Pittsburgh Pirates: Why pitching will determine NL Central Crown

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All season, much has been made of the woeful offense of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Yet while the Pirates’ bats deserve all the criticism that they have received at this point of the season, it will be the Bucs’ pitching staff that will determine whether or not they will win the National League Central, or whether they will have to settle for a one-game Wild Card playoff.

Aug 24, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) prepares to deliver a pitch against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at AT

And that’s not just the case for the Pirates as they same thing applies to both the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.

All three teams get ready to begin the stretch runs with some questions in their pitching staff, but pitching wins this time of year and whichever staff performs the best will walk away as division champs.

Let’s take a look at how each team stacks up against the other.

Pittsburgh Pirates: While the Bucs certainly have their issues scoring runs, they have still won 76 games and are still tied for the division lead entering Monday. The Bucs’ abysmal offense is what it is, but they have proven that if they pitch well they can score just enough runs to win games. I don’t expect that to change.

The Bucs still have 12 games remaining against both the Reds and Cardinals, including closing the season by playing six of their final nine against Cincinnati. What that means is if the Bucs split against both St. Louis and the Reds and take advantage of the rest of their schedule in between, they should be just fine.

Of the three teams, the Pirates may have the least amount of questions in their pitching staff, but there still are a couple of questions that need accounted for, most notably how  much can Clint Hurdle count on youngsters Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole down the stretch?

The Bucs have the best team ERA in the National league at 3.19 and have the best bullpen of the three teams. Dubbed the “Shark Tank,” the Pirates bullpen should be a weapon down the stretch. Add to the fact that Jason Grilli is set to return in September and the Bucs best weapon is about to get even stronger.

I’m fairly confident that the likes of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton will give the Bucs an opportunity to win every time they take the ball.

For the Pirates to win the division Cole and Locke must do the same and that is something that appears easier said than done.

However if the two youngsters step up and answer the bell, I like the Pirates chances.