Pittsburgh Pirates have chemistry, but is there enough talent?


When you talk about baseball and specifically the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates, the word chemistry comes up all of the time, and rightfully so.Over the past 20 years, Pirates fans have heard almost the same message every year: “We like the chemistry with the group of guys we have here. As a matter of fact, (insert year and whatever former free agent flop you would like here) with the addition of a couple of veterans, and some of the younger talent we have, I like our club’s chances.”

Seriously? Until the end of the Dave Littlefield era, Pirates fans were expected to swallow this same garbage every year!

I sat with my morning coffee the other day, and thought about how it wasn’t always like that. I remembered being a 9-year-old again, watching the “Lumber Company” battling back from a 3-1 deficit in the 1979 World Series. I remember Wille Stargell, the Pirates’ beloved “Pops” putting the team on his back and helping the club to battle back and win the series along with the Most Valuable Player as well.

I flashed back to my late teens and early 20s when the Pirates had the “Killer B’s,” Andy Van Slyke and one of the game’s best managers in Jim Leyland. I realized that the current losing steak the Pirates had been on had taken me from a 22-year-old young man to an almost 43-year-old seasoned adult. (43 is the new 30 by the way.)

Feb 12, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; A general view of a dugout logo as the Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and catchers report for a workout session during spring training at Pirate City. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

That brings me back to the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates. There is a sense that these guys do care a lot about each other on and off the field. You can see it in their attitudes on the field. If someone is in a slump, someone else is right there to pick them up. When the whole “Zoltan” thing started last year, I thought it was kind of cheesy, but as long as the Pirates were winning, more power to them.

Then the collapse. I will not ruminate on it other then to say that through it the entire team never quit. They had there problems, yes. At no time did I feel that any of the players gave up, or were “mailing it in.”

They were the Pirates. It was expected. Maybe not to the degree in which it happened, but come on folks, the Pirates were expected to do absolutely nothing last year. The national media and for the most part the local media had them finishing last in the NL Central before the season started.

That, my friends, is why they play the game. Yes, I along with everyone else saw the wheels come off, but I saw something else too. I saw a young group of of talented players come together. Winning and losing as a team. No fingers were pointed, at least in the media. The core of this team bonded, and part of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates’ foundation began with last season’s collapse.

Do I think this team truly cares about each other and could bring a winner back to the “City of Champions?” You can bet your paycheck I do. Is it this wonderful “chemistry” that this group of players have that is going to make that happen? Yes and no.

You can have 25 of the greatest guys in the world playing for you, and while they might win 25 “Humanitarian of the Year” awards, without talent they are just 25 “great guys” giving it their best.

That’s not conducive to winning a lot of baseball games. Lets face it folks, while we have had a lot of nice guys come through the ‘Burgh the last 20 years, we have not had what you need to combine with chemistry to achieve winning baseball: talent.

When you look at the Pirates’ farm system up until several years ago, it was a total and complete joke. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago the Pirates finally opened a complex in Latin America. The Pirates’ drafting over a long period could be looked at one of two ways. Either they were one of the unluckiest teams in baseball, or the scouting department and front office had little to no knowledge of what in the hell they were doing. When the Pirates actually did draft or “develop” in-house talent, it was usually shipped out of town for a player or players that we never heard from again, unless they were blossoming for a different MLB team.

Well Pirates fans, if I may borrow a quote from Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changing.”

Going into the season, most of the preseason media guides had the Pirates farm system ranked at least eighth or higher. No longer do the Pirates have to look at their farm clubs and hope someone can break out and help the big club.

They have players capable of doing special things at each level of there respective farm clubs. Don’t even get me started about Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon. I could go on for hours. After losing last year to injury, Josh Bell is tearing it up. Gregory Polanco isn’t far off either.

Throw into that mix a healthy Charlie Morton who after pitching a rehab game the other night was called a “filthy animal” by Tallion for his 96-mph sinker. His fastball has been clocked in the mid 90’s during his comeback. Francisco Liriano and Jose Contreras are also on the way.

Pirates fans knew at the beginning of the season that the club needed a lot to go right for them to not just reach .500 baseball, but smash that wall down and not look back. It’s April 26. There is a ton of baseball yet to be played, but I can only comment on what I have seen so far.

This is a team that believes not only in what they’re doing, but they believe very strongly in each other. The formula so far has been to get what they can off the other team’s starting pitcher, keep it close, attack the other team’s bullpen and then turn it over to their own pen to nail it down. Besides a handful of games, I honestly believe they don’t panic regardless of the situation. They sit back and wait for their opportunity to strike.

Now before anyone thinks I’m planning a postseason party, let’s pull back the reigns a little bit. The Pirates still do need a lot of work. The starters need to go deeper into games to keep that bullpen fresh. The hitters for some unknown reason are watching far too many called strikes that are way too close to the plate.

Right now the Pirates have three legitimate starters. Jeff Locke had a great start against the Phillies, but I’m still not convinced he will stick. As far as Jonathon Sanchez, well, I don’t think I have much to say other than I’m sure he is a nice guy, and like I said before, we have more pitching help on the way.

The Pirates completed their series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday. They get to follow that up with the St. Louis Cardinals tonight and get to finish out the month with their recent nemesis, the Milwaukee Brewers. ESPN ranked Pittsburgh’s schedule as the hardest in the majors for the month of April. As far as I’m concerned, May isn’t looking a whole lot easier.

Right now, the Pirates are finding a way. Each night someone different is contributing to enable them to pull out victories that Pirates teams of the past would not have been able to accomplish. That fact alone should send a message to the rest of the major-league teams. Do the Pirates have chemistry? You bet your ass they do.

They also have some talent to go along with it. If, and this is a big if,  the Pirates can carry over their positives moving forward and keep battling until at least the beginning of June, they could be in a very nice spot. With their depth, they could be the ones who reap huge benefits if the Pirates chose to make a major move or two (Hello, Gerrit and Jameson, I do believe we will see you both before the end of the year). They could end up getting some serious value without losing a ton of our core young talent.

You may want to buckle up. I think it’s going to be a fun ride, Pirates fans.

P.S. – Pedro, keep mashing them! I’m lovin’ it!