Monday, May 27, 2013


44-41, one game back. (2012)

45-36, sole possession of first place (2011)

For the past two seasons the Pirates have looked like a winner -- for half of a season.   Call it lack of experience, call it lack of talent, call it bad trades; for some reason the karma faded after the halfway point in 2011 and 2012.

So why should you believe this year will be any different?  As of this day, the Pirates are 11 games over five hundred, and just two games behind St. Louis and Cincinnati.  It's a dogfight already for the N. L. Central and history suggests the Pirates aren't deep enough and don't have the funds come the trade deadline to keep up with these two teams.
Here are three reasons why history might change:

1) Pitching - In 2012, the Pirates record in part was a reflection of an over-achieving James McDonald.  The once highly regarded pitching project had been plagued by control problems and had never put it together for an entire campaign.  For the first half of 2012, McDonald posted a 2.37 ERA combined with a rather fluky .196 BAA.  While he did finish the season with a much stronger WHIP than he had previously, his ERA bounced back up over four for the season again. 

In 2011, Jeff Kars tens also had a rather auspicious first half.  Considering he began the season as at best their fifth starter,  his 58K / 18BB strikeout-to-walk ratio allowed him to go deeper into games and face less hitters, and he posted a 7-4 first half record.

The Twins top prospect may
be regaining form.
This season the rotation has not only depth but veteran presence.  The acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez last season and more importantly, Francisco Liriano this year, brings two seasoned lefties to the rotation that can eat more innings and go deeper into games than their previous southpaws Erik Bedard and Paul Maholm could.  Sure, we've witnessed Liriano's lack of control since his TJ surgery, but pitchers moving from the American League to the National League often have initial success.  Examples can be found with Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia.  Now add veteran ace A.J. Burnett and prospect turned good Jeff Locke, and you have four solid arms.  Also on the DL with McDonald is rising prospect Charlie Morton and of course, Jeff Karstens.

The bullpen's addition of former Houston closer Mark Melancon, former A's starter/reliever Vin Mazzaro, and their core of Chris Leroux, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Bryan Miller, the lead-in for now closer Jason Grilli is strong and deep.  And don't forget about their minor league system, now loaded with two top arms in Gerrit Cole and Jamison Taillon. 

Blockbuster Trade(s) of 2012?
2) Defense - for the last few years the Pirates offense might not have put a ton of runs on the board, but their defense has steadily improved, going from dead last in 2010 to ranked 21st right now.  While that might not be a big leap in terms of error percentage, there is no doubt that the speed in the outfield now has the ability to take away hits, not to mention the improving glove of Pedro Alvarez at third.  The addition of Russell Martin behind home plate adds a veteran arm with the capability of keeping runners from adding to their singles.  He was ranked in the top five hardest catches to steal against by Bleacher Report this season.
3) Added batting depth - It seemed like a harmless few moves just before the trading deadline, but the deals that brought Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez and Toronto RF Travis Snider to the Bucs may have been one of the biggest coups in recent memory.  The Pirates gave the Blue Jays developing pitcher Brad Lincoln, and the Marlins speedy and raw Gorkys Hernandez.  Unlike the trade in 2011 that brought in past his prime Derrek Lee and low contact rate hitting Ryan Ludwick, these two prospects are still in their early and late twenties not only have higher ceilings ahead of them, they provided additional power bats at little cost.  Snider, once touted as a high power -hitting lefty has got to smile every time he sees the short porch in right field, and Sanchez can be part of a left-right platoon with Garrett Jones until he can become a full-timer (which is the Pirates hope).

Don't be surprised if 2013 is a lucky number for the Pittsburgh Pirates come this October.