The past three seasons have been good to the fans in Pittsburgh; having seen their Pirates average 93 wins per year with three consecutive trips to the post-season. Since 2013, the Pirates have finished second in the NL Central, with 94, 88 and 98 win seasons respectively since 2013. Earlier today, my colleague Nick Carrington outlined the major moves the Pirates made this off-season as well as their projected lineup and rotation for 2016…so we will try to answer what these changes will mean for the club this summer.
The Pirates have done an excellent job in cultivating their own talent and holding onto it through the past several years. Perennial all-star Andrew McCutcheon is locked up for three more seasons, they have a young ace in Cole, with promising young talent like Polanco and Marte…and more talent on the way from the minors most likely debuting later in the summer in Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. At the same time, they lost some significant “pop” in their lineup with the off-season trade of hometown favorite Neil Walker to the Mets and Pedro Alvarez signing with Baltimore. To make up for this power, they are going to have to see increased production from some of their young talent.
Pittsburgh is an interesting team to project, as each off-season they seem to make moves that many would question, only to have success follow the next season. Case in point, their lack of activity in addressing and improving the SS position. Pittsburgh will likely enter April with Jody Mercer as the starting SS…while a solid defender, as was Clint Barmes before him; neither really provide much offensively. For nearly three years, Pittsburgh has had opportunities to address this offensive hole and held pat…and never the less, they continue their winning ways.
This summer, one can expect the Pirates to build off of the success of the past three seasons and once again be competitive through the year. While I don’t see them winning 98 games like they did in 2015, 90 wins is certainly within reach and should be expected of this group. The main difference from 2016 compared to the previous three years, the level of competition they will face not just in the NL Central, but throughout the entire National League. Against my wishes, St. Louis is going to continue to be a relevant power player at the top of the NL Central. The Cubs are improved with their off-season additions and the expected growth of their young stars. Teams like the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants will look to bounce back from missing out on the playoffs in 2015. The Mets return one of the top rotations in the bigs. The Dodgers continue to spend big on free agents while boasting one of the best farm systems in the game. And finally the Arizona Diamondbacks will be expected to compete following their major acquisition of Zach Grienke. Overall, from top to bottom, the NL is greatly improved from last year and one can expect at least eight teams will be vying for 5 playoff spots. Its crowded at the top of the National League, and I just don’t think 90 wins is going to cut it.
Once we reach October, I project the Pittsburgh Pirates to finish the year with a record of 90-72, good for third place in the National League Central behind the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. However, I do not see Pittsburgh making the playoffs this season. Last season it took 97 wins to make the Wild Card play-in game…and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t take at least 95 wins to make the Wild Card game again in 2016. At the end of the day, a very good team, a fourth straight winning season, but their three year streak of making the playoffs comes to an end. The Jolly Roger will not be raised in October this season.