The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to improve upon their 72-90 record in 2011 and the city of Pittsburgh is dying for a baseball team that can compete. Pirates baseball has recently just been an excuse to go have a few drinks and hot dogs at a beautiful stadium, as well as get you through the Steelers offseason.
However, 2012 will be the year that the Pirates become relevant again, and here are five reasons why:
Is there anything more bold than putting your faith in Pedro Alvarez? The second overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft burst onto the scene in 2010, hitting 16 homers in 95 games during his rookie campaign. Everyone expected him to hold down the middle of the lineup in 2011, but all we saw was strikeout after strikeout. Pedro finished 2011 with four homeruns in 74 injury-riddled games, with a .191 batting average.
We all heard the cries of "Bust!" as Pedro struggled to put the ball in play last season. I'm going to chalk that one up to the "Sophomore Slump" and make a bold prediction for Alvarez's 2012 season. Expect El Toro to hit up near the .260 mark, but send the ball flying out of the ballpark constantly. We'll see 35 homeruns and 93 RBI from Pedro this year as he establishes himself as one of the premier young power hitters in the league.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Pittsburgh Pirates will have four players in uniform for the 2012 mid-summer classic. Everyone was in awe when the Buccos had three representatives last season; now imagine what they'll think when there's four. Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan will make the trip for the second straight year.
The other two representatives will be Neil Walker as a reserve second baseman and James McDonald, who will sneak into the game, Kevin Correia-style. One of the starting pitchers voted into the game by the fans will be forced to skip the ASG festivities due to the "Sunday Rule", and J-Mac will be next in line to take the spot.
The four Buccos that travel to Kansas City will symbolize the strides that the club has taken, and the world will finally believe that baseball is relevant again in Pittsburgh.
Tony Sanchez was taken fourth overall in the 2009 MLB Draft out of Boston College. After hitting .309 and .314 in 2009 and 2010 respectively, Sanchez hit .241 last season in AA Altoona. Still, there is hope that Sanchez can be a great all around catcher in the MLB. Rated the 46th best prospect before the 2011 season by Baseball America, it is clear that Sanchez has promise.
When the Pirates are competing for a playoff spot come the July 31st trade deadline, they will be forced to mortgage some of the future in order for production now. Barring any sort of injury, Sanchez will be the asking price for the bullpen help that the Pirates will need.
Joel Hanrahan will be a dominant closer again in 2012, but as we saw last year he needs help. The Pirates will give up Sanchez for that help, and part ways with the former fourth overall pick.
The Pittsburgh Pirates rotation was a strong point through the first 100 games of last season. With the loss of Paul Maholm, the Bucs will need to fill that hole in the rotation with Brad Lincoln.
The rest of the rotation will be filled by James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, and Charlie Morton, assuming that Charlie recovers from his hip surgery on time. Now, that still leaves one spot in the five man rotation that most would assume should be manned by 2011 All-Star Kevin Correia.
Rather than have Correia in the rotation, the fifth starter will be the Buccos' big Free Agent, Edwin Jackson. Jackson was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA with the Blue Jays and Cardinals in 2011, and will be brought in by Neal Huntington in order to stabilize the young arms in place. At 28 years old, with nine years of experience, Jackson will be a great fit in the Buccos rotation.
We all know the story; the Pittsburgh Pirates have had nineteen straight losing seasons. Ever since Sid Bream went sliding safely into home plate to capture Game 6 of the NLCS in '92, the Pirates have lost. Fans of the team know nothing else. 2011, though, showed flashes of what could be, and expect that to carry over into 2012.
The Pirates will be surrounded early with the usual doubt. Jumping into first place after the first week, or even the first month, will be accompanied by the same pessimism that we are all too familiar with. This year, however, the Buccos will avoid a 2011-like collapse.
Not only will we hear Greg Brown and Tim Neverett "Raise the Jolly Roger" more than 81 times, it will be raised in October as well. You heard me correct. The Pittsburgh Pirates will ride the Cinderella card all the way to a Wild Card birth, and PNC Park will see its first ever playoff game.
Every Pirates fan's favorite song will be blasting from the PNC Park jumbotron as they watch their Buccos celebrate their first playoff win since 1992. The Pirates will capture Pittsburgh sports fans and we'll see terrible towels waving in the crowd as Hanrahan closes out the win. Can't you just picture it? Pittsburgh is a sports crazy town, and it's time to give us baseball fans what we've been waiting for.
Fans will reminisce about the 89 regular season wins, four All-Stars and countless Clint Hurdle double switches that was the Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 season. It will forever be remembered as the year that the Buccos broke the curse of Sid Bream, the curse of Barry Bonds, whatever you'd like to call it. It will be broken, and the Pirates will celebrate their first playoff win since 1992.
Until next time, Raise the Jolly Roger!