The Pittsurgh Pirates have had three straight winning seasons just once since the 1979 "We Are Family" team won the World Series. The Pirates try for a third winning year in a row in 2015 and have a wins total of 85 on 5Dimes MLB odds.
Recap of 2014
Is Pittsburgh now a Pirates more than a Steelers town? Not quite ready to say that yet, but should the Bucs reach the postseason for a third straight season, which they haven't done since those Barry Bonds/Doug Drabek clubs lost three straight NLCS form 1990-92, then maybe the Pirates will close the gap. Win a World Series and then there could be a true culture shift.
In this short-attention span era, it might be hard to forget the Pirates had 20 consecutive losing seasons, by far the longest streak in MLB at the time, entering 2013. That team won over the fan base with 94 wins, a victory in the wild card game and a five-game loss to St. Louis in the NLDS. Expectations were naturally high for last season but the team regressed a bit, winning 84 games and again finishing second to the Cardinals in the NL Central. PNC Park hosted the wild card game again but the place never got rocking as it did in 2013 as Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner gave a preview of his postseason dominance, blanking the Pirates on four hits, striking out 10 and walking just one in San Francisco's 8-0 rout.
Outside of two guys, every key player from last year's Pirates team is back for 2015. Most experts again peg the Pirates as the second-best team in the NL Central behind St. Louis.
Outlook for 2015
Easily the two biggest losses from last year's club were catcher Russell Martin, one of the best in baseball, and the guy who was the unexpected ace of the rotation, Edinson Volquez.
There was never a chance the small-market Pirates were going to be able to afford Martin, who got $82 million from Toronto. Martin will be missed as he was a great pitch-framer, clubhouse leader and had one of his best offensive seasons, batting .290 with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs while setting a career best in on-base percentage (.402). He led the majors by throwing out 37 attempted base stealers and finished fourth overall with a caught-stealing percentage of 38.5. There's no replacing that. The team also traded outfielder Travis Snider (.264, 13 HRs, 38 RBIs) to Baltimore but that's not a big loss.
Volquez led the Pirates with 13 wins and with a career-best 3.04 ERA. He was 9-1 with a 1.85 ERA after June 23, spanning his final 17 regular-season starts. He allowed five runs in five innings in that wild-card loss. Volquez got $20 million from the Royals. It may have been wise for the Pirates not to have matched that as Volquez had been largely terrible since 2009 before last year.
What the Pirates do have is perhaps the best all-around player in the National League in center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP and second favorite to Miami's Giancarlo Stanton at sportsbooks for this season. McCutchen played 146 games last year, missing a handful in August (his first season with less than 154 since 2010). He was in contention for the NL batting crown, finishing third with a .314 average while hitting 25 homers, knocking in 83 and stealing 18 bases. McCutchen led the majors with a .410 on-base percentage. Simply put: this is probably a below-.500 team if McCutchen were to be lost to a season-ending injury early in the year. An argument can be made he's the most valuable player to his team, even more than say Mike Trout is to the Angels or Clayton Kershaw to the Dodgers.
The Pirates should have one of the majors' best outfields with Starling Marte in left and super-prospect Gregory Polanco in right field. Now you can see why Snider was expendable. Former third baseman Pedro Alvarez moves to first full time because Josh Harrison emerged as an unlikely star at third last year, finishing second in the NL with a .315 average. Fluke perhaps? Second baseman Neil Walker (.271, 23 HRs, 76 RBIs) is the best offensive player at his position in the NL. Jordy Mercer is a solid shortstop and former Yankee Francisco Cervelli replaces Martin behind the plate. Downgrade there, so keep it in mind while you make your MLB Picks.
The pitching staff is led by lefty Francisco Liriano (7-10, 3.38), who opted to re-sign with Pittsburgh, and young right-hander Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.65). A.J. Burnett was brought back as a free agent, although he's clearly way past his prime, while Charlie Morton and Vance Worley round it out. Mark Melancon (33 saves, 1.90 ERA) is a fine closer.
Both 'over' and 'under' are -110 in the MLB Odds on the Pirates' 85 wins. They are +245 to win the division and +1350 for the pennant.
Pittsburgh Pirates Season Win Total: Go 'over' the wins, although I don't see them reaching 90. The Pirates' lineup looks good, the pitching staff a bit shaky at the back end. The Cardinals are the Cardinals, the Cubs are coming in the division, but the Reds and Brewers don't look great. Pittsburgh finishes third in the Central.