehee in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was expected to be a big-time run producer. That never eventuated and he was traded to the New York Yankees at the deadline for pitcher Chad Qualls.
Any conversation about the Pirates has to begin with center-fielder Andrew McCutchen. He finished third in MVP voting in 2012 behind Ryan Braun and winner Buster Posey. He is a two-time All-Star, he has won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, all last season.
Hurdle is entering into his third season at the helm of the Pirates ship. He has two 4th place finishes and a combined record of 151-173.
1. Projected starting lineup
Changes in the starting lineup include Travis Snider in right field. Russell Martin acquired from the Yankees will take over the catching job. Other than that , outside of pitching, they have pretty much the same squad as last year. If Garrett Jones puts together the kind of year most people think he is capable of, the Pirates could be a pennant contender.
Pedro Alvarez will handle the hot corner for the Bucs in 2013. Last year he had a big year, power-wise hitting 30 HR. Anything less than that will be unacceptable with his .243 average.
Starling Marte who only played in 47 games in ’12 is expected to start in left for the Pirates. In right field Snider is penciled in as the starter. Although he doesn’t supply all the power you would like for a corner outfielder, he is a “breakout candidate” according to Baseball Prospectus.
Martin is a big name to write on a lineup card. He has been on three All-Star teams, is a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger winner. He has decent power for a catcher and is just above the average in terms of throwing runners out. He has 30 percent against a league average of 27 for his career.
Here is the proposed starting lineup with ’12 statistics:
2. Projected starting rotation
When the Pirates signed Francisco Liriano in the off-season they were excited and hoped he could bring some strength to the rotation. An apparent bathroom accident has left him with a broken right arm and the Bucs probably won’t be able to use him for at least the first month of the season.
A. J Burnett comes back as the ace of the staff. After nearly floundering in New York for three seasons, Burnett recaptured his skills and posted a 16-win season with a 3.51 ERA in 2012. The 36-year old right-hander is projected by Fangraphs to win 14 games this year. Burnett will be followed in the rotation by James McDonald, southpaw Wandy Rodriguez, southpaw Jeff Locke and Jeff Karstens.
They lost 12-game winner Kevin Correia to free agency at the end of last season. Erik Bedard started 24 games last year but was far from impressive as his 5.01 ERA and 1.472 WHIP authenticate. They released him last year.
Here is a look at the proposed rotation with 2012 numbers:
4. Players to watch: Travis Snider, Francisco Liriano
If Snider does indeed have the breakout year being predicted, he will make the Pirates offense much more lethal.
Liriano should come in way before the All-Star break. If there is any chance that he can return to the All-Star form of 2006, when he was 12-3 with a microscopic ERA of 2.16 and a WHIP of 1.00, he may add the spark to get the Bucs through the second part of the season.
Let’s face it the Bucs haven’t had a winning season since they were part of the National League East Division in 1992. Predicting even a winning season would prove to be a bold move at this juncture. The odds alone should make them a winner this year. Twenty years of losing does not a happy crowd make. Another heartbreak like the past two years may turn the whole town sour on them. If it is a bad year, look for special game promotions like straight razor night, hassle the dugout night and so on.
I have to be honest though, I see the Bucs moving up a notch to third in the division, and wait for it. Yes, an 83 win season. Finally!