The Pirates have made major improvement over their decades of utter futility the last two season. Last season the Pirates came with three games of a winning record, something Pirates fans haven’t seen since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla walked the dugout in 1992. For the first time since 1997 the season didn’t end for the Pirates or their fans in July or August. This Pirates team was competitive well into September. They even held first place in the division in July, the latest they were in first place since 1997.
This season these Pirates look to push forward. To take what they experienced and learned last season and finish the job. These Pirates will make the playoffs. Yes for the first time in 21 long years the Pittsburgh Pirates will play in October.
Clint Hurdle is a manager that has had success and tasted post season play with the Colorado Rockies, managing them to the World Series. He takes small market teams and makes them competitive. He deserved a cameo in Moneyball. He only has a .466 winning percentage in his two years at the helm, but it has been an exciting .466. First place since 1997, fans actually in PNC Park, and actual hope for the upcoming future of their beloved Pirates.
Last year the Pirates season was broken into three acts, as the offense went so did the record. in the first 44 games the offense was horrible .217 batting avg. and 2.86 runs per game. Thank god for the pitching staff keeping opponents to 3.63 runs per game. The Pirates had lady luck on their side and rode out the offensive slump to a 20-24 record. Over the next 66 games the Pirates won 43 games and on August 8 had their best record of the season at 63-47. The offense was hot batting .267 and averaging 5.0 runs per game. A hot run that would eventually cool off and then came the fallout. The Pirates would go on to lose 36 of their last 52 games ending the season 79-83. Through that last act of the season the offense only managed a batting average of .233 and just averaging 3.75 runs per game.
This season the mantra in the dugout must be consistency. They have talent. Andrew McCutchen is a bona fide MVP candidate. Pedro Martinez is coming off a 30 home run season, 85 RBI season while only batting .244. His improvement on batting average is crucial for a consistent Pirates offense. With both in their mid 20’s and reaching the prime of their careers the pirates have nice pieces around them. Travis Snider and Starling Marte look to become everyday players occupying right field and left field respectively. Marte will only be 24 this season, in 47 games last year he had 12 stolen bases, 17 RBI and 5 home runs in only 182 plate appearances. Compare that to McCutchens 31 home runs in 673 plate appearances. If you times Marte production by four, the difference in plate appearances between he and McCutchens the Pirates should get around 20 home runs, 40 stolen bases, and 80 RBI. Marte could be the spark the Pirates need to take that final step.
The pitching is solid and steady returning 4 of 5 starters. A.J. Burnett will be their Opening Day starter after his 16-10 2012. James McDonald, Wandy Rodriguez, and Jeff Karstens also return. The new guy in will be Jeff Locke, likely fourth in the rotation ahead of Jeff Karstens. The pitching staff was not up and down like the offense was. Steady is the word to describe them, steady is what they need to be this season.
If the offense can stay consistent and Marte produces like he is capable of, the Pirates will be playing in October for the first time in 21 years. This team is poised to make the hunt for October. The NL Central is deeper than people give it credit for. The Reds and Cardinals are the clear favorites but the Cubs and Brewers will be in the mix with these Pirates. The Pirates learning experiences of the past season though will help separate them from those teams and finish strong. By Steve Kish