Tag Archives: MLB

3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Minnesota Twins

The final AL Central team we preview in our monthlong series looking at all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Minnesota Twins, who came in last place in the division last season.

After winning 83 games in 2015, the bottom fell out for the Twins in 2016 and they ended the season with a 59-103 mark that was — by far — the worst record in the majors, nine games worse than any other team. Things got off to a bad start earlier this month when P Trevor May, who was expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, suffered a torn UCL that will likely require season-ending Tommy John surgery. The team didn’t make any notable moves this winter, with the most significant possibly being the addition of light-hitting C Jason Castro to take over starting duties behind the plate. He’ll be joining veteran 1B Joe Mauer and young players like DH Kennys Vargas and OF Byron Buxton on the offense. SP Ervin Santana leads a starting rotation that includes SPs Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson.

The Twins finished with the 10th-worst batting average in Major League Baseball last season, .251, but their 200 home runs placed them in the top half of the league and 13 more than the MLB average. Their .738 OPS was just below the league average. 2B Brian Dozier led the offense with a .268 average and 42 home runs, tied for the third-most in the majors. He ended the season with a .886 OPS. 3B Miguel Sano, who takes over the position full-time in the absence of Trevor Plouffe, who is now with the A’s, hit .236 last year with 25 home runs, the second-most on the team. Mauer hit .261 with 11 home runs, which was more than he hit the previous year despite playing in 16 fewer games. In 92 games, Buxton hit .225 with 10 home runs. OF Max Kepler hit .260 with the 17 home runs.

Pitching is where the team really struggled last season, finishing with a 5.08 ERA, the worst in the American League and second-worst in MLB, and 1,191 strikeouts, which was the fifth-fewest in the majors. As you’d expect with the team with the worst record in the majors, the Twins had the fewest saves with just 26, fewer than 18 pitchers recorded individually. Santana was the best of the bunch, posting a 3.38 ERA with 149 strikeouts in 181.1 innings. Gibson put up a 5.07 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 147.1 innings. And it just gets worse from there in the rotation. In the bullpen, RP Brandon Kintzler posted a 3.15 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 54.1 innings while recording 17 saves — not numbers representative of a good closer.

Looking ahead at 2017, there’s not much reason for optimism because they didn’t add any significant pieces to their roster in the offseason. If some of the younger players, particularly Buxton, can improve their stats the Twins may get some extra wins that they would have lost last year, but that’s not likely to cause a big improvement in their record. One thing the Twins have going for them is the eventual return of RP Glen Perkins, who had 30-plus saves each season from 2013-2015 but pitched in just two games in 2016 due to labrum surgery. He probably won’t be ready at the start of the season, but he should get the closer’s role back upon his return, and should do better at the end of games than Kintzler did last year.

The best the Twins can hope for this year is probably to avoid losing 100 games. Not exactly a lofty goal, but it’s probably the most realistic goal they can set with the roster they have. They’re probably going to win a few more games than last year because it’s hard to win fewer than 60 games in a season, but they will again be down there as one of the worst teams in the majors.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.mntwins.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Kansas City Royals

The next AL Central team in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Kansas City Royals, who came in third place in the division last season.

A season after winning the World Series, the Royals took a step back last season, finishing third in the division with a .500 record. The biggest story of the offseason for the Royals is the death of SP Yordano Ventura, who was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic on Jan. 22.

Back on the field, the team made a number of trades this offseason, but many of them were minor. The one that should have the biggest impact on the team was trading RP Wade Davis to the Cubs in exchange for OF Jorge Soler. Another trade acquisition who should be on the major-league roster at the start of the season is SP Nathan Karns, who came over from the Mariners in exchange for OF Jarrod Dyson. The team also signed DH Brandon Moss and SP Jason Hammel in free agency. They will likely slide into the roles vacated by DH Kendrys Morales and SP Edinson Volquez, who both left in free agency. Overall, none of the players they added or lost this offseason should have a major impact on the Royals in 2017. The Royals got a scare when C Salvador Perez was involved in a home-plate collision in the World Baseball Classic — with backup C Drew Butera — but it appears he escaped significant injury and should be ready for Opening Day.

