2014 Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates
Part 3 of my National League Central preview focuses on the city where they filmed Striking Distance, and their favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. David at 6-4-3 Putout was nice enough to skip his weekly Ben Roethlisberger Fan Club meeting to answer some of my questions. You can follow David on Twitter at @RDavidK.
CSG: The end of the 2013 season was a lot of fun for Pirates and Reds fans (slightly more so for Pirates fans), resulting in a lot of people buying Pirates merchandise for the first time. Do you think those fans will stick around, or will there be a drop-off at the first sign of trouble?
643PO: I don’t think there will be much trouble among the fans if the team has an early season slump. The tickets are already sold and good will will carry them for a bit. (The local media, however, will be merciless.) If the team has a losing record this year then you’ll see a huge attendance drop in 2015.
CSG: One of my favorite things about baseball is that it’s all about multi-game series when you make the playoffs, not necessarily a one-and-done game. If you can, put aside the fact that it worked in the Pirates’ favor last season (dammit), how do you feel about the Wild Card being decided by one game?
643PO: I think it’s pretty horrible and goes against the flow of everything else that happens in the baseball season. I know it would have been crushing to me if the Pirates had, after 94 wins and all the good feelings that had been built, to have one loss and be done. The only point in favor of the current Wild Card set up is that it makes winning the division that much more important.
CSG: The Pirates’ offseason was about as productive as the Reds’. Which is to say that it wasn’t productive at all. With the departure of guys like Byrd, Burnett, and to a lesser degree Morneau, can the Pirates repeat the success of last year?
643PO: Absolutely. No, they’re not as strong as the team that ended last year but you can make a good case that they’re stronger than the team that started last year. It hurts to lose the the depth and experience provided by Burnett and Byrd (Good luck in Philly, guys), but the Bucs have good depth in RF (Travis Snider, healthy and hitting, Jose Tabata and Gregory Polanco) and lots of options for the rotation. First base was a wasteland last year so it shouldn’t be hard to do better than that this season with whoever they eventually acquire to either platoon with Baby Sanchez or take the job outright.
CSG: The Reds’ minor league system is pretty thin right now. Are there any guys in the Pirates system that you’re really excited to see get called up?
643PO: Everyone is excited about Gregory Polanco, a five-tool stud rated as the 3rd best OF prospect in baseball behind Byron Buxton and Oscar Taveras. Polanco is the real reason why no major effort was made to retain Marlon Byrd. He’s big, has power and a good batting eye and can fly down the line. In winterball he beat out a routine grounder to 2B for an IF hit. He’d be a centerfielder on almost any other team, but Andrew McCutchen has that locked up. He does need some time in AAA, so expect him to be called up in June or July, whenever the super-two cutoff has passed.
CSG: Edison Volquez. That’s not really a question, I just wanted to say: “Good luck with that.”
643PO: Oy, you’re telling me. You can see that the stuff is still there but just no consistency at all. I watched him warm up for a start in Bradenton and he was missing two out of three targets. I don’t have a lot of hope for a big turn around, but these guys turned Francisco Liriano into an ace and Vin Mazzaro into a useful bullpen piece, so anything can happen.
CSG: What are your thoughts on the newly instituted instant replay rule in MLB?
643PO: It’s about time. There will be a some hiccups while everyone figures out how to use it, but having more correct calls made can only be a good thing. I do wish they’d lost the challenges and just let the umps call for review.
CSG: Your prediction for the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates?
643PO: 88 wins, 2nd place. Contending for the second wild card spot. Cincy will be in a similar spot and I can’t see the Cards losing the division.