Most of your baseball previews are playing their hearts out but they stop at 10. Where can these other blokes go? We like to push things over the cliff at The Feed though so you know what we do? That's right. We turn it up to 11. Three things to like, three things to worry about, three questions to answer, one kid on the farm and one predicted finish. That adds up to the most powerful preview you can find. Because it goes to 11 and there’s none more louder, really, than 11. Check 'em all out here.
3 Things To Like
- There’s an honest to goodness starting rotation. The Pirates drafted six pitchers in the first round between 1998 and 2003 but had more bombs than Kevin Costner. Yet the rotation is still a strength of the team. Paul Maholm is the only first rounder who panned out and he’s been joined by three lower-round picks that exceeded expectations. Zach Duke (the marked man above) and Ian Snell each won in the double-digits, Maholm threw 176 innings and outperformed the league average and Tom Gorzelanny impressed with a 3.79 ERA in 11 starts.
- Jason Bay. The best Canadian outfielder since Larry Walker, Bay is a fixture in the midsummer classic, a sure bet for 30 homers and 100 RBI and, at 28, is still in his prime.
- The trade for Adam LaRoche could be the best move GM Dave Littlefield has ever made. Bay was desperate for some pop surrounding him in the lineup and LaRoche, who hit 32 homers and slugged at a .561 clip last season. It was a breakout but given his age and previous production it was hardly without explanation. His presence could push Bay’s numbers even higher and he’s got three years until he’s out of team control.
3 Things To Worry About
- Signing Tony Armas Jr. as a free agent is a puzzler. The team already had Shawn Chacon to do the veteran chum fifth starter thing and has several other youngsters that would have more to gain for the spot. The LaRoche trade was a positive but the Armas signing is much more indicative of the Littlefield of old who signed mediocre players with money that would be better left for someone useful.
- Jason Bay’s outfield mates. The Bucs gave Chris Duffy 314 at-bats last year and he rewarded them with a 655 OPS. He did steal 26 bases and will lead off but the team needs something more than a .317 on-base percentage to set up Bay and LaRoche. He’ll get every chance in centerfield while rightfield is a question mark. Xavier Nady struggled after coming from the Mets and has Crohn’s disease, Jose Bautista has power but little plate discipline, Jody Gerut missed last season to injury and Nathan McLouth played like he was injured.
- Jack Wilson. He’s got a career .306 on-base mark, which is good for a pitcher but well below an acceptable number for anyone batting outside of the eighth slot. He batted second 127 games last season, however, and scored just 70 runs with Freddy Sanchez and Bay behind him. Will Jim Tracy wise up and bat Sanchez second to set up the power bats or will he be content with them never having anyone to drive home?
3 Questions To Answer
- Is Freddy Sanchez playing second or third? The National League batting champion is slated to start on the hot corner but could slide over to second and give Bautista the job at third. The answer lies with Jose Castillo and his Jack Wilson-esque on-base percentage. If he hits at all, he’ll likely be the starter at second but if a rightfielder other than Bautista emerges the lineup will be much better off with Castillo out of the lineup.
- Who is the closer? Salomon Torres is the safe choice but I think the team might be better off seeing if Matt Capps has what it takes to finish games. Torres has excelled as a set-up man since coming to town and it could behoove the team to keep him there to hold leads rather than trust Danny Kolb and Damaso Marte.
- Will anyone care about any of it? The Pirates have a better lineup and a better pitching staff than last year, they’ve got a reasonable chance to win 73 or 74 games and have finally found a nucleus that should lead to even more wins in the future. But the losing seasons have been endless, the Steelers are top dog in town and now the Penguins are good and sexy again. The Pirates are in serious danger of falling totally off the city’s radar.
1 Kid On The Farm (For Now)
Yoslan Herrera may end up meaning more for what he represents than for what he actually accomplishes with the Bucs. It’s been years since the team has been a player in the International marketplace but they signed both Herrera and Masumi Kuwata of Japan this season. Kuwata is 39 and probably won’t be much more than a signal that the team will go after Japanese players. Herrera, on the other hand, is purported to have excellent stuff and could be a contender for a rotation or bullpen spot at some point this season.
1 Prediction About Their Finish
It’s hard to envision anything but last place for the Pirates. They’re awfully young and awfully thin but there’s real talent on the field and the team should win more than 67 games. It’s hard to see them winning more games than anyone else in the division, however, and that’s what they need more than anything else.