Pirates: No Longer Adrift, Pirates Set About Making Things Right

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IMay 18, 2009

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 06:  Adam LaRoche #25 and Brandon Moss #44 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after they scored in the 9th inning against the of the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day on April 6, 2009  at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Sometimes, a slump ends quickly.  Sometimes it takes awhile longer.

After a sixteen-year slump, perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirates are finally ready to right the ship.

They are certainly trying to right the 2009 incarnation of it, going from an eight game losing streak to consecutive series victories. 

Pittsburgh is not yet ready to be crowned a contender or even an also ran, but the Pirates do seem primed to pack up and leave the National League's basement after sixteen seasons of less than mediocrity.

The 2009 Pirates still have some fight left in them, as evidenced by the way they've bounced back after their hot start ran face-first into a deep freeze.

Both Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche seem to have finally discovered first base and even its counterparts after early season swoons.  Andy's brother Adam has also seemed to find at least part of his batting average before the All-Star Break, fueling hope that he can yet emerge as a productive middle of the order threat.

Rookies Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz have filled in admirably for the injured Ryan Doumit.  Jaramillo has shed his stigma of being a defensive catcher with little offensive upside.  The free-swinging Diaz has been so good with the bat that he is drawing comparisons to legendary Pirate backstop Manny Sanguillen.

Jack Wilson and Nate McLouth have recovered from injuries and are showing good form at the plate and superb talent on defense. 

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Meanwhile, at the top of the order, Nyjer Morgan has emerged as the team's fastest and most dangerous weapon.  Right behind him, Freddy Sanchez has regained the form that won him a batting title two years ago.

The starting pitching, a bitter punchline for the 2008 season, has been superb so far in 2009.  Paul Maholm has picked up where he left off in 2008 while Zach Duke and Ian Snell have experienced a return to form under new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.

Kerrigan has worked wonders with first year starter Ross Ohlendorf and seems to be making inroads with fifth man Jeff Karstens. 

While the Pirates bullpen has been anything but good as a group, there have been some individual players shining through the disasters.

Sean Burnett, once a starter, has emerged as a consistent lefty out of the 'pen who is capable of hurling multiple innings and also of shutting down offenses.  After an early bout of inconsistency, Burnett has become nearly unhittable.

Evan Meek, so wild in his early season appearance in 2008, has been solid since coming up to replace the injured Craig Hansen.  Meek has a sub-4.00 ERA and is becoming more and more reliable and consistent with each outing.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been young Jesse Chavez, an afterthought during Spring Training.  Chavez made opening day roster seemingly due to Meek's illness.

Since then, however, Chavez has showed stunning composure and is, by far, the most reliable reliever on the current roster.  He looks like he has the stuff of a future closer.

The Pirates, sitting at 16-21 and still mired in last place, have nowhere to go but up after so many years stuck at the bottom.  The pieces are in place for the turnaround.  The execution in games is also starting to come around.

However, even with the expected contributions of farm hands Daniel McCutchen, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Shelby Ford, and Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates still need a couple of pieces before they can truly be in contention again.

On the pitching side, the Pirates still lack an ace starter and consistent bullpen help.  The solution does not appear to be in the minors, with Brad Lincoln, Danny Moskos, and Bryan Morris as the only touted pitching prospects outside of Triple-A Indianapolis.

Offensively, the team lacks a clear option behind Freddy Sanchez and, of greater concern, Jack Wilson.  Brian Friday and Brian Bixler are in-house options at short and Shelby Ford is considered the heir apparent at second, but none are exactly high ceiling guys.

Adam LaRoche will likely play himself out of Pittsburgh as well with his first year of Free Agency looming after the current season.  Pirates management also has to decide if the oft-injured by hot hitting Ryan Doumit is the long term answer behind the plate.

Once these questions are answered either from within or through the draft and free agency, the Pittsburgh Pirates may indeed be mentioned as a Cinderella story near you.