There’s certainly a lot of gloom and doom surrounding the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates as they get set to open their season. After all, the Pirates only won 75 games last year and then traded away their top two players, Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole for a variety of prospects and suspects. They were the only team in Major League Baseball to not sign a free agent this past off-season.
2018 Pittsburgh Pirates Could Have a Bad Year Becuase of Pitching
The team’s play in this spring’s Grapefruit League also didn’t inspire much confidence as they finished next to last with an 11-19 record. So, are there any valid reasons to believe that the Pirates can improve on their fourth-place finish last year in the National League’s Central Division?
Well, actually there is some room for optimism. The Pirates everyday lineup should be decent. While it has plenty of question marks, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the lineup could be above average. To start with, there is the middle infield where veterans Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison will man the shortstop and second base positions, respectively. While neither is spectacular, both are solid players who should provide stability for a team in transition. Josh Bell had a breakout rookie season at first base last year with 26 homers and 90 runs batted in with a .255 batting average. He has the look of a slugger, who will only get better in the coming years.
Rounding Out the Lineup
The rest of the lineup does have a number of questions, particularly behind the plate where Francisco Cervelli played in only 81 games last year. Centerfielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco must also rebound from sub-par seasons in 2017. Suspended for half the season for using steroids, Marte played in only 77 games. Plagued by injuries, Polanco played in only 108 games. Both, however, have proven to be good players when healthy and available.
The other major question marks are in left field and at third base. The Pirates did acquire Corey Dickerson from the Tampa Bay Rays and he should be their everyday starter in left field. The question is which Dickerson will show up. Will it be the guy who slugged 21 homers through the end of July last year, or will it be the man who struggled after the break, batting only .203 in September with 25 strikeouts in 74 at-bats. Third base, for now anyway, belongs to Colin Moran, who came to the Bucs in the trade for Cole. Moran did show some promise for the Astros, batting .364 in seven games before an injury ended his season prematurely.
The bench should also be at least adequate with Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez, David Freese and possibly Jose Osuna all able to play multiple positions and provide some power at the plate. But while the everyday lineup may be a plus, nothing of the sort can be said for the pitching staff, which will ultimately determine the fate of the Pirates season.
The only solid starter is Jameson Taillon, who had a good rookie year in 2016 but saw his ERA balloon to 4.44 last year as he battled cancer. Trevor Williams also did well, last year, especially after the All-Star break when he was 4-5 with a 3.35 ERA. Chad Kuhl‘s ERA was 3.63 ERA after the break, but he’s looked lost this spring with a 10.06 ERA. Ivan Nova was 2-8 after the break with a 5.83 ERA and showed little improvement this spring with an 0-2 record and a 4.85 ERA. Meanwhile, Joe Musgrove also acquired in the Cole trade, went 1-1 this spring with a 6.94 ERA.
But as bad as the rotation could be, the bullpen even looks worse.
The Bucs have a good closer in Felipe Rivero who had 21 saves last season with a 1.67 ERA. George Kontos, acquired from the Giants late last season, also did well as a setup pitcher, going 1-1 with a 1.84 ERA. In the bullpen for now are left-handers Josh Smoker and Steven Brault and right-handers Edgar Santana, Michael Feliz, Dovydas Neverauskas and Tyler Glasnow. None of them have proven resumes, and it seems unlikely that they’ll provide the depth needed for a good bullpen.
With the promise of the everyday lineup, it makes you wonder how good the pitching staff could have been if the Pirates had spent some of that money saved in the McCutchen and Cole trades for a veteran starter and reliever.
But the Pirates seem determined to go with the youngsters, especially on the mound, and that could well spell the downfall of the 2018 Bucs.
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