Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Pirates proving me wrong

By Jeff

Prior to the 2013 MLB season starting, former contributor Mike and I made some wagers and predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Specifically, the amount of wins the team would get and how the new acquisitions like Mike Melancon and Francisco Liriano would turn out.

So far, it's safe to say I was about as wrong as one could be!

Looking at this lineup and rotation in the preseason, and there was nothing exciting. Other than Andrew McCutchen and AJ Burnett, I expected everyone to do poorly. The team looked like they were going to struggle to score runs and the starters, aside from Burnett and James McDonald, were going to get lit up on a regular basis. I predicted the Pirates would win less than 70 games.


The Pirates would be a playoff team if the season ended today. They are on pace for more than 90 wins and have created a sense of excitement and optimism for their fans. The team has collapsed the past two seasons, so there is still a chance I could win that bet. Of course, that's one bet I'd be happy to lose, as long as the Pirates make the playoffs.

In my defense, the offense hasn't been great. Pedro Alvarez is on pace for more than 30 home runs, but is striking out in 37 percent of his at bats. Andrew McCutchen has been hitting for average, but the power outbreak he had last year hit a snag (six home runs). As a whole, the team is in the bottom third of the National League in runs, average and OPS.

It's hard to imagine the team will continue its success when the team is atrocious with runners in scoring position. On the flip side, McCutchen is an All-Star who can start knocking some homers and Starling Marte is very dangerous on the base paths. This team's offense could catch fire like they did last June and July.

What has been the big surprise and the cause of the team's success is the pitching. Both the starters and relievers have been phenomenal all year. The team is No. 3 in the NL in team ERA and the league's best when it comes to batting average against. Who would have thought that coming into the year?

Liriano and Melancon have been a big part of that surprising success. Liriano has been striking out more than a batter an inning and his ERA is below 3 in eight starts.

In the bullpen, Melancon has been nearly unhittable as the eighth inning specialist. His 1.05 ERA and .90 WHIP is incredible. Especially when you consider he was terrible with Boston last year (6.20 ERA).

These guys have been getting a lot of help as well. Rookie Jeff Locke may be the surprise of the season. Last year he looked as if he had no right being in the majors, and this year he is 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

The only starters that didn't perform better than expected were McDonald and Jonathan Sanchez. Well, no one actually expected Sanchez to be any good, so does it count?

Now the team has called up top prospect Gerrit Cole, who has tallied two wins in his first two starts. I'm not sure he's thrown more than a few breaking balls yet, but that high 90s fastball has brought a spark to the team.

It's impossible to predict if the Pirates will choke away this season like they have the past two, but right now they are playing exciting and winning baseball. It's a fun ride that has me thinking it could last until October this time around. Granted, my predictions have been pretty terrible lately, so I probably just jinxed the team.


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