The Pittsburgh Pirates’ season is about to be underway in exactly four days. The Pirates are coming off three straight playoff appearances, as they have posted the second best record in the MLB when combining the last three seasons. This year should be no different for the Pirates. Contrary to all of the skeptics, the Pirates will finally break through and win the NL Central Division in 2016. Here’s why.
First, let’s take a look at their record against divisional teams last year. The Bucs went 9-10 against the division champs, the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-10 against a bad Milwaukee Brewers squad, 8-11 against the Chicago Cubs, and 8-11 against another bad team in the Cincinnati Reds. If things change with these records, for the better of course, this will be the first step in winning the division. There is no excuse for a 98 win team to lose more games than they win against two sub .500 divisional opponents. If they would have won just one more game against the Brewers, and Reds, they would have won 100 games, which would have resulted in a tie with the Cardinals. Beat the bad teams. The Pirates have always played the Cardinals well, and I don’t see that changing. When it comes to the Cubs things are really up in the air, because the team that the cubs are fielding this year has only been together for a short period of time, but they are definitely going to be tough. So, how do they beat these teams? Let’s dig a little deeper.
When you look at what the players need to do this season in order to win the toughest division in sports, it all starts on the bump, and especially with the starting rotation. I won’t go into much detail about the bullpen, because they have been one of the best and one of the most consistent bullpens in baseball the past three seasons, and they aren’t going anywhere. The starting pitchers are who we need to look at to get us there. Francisco Liriano has gotten the nod for opening day, and he is ready for the test. He will have to carry our rotation along with Gerrit Cole in order to make a pennant race come September. As long as Liriano can stay healthy, I see a phenomenal season ahead for the lefty. Everyone is worried about Gerrit Cole because he isn’t happy with his contract. Well, if you think he is just not going to try, and forget about the Pirates, that is completely false. Yes, he will play with a chip on his shoulder, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cole will be pitching for a contract this season, and he is going to succeed. He will stay healthy, and he will win 25 games with a sub 3 ERA. He knows what he needs to do in order to get the money he deserves, and he is going to do whatever it takes to get that money. He is used to pitching in a big environment just like he did at UCLA for a big time program. For the rest of the starters, many of them such as Locke, and Vogelsong, have changed their delivery a little, and they believe it will benefit them on the mound. Ray Searage is teaching them, so there should be no concern here. The rotation is as follows: Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, John Niese, Jeff Locke, Juan Nicasio/Ryan Vogelsong. Juan Nicasio should get the final spot in the rotation.
Now when we take a look at the rest of the field, the outfield is going to carry this 2016 Pirates squad to an NL Central championship. Andrew McCutchen is going to produce his usual .300 batting average, 20+homeruns, and 80+ RBI’s. Starling Marte will not be far behind him with numbers creeping those of ‘Cutch’s, and Gregory Polanco will produce quality numbers this year. In his rookie campaign, he hit .235, and last year in his first full season he hit .256. I look for Polanco to hit in the mid .270’s in 2016. Once his average starts climbing the power will start to come, which means the RBI’s will come as well. This will be Polanco’s breakout year, and everyone will quit complaining that he hasn’t developed. Everyone gave Pedro Alvarez five full seasons to develop and he never became the player he was supposed to be. Give the kid a chance to prove what he can do, because this year he will shock everyone.
Although the outfield seems to be pretty set for the 2016 season, the infield isn’t as definitive. Obviously, Francisco Cervelli will be behind the dish, and he should be as productive defensively and offensively as he was last year. John Jaso and Michael Moorse will begin the platoon at first base, with David Freese who will eventually see some time on that side of the infield. Josh Harrison will be the full time second baseman, and we all know what he brings to the table; speed, quickness, energy, and skill. Look for Harrison to keep his game alive with another quality season in the field and at the plate. Jordy Mercer will be the starting shortstop. Jordy has had a great spring so far, and he is going to have to carry that into the regular season to help give the Pirates a shot. Unfortunately, his batting average has gone down ever year for the past several seasons, and he needs to put an end to that streak. When Jung Ho Kang is fully healthy, he will be the full time third baseman, and expect him to make a huge impact with his glove and bat this season. Kang will produce an average of close to .300 with 15+ homeruns. As it looks right now, David Freese will start the season at third, and he is a very experienced third baseman. Freese is a former All-Star and World Series MVP who knows what it takes to win. He brings another dimension and option to an infield that needs good production from a quality utility guy like him. Overall, the main issue is that the offense lacks power, but since every starter has the ability to hit for a solid average, the Pirates should have no problem putting runs on the board. Defensively, there are no question marks since the major liability defensively last year was Pedro Alvarez and he is no longer on the team. The offense will surprise some people this year.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will win the National League Central Division championship with a record of 99-63.
Burgh Blog Writer
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