Many fans feel this team is not going to contend once again. This is partially true. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a long shot to win the NL Central. The way the Chicago Cubs are built they very well should be the NL Central winner for the short-term future. However, that does not mean that the Pittsburgh Pirates cannot contend for the playoffs.
The Pirates have made the playoffs three of the last four years, with all three being as a Wild Card team. This year they should be able to contend again. The NL is a very top-heavy league this year. The Cubs will win the Central. The East will be between the Nationals and Mets. The West will likely be between the Giants and the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Brewers, Reds, Braves, Phillies, Padres, and Marlins are all rebuilding. Other teams like the Diamondbacks and Rockies could be better this year than last, but they also have a lot of variables that need to go right for them. As good as the Rockies offense is their pitching is the complete opposite. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks needs just about their whole pitching staff to rebound also. This leaves two Wild Card spots for true contenders in the Cardinals, Pirates, Nationals/Mets, and Giants/Dodgers.
Keep in mind that the Pittsburgh Pirates should be better than their 78 win team last season. This year they are coming out of Spring Training with a much better rotation than last. Although they are somewhat unproven, they all have much more upside compared to Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, and Juan Nicasio as a starter. Also, it will be very hard for any of the Pirates’ starters to post numbers like Francisco Liriano and Niese did in the first half last year. Also, the Pittsburgh Pirates offense should be better.
Many expect Andrew McCutchen to rebound, and I am predicting Gregory Polanco to be the team’s MVP this season. Polanco looks primed to reach his potential this year and put together a full season of being productive. Also, Josh Bell should add more impact offense from the first base position. The team’s bench may regress some, still though, they have more athletic players who can help at multiple positions compared to previous years. The Pirates should win around 85-87 games and have a shot at the second Wild Card Spot.