The Royals finished in the top 10 in Major League Baseball with a .261 batting average, but their 147 home runs were the fourth-fewest in the majors and the fewest in the American League — and 30 of those home runs left the team when Morales signed with the Blue Jays. The squad’s .712 OPS also ranked as the fifth-lowest in MLB. 1B Eric Hosmer hit .266 with 25 home runs and a .761 OPS, while Perez hit .247 with 22 home runs and a .725 OPS. OF Alex Gordon added 17 home runs in 128 games and rookie 2B Whit Merrifield hit .283 in 81 games after being called up from the minors. OFs Lorenzo Cain and Paulo Orlando also hit for a decent averages — .287 and .302, respectively. With the Cubs, Soler hit .238 with 12 home runs in just 86 games, and Moss hit 28 home runs, but just a .225 average, in 128 games with the Cardinals.

The pitching staff posted a 4.21 ERA, which ranked in the bottom half of the majors, as did their 1,287 strikeouts. The team finished with 41 saves — two fewer than the MLB average — 27 of which were recorded by Davis. SP Ian Kennedy posted a 3.68 ERA with 184 strikeouts in 195.2 innings and SP Danny Duffy struck out 188 batters in 179.2 innings to go along with his 3.51 ERA. With the Cubs, Hammel started 30 games, posting a 3.83 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 166.2 innings. Karns started 15 of his 22 games with the Mariners last season but put up a disappointing 5.15 ERA — significantly below his 3.67 ERA from 2015 — but struck out 101 in 94.1 innings. In the bullpen, RP Kelvin Herrera — who is expected to take over the closer’s role this year with Davis in Chicago — went 12-for-15 in save chances with a 2.75 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 72 innings.

Perez escaping an injury in that collision with Butera is important for the Royals because he is an even bigger part of the team’s offense this season with Morales gone. While Moss has power to make up for some of Morales’ lost home runs, he does not hit for a high average and is a feast-or-famine type of guy. Soler will need to step things up this year to help out the offense after a regression in nearly 25 points of batting average from 2015 to 2016. One guy who will help improve the offense is 3B Mike Moustakas, whose season finished in May when he suffered an ACL tear that required season-ending surgery. If he can come back and produce numbers similar to 2015 — when he hit .284 with 22 home runs — he will settle nicely into the middle of the lineup.

There are definite questions about the quality of the starting rotation with Duffy expected to serve as the No. 1 with Kennedy behind him. Those pitchers are more middle-of-the-rotation guys so the Royals having to rely on them as their top starters doesn’t bode well for the season. Herrera should have the stuff to do well in his first full season as a closer, but the question is how often he will have a lead given to him to be able to close out games.

The Royals are a long way away from the team that won the World Series two years ago and are likely still around a .500 team like they were last year. The offense shouldn’t be bad, but the starting pitching will be the team’s downfall without a true ace on the staff. They’re still probably the third-best team in the division behind the Indians and Tigers and will miss the playoffs for a second straight season.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.royals.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Detroit Tigers

The next AL Central team in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Detroit Tigers, who finished in second place in the division last season.

The Tigers are coming off an 86-win season in which they failed to make the playoffs, but they have most of their stars returning so they should again be in the discussion for a postseason run. They traded for OF Mikie Mahtook, who joins Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez in the outfield. In the infield, you have 1B Miguel Cabrera and 2B Ian Kinsler, along with DH Victor Martinez. SP Justin Verlander leads the pitching staff, with RP Francisco Rodriguez ready to close out games in the ninth.

The Tigers’ .267 average was the third-highest in Major League Baseball and the team’s 211 home runs ranked eighth in the league and its .769 OPS was fourth. Unsurprisingly, Cabrera had the best offensive stats, hitting .316 with 38 home runs and a .956 OPS — he ranked ninth in the majors in average and sixth in OPS and had a 4.9 WAR. Upton tied his career high with 31 home runs, but his .246 batting average was more than 20 points below his career average. Three other players on the team also surpassed 20 home runs last season: Kinsler with 28, V. Martinez 27 and J.D. Martinez 22, who hit those in just 120 games while hitting .307.

