DAVID LAUTERBACH: Right off the bat, what do you think of Pittsburgh's start to the season?
CHARLIE WILMOTH: They've played well recently, but overall this team doesn't appear to have enough pitching talent to replicate last year's success.
DL: What could the Pirates have done differently to avoid their struggles so far this season?
CW: Entering the offseason with a serious budget would have been a good start. The Pirates weren't willing to extend a qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett, presumably because they didn't want to pay him $14.1 million for one year, even though he was one of the best pitchers in the NL last season. If the Bucs had some read on Burnett and thought he would take a big step backward in 2014, that would be one explanation, but then there weren't reports connecting them to any other big-name free agents either.
CW: That's typical Pirates behavior, of course, but last year was their first winning season since 1992. If they weren't willing to splurge a bit last offseason, it's hard to see how they ever will. For years, people like me defended the Pirates' boring offseasons on the grounds that spending didn't make much sense for a rebuilding team in a small market. Last offseason, though, the Pirates had the makings of a competitive team, and they still didn't spend. They tried to sign James Loney and Josh Johnson and ended up with neither, and so their offseason essentially amounted to Edinson Volquez and Chris Stewart, which, you know, isn't so hot.
DL: Was there a move Pittsburgh made, but shouldn't have?
CW: Not really. They didn't make many.
DL: How much did the loss of Jason Grilli to the DL hurt the team?
CW: Not much, in the sense that he wasn't pitching well before the DL stint anyway. As compared to last year, though, it's been frustrating to not have two nearly-automatic relievers like Grilli and Mark Melancon shutting down the eighth and ninth innings.
DL: What happened to Jeff Locke? Why was he sent down after just one bad start?
CW: It was just a spot start. The 2013 first half that won him a spot in the All-Star game was a textbook example of why ERA isn't a very good indicator of a pitcher's ability. Locke is a good depth option or back-of-the-rotation pitcher, and it's to the Pirates' credit that that's the way they see him.
DL: A long time ago, Andrew Lambo was in the Dodgers' farm system. He finally made it to the majors last year with the Pirates. What's his status?
CW: He flailed his way out of a job in spring training, did very well for a few weeks in Triple-A, then went on the disabled list with a thumb injury. After a terrific Triple-A season last year, he would have been a reasonable fit for part of the first-base job -- see below -- but he was so disappointing in spring training that the Pirates demoted him anyway.
DL: Could Andrew McCutchen repeat his MVP season?
CW: I can't speak to whether he'll actually win the award again. Trying to get the voters to pick the best player is like trying to get a cat to fetch the newspaper. But if the question is whether McCutchen can again contribute the value he did last year, then sure, I don't see why not. It's his age-27 season, and I see nothing to dislike about his game.
DL: Did you like the Ike Davis trade?
CW: Not as much as I would have liked it if the Pirates were to have made a big move for someone like Mike Napoli or Jose Abreu. Since they didn't, though, trading for Davis made sense (with the caveat that we don't know for sure who the PTBNL is). The Pirates simply didn't have a big-league hitter to play first against righties. They were using Travis Ishikawa, and that wouldn't have worked in the long term. And while Gaby Sanchez is very good against lefties, he shouldn't be starting against righties either. Davis has hit well since the trade, but it was a good move regardless.
DL: Who are Pittsburgh's Cy Young and MVP at this point?
CW: Tony Watson and McCutchen.
DL: Series prediction?
CW: The Pirates will win between zero and four games. Traffic around the stadium will be, like, impossible.