3 Reasons That The Pirates Will – Or Won’t End 20 Years Of Consecutive Losing Records
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By Brad Cuprik (Pirates Correspondent) Follow @bradcuprik
The statistical improvements are easy to decipher in Clint Hurdle‘s first two years as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2011, the Bucs were 72-90, scored 610 Runs and gave up 712 Runs. Those were improvements of 15 victories, 23 Runs Scored and an impressive 154 less Runs Allowed.
This past season, Pittsburgh improved in all three categories again – earning 79 victories with 651 Runs Scored and 674 Runs Allowed. If it seems like an excruciatingly long time since Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek were leading the Pirates to a winning season and a third consecutive NLCS, that’s because it has been – two decades to be exact.
Bill Clinton was just starting his first term as President of the United States and something called Color Me Badd was popular on the radio.
Questionable music aside, if the Pirates want to put an end to all that losing, another year of similar improvement will get them over the .500 hump.
Here are three reasons why 2013 will be the year it happens for them and three reasons why the longest consecutive streak of losing seasons in professional sports will reach 21 years.
Sid Breams 1992 NLCS Game 7 Slide kicked off a 20 Year Consecutive Losing Records Streak
3 REASONS WHY THE PIRATES WILL FINISH WITH A WINNING RECORD:
1) Starting Pitching Depth – Although the Bucs had a tougher time choosing their first five to begin the season because of injuries, it could turn into a nice problem when Hurdle has all his hurlers healthy. A. J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald are slated to begin the season as the top three in the rotation.
Youngsters Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson were in a Spring Training battle for a rotation spot, in which Locke emerged as the winner of the fifth spot. Veteran Jonathan Sanchez may not be completely over his control issues, but some consistency over a three-start stretch in March earned him the fourth spot in the rotation for the Bucs.
Jeff Karstens was re-signed but hasn’t pitched all Spring. Charlie Morton is still rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery and could be ready to go in July. Francisco Liriano broke his non-throwing arm in the offseason and it is unknown when he will return. Then there’s Gerrit Cole, the team’s No. 1 prospect, who pitched well enough in Spring Training to earn a spot in the rotation but GM Neal Huntington opted to send him back down to hone his skills and be ready for a mid-season call-up.
All 10 of those pitchers have fared well for various lengths of time in the Majors except Cole, and it’s just a matter of time until the Pirates unleash him on the National League. Hurdle may need all of them and a few more if the health concerns continue but the depth is there to win the required 82 games to end the futility.
2) Potential at Leadoff Spot – Left Fielder Starling Marte will likely become the Pirates’ 7th different Leadoff Hitter on Opening Day in as many years, and the 20th for the Pirates since 1990.
That is a sign of an organization that has had trouble fielding a winning ballclub. Consistency out of a Leadoff Hitter sets the tempo for many games and innings in the National League, and Marte is the type of player that can provide Pittsburgh with its first bona fide leadoff guy since (insert sigh here) Barry Bonds. That’s right, Bonds was the Pirates’ leadoff hitter three years in a row from 1987-89.
At that time, Bonds was a similar player to Marte – the ability to hit Home Runs, Steal Bases, hit for Average and above-average defensively.
Marte appeared in 47 games for the Pirates in 2012, hitting .257 with 5 HRs, 17 RBI and 8 SB. This winter, Marte hit for a .304/.381/.464 line in 112 At-Bats in the Dominican Winter League, and then exploded for a .422/.481/.756 line – with 4 HRs in the postseason.
If he can bring similar production to the Leadoff spot for the Bucs, he and Andrew McCutchen could increase the team’s run production and take some pressure off of the aforementioned Starting Pitchers.
Here are the Pirates’ Opening Day Leadoff hitters since 1990: Alex Presley (2012), Jose Tabata (2011), Akinori Iwamura (2010), Nyjer Morgan (2009), Nate McLouth (2008), Chris Duffy (2006-07), Matt Lawton (2005), Tike Redman (2004), Kenny Lofton (2003), Adrian Brown (2001-02), Jason Kendall (1999-2000), Tony Womack (1997-98), Mike Kingery (1996), Jacob Brumfield (1995), Carlos Garcia (1994), Al Martin (1993), Kirk Gibson (1992), Gary Redus (1991), Wally Backman (1990).
3) Potential Upgrade at Catcher – The word ‘potential’ is used here because Russell Martin has seen a steady and very noticeable decrease in his offensive production since 2007. Even in his worst season as a pro in 2012, Martin’s numbers were still better than 2012 starter Rod Barajas.
The Bucs do have Michael McKenry back to get 50-60 starts behind the plate, but Martin will be a huge reason why the team ends its losing streak or posts a sub-.500 record. There is the likelihood that Martin will bat second and any Major League team needs someone that can hit above .211 in that spot.
