2013 Season Preview: NL Central

By Matt Musico
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Pittsburgh Pirates (2012 Finish: 79-83, .488, 4th place)

Key signings/acquisitions: 1B Clint Robinson (trade), P Vin Mazzaro (trade), C Russell Martin (FA), RP Jason Grilli (re-signed), SP Jeff Karstens (re-signed), 3B Brandon Inge (FA), SP Francisco Liriano (FA)

Key losses: RP Chad Qualls, C Rod Barajas, SP Kevin Correia, SP Luis Rico, P Luis Santos

The season started with a lot of optimism, as Clint Hurdleentered his second season at the helm in Pittsburgh; if it wasn’t for a second half slide in 2011, the Pirates would have ended their two-decade long losing record streak. Pittsburgh was off to another great start in 2012, and actually entered the All-Star break in first place. However, they once again faded into the background during the dog days of August, finishing the season four games under .500.

Mar 1, 2013; Sarasota, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) against the Baltimore Orioles during the top of the first inning of a spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew McCutchen put together an MVP-caliber season; he’s long been the centerpiece of what Pittsburgh has been trying to accomplish, but truly showed what he’s capable of, as he hit .327/.400/.553 with 31 homers and 96 RBI. Unfortunately for the Buccos, he was the most consistent piece of the lineup, as the young Pirate hitters were an incredibly streaky bunch, struggling at times to put runs on the board.

However, the pitching excelled; it was what the staff did on the mound that yielded the first half success for Hurdle’s group. When they stumbled a bit in the second half, the offense wasn’t there to pick up the slack, which led them to slip in the standings. The organization hoped that acquiring A.J. Burnett from the Yankees would give him a fresh start, and be the veteran presence in the rotation to anchor a staff of mostly young hurlers. Fortunately for them, that’s exactly what Burnett did, winning 16 games and compiling a 3.51 ERA, which was his lowest earned run total since 2005 with the then-Florida Marlins (3.44). James McDonald had an up-and-down season, and there’s hope the righty will have a season more like his first half of 2012 (6-2, 2.73 ERA) instead of the second half (6-6, 5.95 ERA).

Rookie to watch: SP Gerrit Cole

Cole is not expected to break camp with the Pirates, but he’s been their top prospect from the get-go, and the 22-year-old is just about primed to get his opportunity to contribute to the future of the Pittsburgh organization. In his first professional season, Cole moved his way from A+ ball in Bradenton, all the way to AAA in Indianapolis. Altogether, he started 26 games and threw 132 innings, putting together a 9-7 record, 2.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and struck out 136 hitters. Mayo points out a lethal fastball-slider combination, as he gets the old #1 pitch up to 98 mph. He only started one game in Triple-A last season, but one would imagine that if he shows he can hang at that level, room will be made for him at PNC Park as soon as possible.


I truly think this is the year that we’ll see the Pirates finish with a record over .500…something they haven’t been able to say since Barry Bonds was on the roster in 1992.  That will be a huge accomplishment, as Hurdle has been slowly improving the performance of his ballclub and changing the culture of the clubhouse over the previous two seasons. However, their success will stop right there, within the 82-85 win range and a third place finish.