After two consecutive decades of losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates turned around the Jolly Roger and put together a Cinderella season, bringing postseason baseball back to a city that had been dominated by the NFL’s Steelers. With Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates have what they had with Barry Bonds in the early ’90s. And with a winning ballclub, fans have poured into PNC Park making it the hardest tickets in all of baseball. Their rocking of Johnny Cueto during the NLDS lives on as one the best moments in postseason history. The Pirates have the most exciting roster and as sellouts pile up, this is the year when downtown Pittsburgh should clear the streets for a parade: the Pirates are going to be World Series champs.
Franicsco Liriano, in his first season outside the Twin City, was as dominating as ever. He produced some of his best numbers since his rookie campaign. Liriano had a 1.22 WHIP with 16 wins and averaged more than a strikeout per inning. He allowed only nine homers and as he gets more comfortable in the NL, his numbers will only get better. Liriano always had electric stuff, however keeping him healthy is a challenge. His confidence is back and he anchors the staff that lost AJ Burnett to free agency. Gerrit Cole burst on the scene after his June call-up. Cole, one of the top prospects baseball, was expected to stay the full year in the minors but his talent was too good. He posted a 10-7 record with 100 strikeouts in 19 starts. Pirates fans are excited to see him for a full year. At 23, Cole is well beyond his years in maturity and development. He possesses an overpowering fastball with a slick changeup, similar to a young Curt Schilling. The Pirates will be cautious as most of Gole’s contemporaries have blown-out their shoulders and avoiding injury for the young start is a must. With postseason experience, Cole is just as hungry as anyone on the team. He has dominating stuff and could easily supplant Liriano as the team’s ace. Charlie Morton and Edison Volquez round out the rotation. Each is a solid backend starter with Volquez once winning 17 games with the Reds. They provide depth and are innings eaters with a durable ERA under 4.00. Jason Grilli had 74 strikeouts in 50 innings and a 2.70 ERA as the closer. He ranks as one of the best relievers and shuts down offenses when he enters. The Pirates as a team had the lowest ERA in all of baseball at 3.26. Six relievers who threw over 30 innings all had ERAs below 2.80. They are deep and even if starters falter early, the bullpen is good enough to keep the team in games.
The offense is built around MVP McCutchen. The sweet-swinging outfielder is just what Pirates fans had wanted for years. He signed a lucrative deal stay with the organization even when they were losing. McCutchen stated early in his career that turning the Pirates into a winner was his biggest priority. His WAR has increased every year since his rookie season in 2009. He now has a taste of the playoff atmosphere but his demeanor pushes him for something greater. He hit 21 homers and had 27 steals last season and those numbers will only improve this year. He stays healthy playing in over 150 games for four straight years and has made Pittsburgh a prominent destination for free agents. He also has protection in the lineup so pitchers cannot throw around him in clutch moments. Expect McCutchen to have a 30-30 year along with winning his second MVP. Pedro Alvarez is one of the rawest talents across baseball. He strikes out too much with a low batting average but hits for power. He had 36 home runs and 100 RBIs but his .233 batting average was a concern. Alvarez needs to improve his plate discipline to see more pitches. If he stays in the strikezone, he will increase the walks, as well, better his power numbers. Alvarez has the potential for 40 homers as a breakout season is expected from the slick-fielding third baseman. Starling Marte is the most dynamic leadoff hitter in the game. In his first full season, he dazzled fans with his defense and led the NL with 41 steals. Now fixated in the Pirates outfield, Marte should put up career numbers as comrades aboard the Jolly Roger mention shades of Rickey Henderson.
The Pirates need productivity from their first baseman. Gaby Sanchez is a former All-Star but has struggled the past two years. It is vital he regains form or the organization will look to make a deadline move for another power bat. The Albert Pujols signing has clearly been a bust for the Angels and if the Pirates can get owner Arte Moreno to eat some of his salary, Pujols would gladly benefit with a move back to the NL Central.
With Liriano, Cole, McCutchen and co, the Pirates have all the talent to dominate. They got the experience last year and that has made them only want more. This is the year McCutchen leads the franchise to the next level. Pirates fans should expect to rattle more pitchers in October en route their first World Series the Willie Stargell and Dave Parker days.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.