Predicting the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2014 Starting Rotation

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Pittsburgh Pirates: 2014 Starting Rotation Predictions

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On Aug. 19, 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates were on the verge of making history, entering the season's stretch-run with a 67-54 record. What happened next was an all-too-familiar sight as the Bucs took a 15-29 free fall the rest of the way and closed up shop going 79-83. That history turned into a record book engraving ceremony, marking the team's 20th straight losing campaign. That even gives a Chicago Cubs fan some swagger.

For the national stage to begin taking the Pirates seriously in 2013, a statement had to be made. As the season took shape, the unthinkable occurred. Pittsburgh not only shed the bust-label, but the team bulldozed its way through the franchise's stereotype and cruised to a 94-win postseason appearance. The ghosts of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke were haunting no longer.

Setting the tone for this rags-to-riches chapter was the consistency of franchise player and reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, the rise to stardom of wunderkind rookie Starling Marte and the finally woken-up bat of left-for-dead third baseman Pedro Alvarez -- the man who holds the dubious distinction of claiming the NL crown in both home runs (36) and strikeouts (186). For Alvarez, its either a Rawlings or a Titleist, there is no in-between.

What put them over the top was the steady performance of the guys taking the hill. The Pirates' rotation was lead by aging veteran A.J. Burnett, the all of a sudden difference-maker Charlie Morton, rookie-upstart Gerrit Cole and the man who once told superstardom to go grab him a coffee, Francisco Liriano.

With ownership choosing to curiously offer Burnett a contract that would have resulted in a 47 percent pay-cut, the curveball-specialist will now be taking his services on a five-hour drive to the Philadelphia Phillies' clubhouse. The pressure is now mounting to keep the train rolling for the following five (plus one honorable mention). Big Ben and Sid the Kid need to look over their shoulders; Pittsburgh is becoming a baseball town once again.

Let's charge the mound.

Mike Holian is a Writer for Follow him on Twitter @TheMikeLevel, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your Google network.

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1. Francisco Liriano

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With a small-scale investment made, the Francisco Liriano rebound paid huge dividends. Little did the Pirates realize, he would become the black-and-yellow's bona fide ace. With a 9.1 K/9 in 2013 and a 9.1 for his career combined with a 3.5 BB/9 and 3.1 WAR, both career bests since 2010, the southpaw with the nastiest slider in the business is looking for new customers.

Prediction: Will battle for Cy Young supremacy.

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2. Gerrit Cole

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Now comes the big-money bets, and Pittsburgh is going all-in with the 6-foot-4, 220-pound, Newport Beach native Gerrit Cole. Cole presents above average components across the board, with a disappearing slider and extreme late movement on his two and four seamers that can touch the high 90s.

Cole came into his own last September after a few rough and tumble outings, inking a 4-0 record with a 1.69 ERA combined with a beyond-his-years SO/BB ratio of 3.57. Cole is the future of this this franchise. Put your shades on.

Prediction: Embarking on a true breakout. A trip to planet stardom.

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3. Charlie Morton

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Talk about a earning a raise. Morton's second half was a dominant display, one that resulted in a three-year, $21 million reward. To ask the crafty righty to repeat his last 11 outings of 2013 that had a 2.67 ERA attached to it would be foolish, but a ground ball specialist who pounds the corners is a key to any major league rotation. Morton has earned the promotion to the staff three-spot.

Prediction: Will continue his low-key, under-the-radar success.

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4. Wandy Rodriguez

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Missing the final 15 weeks of 2013 with elbow issues doesn't bode well for the once promising lefty. However, if Wandy Rodriguez can avoid the trainer's table through Spring Training, he instantly becomes a fixture in this rotation. With Volquez a colossal question mark and Taillon likely kept on the farm for service-time value, the Buccos will be forced to squeeze out every ounce of what his arm has left. His plummeting strikeout rate does not exude confidence.

Prediction: Solid through the first two months, elbow flares up in June.

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5. Edison Volquez

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Edison "The Dominican Ricky-Vaughn" Volquez is the definition of a risky acquisition, one who the Pirates signed to a one-year, $5 million contract this offseason. On any given night, Volquez can stifle a lineup with utter ease; the problem is those nights are few and far between the ones where he's yanked in the 4th inning after shattering a fantasy owner's ERA and WHIP with mind-boggling meltdowns.

This firecracker is apparently allergic to an ERA south of 4.00, registering only a single season in his 10-year career beneath the number. His 2013 line is downright revolting with 108 earned runs (6.01 ERA), 168 hits against with 69 walks ( 1.67 WHIP), both NL worsts.

Prediction: Volquez is either sent to middle-relief by the end of May or outright released with a plane ticket to Japan.

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Honorable Mention - Jameson Taillon

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In 2002, the Pirates selected Bryan Bullington with the No. 1 overall pick, passing on the likes of Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder. Trying again in 2006, Pittsburgh took University of Houston fireballer Brad Lincoln No. 4 overall over a murderer's row of Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Mad Max Scherzer.

In 2010, under the watch of GM Neal Huntington, the franchise finally ended the draft day swings-and-misses with No. 2 overall hurler Jameson Taillon. The Canadian-American is a classic power arm with an electric one-fast-two-curve combo and a developing changeup to add to his arsenal. He had a 8.7 K/9 and a 2.75 SO/BB ratio in his 2013 tour of the minors.

Prediction: July promotion and 2015 mainstay.