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On July 18th, the Pittsburgh Pirates found themselves in first place in the NL Central. The lead didn't last long, but it proved Pittsburgh can at least hang, if only for a short while, with division opponents. If the Pirates hope to have more lasting success in 2012, they will need their young offensive talent to improve, while the pitching staff will need to build upon it's successes in 2011.
The Pirates pitching staff currently ranks 12th overall in team ERA (3.84) in the MLB, led by Jeff Karstens (9-8, 3.32 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), James McDonald (9-7, 3.98 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) and Charlie Morton 9-9, 3.81 ERA, 1.54 WHIP). Joel Hanrahan (36 saves, 1.58 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) has proven to be a great pickup for Pittsburgh, becoming one of the most electric closers in baseball.
This is a staff that has pitched beyond what anyone expected, and will need to avoid a regression if the Pirates are to have a breakout 2012.
Offensively, the Pirates will need to build around Andrew McCutchen (Batter StatRank #38), Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez.
Alvarez, after enjoying a big September in 2010, has struggled mightily this season and will need to be the power-hitting, middle-of-the-lineup bat Pittsburgh expects him to be. It Pittsburgh wants to compete for a playoff spot next season, it may very well hinge on the development of this young third baseman.