The pitching staff finished in the bottom half of the majors with a 4.24 ERA and 1,232 strikeouts, but the bullpen’s 47 saves ranked ninth in the league. Verlander posted a 3.04 ERA in 227.2 innings — his most since 2012 — in 34 starts. He struck out an American League-best 254 betters — behind only Max Scherzer in the majors — and also led the AL with a 1.001 WHIP. He had a 6.6 WAR, which was ninth in the majors but the highest among pitchers, edging out Corey Kluber, who had a 6.5. SP Michael Fulmer had a strong rookie season, putting up a 3.06 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 159 innings over 26 starts. Rodriguez recorded 44 saves — more than 18 teams — with a 3.24 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 58.1 innings.

If guys like Cabrera, Verlander, Upton, Rodriguez and both Victor and J.D. Martinez can repeat their performances from last year, the Tigers would have another good season. A foot injury J.D. suffered recently could prevent him from being ready for the start of the season. Another problem is that a lot of the team’s best players are getting up there in age. So you would expect a natural regression for someone like Verlander or Rodriguez, who are 34 and 35, respectively. So it’ll be up to younger players like Fulmer, C James McCann and SS Jose Iglesias to get ready to take over as the stars when the older guys’ performances start to suffer. Another question with age is players tend to become more susceptible to injuries as they get older, so that could play a factor as the season progresses. But given how well the older players performed last season, any drop-off shouldn’t be too steep and they should be able to keep the team competitive throughout the season.

The Indians still appear to be the best team in the division, but the Tigers are right up there, as are the Royals. It should be a battle between those three teams for the AL Central title, but I think they’ll finish in the same order as last season with the Tigers in second place. That, then, opens up the question about whether they can compete with other teams to earn one of the AL’s two wild cards.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.tigers.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Cleveland Indians

The next AL Central team in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Cleveland Indians, who won the division last season.

The Indians last year came as close as a team can get to winning the World Series without actually getting rings, losing to the Cubs in the 10th inning of Game 7. Getting back for another shot at the Fall Classic is certainly on the radar for the Indians, who are returning the core of their team from last season, minus 1B Mike Napoli. They added to the offense, inking DH Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year deal. It’s not all good news, though, as 2B Jason Kipnis is looking like he’ll start the season on the DL as he deals with a strained rotator cuff that is sidelining him for at least a couple of weeks. In other injury news, OF Michael Brantley is progressing in his recovery from biceps surgery but isn’t a lock to be ready for Opening Day. It’s looking better for SP Carlos Carrasco, who appears to be on-track to start the season in the rotation after missing a chunk of 2016 with injuries.

The Indians’ .262 average was the fifth-highest in Major League Baseball last season, but their 185 home runs put them near the middle of the pack. Their .759 OPS ranked seventh in the majors. 1B Carlos Santana led the team with 34 home runs, hitting .259 with a .865 OPS to go along with the dingers. Rookie OF Tyler Naquin showed some promising signs in 116 games, hitting .296 with 14 home runs while veteran OF Rajai Davis hit .249 with 12 home runs, but he really excelled on the bases, nabbing 43 steals, the most in the American League and fourth-most in the majors. Kipnis hit .275 with 23 home runs last season.

In his 25 starts in 2016, Carrasco posted a 3.32 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 146.1 innings. SP Corey Kluber had a 3.14 ERA with 227 strikeouts in 215 innings — eighth-most in the league in both stats — over 32 starts. SP Trevor Bauer put up a 4.26 ERA with 168 strikeouts in 190 innings, and SP Danny Salazar posted a 3.87 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 137.1 innings. RP Cody Allen went 32-for-35 in save opportunities to go along with a 2.51 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 68 innings, but perhaps the most important member of the bullpen is RP Andrew Miller, who was acquired in a trade with the Yankees at the deadline, who posted a 1.55 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 29 innings with the team (1.45 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 74.1 innings overall in 2016).

