Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Reasons Why They Can Contend in the NL Central
FIRST: Starting Pitching
Led by new acquisition, Kevin Correia and a resurrected Charlie Morton, the Pirates now can boast of a starting staff that garners respect. Paul Maholm continues to surprise, leading the staff with 22 k's in 30 innings.
Morton, however, has been a wunderkind, throwing with authority, velocity and moving the ball all around. Last year, he was pitching batting practice to the rest of the league. This year, he's clearly in command when he starts. This is the Charlie Morton the Pirates coveted when they traded for him in 2009.
The Pirates now sport a collection of bullpen arms that can get the ball to the plate in a hurry, led by the "Singe Twins", Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek (either of whom can light the gun at 100 on any given night).
The Pirates have added Chris Resop, rookie Mike Crotta (a converted starter), ex-Marlin Jose Veras, and Daniel McCutchen to the relief corps—all of whom can throw the ball in the mid-90s routinely and most importantly, for strikes.
Pirate fans have gotten used to getting indigestion in watching the bullpen self-destruct in recent history. This season, the opposing fans can enjoy some indigestion each time they see a Pirate reliever sauntering in during a pitching change.
THIRD: FIRE POWER
Call me crazy, I just can't help but recall a young Hank Aaron each time I look at Andrew McCutchen. "Cutch" has a great deal more foot speed than the Hall-of-Famer, but a nearly identical build—not to mention the same quick wrists.
Neil Walker has gelled into a hitting machine, just picking up where he left off last year. Jose Tabata is another disruptive table-setter with great speed and a live bat. There's good power in the middle of the order from the likes of Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Doumit. Offense is important. but these guys can work some leather, too. There's ample speed in the outfield to take away big innings.
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FOURTH: THE BENCH
In recent years, the Pirates were in deep trouble in the event of an injury to a starting fielder. The band aide solution of summoning a green kid up from the minors was utilized most often with predictable results.
The Pirates bench this season is very solid. They've added former Brave Matt Diaz during the off season for some veteran presence. John Bowker came over late last year from the Giants and brings some power for late game heroics.
The plum acquisition happened when they snatched former Baseball All-America Triple A All-Star Brandon Wood off the waiver wire from the Angels. Wood has experience at three infield slots and even could wind up wresting the shortstop job from veteran Ronny Cedeno.
The Pirates also bolstered the bench just days ago by acquiring outfielder Xavier Paul in a waiver deal from the Dodgers. Paul has torn up Triple A pitching but has consistently found no room at the inn in Los Angeles. He brings along good speed, as well as an excellent glove to go with his live bat.
FIFTH: CLINT HURDLE
Clint is the mechanism that keeps the drive wheels gripping the road. As manager, Hurdle brings a no nonsense approach to handling players and getting the best out of each and every man on the roster. Under his tutelage, there has been renewed purpose and hustle. Under John Russell, the indifference was so thick, one could slice it into sandwiches. Just ask Ronny Cedeno now about not hustling.
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