The Pirates are trying to eat an elephant–or break a losing streak of epic proportions. Children of Pittsburgh have never seen a winning Pirates ball club that isn’t on DVD or your favorite youtube channel. Everywhere you look the club is the laughing stock and most ‘experts’ say that a winning year will not happen until 2011. I tend to agree with the experts although my prediction is much more optimistic.
But can they do it? Sure. But how do they do it? The answer, as you know, is to eat the elephant one small bite at a time.
So in order to send the young fans off to college with their first winning season, the Pirates must tackle a daunting first half schedule. I would love for the young Pirate fans, now college juniors, to be able to look back and conclude that the months of April and May 2009 were the turning point.
So I first took a quick glance at the Pirate schedule this morning. Then I ran. Not like the Flock of Seagulls song or the ones that are able to read the scoreboard and invade in the final inning at McKechnie Field, but I ran. I had to get away. I appear to be more like the Pirates team that wants to escape Florida, but more on that later in the post.
I thought of Rumbunter’s Pirates motto. Pride. Passion. Patience. I am going to be patient and look at this season in small segments.
The Pirates record on April 27 is crucial. After the opener in St Louis, the Bucs have the Reds, who in their last spring in Florida, were owned by the Pirates dropping all but one game, so let’s say the Pirates sweep the Astros, Atlanta, and Florida series? The buzz would be begin. Take a few on the road in San Diego and Milwaukee? Rolling. Rolling right into a difficult stretch in May.
To start hot we need some big players to step forward in April. Three key elements to saving the Pirates season will be Andy and Adam LaRoche, insert your favorite slow starting LaRoche brothers joke here. Ladies and Gentleman-The 2009 starting Pirate rotation and finally please….. put your hands together for the Bucco bullpen!
Free Agent-to-be LaRoche and his brother Andy provide some power early in the season. The starting pitching does just enough to get to the sixth and seventh innings, Maholm is just dominant in the first three games he pitches, and the bullpen, which has looked like pyromaniacs this spring, shuts down the oppostion.
From the opener to wrapping up in San Diego April 26, the club will have one off day and will play 19 games. If any of those three keys (Corner infield, Starting, and Relief Pitching) falter in the slightest, we will fail to win any of those crucial first 19 games of the year.
But regardless of how the Pirates begin, April leads to a very tough May schedule. From the April 27th series in Milwaukee through the end of the Astros series in June, well…it just looks like a brow scruncher. Hell, of the first 19 series this season, 13 teams bring winning records from 2008.
How tough you ask? Well, the schedule looks like it could kill any of this talk about a different attitude this season. The Brewers, Reds, Brewers, Cards, Mets, and Cards make up the tough beginning of this late April to end of first week of June stretch. Mix in the Rockies and Nats (the only teams with losing 08 records on the schedule in the month of May) then finish the month at Ozzie’s White Sox, then the Cubs and Astros. Can you say make or break for the Pirates fan base? We are a moody bunch.
By June 1 this team will be the buzz of MLB or will continue on the joke circuit of late night TV, there is no middle ground with so little expected of the Pirates.
The bright side is the Pirates will have what appears to be, as these schedule analsyis are entirely based from last year, an easier second half of the season. But at least we have the fourth pick in the draft to be excited about in June should the Pirates fail to execute the start quick plan. Right? A few more years of patience will pay off. Just look at the Pirates prospects displaying their hitting prowess against the Twins in the final game of the spring.
To look back on spring training, it sure does appear that the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates were ready to break camp and run for St Louis-what started as a strong spring spiraled into PacManJonesin material seemingly overnight. After an offseason that didn’t reap what the front office had targeted Pirates fans had many questions to be answered.
In early spring, it was difficult to find a more exciting place to be for Pirates fans. Hope is always eternal, but this year it was hyped to a new level. We all basked in the Hope. I thought for a minute President Obama was going to be in camp. But how did this Pirate team, which in the beginning of spring sported a 10-4-1 record and appeared to be in position to have us proudly wearing Grapefruit League Champs shirts, fall to below .500 baseball over the last 14 spring games? We really wanted the Grapefruit League championship, well a little bit anyway.
Perhaps it was as early spring moved along and the future Pirates were sent down to minor league assisgnments, Pedro Alvarez and his Ruthian homers, Jose Tabata and his .500 OPS, and Andrew McCutchen and his timely hitting, the buzz seemed to turn into the reality that we are still years away. It seemed that mental errors grew. Basic fundamentals were lost as spring trudged into its final week.
The Tabata story seemed to add to the cursed Pirates conspiracy theories and then the unthinkable hit. The Manatee Community College Lancers and their 27-12-1 record beat our prospects.
To close out spring training, a case of stomach virus and sickness making the rounds didn’t help for certain, but nevertheless the Scholarships have been awarded and now the depth chart is set.
The first bite of the 162 game elephant is upon us. St Louis and music video star Rick Ankiel here we come….