Pittsburgh Pirates: NL’s 2007 Surprise Team?
The Buccos were everyone™s feel good story after opening week, going 3-0. After last nights 16 inning victory, their back within 1 game of .500 at 9 “ 10. So why should we watch out for the Pirates?
This team has a deep and unheralded starting staff. Snell is a strikeout machine (169 last season, 24 K in 27 IP along with a 2.00 ERA & 1.00 WHIP), Gorzellany is a diamond in the rough, following up last seasons 3.79 ERA with an early 2.05 ERA, 0.99 WHIP & 3 -1 record. While Zach Duke will never reach the lofty goals everyone set for him after his brief 2005 run, he™s a reliable”albeit inconsistent”number #3. The fourth starter, Paul Malhom is another breakout candidate, recently tossing a three hit shutout against the Astros.
Torres has blown three saves, so this he may be out pretty soon. Matt Capps pitched in 85 games his rookie season and has been stellar so far in 2007 (oppents .158 AVG in 11+ IP). Marte never worked as a closer in Chicago or in Pittsburgh but he is one of the games best middle/set-up men when confined to that role. Throw in Bayliss & Chacon and the Pirates have one of the deeper bullpens in baseball, even after dealing Gonzalez.
Four regulars are hitting under .200, with the group being catcher Paulino, inf Castillo, OF Eldred, and the big off-season acquisition, Laroche (.106). Laroche™s lack of production is the most troubling. The reasoning behind his acquisition”besides his own bat”was to provide protection for Jason Bay, thus forcing teams to actually have to pitch to him. Needless to say, Adam™s .106 BA isn™t striking fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers and is leading to another walk filled season for Bay (102 in 2006, 11 so far in 2007).
On the flip side of coin, no one is really tearing it up at the plate to off-set the offensive struggles. The leading OPS for the club is Bay™s sub-standard”for him at least– .827 mark. As a team, the Pirates have baseball™s lowest team average at .237.
If the starting pitching can remain strong (not at these levels but somewhere close) the bullpen should take care of itself. The question going forward will be the offense. And if it can begin producing, the Pirates should be able to make a charge at .500, which has historically been close to NL Central™s division lead or at minimum, within striking distance of a wild-card spot.