2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Look to Build on Strong 2018 Showing

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 10: Francisco Cervelli #29 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates with Josh Bell #55 after hitting a solo home run in third inning against the New York Yankees during the Grapefruit League spring training game at Steinbrenner Field on March 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to build on a strong 2018 showing with one of the strongest pitching staffs in baseball. A new-look middle infield, returning veteran outfielders, and the comeback seasons of Jung Ho Kang and Josh Bell will only add to this team’s coming success.

2019 Pittsburgh Pirates

Recent History

In the past few years, various players that had donned the black and gold have moved on from the Steel City. The most notable among these players are Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer. Besides these typical starters, the bullpen has changed substantially as well with veterans such as Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, and top-ranked prospect Tyler Glasnow.

Despite all of these changes, the Pittsburgh Pirates finished the 2018 season with a record of 82-79, their best record since the 2013-2015 span when they were in the playoffs each year. Despite this success, the depth of the National League Central prevented Pittsburgh from reaching the postseason and saw them finishing fourth in the division.

NL Central

This past off-season, the division got even stronger as the Cincinnati Reds traded for multiple Los Angeles Dodgers players, including slugger Yasiel Puig, veteran outfielder Matt Kemp, left-handed starter Alex Wood, and utility player Kyle Farmer.

The Milwaukee Brewers are coming off a 96-67 record and a first-place finish in the NL Central, tying their 2011 wins record for the most in franchise history and are looking to continue their success.

The St. Louis Cardinals added an MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt, and the Chicago Cubs are returning most of their starting roster from the World Series championship from a few years ago.

Pirates Free Agency Moves

As usual with the small-market Pirates, there were no splash moves made in free agency. What Neal Huntington did accomplish was bolstering his pitching staff with competition for the fifth spot, because of typical rotation player Chad Kuhl missing the entire 2019 season with Tommy John Surgery and Ivan Nova being traded to the Chicago White Sox.

Huntington brought back veteran Francisco Liriano, added Jordan Lyles, and added to the bullpen with the signing of hurler Rookie Davis. Also, with Gregory Polanco‘s shoulder injury, a short-term need for a right fielder arose, and Huntington found switch-hitter Melky Cabrera who can add some pop from both sides of the plate.

How the Pirates Stack-Up

Starting Rotation

The 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates have arguably the best starting rotation in Major League Baseball. Jameson Taillon is the ace, earning a career-high 14 wins last season, boasting an ERA of 3.20 and two complete-game outings. Chris Archer was added at the trade deadline and went 3-3 in 10 outings as he had not settled in completely in his new role. With the off-season work, and an added aspect of the Pirates newfound power at the plate, Archer will perform much better this upcoming season, most likely being the number two rotation guy.

Joe Musgrove is coming off his first season in Pittsburgh in which he was rather injury prone. When he was healthy, he threw with a ton of gas and showed very real emotion on the field. The most memorable of these moments last season came when Musgrove slid hard into Javier Baez at second. This slide came in response to Anthony Rizzo‘s dirty slide into catcher Elias Diaz the night before. Musgrove started to walk towards the dugout when Baez starting jawing at him, and Musgrove went back for some more. The benches cleared in support of their pitcher.

This passion, followed by his ability to place pitches, is going to lead him to a very successful season. Meanwhile, Trevor Williams was an unsung but very talented pitcher last season with 14 wins and an ERA of 3.11.

Bullpen

The Pirates bullpen, for the first time in a while, is very impressive. Despite their youthfulness, everyone can strike batters out consistently. Felipe Vazquez is one of the deadliest closers in the league. Add in Keone Kela who will share Vazquez’s load as a power-throwing set-up pitcher and Richard Rodriguez with his repeated successful outings.

Long arms Steven Brault and Nick Kingham could see some starts this season as well. Kyle Crick will produce highs and lows this season but will add to this successful staff.

Offense

The Pirates offense last season saw some success with the fourth highest batting average in the National League at .254 while ranking ninth in on-base percentage with .317. The one thing missing from the lineup was home runs. Star first-baseman Josh Bell went from hitting 26 home runs with a .436 slugging in 2017 to only hitting 12 in all of 2018.

If spring training showed anything, this new Pirates lineup can hit home runs, including timely ones. Kang is back after his troubles of the past two years, and he led all Major Leaguers in spring training with seven homers. Francisco Cervelli added four more, and twenty other Pirates hit at least one long ball this spring.

If you take the success of last season, the impressive pitching staff and the timely hitting, while adding in the home runs, there is no ceiling for the Pirates this season. As Greg Brown says, “Clear the deck, cannonball coming!” Those cannonballs will lead the way into a successful 2019 season.

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