For the Pittsburgh Pirates, .500 is the bar once again

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 15: Jameson Taillon
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 15: Jameson Taillon /

The Pittsburgh Pirates traded two of their better known players during the off-season and potentially took another step backward for 2018.

The past couple seasons haven’t been very kind to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. After three straight postseason appearances, they fell to a mere 75 wins in 2017. They were plagued by all sorts of bad luck issues. Their starting third baseman, Jung-Ho Kang, wasn’t permitted to leave Korea after a DUI charge. Outfielder Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. If that wasn’t enough, Jameson Taillon massed a stretch of the season to be treated for testicular cancer.

Things didn’t get better in the off-season as they traded their best starting pitcher to the Houston Astros and the best player the franchise has seen since the days of Barry Bonds to the San Francisco Giants. Both Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen are in different cities and the Pirates are hoping that the team is better with the players they got in return. That seems like it’s a pretty large risk to take but small market teams like Pittsburgh will almost always have to take them. Whether the Pirates could be spending more than they are and maybe more towards the league average is a whole other discussion.

The overall sense of the team is they’ll be fighting to stay out of the basement of the N.L. Central. They added not a single impact player via free agency and it can be debated if the trades they made will produce any real help at the major league level. Perhaps the player with the best chance is third baseman Colin Moran, who was probably not going to see a fair shake in Houston since the Astros are so stacked. There’s still a ton of questions that abound with the Pirates. I t would appear to be another lackluster season in Pittsburgh and fans especially have to be reaching their breaking point.

National League. Central. Pittsburgh Pirates. 5. player. 4. <ul><li><strong>2017 Record:</strong> 75-87, 4th in the Central</li><li><strong>Projected 2018 Finish:</strong> 5th in the Central</li></ul><p> </p><ul><li><strong>Key Additions:</strong> Corey Dickerson, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz</li><li><strong>Key Losses:</strong> Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole</li></ul>

Best Case Scenario

Jameson Taillon takes the ace role and thrives in it in addition to newly acquired Joe Musgrove and youngster Tyler Glasnow shoring up the back end of the rotation. The bullpen reaches their potential with closer Felipe Rivero being the anchor. The team will lean on the pitching although the offense also has some weapons. Plucking outfielder Corey Dickerson from the Tampa Bay Rays a few weeks back pays huge dividends as he stabilizes the offense. Colin Moran playing a solid third base and hitting at least 25 home runs goes a long way.

The biggest boon for the Pirates will be the duo of Marte and Gregory Polanco both having big years as they attempt to fill the void left by McCutchen. Marte himself has a lot to prove after uneven production when he returned after his suspension. Polanco hasn’t touched his ceiling that his athleticism hints at but maybe this is the season it all clicks in. The middle infield duo of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer are rocks up the middle and Harrison especially could blossom in his new leadership role. It shows in his production and he puts forth one of the best seasons of his career. First baseman Josh Bell also builds off his strong rookie season and becomes one of the more exciting young players in baseball.

Worst Case Scenario

Things could go downhill in Pittsburgh this year. There isn’t one starter around the diamond that doesn’t carry some type of question about either injury or consistency. Moran especially is a huge question mark in the lineup. He has 34 career at-bats and is basically an unknown at the major league level. The most “reliable” player in the lineup might be Mercer at shortstop, he of a career .256 batting average. The outfield has the potential to be one of the worst in baseball. Dickerson may not be able to handle the rigors of playing in the field everyday after being the DH in Tampa last season. Marte could struggle to find his game and Polanco has always fought injuries. His swing also remains long and loopy, making it easy for pitchers to find holes.

It’s also a very realistic scenario to see the Pirates rotation completely melt down. Taillon may not be much better than league average if some of his stats from last season keep up. It’s a little unfair to put too much stock into the 2017 numbers considering his circumstances but it remains a possibility. Ivan Nova is nothing more than a middle of the pack number four starter, Joe Musgrove has never found a role as a starter and Tyler Glasnow has an ERA closer to seven than it is to four in his career. This doesn’t exactly sound like a rotation that’s built on solid ground.

Team MVP

Jameson Taillon – SP 

With former ace Gerrit Cole in Houston, Taillon is the last man standing in the rotation that has a reasonable show at becoming a frontline starting pitcher. Since he has already beaten cancer once, becoming an ace pitcher likely seems like a breeze for this young man. 2017 saw some of his stats get better after his return to the mound. If he can combine that with bringing other stats like WHIP and ERA down to his career normals, he should be in line for a great season. The Pirates desperately need a starter they can rely on every fifth day. Taillon keeps the team in virtually every game he pitches and is the rock the Pirates need as they turn the page on the franchise.


Even if everything actually goes right for this squad, it’s going to be hard to compete within the division. At their best, they’ll probably just barely get to a .500 record, good for third or fourth within the N.L. Central. At their worst, they could see the cellar in a division with the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds using the Bucs as a punching bag. They play in a difficult division and the talent will not hold up for 162 games. They’ll once again finish as a mediocre baseball team, hanging out around 70-75 wins and not accomplishing much of anything. Postseason berths and blackouts at PNC Park in October are firmly in the rear view mirror.