Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Do the Pirates have a chance to have a winning season in 2011?
God bless the Pirate fans who showed up at PNC Park last night to watch their Bucs deny Cy Young hopeful Adam Wainwright a win tonight... as the Pirates took advantage of gunshy third base coach Jose Oquendo who stopped the tying run from scoring off of Albert Pujols' bat.
There will be individual game highlights like last night's win in the Pirates 2010 season, but let's not get too excited.
Not only is the Pirates streak of sub .500 seasons now LEGAL (it's 18. You can sleep with anyone born in their last winning season!) but as of this writing, the Pirates are the worst team in baseball.
Now I have picked on the Pirates before... because I actually LIKE the Pirates and would like to see them win.
But will 2011 be any different?
The Pirates goal is modest... an 82-80 record. But that has been as difficult to scale as Everest.
Here's 5 reasons why 2011 might be different in Pittsburgh:
1) ANDREW McCUTCHEN AND PEDRO ALVAREZ MAKE A NICE 1-2 PUNCH
One swings left handed. The other right handed. Both are products of the draft and could be that rare specimen: A Pirates first round pick that isn't a bust. Both will be 24 next season and even with the Pirates tendency to deal players the nanosecond they ask for more than minimum wage, these two will be in Steel City for 4 or 5 more seasons.
Plus they will make players like Milledge, Tabata and Jones solid depth in the lineup.
2) SECOND BASEMAN NEIL WALKER GETS IT.
Walker has been a nice fit at second base and has hit to a high average as well. He's also a Pittsburgh native who was 7 years old when Sid Bream scored on Francisco Cabrera's single. Now my personal theory is that you start to follow the ins and outs of a baseball team when you turn 7 years old. That mean Walker has a vague memory of the Pirates being relevant.
You'll need all sorts of talent to turn the Pirates around, but it would help to have an honest to goodness Pittsburgh boy on the roster helping the Bucs get there.
3) GM NEAL HUNTINGTON ACTUALLY SEEMS INTERESTED IN GETTING THE TEAM BETTER
Now he hasn't succeeded in doing so... but at least he is drafting the best players and not drafting solely for signability. That's already paid dividends with Pedro Alvarez. Can Tony Sanchez or Jameson Taillon be far behind? He'll have the #1 overall next June. He should pick a stud.
Plus there is some talent in their system. Can Rudy Owens, Chase d'Arnaud, Bryan Morris, Andrew Lambo or Jeff Locke make the leap from AA to the bigs sometime in 2011? It could give the team a boost.
4) THE RECORD MIGHT BE BAD, BUT THERE IS SOME TALENT IN THOSE ARMS
Zach Duke was an All Star just a few years ago. Paul Maholm has some talent. And Karstens and Ohlendorf has shown flashes of ability. Brad Lincoln has flopped in the bigs so far but has shown promise in AAA. And Evan Meek made the All Star team. Each of them is on the right side of 30 years old.
Besides, sometimes it is good to have pitchers experience some adversity before turning their careers around. A bunch of the pitchers on the Tigers 119 loss team of 2003 wound up on the 2006 AL Champs.
5) EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE ON THE SAME PAGE
I made fun of the firing of Gary Varsho and Joe Kerrigan, but maybe there was a bigger point that was being made. They were evidently undermining manager John Russell, and their dismissal is a key sign that this is Russell's team on the field. Maybe with a cooperative bench coach and pitching coach there can be more cohesion. Maybe a solid pitching coach will get the most out of the staff and the bench coach will help instead of hinder the manager's POV. Either way it shows the Pirates are going in one direction... and hopefully that will be up in the standings.
Look, I'm not going to be Pollyanna and say 2011 will certainly be a turnaround.
But all throughout the 2000s there were teams that finally clicked and had a winning season almost out of the blue.
Did YOU predict the Royals putting a winning team on the field in 2003?
Or the Expos in 2002 and 2003?
Or the Brewers in 2007?
That's not even mentioning the playoff teams like the 2003 World Champion Marlins, the 2006 AL Champion Tigers, the 2007 NL Champion Rockies or the 2008 AL Champion Rays... all who made it to the World Series following year in and year out of mediocrity.
A lot of things have to break the Pirates way just to reach 82-80... but as Mick Shrimpton said in This is Spinal Tap, "The Law of Averages say I will survive."
Some year something will break right in Pittsburgh's favor. The Law of Averages say it must be so.
Maybe 19 will be their lucky number.