We’re back for another exciting season of Bucco baseball. Since this blog continues to garner a scant bit of attention, I will focus most of my Pirate-centric thoughts here instead of on my main blog, Carpetbaggery. I’ll try to keep it going with a couple of short posts a week. Last year, the team’s woeful second half sucked dry my will to blog. I realize that my theme of a fan trapped in the cellar is no longer accurate, since the Pirates finished ahead of two other teams in the division. Nevertheless, until the Buccos finally reach that magically elusive .500 mark, I consider their fandom imprisoned and tortured by a cruel and sadistic maniac. Perhaps we escaped from the well, but, like Claire Starling, we are still floundering around blindly in the monster’s underground labyrinth. (Too much?)
The 2011 Pirates enjoyed a 15-game improvement, even if it didn’t always feel that way during a brutal 8-22 month of August. It turns out that my season prediction of 72-90 was right on the button last year. This year, my eyes aren’t quite so big. I’m calling for a modest 5-game improvement, to 77-85. Not sure if that will be enough progress to earn GM Neal Huntington a contract extension or not. I hope so, as long as the team seems to be going in the right direction.
This year, there are three players I see as key to the Pirates chances.
Pedro Alvarez must turn into at least a serviceable major league baseball player. Sure, first-round, 2nd pick overall, draft pick should probably turn into a perennial All-Star. You’d think so, but the baseball draft is not a sure thing. Let’s look at the last decade of 2nd overall picks:
- 2000 – Adam Johnson, RHP, Twins (Out of baseball by 2004)
- 2001 – Mark Prior, RHP, Cubs (Out of baseball by 2006)
- 2002 – B. J. Upton, SS, Rays (starter)
- 2003 – Rickie Weeks, Brewers (starter)
- 2004 – Justin Verlander, Tigers (dominant starter, All Star, future Hall of Famer)
- 2005 – Alex Gordon, Royal (starter)
- 2006 – Greg Reynolds, Rockies (trying to make the Rangers)
- 2007 – Mike Moustakas – Royals (starter)
- 2008 – Pedro Alvarez – Pirates (starter)
- 2009 – Dustin Ackley – Mariners (starter)
- 2010 – Jameson Taillon – Pirates (AA)
There you go. A decade of 2nd overall picks, and there is only one superstar in the bunch, a number of average starters, and a couple of complete busts. So, it may not be fair to just assume that Pedro Alvarez should be a guaranteed version of Mike Schmidt. His huge bomb on Sunday shows that he has the power and bat speed. He’ll never be a .300 hitter, but if he can hit in the .270s or .280s and thump 25+ home runs and 80-90 RBIs, I’ll take it.
Neil Walker must continue to improve and become the Robin to Andrew McCutchen’s Batman. I wouldn’t mind seeing him improve his average, even if it detracts from his power. I don’t need my second baseman to be a clean-up hitter, even though that’s where the Pirates keep hitting him. He should be a .290 to .300 hitter who is among the league leaders in doubles each year.
Charlie Morton must step up to become a solid and dependable #3 starter. He can’t be the brittle china doll who collapses into a “Silkwood shower” whenever adversity strikes. This year’s rotation must be Burnett, Bedard, Morton, Karstens, and then, either McDonald or Correia. It’s a luxury to have six guys who can start. That means we don’t have to bring up a Brian Burres or Chris Jakubaskas in a pinch this year.
My bold prediction: Garrett Jones will continue to regress and be gone by the All-Star break, but Matt Hague and Casey McGehee will both emerge as power-hitting replacements.
Opening weekend was amazing. Somehow, without ever leading a game as a hitter was introduced, the Pirates took 2 of 3 from the 2011 NL best Phillies. We faced Halladay, Lee, and Worley, and escaped with a series victory. It wasn’t pretty, but it was scrappy and effective. I had pretty much given up hope when it was 4-1 Phillies in the 7th inning of Sunday’s game. But the Buccos didn’t quit. They scratched together hit after hit, run after run, rally after rally, and won the game. That showed some huge stones.
Now we must go out to play the three best teams in the West. That home run box in Phoenix was a house of horrors for us last year. LA was even worse. We were 2-5 there last year, although we took 2 of 3 in San Fran. I’m hoping for no worse than 4-5 on this trip before coming home to play the Cardinals.
There’s an extra playoff team this year. The National League is missing its three best hitters (Fielder, Pujols, Howard). We can be competitive. The Buccos must keep moving forward or I fear we’ll be starting all over again next year.
Off to LA.