Will the Pirates return to the postseason?
The Pittsburgh Pirates have taken on a lot of grief for having a down year in 2016. Baseball is the hardest professional sport to continually make the post season year after year. Heck, look at the Royals who won the World Series in 2015 and missed the playoffs in 2016. The Pittsburgh Pirates missed the postseason for the first time since 2012 last year, it happens. However, they are in a better spot this year than last.
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First look at their rotation. Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates entered the season with Cole, Liriano, Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, and Juan Nicasio as their starting five. Only one of those starters is returning this year, and that is Cole. Liriano and Niese were two of the worst pitchers in baseball before being traded at the deadline last year. Meanwhile, Jeff Locke should have been out of the rotation two years ago, and fans were ready to escort him to the airport when he was designated for assignment. Nicasio did have a lot of success with the Pirates, but it was when he was put into the bullpen, not as a starter.
This year the Pirates rotation cannot be worse than last years. Although they lack experience, there is way more potential upside. Cole at this point is a veteran, and he should return to form if healthy. Meanwhile, Ivan Nova is the most experienced pitcher of the group and had a renaissance in his career when he came to Pittsburgh. He may not be as impressive as he was last year, but still, he will outperform last year’s number three arm in Jon Niese. Then there is Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Chad Kuhl. All three are entering their first full season in the MLB, but all three were touted prospects, especially Taillon and Glasnow. They should only improve as they gain experience.
The lineup should be just as effective as last year, if not more. Gregory Polanco is primed to put together a big year this season. Starling Marte was the team’s best hitter in 2016, but he did not play enough. Marte needs to stay on the field more this year. Of course, the biggest boost this offense can get is having Andrew McCutchen return to his all-star form. Add those three with a strong bench and a full season of Josh Bell, and the Pirates should have a potent offense to go along with an improving rotation.
The Pittsburgh Pirates should make a run at the National League Wild Card this season. They are in a tough spot having the Cubs in their division, which definitely limits their opportunity to a Wild Card spot. Competing with them will likely be one of the Dodgers or Giants depending on the winner of the West, and either the Mets or Nationals depending on the winner of the east. Of course, other clubs like the Rockies, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks could be in the pictures as well. The Pirates have a legitimate shot at finishing second in the NL Central this year also. The Cardinals are not as good as they once were and the Reds and Brewers are still rebuilding.