Is this the year the Pittsburgh Pirates can breakthrough the St. Louis Cardinals stronghold, or will the team crash back into the pack? The best way to answer this question is to analyze each team and see how the Pittsburgh Pirates measure up.
As I mentioned the St. Louis Cardinals are the perennial contender and winner of this division but can this streak continue? Only if the starting pitchers continue to remain not only healthy but excel to compensate for any offensive struggles. St. Louis added former Atlanta star Jason Heyward to its outfield and really didn’t have any major departures (the death of the talented player Oscar Taveras in a car accident notwithstanding). With strong pitching they remain the odds on favorite.
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The Milwaukee Brewers will only go as far as former MVP Ryan Braun can carry them and they struggled last year when he tried to fight through nerve issues in his right thumb. As it turns out, he left the Brewer’s Opening Day game with a rib injury, already raising red flags about his health. Milwaukee’s pitchers were fleeced this season, with no viable replacements brought in. Pirates fans will be eager to see Yovani Gallardo depart. Even if Braun remains healthy and can get back to his MVP type numbers, Milwaukee will not be able to stop other NL Central offenses from scoring.
As I mentioned the St. Louis Cardinals are the perennial contender and winner of this division but can this streak continue? Only if the starting pitchers continue to remain not only healthy but excel to compensate for any offensive struggles.
The Cincinnati Reds are in rebuilding mode despite their general manager Walt Jocketty assuring everyone they are not. Cincinnati collapsed last year when star first baseman Joey Votto was lost with a quad injury and his teammates could not pick up the pace. When the team dealt pitching stars Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon for prospects, the tone for 2015 was set and it will not be good. Cincinnati will take several steps back this season and fall back to the bottom of the Central Division. One lone bright spot for the Reds would be Johnny Cueto, who mystified the Pirates on Opening Day. Having Cueto in tow ensures that the Reds will be competitive every at least every fifth day.
The Chicago Cubs will be better with the addition of former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon and Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester who will be a top of the line starter and inning eater. Chicago has already gotten their fans in an uproar when they sent down spring training star Kris Bryant whether it was for financial or experience reasons, he will start the season in the minors. Chicago brought in veteran catcher Miguel Montero and centerfielder Dexter Fowler who should compliment Chicago’s rising stars in Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta. Chicago just may be a wild card contender sooner rather than later.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are solid on offense and defense and can possibly unseat St. Louis isf a few things fall into place, such as Pedro Alvarez getting comfortable at his new defensive position of first base. Doing so would allow him to relax and be confident at the plate getting back to MVP type numbers in 2013. New starting catcher Francisco Cervelli may not make anyone forget Russell Martin but he has to be a star behind the plate and adequate or slightly above at the bat. He needs to make the pitchers the best they can be including newly acquired (and former stalwart) A.J. Burnett. Josh Harrison also needs to stay at the top of his game and Andrew McCutchen just needs to be himself and stay healthy.
If the pieces all fall right, the Pittsburgh Pirates could step into the top spot in the National League Central, but will they build upon their recent upward mobility?
Yes, they can. And they will.