The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off back-to-back postseason appearances, but have yet to win the NL Central. Manager Clint Hurdle knows winning the division is more important than ever. Pittsburgh would avoid a Wild Card play-in game. They lost to the eventual World Series champs (San Francisco) in the WC play-in game last season.
The Buccos might possibly have the best young outfield in the Majors. Andrew McCutchen is a perennial MVP candidate, Startling Marte is an all-round offensive and defensive weapon and Gregory Polanco hopes to repeat the numbers he had in the minors before last year’s call-up. All three are under the age of 28 and should be stars in Pittsburgh for a long time.
Can the Pirates hold off the Cardinals and win their first division title since 1992?
Here is the 2015 MLB season preview for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
2014 Win/Loss Record: 88-74
Key Additions: SP A.J. Burnett, OF Corey Hart, SS Jung Ho Kang, 2B Sean Rodriguez, RP Antonio Bastardo, SS Pedro Florimon, C Francisco Cervelli, RP Arquimedes Caminero, RP Rob Scahill, SS Justin Sellers, SP Collin Balester, SP Clayton Richard, 2B Steve Lombardozzi & OF Gorkys Hernandez
Key Losses: C Russell Martin, SP Edinson Volquez, 1B Ike Davis, 1B Gaby Sanchez, RP Justin Wilson, RP Jeanmar Gomez, OF Travis Snider & SS Clint Barmes
Interleague Schedule: AL Central
Projected Starters: Francisco Cervelli, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen & Gregory Polanco
Projected Starting Rotation: Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke & Vance Worley
Closer: Mark Melancon
Fantasy Sleeper: SS Jung Ho Kang – The KBO League in South Korea isn’t known for their MLB-ready position players. Pitchers like Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu have come from the KBO, but Kang should be the first position player to play in the Majors. It’s difficult to predict what kind of player Kang will be in the Majors. He went from batting around .300, hitting 22 homers and stealing around 20 bases a year in 2012 & 2013…but then he went nuts in 2014. He hit .356, knocked 40 homers and only had three stolen bases. I doubt the power numbers will follow him into the Majors, but he could be a 15/15 guy this season. The Pirates will keep a close on the 28-year old during Spring Training. Jordy Mercer may start the season as the starting shortstop if they feel Kang needs some seasoning in Triple-A.
Prospects To Keep Your Eye On: SP Jameson Taillon – I thought Taillon would have a shot at making the Pirates starting rotation during last season, but he needed Tommy John surgery and missed the entire year. He is expected to start throwing live batting practice soon and will be more active in extended Spring Training. His innings will be limited this season, so he should at least have a cup of coffee with the team. He should be in Pittsburgh’s starting rotation to start the 2016 season.
Team Analysis: The Pirates went twenty years without a winning season from 1993 until 2012. They have since finished second in the NL Central in back-to-back years. They haven’t had much postseason success, but they are still a young team. Many of their top players are just reaching their prime.
It’s hard to pinpoint why the Pirates didn’t win the NL Central. I believe it was because they never adequately replaced A.J. Burnett in the starting rotation. Edinson Volquez did an admirable job for them, but Burnett is a World Series-winning pitcher. He’s the kind of veteran presence you want around Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke. They will be better pitchers because Burnett is back on the team.
The Pirates nearly have all their position starters back this season. Russell Martin left via free agency and the catching position will be a revolving door platoon between Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Both are excellent defensively, but I expect them to make a move at some point to strengthen the position.
The NL Central should be a tight race between St. Louis and Pittsburgh once again. There’s been a lot of talk about Chicago possibly challenging for the division crown, but they are still a year away. I believe the Cardinals will win the division and Pittsburgh will take one of the wild card spots (again).
2015 Wins Over/Under Betting Line: 85.5 (Prediction: OVER)
2015 Projected Win/Loss Record: 86-76 (2nd NL Central)
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.