Last year, the Pirates were the worst.
They lost 105 games.
But that was worse than merely the worst in the majors. Despite all the Pirates’ problems since 1992 (their last winning season), the Pirates hadn’t lost 105 games in a season. They did lose 100 on the nose in 2001, but 105 losses was their worst showing since the Bucs went 42-112 in 1952.
Worse, 2010 was three seasons into the Pirates’ latest rebuilding cycle.
Granted, sometimes you have to lose before you win. But they’ve been losing a lot.
Are the wins coming? At least a few more of them?
Yeah, at least a few. It’s really hard to lose 105 games. The Royals have lost 105 games during their long run of futility, but just once. The Orioles lost 107 games in 1988, but they needed a 21-game losing streak to get that done. The Tigers … well, the Tigers have been special. The Tigers lost 109 games in 1996, 106 in 2002, and 119 in 2003.
Pay no attention those Tigers, though. It’s really not that easy. Before I even look at their off-season moves and their roster, I will confidently predict a better record for the Pirates in 2011.
Significantly better, though?
The Pirates have made two big changes to their lineup: Lyle Overbay takes over at first base, and Chris Snyder arrives to share the catching duties with Ryan Doumit. Both of those changes should improve the defense; neither should do a great deal for the offense.
The Pirates’ rotation will look quite a bit different this year. Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf return, as does James McDonald, who pitched well in his 11 starts last season. Challengers for the other three slots include Kevin Correia, Brad Lincoln and Scott Olsen. Lincoln’s done some nice things in Triple-A, but none of those guys have exactly covered themselves in glory.
It’s possible that I’m missing something here, but I think the Pirates’ hopes for 2011 – and well beyond, actually – rest with their young hitters. Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez all have room for improvement, and at least one of those guys is probably going to become a superstar.
McCutchen’s got the best chance. He’s young, he’s steady, and he’s still three or four years from hitting his peak. Walker might have been a little over his head last year, but sometimes they’ll fool you. Alvarez was the No. 2 pick in the draft three years ago; you don’t want to bet against those guys, especially if they’ve held their own as rookies. Tabata, once a hot prospect, lacks an impressive professional track record but is 22 and did play reasonably well as a rookie last year.
Look, there’s a chance that two of them become superstars and the other two move up a little, and with a little luck the Pirates might actually avoid 90 losses.
I worry about the pitching, though. And not just in 2011. The Pirates’ have just one hot prospect in their entire farm system, and he is a pitcher. But he’s 19 and hasn’t thrown a single inning in the minors yet. He’s their only hot prospect, and the odds are against him doing anything exciting, let alone in the next two or three seasons.
The Pirates’ short-term outlook is modestly positive, because it’s hard to lose 105 games (or even 100) and because they do have some fine young talent in their lineup. If you’re a fan, maybe that’s enough to excite you in March and perhaps even sustain you through a 19th straight losing season.