Adding Encarnacion — who hit 42 home runs with the Blue Jays last season — gives the Indians a viable replacement for Napoli and provides some depth to deal with the injuries if they start to linger into the season. They have SS Francisco Lindor who provides the team offense at a position that typically lacks it. The Indians also get back C Yan Gomes, whose 2016 was essentially lost to injury. If he’s healthy, he can provide some pop out of another position not knowing for its offense. If Carrasco returns to form coming off his injury, he’ll form a strong 1-2 punch at the top of the Indians’ rotation with Kluber. If someone like Salazar or Bauer can take the next step in their career, the Indians could have formidable starting pitching, with two good relievers in the bullpen to close out games.

Injury concerns aside, the Indians are definitely the class of the AL Central. The injuries to Kipnis and Brantley don’t look like they’ll keep them out for extended periods of time this year and  the sooner they can come back, the more help they’ll give the Indians as they try to fend off the Tigers and Royals to repeat as the division champions. If they make it to the playoffs, they certainly have a better-than-average chance of advancing far again, possibly making it to the World Series for a second straight season — after waiting more than 50 years since their last appearance — perhaps for a rematch with the Cubs.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.indians.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Chicago White Sox

The AL Central teams are up next in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, with the Chicago White Sox, who came in fourth place in the division last season, up first.

The White Sox are clearly looking toward the future, having traded one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball and one of the team’s best hitters this offseason. The team traded SP Chris Sale to the Red Sox for a package of four players highlighted by 3B Yoan Moncada, then a day later traded OF Adam Eaton to the Nationals in exchange for SP Lucas Giolito and two other players. Moncada and Giolito are the players acquired in those deals who are closest to being in the majors, but neither is guaranteed to end up with a roster spot when the season starts. The team signed SP Derek Holland, who will likely slot into the bottom of the rotation while SP Jose Quintana is the definitive No. 1 starter with Sale in Boston. 1B Jose Abreu and 3B Todd Frazier will lead the offensive attack for the White Sox. The offense will be without 2B Brett Lawrie, who the White Sox released in March after one season with the team.

The White Sox finished in the top half of MLB last season with a .257 average, but their 168 home runs were the ninth fewest in the majors. The team’s .727 OPS also finished in the bottom 10 of the league. Abreu was the team’s best hitter overall, hitting .293 with 25 home runs and a .820 OPS. Frazier led the team in home runs with a career-high 40  — eighth-most in the majors — but that went with a career-low .225 average, 30 points lower than what he hit in 2015. Frazier finished the season with a .767 OPS. OF Melky Cabrera hit. 296 with 14 home runs.

The pitchers posted a 4.10 ERA, which placed them near the middle of the league. They finished the season with a below-average 1,270 strikeouts, and the bullpen ended up with 43 saves, which was right on the MLB average. Quintana led the starting rotation with a 3.20 ERA. He also struck out 181 batters in 208 innings in 32 starts. Young SP Carlos Rodon started 28 games and put up decent numbers, a 4.04 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 165 innings. SP Miguel Gonzalez put up a 3.73 ERA. With the Rangers last year, Holland pitched in 22 games — 20 starts — with a 4.95 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 107.1 innings. RP David Robertson saved 37 games in 44 opportunities, to go along with a 3.47 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 62. 1 innings. RP Nate Jones had a good season in a setup role, throwing 70.2 innings with a 2.29 ERA and 80 strikeouts.

There’s a lot of youth in the White Sox lineup this season, with the likes of SS Tim Anderson and C Omar Narvaez expected to get the starting jobs at their positions coming out of spring training. OF Charlie Tilson was also on track to land a starting job, but a recent foot injury will likely prevent that from happening. Abreu and Frazier are likely going to have to carry the team offensively as the young players adapt to major-league pitching. Quintana is a viable ace, but without Sale there’s not a strong No. 2 to slot in behind him. Rodon could eventually be that guy, but he has been pretty inconsistent in his first two seasons in the league. He’ll have to step up if he wants to be that guy to put up good numbers behind Quintana in the rotation. Robertson and Jones should be able to keep a lead when they get one handed to them, if they continue to pitch like they did last year.

