Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 5 Reasons Why They Will Finish Above .500 in 2011
If you forgot that the Pittsburgh Pirates were a Major League team, I don't blame you.
Being a Pirates fan is possibly the most difficult job in sports. The only thing I would consider worse would be being a fan of the Seattle Supersonics or the Montreal Expos or some other team that left right in front of your eyes.
The last time the Pirates finished with more wins than losses was 1992. I was four years old. Yes, you read that correctly. Four years old!
While Cubs fans may think they are in the worse shape, or Royals fans, or whomever, consider that your team still has had a winning season since the following events were true:
- George Bush was president (the first one)
- There was only one war in Iraq
- The world's beloved Justin Bieber wasn't even born yet
- Charlie Sheen was more known for being Wild Thing, instead of a legitimate threat to society
Why then, is this the year that the Pirates will finally go at least 82-80?
Read on to find out the top five reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates will finish above .500.
5. Overhaul of the Pitching Staff
Here is a stat that might make you head spin:
According to the Pirates website, the pitching staff was dead last in the NL in ERA (5.00), losses (105), saves (31), complete games (one), hits, runs, earned runs and strikeouts.
That's eight major categories. EIGHT!
Regardless of the improved hitting effort last year by the team, no team is going to succeed when their pitching staff is at the bottom of the league in eight categories.
This offseason, the Pirates made a concerted effort to improve. Gone are Zach Duke and Jeff Karstens from the rotation (two of the top five in games started).
They have been replaced in the rotation by James McDonald and Kevin Correia. While McDonald started a number of games after coming over from the Dodgers last year, he proved that he has the potential to be a great pitcher. A number of fantasy experts, including ESPN's Matthew Berry, predict that he will be a breakout star this year.
On the other hand, Charlie Morton, and his 7.57 ERA, is still in the rotation, so don't get too overjoyed.
4. Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker Have Arrived
For years, Pirates fans have been told that Alvarez, Tabata and Walker would be the future of the team.
Pirates fans have been told this story numerous times, so excuse us for not necessarily believing.
On the other hand, Alvarez, Tabata and Walker all appear to be the real deal.
ESPN projects Alvarez to have 26 home runs and 104 RBI this season, while many have projected Tabata and Walker to be sleepers in fantasy drafts.
The fact of the matter is that the Pirates have young talent at key positions that has already proven they can deliver at the Major League level.
Hopefully, they can exceed expectations and lead the Pirates to a winning season.
3. Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen has been one of the best kept secrets in all of baseball, up until this season.
Pirates fans were happy with that too because we wanted him to fly under the radar, so that he didn't go the route of Jason Bay and leave for greener pastures when his contract was about to expire.
McCutchen is the definition of a five-tool player. He can hit, run, field; basically, he can do it all.
Nothing is more breathtaking than watching him hit a deep fly ball to left center field at PNC Park and attempt to leg out a triple.
McCutchen has gotten huge fantasy buzz amongst fantasy leagues as well, going amongst the top 10 outfielders in most drafts.
This will continue to place pressure on his shoulders, but he has proven he can withstand it.
2. Clint Hurdle
It is great to have a "name" as a manager after the John Russell experience.
Don't get me wrong, Russell knows baseball, but it appeared that he was not the master motivator who got players excited and made them want to risk everything to win.
Clint Hurdle is that man though. He got a mediocre Rockies team to the World Series in 2007, and even though they got shellacked by the Red Sox, they outplayed their potential, which is something the Pirates need to do.
It is interesting to note though that the man who replaced Hurdle with the Rockies, Jim Tracy, was the Pirates manager prior to Russell. Tracy, as we all know, did a subpar job of turning the Pirates into a contender.
Hopefully, Hurdle has different luck. Based on all accounts, he has generated a ton of excitement throughout the organization; something it has lacked since the days of Barry Bonds.
1. Commitment to the Young Players
For years, it appeared the Pirates plan was to retool with worn down veterans that were castaways from other organizations. Then, they would either outperform on the Pirates and end up being traded (Kenny Lofton) or be absolutely horrific (Derek Bell, Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa, Randall Simon, etc.)
Although the Pirates signed Lyle Overbay this offseason, their remains a commitment to let young players grow into their roles as key contributors.
Pirates management has expressed that they are going to rebuild through the farm system and the draft (the Pirates have made huge commitments to overpaying high school talent to ensure that they enter the farm system).
Furthermore, it appears they have finally reached the point where the trade deadline won't be an open shopping spree on the Pirates top players.
Too many times have we seen the Aramis Ramirez's and Jason Bay's of the world traded away for 20 cents on the dollar.
With the exception of Ryan Doumit, expect no Pirates to be traded at the deadline, as management has expressed that this is the team going forward.
Let's hope that by gaining experience last year, this young Pirates team can take a step forward and finish above .500 for the first time in many of their collective memories.
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