An increase into the .250 range would be a nice addition to the lineup along with Martin’s 21 HRs from a year ago.
It is Martin’s ability to throw runners out – or at least the upgrade over Barajas – that will make the biggest impact for the Pirates. In 2012, Martin threw out 25 percent of potential SB, while Barajas managed to nab a ridiculously low six of 99 base stealers.
Over a course of a year, that is recording about 20 outs earlier in the inning. All other things equal, that could save 12-15 runs, which could be the difference between a 79-83 mark and an 82-80 record. The minor improvements could be just enough to push the Pirates over the top.
3 REASONS WHY THE PIRATES WILL POST A 21ST CONSECUTIVE LOSING RECORD
1) Several Players Having Career Years in 2012 – Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones combined for 57 HRs and 171 RBIs last season. Expecting that kind of production again might be a reach. Alvarez has some upside but many believe that’s the most you could get out of Jones – a starter at both 1B and RF for the Bucs.
Starting Pitcher A.J. Burnett gave the Bucs over 200 IP and 16 Wins, numbers difficult for any pitcher to repeat in today’s game. James McDonald, despite his second-half collapse, had the Pirates at the top of the NL Central with a stellar first half. Nobody saw Andrew McCutchen leading the NL in Batting most of the season and finishing as runner-up for MVP.
Relief Pitchers Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes and Tony Watson were all strong for the Pirates in holding leads for closer Joel Hanrahan, who is now with the Red Sox. To get to the magic number of 82 victories, you would need many of the players to do even better in 2013 and that seems unlikely in a number of the above cases.
2) The New Closer – Pittsburgh has traditionally done well finding closers after trading away proven fireballers. Mike Williams, Matt Capps, Mike Gonzalez and now Hanrahan have moved on after being among the NL Leaders in Saves. Has the well run out with Hurdle handing the ball over to Grilli in the ninth inning this season?
Grilli has been able to make batters miss since breaking into the Big Leagues in 2000, but 90 SO in 58.2 IP last season? Those are certainly closer numbers, but Grilli did his damage in the 7th and 8th Innings. Will it be different when there’s more pressure and Grilli is trying to get the last outs?
In 330 Career Games Pitched, Grilli has more Starts (16) than he does saves (5). That’s a lot of faith to put into an unproven Closer, but Pirates’ skippers have come out smelling like roses in similar situations in the past.
3) Astros Have Gone American – With the Major League’s lowest payroll by a good margin, it is an easy prediction to say the Houston Astros will lose their fair share of games. The balancing of all divisions hurts the Pirates in 2013, taking the worst team out of the division and making it tougher to post a winning record.
This past season, the Bucs went 12-5 against the Astros, leaving Pittsburgh with a 67-78 mark against everyone else.
The schedule was also unkind to the Pirates in the early going. After the opening series against the Cubs, the Pirates are out West for six games against the Dodgers and D-Backs.
The following 10-game homestand has the Reds, Cardinals and Braves heading to Pittsburgh – before the club travels to Philadelphia, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Being anywhere near .500 at the end of April could be considered a win for Hurdle and the team’s attempt at ending the streak.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com or their partners.***
A big Thank – You goes out to our Pirates Correspondent Brad Cuprik for preparing today’s featured post. Brad is longing for a return to the postseason for his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, but enjoys watching any team and any level of baseball. He grew up idolizing Cal Ripken and played shortstop through the NCAA Division III level. While working on two different baseball book projects, he earned his MBA at Robert Morris University, but wishes he could have majored in baseball history.
Brad’s dream is to cover the Pirates as a beat writer, but is making ends meet as a retail manager for now. If you want to talk about the greatest game, whether present or past, or e-mail him at email@example.com. You can also follow and Interact with Brad on Twitter Follow @bradcuprik
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Posted on April 3, 2013, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged 2013 Pirates Preview, @bradcuprik on twitter, a.j. burnett, Adrian Brown, akinori iwamura, Al Martin, alex presley, Andrew McCutchen, andy van slyke, barry bonds, bobby bonilla, brad cuprik, Carlos Garcia, charlie morton, Chris Duffy, clint hurdle, Doug Drabek, francisco liriano, garrett jones, Gary Redus, gerrit cole, Jacob Brumfield, james mcdonald, jared hughes, jason grilli, jason kendall, jeff karstens, jeff locke, joel hanrahan, jonathan sanchez, Jose Tabata, kenny lofton, kirk gibson, Losing Streak, Major League Baseball, matt capps, Matt Lawton, michael mckenry, Mike Gonzalez, Mike Kingery, Mike Williams, nate mclouth, national league, NL Central, nyjer morgan, pedro alvarez, pirates, pirates baseball, pittsburgh, pittsburgh pirates, pnc park, Rod Barajas, russell martin, starling marte, Tike Redman, tommy john, tony watson, tony womack, wandy rodriguez. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.