Since there is probably no single subject written about in The Grandstander more than the Pittsburgh Pirates, it behooves me to take a final look at the 2016 season of our favorite baseball team. (Did I say final? I am sure that I will continue to yak on this subject well beyond the confines of this particular post.)
Back on April 2 (and you can look it up), I made my pre-season prediction for the team by means of a lengthy Q&A format. I am not going to go through the entire thing, but I do want to highlight one portion of that post:
QUESTION: What is the biggest concern with this team?
ANSWER: In my mind it's simple...starting pitching. Gerrit Cole is a bona fide major league ace. No problem there. Francisco Liriano is solid, and I have high hopes for Jonathon Neise. After that it gets shaky. Jeff Locke? We know what we are getting in him - a 26-30 lifetime pitcher with a career ERA over 4.00 through five seasons. He's not going to turn into Sandy Koufax any time soon. Thirty-eight year old Ryan Vogelsong was beaten out of a starter's job by Juan Nicasio. Nicasio certainly earned that on merit in Spring Training, but will he be able to sustain that when the opponents start playing for real? All indications are that the troika of Locke-Nicasio-Vogelsong are merely placeholders until top pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow arrive after a month or two of minor league seasoning in Indianapolis. That's a lot of "ifs" in the rotation. Maybe it will work out. Pirates fans sure hope so.
We can talk all we want about the poor season of Andrew McCutchen, and the occasional disappearances of Jung Ho Kang, but when it came down to it, the starting pitching was the big culprit in the 20 game regression of the team. Liriano stunk, Nicasio was miscast as a starter, Cole, who was to be the bell weather of the staff, had a bad year, Niese was a bust, Vogelsong pitched like the 39 year old retread that he was (although his being able to come back and pitch after that absolutely horrific injury was one of the Feel Good stories of the season), and as for Jeff Locke, the less said the better.
So when I said that starting pitching was my biggest concern for the season.....I believe I had that.
On a bright note, the young kids from Indy did begin to make their appearances. The brightest light among them appears to be Jameson Taillon. Going into 2017, Gerrit Cole is still the #1 guy on the staff, but Taillon will be breathing right down his neck for that role. Others such as Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams all made their debuts, some with a greater degree of success than others, but there is reason to be optimistic about the staff going into next year. That said, obtaining an experienced and good (as opposed to a typical Neal Huntington reclamation project) to add to the staff should be a priority in the off-season.
One of the main criticisms heard throughout the season went along the lines of "The Pirates won 98 games in 2015, and the front office did nothing to improve upon that team to make a run at the World Series in 2016." My own theory, and it is strictly my own, and even if it is true, the Front Office will never admit to it, was that last year, 2015, was the year where they had to make the run to the Series. That was the team that was built for the deep run into the post-season. And when they fell short, it was time to rebuild the team (again, the FO will never say that), and they did: Alvarez and Walker were jettisoned, Burnett retired, and Happ, as you may have heard mentioned once or twice, was allowed to leave via free agency. I believe that 2016 was to be a year to begin working younger players into the mix, and that is what happened when we saw Taillon, Kuhl, Adam Frazier, Josh Bell and others begin to take on bigger roles as the season progressed.
Will all of that begin to bear fruit in 2017, and make the team contenders for the last years of this decade? Well, that is why they play the games, and why we will continue to watch.
And what was that final prediction back on April 2 for the 2016 season?
QUESTION: So, how many games are they going to win, and are they going to make the post-season?
ANSWER: The team won 98 games last year, second best in all of baseball. They are not going to do that this year. The Cubs are good, and the Cardinals are always going to be the Cardinals. Those three teams are going to beat up on each other all season so it will be difficult to win upwards of 95 games in the Central. Because of my concerns with the starting pitching, I see the team taking a step backwards. They will be good, they will provide all of us with a fun and entertaining season of baseball, they will win more games than they lose, but I see them winning 89 games and not making the payoffs.
Well, they didn't make the playoffs, so I believe I had that. And the Cubs and Pirates did not "beat up on each other". The Cubs manhandled everyone, winning over 100 games, and they owned the Bucs, winning fourteen of eighteen games. (As a side note, the Pirates went 30-29 against the rest of the NL Central, Brewers, Reds, and Cardinals.) Also, 78 actual wins was far below my prediction of 89, so I did NOT have that one right. You can't win 'em all, as the Pirates so ably demonstrated to us this past season.
Oh, and a couple of stats that I found remarkable this year:
- Starling Marte led the team in hitting at .311 (.818 OPS), but managed to drive in only 46 runs while usually hitting in the four or five hole of the batting order. That was a very "soft" .311 folks.
- Twenty-one (21!) different pitchers recorded a Win for the team this year. Is that some sort of record?
- Jeff Locke was second on the team in wins (9), and led the team in innings pitched (127.1), and I am not sure just exactly WHAT that says about this year's pitching staff.
Okay, short and sweet, with no deep analysis, The Grandstander's MLB Post-Season Predictions:
- Division Series: Blue Jays over the Rangers; Red Sox over the Indians; Cubs over Giants; Dodgers over Nationals
- League Championship Series: Red Sox over Blue Jays; Dodgers over Cubs. I do believe that the Cubs, as proven over 162 games, are the best team in baseball, but I also think that they will find some way to screw the pooch and remain the lovable, cursed Cubbies, just the way their fans like them.
- World Series: What has been a magical season for Big Papi and the Sawx will meet its match, and Clayton Kershaw will shake off his post-season miseries, and that the Dodgers will claim their first championship since 1988.
You heard it here first. As always, watch, but don't bet.