Friday, March 21, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Pirates

A look back: As usual, the Pirates were pretty much irrelevant during the season, finishing well out of the race in the awful NL Central and not contributing in any area that would give Pittsburgh fans (the few there are remaining) any hope that things would be different for next season. But have hope, Pittsburgh. Things might indeed be different. No, you didn't improve, but as I said yesterday, Houston got worse.

Positives on the field: The Pirates actually have a couple decent pieces, led by outfielder Jason Bay. Bay might very well be the best outfielder that nobody ever sees because of his position in baseball purgatory. (well, one of the areas of baseball purgatory.) But he's not the only decent player Pittsburgh has. Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady and Freddy Sanchez are decent players, guys who would fill nice roles on contending teams. On Pittsburgh, they're out of place, because they aren't guys you can build around. But at least the Pirates have something not horrible to offer at the deadline.

On the mound, the Pirates have Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Zach Duke in the rotation, three guys who could become stars if placed in the right situation. Again, that situation isn't Pittsburgh. (Headline in the Post-Gazette's preview you won't see: Pirate baseball: Right talent, right time, wrong city and team.) But their pitching will keep them in some games, and unlike San Francisco, the Pirates have enough offense to turn the occasional quality start into surprising victory. When they do, Matt Capps should be able to hold it down.

Positives off the field: The Pirates finally put in lights at McKechnie Field, their spring training home. Hallelujah. Spring games belong in the day, but there should be one or two at night for fans who are too dedicated to their jobs to take a day off.

Negatives on the field: The Pirates haven't been relevant in HOW long? Here's how long: The last time Pittsburgh made the playoffs, America's college seniors were in first grade. It has been 15 seasons since the Pirates came one game away from the World Series in the 1992 NLCS. To put it another way, Barry Bonds was still normal-looking then.

Plus, the Pirates just aren't talented enough to compete, even in the still weak-Central. They're a young team that would just love to be on the right side of .500. Sooner or later, it has to work, or they'll waste even more young talent.

Outlook: This is the time for the move out of the basement. There isn't much to be optimistic about for 2008, and considering the front office in place, there isn't much to be optimistic about period. So why am I picking the Pirates to improve? I like their pitching more than Houston's.

Projected finish: 5th in NL Central. Season opener is March 31 against Atlanta at Turner Field. Pirates home opener is September 7 against Chicago at PNC Park.

Spring base: McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla. The team plays its games on the west coast of Florida, with an occasional venture to central Florida.

Fan of the team?: Check out Bucs Dugout, the Pirates fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to southwestern Ohio and the land of cheese coneys, as we visit the Cincinnati Reds, the oldest team in baseball.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Jennifer Hanson.

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