How do the Pirates get back to the playoffs in 2017?

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

What do the Pittsburgh Pirates need to do in order to return to the postseason in 2017?

The 2016 season saw the Pittsburgh Pirates miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.  It was a frustrating season and seemed like everything that could go wrong went wrong. Key players having down seasons and/or battling injuries played large roles.

The Pirates hope to return to the postseason in 2017. In order for that to occur, what needs to happen?

The most obvious answer is Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole both having bounce back seasons.  Cutch doesn’t have to be the MVP caliber player he used to be but he has to be better both offensively and defensively than he was in 2016.  I think he will now that he’s out of center field and will have less wear on his legs.  Cole needs to stay healthy first off and if he does he has a good chance of pitching 200 innings and getting back to his 2015 form.

New Positions, No Problem

Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco settle in to their new positions and continue to progress on offense, and, along with McCutchen, finally become the best outfield in baseball that many have deemed them since 2015.

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Stay Healthy

In 2016, Gerrit Cole, Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli all spent significant time on the disabled list.  Josh Harrison and Starling Marte both missed about the last month of the season with groin and back injuries.  Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCuthen didn’t spend any time on the disabled list, but they both dealt with injuries throughout the season that may have had an impact on their play.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to compete this season these guys need to stay healthy and productive.

The Major League Baseball season is a long season so there’s going to be injuries.  Hopefully, the Pirates can avoid as many injuries they suffered from last season.

Young guys continue to progress

In 2016, the Pirates saw Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Chad Kuhl, Adam Frazier, Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault all make their major league debuts.  Taillon, Bell, Kuhl and Frazier had productive rookie seasons while Glasnow and Brault struggled a little bit.

All but Glasnow and Brault are guaranteed spots on the opening day roster.  Those two are currently competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. Most of these players are going to have big roles with this team so if they can continue to develop while still winning games and competing that would be huge for this team and its future.

The Bullpen

Pittsburgh Pirates
Sep 7, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the Pirates biggest strengths from 2013-2015 was their bullpen.  Mark Melancon and Tony Watson were two of the best relievers in baseball during that time.  Melancon is gone now and Watson is starting to decline a little bit but will still start the season as the teams closer. He is another player who needs to have a bounce back season if the Pirates want to get back to the playoffs.

When the Pirates traded Mark Melancon last July they got a young flame thrower in Felipe Rivero. He will be a huge part of the bullpen this season and is the teams future closer. The team also signed Daniel Hudson who will more than likely be given the 8th inning role and could be next in line to close if Watson slips up.

Juan Nicasio also returns this season and will be in the bullpen which he’s better suited for.  Last season after he was moved to the bullpen he had a 2.96 ERA and struck out 73 batters in just 53 2/3 innings.  He should be used like the Indians used Andrew Miller in the playoffs last season.  He can come in early in games and give you multiple innings or he can pitch late in games. I would like to see Clint Hurdle use his bullpen based on match ups because that is the best way to utilize everyone but that is unlikely.

In order for the Pirates to get back to the playoffs the bullpen needs to be great again because we saw in the postseason the last two years a dominant bullpen is a huge advantage. These four guys along with A.J. Schugel, Antonio Bastardo, and Jared Hughes should make this bullpen one of the better ones in baseball.

Next: Previewing The NL Central: Cincinnati Reds

The Pittsburgh Pirates are capable of returning to the postseason in 2017. If Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, and Tony Watson have bounce back seasons, the Pirates avoid the injury bug as best as possible, and the bullpen ends up one of the best in the National League, the Bucs could very well return to the postseason in 2017.