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2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

April 2, 2015

Pittsburgh is probably best known for their Neanderthal NFL quarterback. After that, they’re best known for their historic NHL franchise. After that, they’re best known for having three (count ’em, three) rivers. After that, they’re best known as “that city with the really nice baseball stadium.” But after that, they’re known as the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

To find out what’s going on with the team that used to wear painter’s caps, I reached out to Raise the Jolly Roger, who were kind enough to take time away from separating their black and yellow attire into three piles — football season, hockey season, and baseball season — to answer a few questions for me.

CSG: The Pirates have finished in 2nd place the last two seasons, with two Wild Card appearances to show for their efforts (going 1-1 in those games). What do the Pirates need to do to get over the hump?

RtJR: Overcome the Cardinal Devil Magic. The division race between the Pirates and Cards came down to the final week in both of the last two years, but whatever combination of luck/experience/evil they have going on in St Louis was able to allow the Cards to hang on in very tight races (plus the ’13 NLDS) that could have been changed drastically by a play or two. The Pirates have been very close but haven’t quite broken through. Hopefully the experience of being there the last two years will help, and they also just need to be a little luckier (injuries and poorly timed bullpen disasters hurt them a lot last year, and they managed to finish behind St Louis last year despite a much better run differential).

CSG: As a Reds fan, I’m quite envious that your star player (McCutchen) is under control through 2018 for a mere $51 million. What do you think is more likely—the Pirates extending him while under contract, or trading him and reaping the benefits?

RtJR: I don’t think either one is very likely, at least any time soon. There was some talk of the Pirates looking to extend him this spring but it’s far too early for that given the money and number of years left on his current deal. They did a great job locking him up before he truly evolved into elite superstar and are reaping the benefits of that now. I can’t see the Pirates giving him one of these Monopoly money contracts you see around the league for stars going into their declining years, and that’s probably what it would take to keep him beyond ’18. That said, I certainly don’t see them looking to trade him, either… unless we get to a point a few years down the road where the team is no longer competitive and his free agency is looming.

CSG: What do you see as the biggest challenge that could prevent the Pirates from contending in 2015?

RtJR: Overcoming the loss of Russell Martin. Cutch was/is the best player but Martin was arguably the heart and soul of the team the last two years. He had an unexpectedly great offensive year in ’14 but was also consistently excellent behind the plate and as a leader. I think the Pirates did a decent job (given the circumstances) of finding a replacement in Francisco Cervelli, but he needs to stay healthy and even then would still be a pretty big downgrade from Martin. The hope is that the Pirates can recover in some other ways, such as better/more consistent pitching from both the starters and bullpen.

CSG: Fill in the blank: Andrew McCutchen will _________________ in 2015.

RtJR: “Continue to be totally awesome in every way.” I am sure some Reds fans don’t like Cutch, but, even doing my best to remove the black and gold glasses, he is everything MLB could want in a superstar and possible future face of the league. Power, speed, on-base skills, defense, there is a reason he was Top-3 in MVP voting for three years in a row. Then throw in the fact that he led the resurgence of the franchise and is an absolutely tremendous person off the field, and there’s nothing you can’t love about the guy. Don’t take my comments about him probably not getting an extension as a slight… that’s just me discussing the way the Pirates do business. Cutch is the best.

CSG: Your prediction for the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates

RtJR: I see them back in the Wild Card game for the third straight year, even though that’s a lame prediction. This is a team that hasn’t changed a lot from last year — lost Martin, but improved marginally in some other areas (bench and pitching depth). With some better luck (fewer key injuries and better performance in close/division games), they could win it, but the pitching staff doesn’t quite scream “division champ” to me just yet.

Thanks again to Raise the Jolly Roger. You can read their musings about the Pittsburgh Pirates at raisethejollyroger.com.

Spoiler: Every post just says “CUETO! CUETO! CUETO!”

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