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Pittsburgh Pirates Team Preview
by Matt Fargo - 02/11/2008
2007 Record 68 Wins 94 Losses - 6th National League Central
2007 Money -$1663 moneyline -$1639 Runline 83-70 Over/Under
Losing seasons are becoming the norm in Pittsburgh. After posting the worst record in the National League last season, the Pirates have now failed to finish .500 or better in 15 straight years which is just one year shy of the Major League record set in 1948 by the Phillies. After starting the season with a three-game sweep in Houston, confidence was running high then but losing 10 of the next 13 killed that and they never recovered. Losses in 13 of the final 15 games did not instill much momentum heading into 2008.
After hitting .263 in 2006, the Pirates were hoping for a breakout last season with Jason Bay and Freddie Sanchez coming off spectacular seasons and the acquisition of Adam LaRoche adding even more pop. The breakout never happened as the Pirates hit .263 again last season. Bay had a career-worst year with a .247 average and just 21 home runs while Sanchezâ€™ batting average dropped 43 points last season to .304 from a National League-leading .347 in 2006. He is now 30 and his numbers wonâ€™t be going up.
LaRoche was the real big surprise however. He led the team in home runs with 21 and RBIâ€™s with 88 but he was projected to be a 30/100 guy or better. He hit only .239 in the first half, no thanks to a .133 April, and he is seeking to avoid the slow starts that have plagued him all through his career. No additions or subtractions this year as the lineup remains virtually the same with only a battle between Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan to play center field and bat leadoff being the only question in the spring.
2008 Starting Pitching
The rotation of the Pirates was the biggest question heading into last season but this year it is their biggest strength and has arguably the most upside in baseball. The five-man rotation is set with Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Matt Morris. Gorzelanny led the team with 14 wins while posting a 3.88 ERA and if not for blowups in July and September, his numbers could have been spectacular. Snell led the team in ERA at 3.76 and WHIP at 1.33 but he slowed down in the second half.
With his first season of 200 innings under his belt, the Pirates are hoping for a stronger finish from Snell. It was just the opposite for Maholm who had a dreadful April and May but settled into a very good groove in the second half of last season with the exception of his final two starts that raised his ERA from 4.32 to 5.02. Duke has had back-to-back disappointing seasons but he did have a good September and needs a good spring. Morris is a good veteran leader who should bounce back from a bad second half.
Like most young teams, the bullpen had its issues last year, posting a 4.81 ERA which was second worst in the National League, only ahead of Cincinnati. The unit allowed 71 home runs which was 2nd worst in all of baseball and that obviously needs to improve. Pittsburgh found a closer with Matt Capps after Salomon Torres got hammered to open the season. Capps finished with 18 saves and a 2.28 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in splitting time as a setup man and the closer. He should thrive going in with a secured job.
The biggest concern is the middle relief seeing that there is no clue where it is going to be coming from. Veterans Hector Carraso, Casey Fossum and Elmer Dessens are likely candidates for the middle relief jobs and the jury is still out if there will be a turnaround or not. The Pirates have two proven left-handers to set Capps up in Damaso Marte and John Grabow. Franquelis Osoria was 2-5 with 11 saves with a 2.63 ERA in 39 games in AAA and has the inside track for the right-handed set up job.
2008 Overall Outlook
Management and coaches were completely rehauled heading into 2008. Neal Huntington takes over as general manager while John Russell replaces Jim Tracy as manager to go along with a whole new coaching staff. A new attitude along with new philosophies are what they are hoping makes the difference. If the top four starters, who are all 26 and younger, can excel, and if the offense starts strong, the Pirates could be the Brewers of 2008 and surprise in the weak National League Central.