There was a time recently when the Pittsburgh Pirates being considered the third best team in the National League Central would be a victory. The Cardinals have traditionally been a strong franchise, and the Reds and Brewers have been solid over the past few years. Even the Cubs have had their moments. Indeed, the Pirates could well be a very good team and still have that third place finish.
However, the days of finishing third in the Central may have passed. The Pirates have a perennial MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen. They have a stellar back end of the bullpen, which includes the vastly underrated Mark Melancon, who may be the third best closer int he National League. Neil Walker may be one of the more underrated second basemen in baseball. These are definitely not the Pittsburgh Pirates of a generation ago.
Apparently, David Schoenfield of ESPN.com’s SweetSpot blog feels the same way. In his annual rankings of each team, he has selected the Pittsburgh Pirates as the third best team overall. In his projections, Schoenfield expects that the Pirates will go 91-71, winning the National League Central. However, as good as that sounds, the Pirates may once again struggle to advance in the postseason, as Schoenfield projects the Dodgers and Nationals to have a better record.
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The biggest concern that Schoenfield seems to have for the Pirates involves their perceived lack of an ace. However, that concern may be a bit overstated. A.J. Burnett may have struggled last year with the Phillies, but he did put together a 26-21 record with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.228 WHiP in his two seasons in Pittsburgh. Gerrit Cole is a popular choice to take a major step forward and be a breakout pitcher this season. Even if the Pirates do not have an “ace” starter, they may still have a legitimate top of the rotation pitcher.
Of course, even if the Pittsburgh Pirates do not have that top of the rotation starter, it may not make that much of a difference. The Pirates have an excellent defense, and given their proclivity towards ground ball pitchers helps mitigate any deficiencies that the rotation may have. Add in that stellar bullpen, and the Pirates certainly appear to be set up quite well for the 2015 season.
David Schoenfield is quite bullish on the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 2015 season, and for good reason. Hopefully, his predictions turn out to be correct, at least in this instance.