Being in the same division as the Twins could be the only thing that saves the White Sox from being a last-place team this year. After trading away Sale and Eaton, the White Sox are clearly going to take a step backwards this season and are probably looking at 70-75 wins after winning 78 games in 2016. It’s a period of rebuilding for the White Sox that is probably going to take at least another couple of years, so White Sox fans should expect sub-.500 teams for the foreseeable future.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.whitesox.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

 

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: St. Louis Cardinals

Our look at the NL Central teams, part of our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, concludes with the St. Louis Cardinals, who came in second place in the division last season.

The Cardinals’ biggest acquisition of the winter to help in their pursuit of catching the defending World Series champion Cubs in the division was a former Cub, signing OF Dexter Fowler to a five-year contract. He’ll be joining OFs Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. The infield will once again by led by veteran C Yadier Molina and 1B Matt Carpenter, who missed the World Baseball Classic and some spring training action with tightness in his lower back. SP Adam Wainwright still sits atop the starting rotation, while RP Seung-hwan Oh handles closing duties out of the bullpen. Among the losses the Cardinals experienced this winter were SP Jaime Garcia, who they traded to the Braves, and OF Matt Holliday, who signed with the Yankees. The team will also be without SP Alex Reyes, who underwent Tommy John surgery in February that will result in him missing the 2017 season and potentially cause him to miss the start of the 2018 campaign.

Last year’s team hit .255, which matched the MLB average, and hit 225 home runs — the most in the National League and second-most in the majors — with a .767 OPS that was fifth in the majors. Piscotty had one of the best overall seasons among the Cardinals’ hitters last season, hitting .273 with 22 home runs and a .800 OPS, while Grichuk hit 24 home runs in 132 games to go along with a .240 average and .769 OPS. SS Aledmys Diaz hit .300 with 17 home runs and a .879 OPS in 111 games, and Carpenter hit .271 with 21 home runs and a .885 OPS in 129 games. Jedd Gyorko, who is expected to provide depth filling in around the infield, led the team with 30 home runs last season, which just missed making the top 10 in the NL, to go along with a .243 average. Molina played in 147 games, which is a lot for a catcher, and hit .307 with 8 home runs.

The pitching staff finished in the top half of the majors with a 4.08 ERA, but the team’s 1,290 strikeouts was below the league average. The bullpen recorded just 38 saves, the eighth-fewest in the majors and fewer than six closers had individually. SP Carlos Martinez led the starters with a 3.04 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 195.1 innings over 31 starts. Coming off an injury that limited him to four starts in 2015, Wainwright was able to start 33 games but didn’t put up good numbers; his 4.62 ERA was the worst of his career and his 161 strikeouts were the fewest since 2008, when he made only 20 starts. SP Michael Wacha also put up a career-worst 5.09 ERA and struck out 114 batters in 138 innings over 24 starts (27 games overall). In his first season in the majors after playing in Japan, Oh made 76 appearances, saving 19 games in 23 opportunities, to go along with a 1.92 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 79.2 innings.

The Cardinals have a good-enough offense to win games, but it’s their starting pitching that could limit their success this season. The offense could take a step back from last year, though, with Holliday gone and Carpenter dealing with the back issues that could cause problems if it continues into the regular season. Wainwright has a history of pitching well, but he’s now 35 and on the backside of his career, so his down year in 2016 is likely part of the natural decline as a pitcher gets older. If he can’t return to form with the way he pitched earlier in his career, someone like Wacha will have to step up to make up for some of the production lost with Wainwright.

The Cardinals are a good team but are disadvantaged by being in the same division as the Cubs, who are likely still the best team in the majors. The Cardinals are clearly the second-best team in the NL Central and should win enough games to get one of the National League’s wild cards, but they likely won’t be able to keep up with the Cubs unless the Cubs are hampered by injuries during the season.

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. And be sure to subscribe, check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.stlouiscardinals.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates

Our look at the NL Central teams, part of our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, continues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished in third place in the division last season.

