After coming up short to the Cardinals for the National League Central Division Title, the Pirates have made a couple of moves to bolster up their starting pitching rotation & their MLB Odds.
Jonathan Niese and Ryan Vogelsong
We're going to switch things up as I usually list the ace of the staff, but the Pirates have had the same top hurlers for the last couple of seasons. Let's take a look at Jonathan Niese, who basically had no room on an overloaded New York Mets pitching staff and Ryan Vogelsong, who has come from the San Francisco Giants.
First of all, Vogelsong has been on some World Series winners and immediately that's an asset to teammates who haven't made it to the World Series as of yet.
Vogelsong is slated as the #4 pitcher on the Pirates loaded staff and maybe a change of scenery will get him on the winning track. Remember, this is a pitcher that pitched an ERA of 5.90 on the road and allowed opposing hitters to hit .265 against him. The Giants didn't have a great season last year and Vogelsong also didn't as he had a losing record at 9-11 with a 4.67. He's a question mark at best, but I've seen worse and Pittsburgh's offense could lend him some support. Time will tell whether this team will be in my MLB picks.
As for Niese, the Pirates are getting a straight down the line average pitcher who can occasionally come up with a big performance. His career record of 61-61 with a 3.91 says it all. However, Niese was on a World Series team last season and his numbers got worse at 9-10 with a 4.13 ERA. Add in the fact that he pitched in a pitcher's ball park at CitiField, that can't be encouraging, but their have been players such as A.J. Burnett who have come to the Pirates organization and rejuvenated their career.
Pittsburgh manager, Clint Hurdle, is looking for something similar from Niese. Niese does provide a good deal of innings and is a gamer and those are his strengths.
Gerrit Cole was one win away from the 20 win mark plateau, but a 19-8 record with a 2.60 ERA and over 200 strikeouts is an outstanding season. Cole has all of the talent in the world and a long career ahead of him. He's so good that Francisco Liriano had to be pushed back to the #2 guy in the rotation. There's simply nothing negative that a critic can say about him.
He doesn't allow a lot of walks and pitches well on the road. If the season comes down to a game, you can bet that the baseball will be in the hand of superstar Gerrit Cole as he should eclipse the 20 win mark this season at just 25 years of age.
Pittsburgh has to feel really good about having a Cole-Liriano combination as their 1-2 punch. Liriano is a superstar in his own right. Although he didn't have a huge win total last season, Liriano was 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. Liriano pitched nearly 200 innings and pitched very well at home with a 2.27 ERA. He's been the rock that the Pirates staff has relied on for the last few years and I don't expect anything different from him this season as the Pirates look to get deeper into the post-season. The only knock one Liriano is that he's been known to give up huge innings early, forcing another pitcher into the game and making Pittsburgh play catchup. Just the same, this is an above average pitcher and fits well behind Cole in this rotation.
Far From a Locke
Starter, Jeff Locke, is slated in the #5 spot and he had a disappointing year last season. He had major trouble on the road and opposing hitters had him figured out as they hit .274 off of him. I've said this before about other pitchers, but anything positive that the Bucs get from Locke is gravy. It's not to say that he can't compete well at times, but he's going to need to prove himself for anyone to have any confidence in him as he's been a major disappointment recently.
Pittsburgh's offense and their top 2 starters will help them compete for a Central Division Title and the MLB odds mirror that. Niese and Vogelsong, who will have something to prove, are the “X-Factors” and I expect them to have better seasons than they did in 2015.