Black and Golden Age: Pittsburgh Pirates WIN the NL Central in 2015-Part I


Sep 22, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; A Pittsburgh Pirates fan waves a jolly roger flag against the Cincinnati Reds during the ninth inning at PNC Park.The Reds won 11-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates will win the National League Central in 2015…

When I was a youngster playing Little League I dreamed that I’d grow up to be the next Mike Schmidt. Crazy, sure, but don’t tell that to an amped nine-year-old in the throes of the District 12 Championship Series.

Such dreams end when the rooster crows at the dawn of the age of reason. I’ve spend my physical peak clicking a time clock with the measured frequency of a well-oiled cog, signing autographs on performance appraisal forms instead of kids’ baseball caps, and passing weekdays with all the verve of a mannequin who wandered out of the business casual section of Macy’s after being brought to life by the fairy godmother of corporate America.

No matter. Baseball is a game for dreamers. And I am, after all, a baseball writer. Although I have grown too old to be the next Mike Schmidt, I am not too old to occasionally sack the blasted rooster and dream like a nine-year-old again. And so I shall.

The Pittsburgh Pirates WILL WIN the National League Central in 2015. Yes sir, this is the year. Here’s why…

Part 1: The Position Players:

More from Pirates News

El Toro will strike again…and again…and again…and again…

Pedro Alvarez will not return to his 2013 form — he’ll best it. After a horrific season at the hot corner in 2014, the Big Bull will experience defensive nirvana at the less throwing intensive first base position. A newfound piece of mind will translate at the plate. He’ll clubber 40+ home runs while routinely laying-off a barrage of breaking balls out of the zone. By season’s end, “Little Bulls” — as hordes of young Pedro Alvarez fans will call themselves — will tuck their ears in their ball caps in salute to the 2015 home run king.

Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco will battle for the title of second-best Pirates outfielder:

I’ve written before that Marte is an egg about to crack in the basket of stardom. In 2015, the egg shell shatters into a million pieces. He’s a 20-20 man…by September. Marte will retain the plate discipline he exhibited in the second half of 2014, and cover left field like a rain tarp. Par-Tay!: Opening Day – ???

The golden boy mans the other side of the outfield. Polanco will rise like a helium balloon to the high ceiling scouts have raved about for years, and he’ll float there all season. The pinpoint throws launched from right field and streaking toward the plate will earn him a topical title: Dominican Sniper.

Andrew McCutchen will be Andrew McCutchen.

Josh Harrison will prove that his coming-out campaign was no aberration:

The 8th runner-up to the 2014 MVP Award returns. Remember that opposite field power? No? You’ll be reminded in 2015 as Jay-Hey again sprays the ball to all fields while maintaining a .300+ average. But this year he won’t just flash elusiveness during rundowns — he’ll disappear completely, and reappear at home plate. Oh, and fret not; the throws from the new third baseman will find their way to the ex-third baseman’s new mitt.

Russell Who?

“I can’t recall who that scrub was behind the plate last year, but this new guy is solid.” –Pirates fan, circa 2015.

Why, that’s Francisco Cervelli. They newly acquired catcher will, at the very least, be a passable carbon-copy of the dearly departed Russell Martin. Cervelli will handle the staff with poise and know-how, frame pitches like it’s his job (because it damn well IS), and throw out runners closer to the career “Russ Rate” of 32%. And his hitting will be, ah, serviceable. Most importantly, he’ll avoid the DL like a pulled hammy.

By season’s end, “Little Bulls” — as hordes of young Pedro Alvarez fans will call themselves — will tuck their ears in their ball caps in salute to the 2015 home run king.

The Pittsburgh Kid’s stellar performance (again) will warrant chatter (again) of a contract extension:

Neil Walker owns the Pirates second baseman all-time home run record, amassing 23 home runs, and 76 RBI, in 2014. He’ll flirt with that total again this year, and post Silver Slugger type stats from both sides of the plate. His defensive range will not improve. However, it won’t worsen either as age and health — specifically back issues — don’t impede his performance. Regardless of whether or not they should, Pirates brass will be forced to deeply  consider signing Walker to a long-term contract, thus keeping the Pittsburgh Kid a short jaunt down Route 19 from the Little League fields from where he once dreamed, too.

Jordy Mercer will prove The Shredder right:

MLB TV’s stat-crunching cyborg — dubbed The Shredder — computes that Jordy Mercer is the 6th best shortstop in baseball. Exactly why seems a bit of a mystery. He will show why in 2015. Mercer will flex bottom-of-the-order muscle, while banishing the rogue demons from his putrid offensive start to 2014. The Shredder is partial to Mercer’s defense, especially the metric that awards him 21 runs saved in 2015. Mercer may not grace the infield at the All-Star game, but he’ll cover the infield with grace.

The Bench Monsters will roar:

This year’s cast of characters seated about the Gatorade cooler offer a sturdier safety net than the b-sides of years past. Former All-Star Corey Hart will prove to be a dependable right-handed platoon partner with Alvarez. He’s no longer an MVP-type player, but he won’t have to be. Sean Rodriguez will pinball about the field wherever needed, without tilt. The somewhat maligned Adrew Lambo will lather his potent AAA bat — the one used to uncork 43 home runs the prior two minor league seasons — with major league pine tar. And Jeong-ho Kang…well, he’ll IMPROVE on his otherworldly stats in the KBO and bat .673 with 87 home runs and 242 RBI. Simply put, he’ll dwarf Barry Bonds in the history books like Bond’s Giants head dwarfed Bond’s Pirates head.

Keeping dreaming until tomorrow morning for Part 2: The Pitchers, and the rest of the NL Central.