Editor’s Note: I realize this blog’s coming out a day late considering the Pirates already played in their opener, but you know what they say – better late than never! So blog life had to take a backseat to full-time job life for a day. I know what you’re thinking – Sad!
We’re finally here – the unofficial start of summer 2017 (eat a turd, spring). The weather’s still pretty shitty, the kiddies are still in school, and the calendar still says April, but damn it, today’s the start of a new year! At 2:05 p.m. EST, your Pittsburgh Pirates will officially begin their quest to capture their 4th NL Wild Card in the last five years. If someone would’ve told you at this time last year being a Wild Card team was the best case scenario for the Buccos, you would’ve probably puked in your mouth a little and rattled off something along the lines of this: “They oughta git rid of ‘at one game Wild Card. It ain’t fair! Yer tellin’ me a team with 98 wins can be aht of it in one game for cryin’ aht laud?” Well unfortunately, whether you like the Wild Card format or not, that’s the reality right now for teams in the NL Central not named the Chicago Cubs.
And you’re not the only one out there trying to make sense of the world right now. Donald Trump’s the President of the United States, the city of Cleveland is only 10 months removed from its last championship team, and the fucking Chicago Cubs are the reigning World Series champs. We’re living in bizarre times in 2017.
It’s also pretty wild to think that only a few years ago we were blacking out PNC Park and taking up every inch of real estate in Johnny Cueto’s brain in the Buccos first postseason appearance in 21 years.
Now, we’re all sitting around wondering if a moment like that is ever going to happen again at PNC Park within the next decade. It doesn’t seem fair. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a long road ahead for the Bucs to get back to their 2015 form, but that still doesn’t mean that this 2017 season won’t be fun to watch. There’s a ton of up and coming talent that will be making their official rookie season debuts this year so it’s probably a good thing that GM Neil Huntington didn’t get rid of every single prospect in that Francisco Liriano trade last year. Just sayin’.
Today, we’ll be talking about what’s in store for your 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ll be going over the whole team so buckle up, bitches. But before you read any further, don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this year’s preview where I recap the 2016 season (hint: it sucked). Once you get finished with that, stop sucking back on Grandpa’s old cough medicine and sober up. Because 2016 is over and we’re ready for a much needed cleanse.
Here we go:
The Starting Rotation
Gerrit Cole: The unquestionable ace of the rotation. With this year’s pitching staff lacking a whole lot of big league experience, the Pirates are going to be leaning on Cole to be their guy in 2017. However, there are a few question marks when it comes to Cole. For starters, is it even possible for this guy to stay healthy for an entire season? And second, is he capable of not melting down the moment he starts giving up a few runs? I’m not sure if we’ll see him get back to his 2015 all-star form where he posted a 2.60 ERA and picked up 19 wins (13 of which came before the all-star break), but my guess is that it’s a safe bet we’ll see Cole’s ERA end up somewhere around the low-3s with double digit wins this year (*if he stays healthy).
Jameson Taillon: The token Canuck for the 2017 Pirates. Taillon posted a respectable 5-4 record with a 3.38 ERA and 85 Ks in 18 appearances in 2016. Like Cole, it will also be nice to see what Taillon can do if he can stay healthy in 2017. He’s got a solid mid-90s heater, a decent changeup in the works, and an absolutely filthy curveball.
Ivan Nova: Kind of like the 2016 version of the 2007 Matt Morris trade where the 3rd place Pirates swapped Rajai Davis (who in the fuck thought they’d hear that guy’s name ever again?) for a somewhat big name pitcher having a down year. But this time it actually worked out. Nova tore it up for the Pirates last season in meaningless games down the stretch (5-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts). Then, he pulled the unthinkable by inking a 3-year deal with the Bucs this offseason for pretty big money ($26M). It will be nice to have a veteran guy like Nova around for these young guys to lean on.
Chad Kuhl: Look, I’m going to be honest here in that I don’t know much about Chad Kuhl. I know he played a decent amount last year and all, but I basically erased my memory after that 9-19 June last season. With that said, I’m just excited to see somebody else finally take over the role of Jeff Locke. I think we can all agree that we’re happy to see that crustache growing, long hair flowing, meatball throwing schmuck, make his way out of town. Chad Kuhl looks like the kind of guy that does the job of a number 4 starter. He goes on the mound every fifth day, he doesn’t look like an asshole, and he does his job – Meaning he’s not going to blow batters away with overpowering stuff, but he’s going to get his fair share of ground ball outs and post an ERA below 5.44. You need a guy like that on your rotation.
Tyler Glasnow: The official number 5 starter as of three days ago. Glasnow is kind of like that kid that blew up in 6th grade and became six inches taller than the rest of the class, yet he’s still lanky as fuck, runs weird, and gets injured all the time. At 6’7″, 195 lbs, this 23-year old has very HIGH potential. Not a huge stat guy, but he did strike out 30% of the batters he faced in AAA. Big upside here.
