Inside the Laufer Room: Pirates 2014 preview

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Zach Laufer, Staff Writer

The longest losing streak in professional sports ended abruptly last fall, and a playoff birth was just an added bonus; but, coming off a Cinderella season like 2013, how can they possibly not have a let down season in 2014?

In the simplest terms, in 22 we trust.

To put things into perspective, star center-fielder Andrew McCutchen won the MVP(most valuable player) trophy last season with stats less than comparable to that of a usual winner. Here is how they ended up:

2013 (won MVP)

GP        PA     AB     R       H       2B     3B    HR     RBI    SB      CS      BB       SO        BA     OBP    SLG   OPS   OPS+  TB   GDP  HBP  SH    SF   IBB

 

 157   674  583  97  185   38   5  21   84  27   10   78   101  .317  .404  .508  .911  158  296  13   9   0   4  12

 

2012 (3rd in MVP voting)

 157  673  593  107  194   29   6  31    96  20   12   70   132  .327  .400  .553  .953  162  328   9    5   0   5  13

 

Compared to his 2012 season, in which he finished third in the MVP race, his statistics were actually worse overall; he had nine less hits, ten less home runs, and lesser averages in batting, slugging, and OPS. The reason for McCutchen’s MVP award was a combination of the Pirates’ magical season and the lack of a clear-cut favorite in the NL.

Aside from McCutchen, the rest of the outfield is up for grabs. Starling Marte looks to have a breakout year in left field, while the hot spot lies under the Clemente wall.

A battle between Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, and Gregor Polanco is taking place this spring for the starting job in right field; however, it looks like it will be more of a platoon role of Tabata and Snider, with Polanco waiting in Indianapolis for his shot, most likely coming in June.

As for the infield, Pedro Alvarez looks to build on a breakout 2013 season at third base, improving on his batting average and on-base percentage. Neil Walker hopes to have a bounce-back year after a sub-par season last year, and Clint Barmes has the shortstop position on lock by his stellar defensive play.

The real question mark is at first base. Will newly acquired Travis Ishikawa platoon with Gaby Sanchez, or will Andrew Lambo (with a batting average of .095) somehow take that job? Will one of them will take the job outright? It will be answered come the opening series.

But the biggest uncertainty, by far, with the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates has to be the pitching staff. Aside from the sure-to-under-perform bullpen from last year, there are huge concerns with the starting rotation. The five-man rotation (at least to start the season) will look like this:

L    Fransisco Liriano

R   Charlie Morton

R   Gerrit Cole

L   Wandy Rodriguez

R   Edinson Volquez

This group compared to that of last year’s NLDS opponent is inferior at best. Can Liriano recreate his career year from last season, and sustain it over the full five months? Maybe. Will he? Probably not.

Can Charlie Morton stay healthy throughout the season while, at the same time, keeping hitters at bay with heavy doses of sinkers and curve balls? History would indicate not.

Can Gerrit Cole build off of his sensational rookie debut last season, avoiding the dreaded “Sophomore Slump?” Again, the arrow is pointed downward.

Can Wandy Rodriguez come back strong from season ending surgery last year and dominate hitters like he did in April/May of 2013? A recurring theme is apparent.

Finally, can Edinson Volquez somehow manage to get batters out in Pittsburgh, something he struggled to do in Bradenton, while not looking like a high school pitcher? In the simplest terms, not a chance.

If the Pirates hope to get back to the post-season this year, they will have a lot of questions and obstacles to overcome.

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