(BaseballStL) — Baseball is underway, and the Cardinals are set to begin one of their more anticipated seasons in the past decade.
While the Birds have been dissected, analyzed, and assessed for the past month (and will continue to be for the next month and a half), we’re taking a brief break to look at the rest of the NL Central.
In our first post, we take a look at the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Key Losses: Garrett Jones, Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett
While Morneau and Byrd were on short-term deals, they were instrumental in pushing the Pirates to the NLDS. Byrd played above his career averages in his 30 games with the Bucs, driving in 14 runs and picking up 52 total bases on his way to an .843 OPS.
Morneau’s stay was even shorter and far less productive, but it could be argued his presence in the lineup created issues for pitchers. Despite not homering with the Pirates, his historical power commanded respect, creating opportunities for those hitting ahead of him- usually Andrew McCutchen.
Garett Jones homered only 15 times in 144 games, and was released and season’s end. Really the two first basemen’s departures mean the club must find a power-hitting first basemen for 2014.
The final major departure is veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett.
The 37-year-old wasn’t a shutdown starter, but he was a nice anchor in the rotation. His WHIP was an modest 1.2, but he posted his highest strikeout per 9 innings ratio of his career in 2013, hitting 9.8.
Many of his numbers were markedly better than his 2012 campaign with the team, so at the very least they are losing a reliable arm.
Key Gains: Gerrit Cole, Andrew Lambo, Edinson Volquez
Neither Cole nor Lambo are new to the club, but they both have a shot at a full season. Cole came up in June and looked absolutely sterling for a 22-year-old. A 1.1 WHIP and 100 strikeouts in 117.1 innings paint an optimistic picture for the young arm in a full season’s work.
Lambo debuted in August, and is considered one of Pittsburgh’s best prospects. He only notched 33 plate appearances, but picked up two doubles a home run and 12 total bases in his brief time in the majors.
His work in AAA was good enough to earn him the club’s Minor League Player of the Year. He will probably begin the season on the bench at the very least, and could work his way into a starting role if his bat picks up the way it’s projected to.
Volquez projects to be the fifth starter, and is coming off an inconsistent season with the Padres and Dodgers. Somewhat of a reclamation project, it is unclear how much impact he will have on the team.
Biggest note: Farm system
Despite a long run of frustration, Pirates ownership quietly built themselves a team that can compete yearly for a division title.
With the core of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez (all in their mid-20s), the club has steady young talent going forward.
Behind them, several key prospects are likely going to see a debut in 2014. Infielder Alen Hanson, outfielder Gregory Polanco and pitcher Jameson Taillon all appear ready for a shot at the Majors.
As always, it will come down to pitching. The Pirates got a lot out of their rotation last year, and their bullpen was terrifyingly efficient- especially in high leverage situations. If they can keep that performance level, and break even on Volquez, they will be right there in September.
A lot of things went as well as they possibly could for Pittsburgh last year. An injury to Russell Martin or one of their young stars could derail the team quickly, but unless something like that happens, they should compete.