The NL Central is an odd beast. It’s the only division in baseball with six teams in it and while that doesn’t make much of a difference on most days of the year, it does screw this guide preview schedule up. I mean, we should be starting this week off with a new division, but we still have one more NL Central team preview to do. So let’s get it out of the way here, so we can move on to bigger and better things.
As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.
My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…
Last Year: 67 – 95, 6th Place, NL Central
|This Year||Last Year||Avg Pred.||Avg Finish|
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008
The Pirates are in a tough and unenviable position, having posted losing seasons for 16 consecutive years. Sadly for Pirates fans, it doesn’t look like the club has the talent to end that streak. And with the Brewers and the Rays reaching the postseason last year, they’re in some lonely company.
“Pittsburgh ran out of friends in low places last season. The Milwaukee Brewers reached the postseason for the first time in 25 years and the Tampa Bay Rays ended a run of 10 consecutive losing seasons with an American League championship. So the Pirates, who must trace their last winning season to 1992, have officially reached a league of their own. (TSN)”
The Pirates aren’t entirely bereft of talent, though. Closer Matt Capps was a bright spot for the team, as was pitcher Paul Maholm, whose strong pitching was rewarded with only nine wins. And then there’s centerfielder Nate McLouth, the single All-Star caliber outfielder that the club decided to keep from the three they had at midseason last year.
“Nate McLouth emerged as a force in the lineup with his ability to get on base and score runs. And his power numbers, helped by PNC Park’s left-handed-friendly right field, were a welcome addition. He also won a Gold Glove and should return as the anchor in center field. However, Andrew McCutchen, the team’s top draft pick in 2005, could push himself into the mix with a strong spring training. In that case, McLouth could shift to left field, where his speed could help him cover all that ground in the home confines. (Athlon)”
But the organization needs to concern itself with much more than just this year in order to turn itself around. This may not sound super-appealing to Pirates’ fans, who will likely have to endure a professional sports-record 17th consecutive losing season this year. If those same fans want to see this streak stop sometime before it hits 25 consecutive years, though, they should be thankful for the words and actions that the club’s new management are responsible for.
“Another new Pirates regime says it is committed to rebuilding this time from the majors down into the farm system, which is considered one of the weakest in baseball. In fact, the highlight of the year may have been signing first-round draft pick Pedro Alvarez, regarded as the best hitter available. He led one of the Pirates’ best drafts in years, after the team had long allowed money to be the overriding factor in their selections. This time Pittsburgh handed out a major league contract worth at least $6,335,000 to Alvarez – the Vanderbilt third baseman who signed after contentious negotiations with agent Scott Boras – and gave big bonuses to a number of touted high school players.
The Pirates have wavered during other rebuilding phases, either giving up on youngsters too soon or becoming impatient and signing mediocre veterans in hopes of a quick fix. This time, they say they will stay the course, even if it means winding up as the holder of a dubious record. (Lindy’s)”
Athlon’s final analysis of the Pittsburgh Pirates:
“Pirates fans get tired of hearing and reading this, but there’s much more work to do before this team has a winning season, let alone becomes a contender in the NL Central. It’s difficult to see this team making any great strides towards overtaking Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Houston this season. Again, what happens below the major league level will have more bearing on the future of this organization than what happens at the big league level. In short, a record-setting 17th consecutive losing season looms here.”
I really feel bad for the fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s pretty clear, from watching Steelers games and Penguins games, that this is a town that wants to support its teams. But the organization hasn’t exactly been trotting out the finest product over the years, and that can’t help but affect the support it receives. There is some talent on this team, but too much of it is unproven. Until these stars can prove themselves year-in and year-out, unlike, say, Tom Gorzelanny or Ian Snell, and until the organization proves its willingness to hold onto this talent, unlike, say, Jason Bay, it’s hard to predict much success for the Pirates. Hopefully, 2009 will be an obvious and much-needed first step in this direction.