Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates are looking to make it three straight years of playoff appearances. The Pirates and Cardinals will continue to fight for the top spot in the National League Central, as they have for the last couple of seasons, but the newly revamped Cubs are expected to also join the scrum atop the division in 2015, Stability was the key to the Pirates offseason, with the biggest defection being C Russell Martin signing with the Blue Jays. The core of the team, though, remains intact heading into the upcoming season, led on the offensive side by OF Andrew McCutchen.
The Pirates had the third-highest batting average and OPS in the National League in 2014 while their 156 home runs were also good for third most in the league. The team also averaged the fourth-highest runs per game, with 4.21. On the pitching side, the pitching staff had the fifth-best ERA (3.47). SP Edinson Volquez, who signed with the Royals during the offseason, had the second-best ERA (3.04) on the team last season among the starting rotation so his performance will have to be replaced if the team wants to have a similarly strong team ERA this season.
In 2015, C Francisco Cervelli replaces Martin as the team’s main backstop. He has a career .278 average, which isn’t bad for a catcher, but he doesn’t have much power and has never reached 300 at-bats in a season, so durability could be a problem for him as the season progresses. Another change is the addition of 3B Josh Harrison, who was a utility player for the team last season, is expected to be the regular third-baseman for the team, sliding 1B Pedro Alvarez to the other side of the infield. With Volquez gone, SP Gerrit Cole is expected to be in the rotation for the full season, leaving SPs Vance Worley and Jeff Locke to compete for the last spot in the starting rotation.
It looks like it’s going to be a three-horse race in the NL Central,and the Pirates should be right in the thick of it. I think the starting rotation is going to be the key to the Pirates’ season. If it can duplicate the success from last season, the team has a good shot at another playoff appearance. If the pitching regresses — a possibility with historically inconsistent pitchers like A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano — that could open the door for the Cubs to vault into the top two in the division.