80 more victory high fives and the Pirates could have their first winning season since 1992 (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Pirates faced two Cy Young Award winners to start the season and managed to split the two games. As expected Halladay beat them opening day 1 - 0, but Cliff Lee could not replicate that success. The Pirates were able to defeat the Phillies in ten innings 2 -1 when Alex Presley beat out a ground ball to SS with a runner on 3rd. Things won't get any easier for them as they face the current Cy Young award winner to start our series.
Can't imagine to many teams have started a season facing three Cy Young Award winners in their first four games. To top it off the pitcher they face on Wednesday might have pitched the best game of the young season so far.
Season Series: 2011 - (6 - 2), Dodgers outscored Pirated 49 - 21.
Manager: Clint Hurdle (608 - 716)
In an effort to bolster the rotation, the Pirates added the talented but oft injured Eric Bedard who was their opening day starter. Rod Barajas was brought in to be the everyday catcher as they said good bye to Chris Snyder. The biggest positional move was bringing in Clint Barmes to be the everyday SS. Barmes was able to parlay a decent 2011 season into a two year $10 Million dollar deal. Nate McLouth is back in town trying to recapture the magic he once displayed as a Pirate. All in all a very quiet off season for the Pirates as they simply added some pieces to a young team.
1st Base- Mishmash of players here with Garret Jones getting work against RHP, Jones has some pop with 58 home runs over the last three seasons. Casey McGeHee and the versatile Mathew Hague could also see some time here. You might remember McGeHee as the starting 3rd baseman for the Brewers the last few years. He's been brought in as Pedro Alvarez insurance, so while the Pirates wait to see what Pedro will do, he should see some at 1st base. Hague had a monster spring and finds himself at the age of 26 on his first major league roster.
2nd Base- Switch hitting Neil Walker made the successful transition from 3rd base to 2nd base a few years ago, and now finds himself one of the better offensive 2nd baseman in the National League. His defense leaves much to be desired but it looks like he's getting better. His offense dropped a bit in 2011 from 2010 so it will be curious to see what 2012 brings.
Shortstop- Not often that Clint Barmes would be considered an upgrade but when your starting SS has been Ronny Cedeno you can consider it an upgrade. Barmes is all defense with a home run once in a while.
3rd Base- Pedro Alvarez was supposed to be a star by now. The second overall pick of the 2008 draft has monster power which was on display yesterday when he put a ball out side of stadium but making contact is a huge issue. 202 strikeouts in only 588 at bats is simply to many when you only hit 21 home runs to go along with it. At 25 years old he's at the point that he needs to produce or the Pirates may have to look elsewhere for their power plant. At one point the worry was if Pedro could field 3rd base, now the worry is, can he even hit enough for 3rd base.
Catcher- Rocking man Rod Barajas took his power game from the Dodgers to the Pirates to become their everyday catcher. At age 36 Rod has played 13 years and only twice has been able to garner more than 400 at bats. The backup catcher is Michael McKenry who shockingly is now in his 3rd major league season.
Left Field - Alex Presley surprised everyone last year when he was promoted on June 28th and hit well enough to hold the job for the rest of the year. His 121 OPS+ may be as high as he ever gets but he might provide a solid bat. Not really sure what they have in Presley, maybe a Parra type.
Right Field- Ex NYY top prospect Jose Tabata did not build on his solid debut in 2010, as nagging injuries held him to only 382 plate appearances. The speedy right fielder does not offer much power because of a 61% ground ball rate. He's still only 23 so plenty of time for growth.
Center Field- Best centerfielder in the NL not named Matt Kemp? Andrew McCutchen has put three consistent years together and he's only 25 with plenty of room to keep expanding his ceiling. McCutchen is all the reason you need to watch the Pirates in 2012 and beyond as he boasts one of the most exciting skills sets in baseball.
Starting Pitching for our Series:
Game 2: Erik Bedard has bedeviled fans for years. No doubt he has the skills to be an above average pitcher but the one skill he does not possess is health. Eight years, 958 innings. Has only made it over 150 innings twice. None of that matters, because he will be healthy on Wednesday, and he will be the best bet to stand in the way of a Dodger sweep.
While the current rotation has some issues, the Pirates do have some major talent in the farm system. We won't see any of them in 2012, but by 2013 you should expect to see glimpses of the big arms of Jameson Taillon and UCLA standout Gerrit Cole.
Joel Hanrahan had been a decent relief pitcher, garnering a save here and there, but in 2011 he took his game to a new level becoming a legitimate all - star for the first time. Command had been a bit of a bug a boo for Joel but he dropped his walk rate from 3.4 to 2.1 and picked up 40 saves in the process. Juan Cruz resurrected his career in Tampa Bay (no surprise) and has been brought in to setup Hanrahan. So far he's done exactly that, pitching in two highly leveraged situations this past weekend. Cruz has always had a big arm on a small frame. Rounding out the bullpen will be a bevy of names we hope to inflict some damage on, Jason Grilli, Evan Meek, Jared Hughes, Chris Resop, and Tony Watson. Watson appears to be the only LHP in the bullpen.
The Pirates have to feel good about themselves beating the Phillies two out of three in a hotly contested three game series. They are trying to be a winning team for the first time since 1992. It is probably not going to happen in 2012 but they have some pieces. Hopefully the excitement of McCutchen's walk off on Sunday will be tempered by a healthy Kershaw, a resurgent Billingsley, and the bats of MattDre.