Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Reasons To Be Optimistic In 2011

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2011

Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Reasons To Be Optimistic In 2011

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    Andrew McCutchen leads a crop of young players trying to turn the Pittsburgh Pirates 18 year losing streak around.
    Andrew McCutchen leads a crop of young players trying to turn the Pittsburgh Pirates 18 year losing streak around.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Yes, the word optimism and the Pittsburgh Pirates does not ordinarily fit into the same sentence, but their are a few reasons for the city of Pittsburgh to look for the light at the end of an 18-year-long tunnel.

    The Pirates are coming off a 105 loss season, but with the additions of some veteran players and the continued development of the young players in the current lineup, the Pirates could be better this season. 

    I am not saying the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to win the NL Central and make a Tampa Bay Rays-like run to the World Series, but with the right mentality, timely call-ups, and an acquisition or two, the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates could be the group that get the infamous monkey off the organizations' back.

5. A Healthy Ross Ohlendorf

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    Ross Ohlendorf looks to bounceback from an injury plagued 2010 season.
    Ross Ohlendorf looks to bounceback from an injury plagued 2010 season.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Ross Ohlendorf compiled a 1-11 record with a 4.07 ERA in 2010.

    He also only threw 108.1 innings on the season. 

    Ohlendorf, as a starting pitcher, has to be able to get into a consistent rhythm every five days on the mound. While his record is nothing to marvel at, the 4.07 ERA leaves reason for optimism for the Pirates in 2011. 

    Consistency and repitition is so important for a pitcher, and if Ohlendorf can manage to stay healthy this offseason, he could provide a huge boost to a much maligned Pirates rotation.

4. Back End Of Bullpen

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    Evan Meek, along with Joel Hanrahan, give the Pirates a formidable one-two punch in the late innings.
    Evan Meek, along with Joel Hanrahan, give the Pirates a formidable one-two punch in the late innings.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Evan Meek was an All-Star for the first time in his career in 2010, bouncing between set-up man and the closer role for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Joel Hanrahan also bounced between the two late-inning roles, and managed to amass a 12.3 K/9 rating, which was good enough for third in the MLB.

    Seperately, they are two fireballing relievers hungry to be in the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation, so that they may get a chance to do what they do best. Together the two dynamic back-end bullpen talents form a great duo in the late innings. 

    The question is, can the Pirates rotation make their jobs count?

3. Clint Hurdle

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    Clint Hurdle looks to bring a new mentality to the 2011 Pirates team.
    Clint Hurdle looks to bring a new mentality to the 2011 Pirates team.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Clint Hurdle is a former Colorado Rockies skipper, and more currently the former hitting coach for the Texas Rangers.

    While in Colorado, Hurdle's best season was in 2007, when his Rockies team won 14 of 15 games to eventually get into the playoffs and lose in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox. 

    The common element between the 2011 Pirates team and that 2007 Rockies team is youth. Players, such as Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, must step up as young leaders in 2011, just as Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday did for Clint Hurdle in 2007.

    Coming from someone that attended Piratesfest 2011, Clint Hurdle is nothing but optimistic, as a new manager must be. He spoke of winning today, and being tired of the running joke that has become the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise. 

    The new mentality has to begin to take affect early in the season for the Pirates as they look to break their historical losing streak and get back to respectable status.

2. Pedro Alvarez

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    Alvarez finished the season strong, as he looks to become the power hitter the Pirates have needed.
    Alvarez finished the season strong, as he looks to become the power hitter the Pirates have needed.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Pirates have lacked a bonafide power bat in the middle of the lineup since 1992, when the losing streak began and the Killer B's, Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds, ceased to exist. 

    Pedro Alvarez can change all of that in the 2011 season.

    Alvarez got off to a slow start in 2010.

    He struck out too much, looked at too many strikes, and struggled to field his position efficiently. But Alvarez turned things around at the plate as the season went on, finishing with a .256 batting average to go along with 16 home runs and 64 RBI's.

    While it remains up in the air whether Alvarez will remain at the hot corner or eventually move to first base, Alvarez possesses tremendous upside in the power department and should be a mainstay in the middle of the Pirates lineup.

    Alvarez's production in the middle will be vital for this Pirates team as it moves forward in the 2011 season, especially with players like Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata getting on base ahead of him.  If Alvarez can produce as well as people expect him to, look for the Pirates offense to be surprisingly consistent in 2011.

1. Andrew McCutchen

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    Andrew McCutchen looks to lead a hopeful Pirates squad in 2011.
    Andrew McCutchen looks to lead a hopeful Pirates squad in 2011.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    This should come as no surprise to anyone that follows, or even knows this Pirates team whatsoever.

    Andrew McCutchen, at this point, is the end-all-be-all factor for this Pittsburgh Pirates team heading into 2011.

    After recently being named the best centerfielder in baseball by MLB Network, McCutchen looks to up the ante in his second full major league season. 

    A true five tool player, McCutchen can hurt you in numerous ways. He has excellent speed and continues to develop power as he matures and his body continues to fill out physically. He, along with Jose Tabata, patrol the gigantic chasm that is left-center field in PNC Park. McCutchen has also become the clubhouse leader for this team yearning for an image and a player to rally around.

    McCutchen can do it all, but is that enough for the Pittsburgh Pirates to compete in 2011? Only time will tell, but if I had to bet, I would bet McCutchen and Co. are looking to become the poster boys for a new era in Pittsburgh Pirates' baseball.