It has been well documented that the Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992, heck they have only won more then 70 games once in the last seven years but all that might be in the rear view mirror as we look at the Pirates of 2012.
With only 114 games in the can, the 2012 Pirates already have 64 victories and appear to be well on their way to their first winning season since Barry Bonds took his talents to San Francisco. The real question is, are they a postseason team? Dodger fans probably hope they are not.
The Pirates are still 4.5 games back of the Reds but the Reds just found out that Joey Votto will be out longer then anticipated. The window is still there for them to catch the Reds who are only 5 - 5 in their last 10 games. Problem is the Pirates are only 4 - 6 so they best be making their move soon if they are going to make one.
Even with them being 4.5 back of the Reds they are atop the heap for those seeking the Wild Card, 2.5 games in front of the Dodgers and Cardinals. This would be a good time for the Dodgers to hammer the Pirates post season hopes by leaving Pittsburgh with a sweep, or at the very least three of four games. If they simply win two games, four more games will be gone from the schedule and they would still be 2.5 games back in the Wild Card.
1st Base - Gaby Sanchez/Garrett Jones is the new 1st base platoon. Gaby Sanchez was a trade deadline deal that sent Gorky Hernandez to the Marlins. In 2011 Sanchez was an all-star due to his blistering start to the 2011 season. Sanchez was so bad in 2012 he lost his job and was sent to the minors. Now with a new leash on life he should make a solid platoon partner for Garrett Jones who can can hit RHP at a decent clip but is Andre/Loney like against LHP which is where Gaby should help.
2nd Base - Neil Walker is on fire, comes into this game following a five for five game, with a walk and his hitting a blistering .324 / .357. 622 in August after smoking July to the tune of .358 / .423 / .674.
Craig Minami found this great clip regarding a tie in between Neil Walkers dad and Roberto Clemente.
SS - Clint Barmes is still the starting Shortstop and still one of the worst hitting shortstops in baseball. He did hit a grand slam yesterday off the foul pole.
3rd - Pedro Alvarez - Pedro went the to the Andre school of streaky hitting. The huge 3rd baseman has big time power, and can take a walk but has not come close to being the hitter everyone envisioned when he was the 2nd overall pick of the 2008 draft.
C - Rod Barajas was signed to be the starting catcher but little known Michael McKenry is knocking the snot out of the ball, and giving Rod a run for the starting gig. Despite having only 166 plate appearances, McKenry has eleven home runs. I'm not sure what all these old career minor catchers have been drinking but at this point I don't think I'd count out anyone in AAA over 25 who is a catcher.
LF - Two of the young outfielders that were counted on for 2012 are gone. Jose Tabata and Alex Presley. Replacing Presley in LF is twenty three year old top position prospect Starling Marte who has given the offense a shot in the arm since he showed up posting a solid .815 OPS with four home runs in seventy plate appearances.
RF - Jose Tabata was replaced by perennial top hitting outfielder prospect Travis Snider who was acquired from the Blue Jays for another former number one pick Brad Lincoln at the trade deadline. Snider has been on every prospect maven radar ever since he was the 14th pick of the 2006 draft and crushed AAA pitching while at the tender age of 20. That promise never materialized into a productive major league season so the Blue Jays moved him. I think he's going to start hitting for the Pirates and never stop. So far he's putting up a ,803 OPS.
CF - Andrew McCutchen is putting it all together and might be the odds on favorite for the MVP now that Votto/Kemp missed significant chunks of time. Maybe only Buster Posey is standing in his way unless he slumps dramatically the rest the way.
Monday - Aaron Harang versus Jeff Karstens
Tuesday - Chad Billingsley versus Kevin Correia
Wednesday - Clayton Kershaw versus Wandy Rodriguez
Thursday - Joe Blanton versus James McDonald
We miss the Pirates best pitcher AJ Burnett who has adapted quite nicely to the NL.
You might be surprised to find that Jeff Karstens is the Pirates second best pitcher but he's only made eleven starts. Karstens relies on his impeccable control to limit baserunners and strikes out enough to be a solid pitcher. His K/9 rate has climbed every single year he's been in the major leagues from a low of 3.1 to his current 6.7.
Kevin Correia is one of those pitchers who should give John Ely and Barney Fife hope because he's not very good but he's made 151 major league starts. We really need to win Tuesday.
Wandy Rodriguez was an Astro lifer until last months trade deadline. Wandy made 227 starts for the Astros but finds himself trying to pitch the Pirates into the Postseaon. So far he has made three starts with the Pirates and has not been very good.
James McDonald was one of the best NL pitchers in the first half of 2012 and many felt he was snubbed when he did not make the all-star team. Based on how he's pitched since then, probably a good thing he can't hang all-star pitcher on his locker just yet. He's made six starts since the all - star and has given up 30 earned runs in 31 innings. Overall his numbers are still solid but he needs to turnaround this second half slide before he finds himself in the bullpen.
Future - They brought up Starling Marte a few weeks ago who was their best position prospect. Last years number one pick Gerrit Cole will probably show up in 2013 and has ace potential. 2010's number one pick James Taillon is also considered by many to have ace potential.
The team needs a shortstop but otherwise they seem to have the positions covered. With one superstar, one above average player, and solid players just about every where else this is not a weak sister anymore. Given the age of Alvarez, Marte, and Snider they have room for improvement and also for disappointment.