If you watch the Pirates play in 2017, you’ll see a team whose core is essentially the same as it was last season. It’s somewhat surprising they didn’t go after any major free agents considering 2016 saw the Pirates win 20 fewer games than they did in 2015. The main change on the diamond is on the defensive side of things, with the outfielders changing positions. Andrew McCutchen is moving to right field, with Starling Marte in center and Gregory Polanco patrolling left field. Other than that 1B Josh Bell, who played 45 games in the big leagues last season, takes over full-time as the team’s starting first baseman. Pitchers Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow, who were on the major-league roster for part of last season, are expected to start the season in Pittsburgh as part of the starting rotation, joining SPs Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova.

The Pirates hit .257 as a team, which put them near the middle of Major League Baseball. They didn’t show much power, though, hitting 153 home runs — the fifth-fewest in the majors — to go along with a .734 OPS, which was below the major-league average. After being in the National League MVP discussion in 2015, McCutchen’s offensive production dropped last season, hitting .256 — nearly 40 points under his career average — although his 24 home runs were right on target with his average. McCutchen’s .766 OPS was by far the lowest of his career, nearly 50 points below his previous low. Marte played in 129 games last season and hit a career-best and team-leading .311, but he hit just 9 home runs, the first time since his rookie year — when he played just 47 games — that he failed to reach double digits in home runs. Rounding out the outfield, Polanco hit .258 with a career-high 22 home runs — 13 more than 2015 despite playing in nine fewer games. 3B Jung Ho Kang hit .255 with 21 home runs, and in his limited time in the majors Bell hit .273 with 3 home runs in 128 at-bats.

The Pirates’ 4.21 ERA put them in the bottom half of the majors, as did their 1,232 strikeouts. The bullpen recorded 51 saves, which was the fifth-most in the majors. Cole, who was dealing with an elbow injury for part of the season, started only 21 games  and put up disappointing numbers compared to 2015. In 116 innings, he posted a 3.88 ERA with 98 strikeouts, the first year of his career he finished with fewer than 100. Nova made 11 starts for the team after being traded by the Yankees and was surprisingly effective in those games, recording 52 strikeouts in 64.2 innings with a 3.06 ERA and a 5-2 record. Taillon made 18 starts in the majors, posting a 3.38 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 104 innings. RP Tony Watson spent the bulk of the second half of the season as the Pirates’ closer after the team traded RP Mark Melancon at the deadline. Overall for the season, Watson went 15-for-20 in save opportunities with a 3.06 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 67.2 innings, not up to par with elite closers but not that bad.

The key for the Pirates offense this year will be for McCutchen to get his average back up to the .290 range that he has averaged for his career. He can’t hit .256 again and expect the team to be significantly better because he is the heart of the offense. He needs to hit better this year so the team can put more runs on the scoreboard and have more of a chance to win games. A situation that is hanging over the Pirates is the legal trouble facing Kang, who was arrested in his native South Korea in December after a crash that resulted from him allegedly driving drunk. The team has placed him on the restricted list for now as he has been unable to obtain a visa to travel to America. It is unknown when he’ll get the visa so his availability for the start of the regular season is in doubt, which means 3B David Freese could see more playing time than expected if Kang’s legal troubles linger into April.

Much like McCutchen has to step up his game and return to the performance people have come to expect from him, Cole is in a similar situation as he hopes to lower his ERA from near 4.00 to closer to the 3.00 range. If they want to stay in the rotation all season,Taillon and Kuhl need to prove that they can perform well in the majors if they don’t want to get sent back down to the minors. Although he’s a veteran, Nova similarly needs to prove to the team that the good numbers he put up in less than half a season with the team last year weren’t a fluke because they were significantly better than what he has done for the majority of his career. Continuing with the prove-you’re-legit theme, Watson needs to improve his numbers a bit to solidify himself as a legitimate closer.

The Pirates won 78 games last season and I think they’re a little better than that. They’re probably about a .500 team but not much better than that. I think they’re still the third-best team in the division and probably won’t be able to pass the Cardinals to move up to second place in the division behind the Cubs.

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. And be sure to subscribe, check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.pirates.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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