The Pittsburgh Pirates have a long and distinguished history, but unfortunately for them baseball has continued since the early 1990s.
Pittsburgh appeared in the first World Series in 1903, has won five championships culminating in the 1979 title, and has Hall-of-Fame players Roberto Clemente, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski among others to wear the black and gold.
Under baseball’s economic system, the small-market Pirates have struggled greatly and enter this season with an undesirable record. Pittsburgh’s current streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons is the longest streak of any professional sports franchise in North America.
The Pirates have become a farm system for higher profile teams with bigger bank rolls. Anytime Pittsburgh has a valuable commodity, that player is shipped off to a larger market for prospects and the cycle begins again.
So how bleak is the outlook for the 2011 Pirates? The 2010 version picked up the third-most losses in team history, and had their worst winning percentage since the 1954 squad. Pittsburgh bumbled its way to the worst record in baseball at 57-105, finishing 34 games behind Cincinnati in the National League Central standings.
The Pirates enter the season with a league-low win total of 67.5 games. Pittsburgh is the longest shot on the board to win the NL pennant at 250/1, with Washington next on the board at 60/1. The Pirates are 500/1 to win the Fall Classic, with Cleveland and Kansas City the closest long shots at 200/1.
Pittsburgh finished the year with a respectable 40-41 record at PNC Park, while going an embarrassing 17-64 on the road. The Pirates were a great team to fade, losing $2,171 on the money line while the ‘under’ went 78-73-1.
Sunken Ship, No Treasure
New manager Clint Hurdle has an empty cupboard to deal with this year, loaded with the usual prospects that might be good enough for a pennant contender in a year or two. The pitching staff is loaded with, guess what, prospects.
The starting rotation appears to be Paul Maholm, James McDonald, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Olsen and Kevin Correia. Only Maholm (4.48) and Ohlendorf (4.40) have ERA’s under 4.50, but there is hope that McDonald will make a successful transition after spending time in the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, Joel Hanrahan will be the closer, and he struck out 100 batters in just 69 2/3 innings. However, expect him to see limited duty as the team figures to have very few leads late in games. Evan Meek is another hard-throwing right-hander, and he was Pittsburgh’s lone All-Star representative last year.
An Offensive Offense
There is talent on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s young and will experience some growing pains. Outfielder Jose Tabata is just 21 years old, but was a shining star in the New York Yankees farm system. Tabata won’t overwhelm you with power, but figures to hit for average, steal some bases and provide solid defense.
Second-baseman Neil Walker finally appears to be reaching his potential after being a first-round pick in 2004, hitting .296 with 12 home runs and 66 RBIs after getting called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez will have to cut down on his strikeouts (119 strikeouts in 347 at bats), while first baseman Lyle Overbay hits for average and can connect on 15-20 homers a year.
Fans in the Steel City will have a couple of things to look forward to the next couple of months. Hopefully, the Penguins will get Sidney Crosby back and the team can make another run at a Stanley Cup title.
Pittsburgh fans are also hopeful that the National Football League lockout doesn’t extend very long, and that the Steelers can get back to the Super Bowl. There is little hope for the Pirates this year or in the immediate future.
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