March 14, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) at bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview and Projections

It’s perhaps the best day of the calendar year. I’m talking about the first sight of green grass and sound of the crack of the bat. That’s right, Opening Day is upon us.

On Opening Day everyone has hope, which is especially true for the Pittsburgh Pirates. As the Bucs prepare to kickoff the 2013 season, all eyes will be on breaking the streak.

However a lot of things have to break their way for that to happen.

Mar 13, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) reacts after being called out on a play at the plate to end the bottom of the third inning of a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I would like to sit here and proclaim that this is the team that will put an end to the misery, and they very well could be, but just a few hours before A.J. Burnett toes the rubber and prepares to throw the first pitch of the season, I just can’t force myself to do it.

On paper at least, I just don’t see how this team is any better than the team that collapsed for the second consecutive season in 2012.

First of all let’s look at what is different this year.


Jeanmar Gomez

Mark Melancon

Jonathan Sanchez

Russell Martin

John McDonald

Brandon Inge

Francisco Liriano

I like some of the moves that Neal Huntington made, but let’s just look at things realistically here. He added a career 5.18 ERA in Gomez, a guy in Melancon who had an ERA over six last season in Boston, Sanchez, who had the worst major league season of any pitcher since 2000 with an ERA over eight and Liriano, who despite his talent, has a career 4.40 ERA.

That doesn’t scream of improvement.

Offensively, while I like the Martin signing and it will upgrade the catcher position, he threw the largest free agent contract in Pirates history (only $15 million) at a player who hit only .211 a season ago. As for McDonald and Inge, Huntington brought aboard a pair of bad OBP guys who can help defensively.

Again, nothing to get excited about.

September 8, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez (24) breaks on a ground ball against the Chicago Cubs during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Now let’s break things down even more.

The Lineup

I do like the lineup and think the Bucs will be able to score more runs, but there are a lot of things that need to happen for them to be successful. Can Garrett Jones build off of his 2012 season at the age of 32? Can Pedro Alvarez emerge as a legitimate middle of the order hitter? Can Neil Walker stay healthy?

As you can see there are a ton of what if’s that need to fall into place for this lineup to perform and that doesn’t even include question marks about Travis Snider and Starling Marte.

Overall though the starting lineup is the least of the problems, although injuries will cripple this team as there is no depth at all ready to step in if someone goes down.

The Bench

As usual it should be brutal.

I like Gaby Sanchez and feel he could have a breakout season. I won’t really include him as a bench guy as I think the Bucs are strongest with Sanchez at first and Jones in right, which is how Clint Hurdle will play it on Opening Day.

The rest of the bench features Snider when he’s not playing right field, Jose Tabata, Michael McKenry, McDonald and Josh Harrison (until Inge is activated). You need a quality bench to compete and once again, the Bucs look like they have one of the worst benches in baseball.

Mar 4, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) talks with teammates on the mound during a spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Starting Rotation

No disrespect to Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke, but when they open the season as the No. 4 and No. 5 starters, then it is a sign of problems.

Burnett likely won’t have the same success that he had in 2012, but he will be fine, as will Wandy Rodriguez. But the 3-5 spots will be filled throughout the year by the combination of James McDonald, Sanchez, Locke, Kyle McPherson, Liriano, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton.

That’s nothing to get excited about.

It looks as if the Pirates have pitching depth, but it’s not quality depth and this rotation could implode in a big way.

The Bullpen

I wasn’t totally against the trade of Joel Hanrahan, but keep in mind that the Pirates didn’t lose a game last season that they led after seven innings until the final week of the season.

That was a weapon and the Bucs don’t have that luxury anymore.

Huntington has shown that he can piece together a bullpen, but the likes of Gomez, Chris Leroux and Justin Wilson make this pen a little shaky on paper. It’s hard to watch a team turn a strength into a question mark in one offseason.

March 20, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen (22) during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports


MVP- Andrew McCutchen: If the Bucs are to have a winning record and potentially make the playoffs it will be because Cutch is in the running for the National League MVP. He may not win that, but he will be the team MVP once again.

Breakout Player- Gaby Sanchez: I like what Sanchez brings to this team and I think he can duplicate his All-Star season of 2011. If he is given enough at bats, I think Sanchez can emerge as the everyday first baseman, pushing Jones to the outfield permanently or even forcing a trade of Jones.

X-Factors-Travis Snider, James McDonald, and Mark Melancon: There are three guys who will determine what type of year the Bucs have. If Snider emerges as a breakout candidate and holds down the right field job, the offense becomes even better and it justifies trading away a bullpen weapon such as Brad Lincoln. J-Mac must have a good season. If he pitches like he did the first half of 2012 then the rotation could turn out to be quite good. If the second half of 2012 J-Mac shows up though, the Pirates are in trouble. Finally there is Melancon. If his struggles of 2012 are behind him, the bullpen roles could fall into place nicely. However if he struggles, Pirates fans will be missing Hanrahan in a major way.

Overall Record- 75-87: Although I would like to think the Bucs take the next step and finally break the streak, I just don’t see how this team is any better than last year’s team. I hope I am wrong, but this Opening Day roster doesn’t excite me and I can see this team take a small step backwards.

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Tags: A.J. Burnett Andrew McCutchen Neil Walker Pedro Alvarez Pittsburgh Pirates

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