Comparing Pittsburgh Pirates to NL’s best teams (Part 3)


The Pittsburgh Pirates have some stiff competition in the National League this year. If the team wins the division en route to a playoff berth, they’ll likely see the Los Angeles Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals, or the Washington Nationals in the postseason. This week, I’ve analyzed how the Pirates compare, on paper, to these beasts of the NL (if you missed either, make sure to check out Part 1 or Part 2). This is the 3rd and final installment of the series, and here’s how the teams stack up so far.

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Best Outfield: Pirates

Best Infield: Nationals

Best Catcher: Cardinals

Best Rotation: Nationals

Best Bullpen: Nationals

Best Defense: Pirates

Best Coaching: Pirates

Based on these categories alone, the Pirates and Nationals may seem to be the best of the four teams. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; teams win championships, not solely one area or category (although Madison Bumgarner may say otherwise). It’s just as important to evaluate the intangibles and X-factors that each team brings to the table that could push each one over the top to a World Series title.

Los Angeles Dodgers

When one thinks of the Dodgers, the first thing they likely think of is the team’s humongous payroll. It’s $100 million more than that of the Nationals and Cardinals this season, and more than three times that of the Pirates (according to Spotrac). The team can afford to trade away prospects for a big trade at the deadline that could improve the team, more so than any other team in baseball, which is a huge asset to have on your side. The Dodgers also have Clayton Kershaw, who is coming off an NL Cy Young and NL MVP season to go along with four straight MLB ERA titles. Although he hasn’t fared well so far in the playoffs (owner of a career 5.12 postseason ERA), he has the build, the skills, and the mindset to flip the switch in any playoff game. He is the single biggest X-factor for the Dodgers if they want to win the World Series.

Its just as important to evaluate the intangibles each team brings to the table, as well as the X-factors that could push each one over the top to a World Series title

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals know winning as much as any team in baseball in recent memory. They’re been in the playoffs each of the last four seasons, and have gone to the World Series 4 times in the last 11 years. This team has a winning mindset, and history of their side. Yadier Molina, arguably the best all-around catcher in baseball, is a huge difference maker for this team, as is Adam Wainwright, who has been a reliable ace at the top of the staff since he came over to the Cardinals. Both players are hugely important to the Cardinals success, but in the end, St. Louis will probably find a way to compete for a chance at a championship; the city just knows how to win.

Washington Nationals

The Nats are the overwhelming favorite to represent the National League in the World Series this year. From their super-rotation to a dominant bullpen to a great lineup, Washington may have the most complete team on paper in all of baseball. But the best team on paper doesn’t always deliver when it counts (i.e. the Nationals of last season). However, a full, healthy season from Bryce Harper could net the team an NL MVP; he is easily the most intriguing player to watch on the Nationals this year. He batted .294 with 3 home runs last postseason, and he perform even better this time around.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates will be a fascinating team to watch this season. Buster Olney predicted the team to win the World Series, and there is so much on the Pirates to like. Andrew McCutchen, for the first time in his career, may not have to completely carry the team for it to be successful. He has a supporting cast around him that is ready to break out (Gregory Polanco) or prove that they’re the real deal (Starling Marte and Josh Harrison). But the biggest X-factor for this team is Gerrit Cole. He’s had a good start to his Major League career, but does he have what it takes to win a Wild Card game, or, better yet, game seven of the World Series? If every player plays to their potential this season, the Pirates may have the best team in the National League.

Maybe we’ll see much more than just a playoff berth in 2015.

Each of the best teams in the National League have X-factors that can push them over the top. The Dodgers have Kershaw, the Cardinals have Molina and Wainwright, the Nationals have Harper, and the Pirates have Gerrit Cole. Do the Pirates have the best team in the NL on paper? Probably not. But the playoffs are an entirely different animal than the regular season. Certain players take over games and series, and magical performances are created. This Pirates team has all the makings of a playoff contender, and a team that could possibly make a run to the World Series. Maybe Cole will take them there, or maybe Pedro Alvarez will carry the team, or maybe Neil Walker will put on a performance for the ages. Hopefully the Pirates make Pittsburgh proud this year and bring home the city’s 6th World Series championship.

Next: Comparing the Pittsburgh Pirates to the National League's best teams (Part 2)