Basically a whole new look in the bullpen for your 2017 Pirates (R.I.P. Shark Tank). Most notably, Tony Watson has taken over the role of closer ever since the Pirates shipped away Mark Melancon to the Nats last trade deadline for Felipe Rivero (who may or not be the Pirates’ new setup guy). Watson, the former setup guy, now has the chance to prove to everyone once in for all he can close games. Even though he doesn’t have overly powerful stuff from a closer’s standpoint, Watson will be able to go out there night after night because the guy’s a flat out workhouse. As long as he can convert his first save this season, it’s safe to say there will be someone out there trying to kiss Neil Huntington’s feet for dumping Melancon’s contract. Speaking of Melancon, let’s take a look at how his debut went for the Giants on Sunday.
Matt Wade LeBlanc, Juan Nicasio, Daniel Hudson, and a douche that wears Snapchat glasses and still throws piece signs up at the camera (Trevor Williams) round out the rest of the rotation. Safe to say it doesn’t hurt to have two long-term relievers in Nicasio and Williams who can step in to start the moment one of the young starters screws up. All in all, it’s looking like it will be a work in progress for the 2017 bullpen. Lots of unknowns here.
Josh Harrison (2B/3B): Harrison’s your classic utility man that also carries a decent bat. He’s going to put up a decent average in the upper .200s, but don’t expect him to a great OBP guy because he’s also aggressive af at the plate.
Josh Bell (1B): Finally, a promising young player with loads of potential will be taking command of first base. The Pirates will still likely platoon Bell with Freese if he struggles against lefties, but the future looks bright for once at the position. Yeah, the guy had a dreadful spring training batting below the Mendoza line, but there’s a lot to like here. He’s going to take quality at bats, he’s going to get on base a lot, and perhaps you’ll see a dinger or two splash in the Allegheny.
Andrew McCutchen (
CF RF): Hey 2016, can we get a mulligan? Last year was absolutely BRUTAL for Cutch. So bad, that the Pirates literally dangled McCutchen’s name on the trading block all offseason like he was a piece of meat. Then, when the Pirates couldn’t get anything they wanted in return, they forced his ass to right field so Marte could take over center. Kind of sad, but hopefully this wakes his ass up in 2017. If Cutch is anywhere close to the .256 BA, .336 OBP, and god awful defense in 2017, one can only imagine we’ll be seeing Austin Meadows make his big league debut in either June or July.
Starling Marte (CF): In my opinion, one of the absolute best outfielders in the game right now people aren’t talking about. If Marte can rake a few more long balls this year, he’ll immediately join the conversation as one of the league’s ultra rare 5-tool players. Not many guys can make a decision easier for management to move McCutchen out of center field like Starling Marte can. He’s coming off his second consecutive gold glove, and he also tore it up at the plate (and basepaths) last year (.311 BA, .362 OBP, and 47 stolen bases).
Gregory Polanco: Polanco basically played the entire 2016 season with shoulder and knee injuries. Even through all of the adversity, he increased his homerun and RBI totals from 2015 (9, 52) to 2016 (22, 86) in nine fewer games. Look for this guy to continue to develop into an elite level outfielder this season. If he stays healthy, it’s probably a safe bet you’ll see those numbers improve even further in 2017. He’s good for a splash or two in the Allegheny as well.
Jung-ho Kang David Freese (3B/1B): If David Freese could ever play like the 2011 postseason version of David Freese, the world would be a better place. Don’t expect him to put up monster numbers, but it never hurts to have a guy that inherits the Skip Bayless “clutch gene.” You can count on Freese to put up a decent average (mid to high .200s) with respectable defense and a few big-time hits every once in a while.
Francisco Cervelli: Another guy that would probably like a mulligan for 2016. Last year, Cervelli was marred by a thumb injury early in the year. In the process, his average dropped 30 points and he had only a single homerun. However, the guy still takes quality at bats. Look for Cervelli to have a little more pop in his bat in 2017 as long as he’s healthy.
Jordy Mercer: Mercer’s gonna do the same thing as 90% of other shortstops in the Majors. He’s going to move runners around the bases with his bat, he’s going to hit around a .250 average, and most importantly, he’s going to give you reliable defense.
With the Pirates lacking any substantial depth in either their pitching staff or starting lineup (CC: Jung-ho Kang), this team is only a few injuries away from an implosion. It’s also basically a guarantee that the Cubs are going to win the NL Central for the next decade. Therefore, the absolute best the Pirates can do this year is possibly make another run at one of the two NL Wild Card spots.
Unfortunately, this is what it feels like to have growing pains after experiencing some short-lived success after 20 consecutive losing seasons. Nobody’s a fan of dumping big named players for contract reasons, but it’s also not a bad thing to see all these young prospects finally getting the chance to play every day. FiveThirtyEight is predicting a 27% chance the Pirates make the postseason. It’s pretty hard to bet against that, but I’ll say the Pirates are going to have at least another winning record this season (those douchebags are predicting an 80-82 record). So here are my bold predictions:
Record Prediction: 82-80 and 3rd place in the NL Central.
Major Transaction(s) Prediction: The Pirates will release Jung-ho Kang in May when they realize he’s never allowed back in the United States. They will also retain Andrew McCutchen because he has a more productive 2017.
Miscellaneous Prediction: Clint Hurdle’s face will continue to glow red, and he’ll begin limping by at least the all-star break due to frequent mound visits.
Now, let’s all blindly root, root, root like it’s 2015 again!
And remember to follow me on Twitter: @PeepsBurgh.