Pittsburgh Pirates 2009 Season Preview

Tom FroemmingCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2009

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Outfielder Nate McClouth of the Pittsburgh Pirates  poses for photos during spring training media day on February 24, 2008 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't enjoyed a winning season since 1992.

That year, it appeared as though the Pirates were World Series bound, but the Atlanta Braves had a comeback victory in Game 7 of the NLCS, scoring all three of their runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win 3-2. Pittsburgh never recovered.

Also that year, Barry Bonds won the second of his seven MVP Awards, Bud Selig was named interim commissioner and there were only 26 teams in Major League Baseball.

If the Pirates can't get over the Curse of Sid Bream this season, they will have their 17th consecutive losing season, setting not only a MLB record, but an U.S. pro sports record.

Pitching Problems

The 2008 Pirates posted a Major League worst 5.08 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

The encouraging news is the staff improved after the All-Star break. Their ERA dropped 0.38 and they shaved 0.10 off their WHIP, but the the offense tailed off. The team's OPS dropped 44 points after the break.

Hope For Maholm

Pittsburgh's only starter who showed any signs of becoming a consistent MLB pitcher was Paul Maholm.

The lefty's 9-9 record doesn't jump off the page, but he posted a 3.71 ERA and pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his career. The 26-year-old has already made 96 starts for the Pirates. and has a respectable 4.30 career ERA.

He probably won't ever develop into a true ace, but he's by far the Pirates' best pitcher.

Pleasant Surprise

Nate McLouth came out of nowhere to be one of the best center fielders in baseball last season.

He took the starting job and ran with it, hitting .276 with 26 home runs, 94 RBI, 113 runs and 23 stolen bases. He also led the NL with 46 doubles, was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove.

The former 25th round draft pick started last year with a 19-game hitting streak.

Doumit Takes Over

Catcher Ryan Doumit failed to make an impression in stints with the Pirates each of the previous three seasons. Last year, however, he finally put it all together, hitting .318 with 15 homers and 69 RBI.

He'll probably never rank amongst the league's best defensive catchers, but few backstops possess the kind of power potential Doumit has.

Capps Back

The Pirates' bullpen suffered without closer Matt Capps, who missed two months with shoulder problems.

Capps still managed to make 49 appearances and picked up 21 saves. The 25-year-old boasts an impressive 3.06 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 214 games.

Other Notes

Adam LaRoche overcame his traditional slow start (he hit .163 in April) to hit .270 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI.

Adam's younger brother Andy struggled after being acquired from the Dodgers, hitting .152 in 49 games with the Pirates.

Top prospects Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen are expected to make their MLB debuts at some point this season.

Freddy Sanchez posted his worst batting average (.271) since becoming a regular in 2005.

After a breaking out in 2007, Ian Snell went 7-12 with a 5.42 ERA and Tom Gorzelanny went 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA.

Eric Hinske, who hit 20 homers for the Rays last year, was brought in to bolster the bench.

Lefty John Grabow had a career year, posting a 2.84 ERA in 76 innings out of the bullpen.

Jeff Karstens showed signs of promise, posting a 4.03 ERA in nine starts after being acquired from the Yankees.

After looking like a stud in his first MLB stint (8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 2005), Zach Duke has struggled. He was 5-14 with a 4.82 ERA last season.