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Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

Pittsburgh Pirates: (62-99, 6th place in the N.L. Central in 2009)

Ah, the Pirates. The team of perpetual rebuilding, or so they’ve come to be known over the last two decades. Few stretches of futility compare with the Pirates’ postseason-less run. Last year, their seventeenth straight without an October run, at least showed a bit of promise to cap an otherwise dreary decade. Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen emerged as a solid offensive producer with plenty of potential yet to realize, and Garrett Jones highlighted a bunch of unheralded players who showed flashes of promise, but the team clearly needed to relieve itself of more dead weight and finished with a sickly 63-99 record.

Only McCutchen, Jones and Nyjer Morgan posted OBPs above .350 among the Pirates’ regular starters, and Morgan ended up being traded to Washington mid-season. In fact, four Opening Day starters ended up being dealt at some point last year, with Morgan, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson all being sent packing. It was another tumultuous season filled with losses and turnover, overshadowing the few bright spots found within.

Of the 16 N.L. teams, the Pirates ranked 14th or worse in runs scored, hits, home runs, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases. Of those same teams on the pitching side, the Bucs ranked 14th or worse in ERA and runs allowed and 13th in hits allowed. Optimism was, needless to say, in short supply.

2010 Season

Some in Pittsburgh are not without hope, though. McCutchen shows the promise of becoming a core player, someone the Pirates can build around to, hopefully, form a contending team in the near future. Prospect Pedro Alvarez seems likely to break into the M.L. lineup sometime this summer, and he should join with McCutchen to form a nice one-two punch in the middle of the order.

The pitching staff leaves a little bit to be desired. Zach Duke and Paul Maholm provided serviceable innings, and even Ross Ohlendorf submitted a decent season’s work (albeit with a bit of luck, holding batters to a .265 BABIP, the third lowest in the Majors last year). None of those is really a number one starter, though, and the bullpen isn’t exactly fraught with talent, either. All of the hope for the future of the Pirates – McCutchen excepted – lies deep in the minor leagues. Two-thousand ten likely won’t be a year of reckoning, where the Pirates rise in a 2008 Rays-like fashion to stun the baseball world, but at least 2012 is looking all right.

Hey, when your team has been as disappointing as the Pirates have been over the past two decades, you take what you can get. Honestly, I do see the Pirates winning more games, but for reasons neither I, nor their currently assembled roster, could rationally explain. But you know, I did hear this crazy story the other day about genetically modified pigs sprouting wings…

Prediction: 71-91

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