Opening Day – everything feels right with the world. Even Pittsburgh’s curmudgeonly climate is sort of cooperating with the promise of summer nights at PNC Park and the Pittsburgh Pirates playing meaningful baseball games . . .
. . . And then I woke up, right?
I want to say no! I want to scream from the rooftops that the national pundits who are picking the Pirates to finish anywhere from fourth to last in the National League Central are clueless, and that the 2019 Pirates are going to shock everybody and compete for the division and a spot in the World Series.
I want to say no because of a potentially solid starting rotation – potentially being the key word – a probably very good to great back end of the bullpen, and an offense that could score just enough runs to make this iteration of the Pirates a significant contender in the NL.
I want to say no, but then I remember a few things, namely, that the starting rotation might have potential, but it really has a few question marks. Joe Musgrove’s health, Trevor Williams taking the next step, Jameson Taillon becoming an ace, Chris Archer returning to form and the team finding a competent fifth starter not named Jordan Lyles.
I also remember that, as good as this bullpen can be, bullpens can also implode quickly.
I remember that the team’s two top pitching prospects, Mitch Keller and Nick Kingham, could not outpitch 96-year-old Francisco Liriano (or at least that’s how old he looks when he’s throwing these days) for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Keller needed to win that fifth starter spot. What a good sign it would have been to have him pitch well enough to be in the starting rotation. His spring collapse was not a good sign as it forces the Pirates to hope for more than expect a good start every fifth day.
The lineup has many more question marks than the pitching. But what if? What if Kang is back and better than before? What if Polanco returns sooner than expected and picks up where he left off 2018 before his injury? What if Bell is more productive, Frazier settles in at second, and Marte, Dickerson and Cervelli/Diaz can be productive?
I am always telling my students that it is the job of writers to answer questions, not to pose questions, so here are my answers:
The Pirates’ rotation will be solid enough to keep them in enough games that they will contend, and their bullpen is good enough to win many of those games. The lineup will be better than many expect, and the Pirates are going to make a run at a wild-card berth.
90-72 – that is my prediction for 2019 . . .
. . . And then I woke up, right?
- The Penguins have certainly awakened. The LeTang injury is a major concern, however, and any recurrence that keeps him out of the lineup hints at a bigger problem than he appeared to have when he missed several games earlier in the month. Head, neck, back – those are scary injuries and the Penguins should be careful with LeTang. Looking more and more like a first-round matchup with the Islanders. The Isles can score, they give the Penguins trouble and they have had a great season, but the Pens have a tremendous advantage in playoff experience and overall talent, especially between the pipes.
- It is impossible to watch North Carolina basketball and not think about how good Pitt might have been with Cameron Johnson in the lineup.
- If the Steelers think they have addressed their problems at inside linebacker with the signing of the undersized and moderately skilled Mark Barron, they are wrong. If they are eyeing an inside linebacker with their first pick in the draft, they are right to do so. While the team does have other needs, inside linebacker is the most pressing. Fixing that position will have a ripple effect throughout the defense and ease much of the off-season pain the franchise has endured.