Diary of a long-suffering Pirates Fan: If you cannot believe in your team during Spring, when can you?

Andy Lyons/GettyImages
2 of 4

PART ONE:  Pirates hitting will be improved

The Pirates finished near the bottom in run production last year.  22nd to be exact.  In a game where scoring runs is, you know, required for winning, a 22nd-place finish is not optimal.  When one considers that the Pirates had near bottom-of-the-league production from shortstop, 2nd base, catcher, and right field, it’s a wonder that they were able to produce 76 wins.

But things will be different this year.  Last year there was no O’Neil Cruz.  This year there will be.  Last year Henry Davis was hurt.  This year he isn’t.  Last year, there was no Jared Triolo for most of the year.  This year there will be.  Last year right field and 2nd base were a revolving door of call-ups and tryouts and who has a hot bat. But having weeded out last year’s nonproducers, both right field and 2nd base should see an increase in production. In short, the Pirates have upgraded each of the positions that underperformed last year.

Including First base.  Rowdy Tellez has been brought into platoon with Connor Joe at first base.  One of the themes of my yearly world series prognostications is the “if so and so can recapture the magic that once made him successful, then the Pirates will have found a diamond in the rough” theory.  Over the course of the Nutting Era, the Pirates have signed several such players.  A few have actually panned out, but most don’t. 

The poster child this year for that is Rowdy Tellez.  Two years ago Tellez hit 35 homers for Milwaukee.  Last year, due in part to injuries, his production fell to 13 homers.  The diminished 2023 production made Tellez affordable for the Pirates.  Most opinion pieces on this signing begin with the word, “If.”  If Rowdy Tellez can recapture his 2022 performance, Pirates fans will be seeing balls launched over the Clemente Wall with regularity.  The operative word is “If.”  But, in my prediction pieces, I prefer the word, “When.”  Because if you’re going to predict the Pirates are going to the World Series, there is no room for “If.”  For a world series to happen, Rowdy Tellez has to hit bombs.  Lots of them.  And he is going to. 

Some of the best productions from last year’s team came from Hayes, Reynolds, and Suwinski.  The good news for Pirates fans is that none of those three can be said to have hit their ceilings.  On the contrary, Hayes, who finished 2023 on a tear, is going to pick up right where he left off last year.  And Reynolds, who performed to the norm last year without much protection around him in the lineup, will now have the added protection of Cruz in front and a much-improved Hayes behind him in the batting order, which should only help Reynold’s production.  The top three hitters in the Pirates lineup should be formidable.

As for Suwinski.  He’s just getting started.  He has hit more home runs in his first two seasons than did Clemente, Stargell, Parker, Bay, or even Barry Bonds in their respective first two years in the majors.  After a mid-year slump, Suwinski finished strong in September.  And while he doesn’t seem to be able to hit lefties very well, who cares if he is able to mash right-handers? A platoon can be found.  Plus, did you see the way Suwinski is able to draw walks last year?  He is going to be an on-base machine.

Last year the Pirates finished 28th in the league in homeruns.  But with the additions of Cruz, Tellez, and a healthy Henry Davis to the lineup and the potential improved production from Hays, Reynolds, and Suwinski, the Pirates should shoot up the HR leader board this year.

Perhaps the best proof of how much this team’s lineup will be improved is to consider who from last year’s team is no longer on the roster:  Tucipita Marcano, Rodolfo Castro, Alfonso Rivas, Ji-Man Choi, Mark Mathias, Chris Owings, Vinny Capra, Austin Hedges, and Tyler Heineman are gone.  Replaced by more productive players.    

Did I mention that a healthy Andrew McCutcheon is returning to the Pirates lineup?  And if that guy can recapture the magic that once made him great…….

The beauty of the 2024 version of the Pirates is that the baseball world is not going to see this coming. It’s easy to predict and expect the Pirates to have near bottom-of-the-league run production because that’s what they seemingly do every year.  But 2024 is going to be different.  The Pirates will run out a solid lineup from top to bottom every night.  A lineup that will be able to produce runs from the top of the lineup right down to the number 9 hitter.  It is going to be a pleasant change from what we typically see.