The 2013 baseball season was a magical year for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Anyone who follows the team will admit to being completely enthralled by this group of “Battlin’ Bucs” as they not only broke the 20-year losing streak but were a game away from making it to the NLCS.
It was a great ride, but if you were honest with yourself as a fan, you would have realized that this team still left a lot to be desired. After all, how likely are you to get such masterful pitching performances from starting pitchers as well as the bullpen that was the best in baseball in 2013? To ask that for a second straight year is asking a lot.
Nonetheless, the Pirates were, and still are, a team that is built around pitching. That isn’t a bad thing, but it can be troublesome on many levels. When you lose your staff ace from 2013 in free agency and are relying on Edinson Volquez and/or Jeff Locke to anchor the rotation as the fifth starter, that isn’t necessarily the most satisfying feeling in the world.
The Pirates have put all their chips on their pitching staff, and although it is a small sample size, through two games the Buccos look like they know what they are doing.
The question has to remain: What if the pitching doesn’t hold up like it did last year? Do the Pirates have the hitting to keep the ship afloat in a division with such offensive powerhouses like the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds?
The short answer to that question is no.
The Pirates rely on timely hitting based on the fact that they don’t amass a great deal of hits on a daily basis. Last year the Pirates finished with a +57 run differential. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Compare them to the other NL Central division foes — the Reds (+109) and the Cardinals (+157) — and that +57 looks like mere child’s play.
The Pirates have Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Russell Martin and Starling Marte, but of that offensive group only McCutchen and Marte hit for average consistently.
Plain and simple, the Pirates are a streaky offensive baseball team. They will score seven runs off 12 hits one day and follow that up with a two-hit shutout loss the next. Inconsistency wreaks havoc across the Pirates’ batting lineup.
If the Pirates want to contend this season, the recipe for success will include consistent offense and not relying solely on the arms of their pitching staff repeatedly.