The Pittsburgh Pirates are on a mission. The objective is easy, but will it be easy to finally end a losing streak that is longer than half of their fans lives? At 20 years they have the longest losing streak in professional sports, not just Major League Baseball.
I'm going on record now, this is the year it ends. I guess that doesn't mean that much from me because I thought it would end last year, but the late season collapse destroyed my prediction.
The Buccos made a few moves in the offseason to shore up some lose ends and add some depth. Were the moves terrible or counter productive, no. Could they have made better moves or brought in more proven talent, sure. What I think the front office did was make just enough moves to get back into contention, and wait out the abundance of talent making its way through the farm system.
If AJ Burnett can have another solid year as the Pirates ace, Wandy Rodriguez can find his groove and new comer Francisco Liriano can get off the injured list and have a productive season we could see some exciting baseball this season. These guys can keep the Pirates in the game and give the offense the support they need to improve their production.
Speaking of offensive production.... this is the point where we talk about Andrew McCutchen and how he has the burden of the offense sitting on his shoulders, but does he? He absolutely must produce for the Pirates, but this year its not just on him.
Neil Walker should be healthy and needs to have a good year at the plate. Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata also need to realize that after last season if they don't get it together and produce the way they are expected to, their time in the big leagues may be coming to a close.
Don't forget Starling Marte will be starting the season with the Pirates for the first time in his career and should be counted on to bring speed to the top of the lineup, and the outfield.
The Pirates should also be able to count on Garrett Jones for power in the heart of the line up. We will see him playing both first base and right field this season while he is platooned with Travis Snider and possibly even Gaby Sanchez in covering that side of the field. All three are holding a batting average over .260 during Spring Training, with Sanchez hovering near the .300 mark. Look for one of them to have a breakout season and see significantly more time than the others. My money is on Sanchez, he wants it more.
Russell Martin also adds a defensive upgrade to the catcher position, although his offensive numbers haven't been anything to write home about so far. Look for Michael McKenry to have another solid year as the backup, The Fort is holding down a .310 average compared to Martins .100 this spring. The Catcher position isn't one known for great offensive numbers, but even some small production has to come from this spot in the line up. Martin will find a way to get his numbers into the mid .200 range.
All in all, while I didn't touch on everything the Pirates have this year I really do believe that they made enough upgrades to finally break the losing streak.
One more thing to watch for, sometime around the All-Star break when one of the Pirates starting rotation begins the rapid decline that inevitably happens, we will see Gerrit Cole. Cole will have an average record by the end of the season but his arrival will spark a new life into the Pirates and carry them through the collapse we have seen the last two seasons.
Its going to be a great year to be a Pirates fan, finally.