Well we've got 9 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Speaking of....ladies and gentlemen, your Pittsburgh Pirates.
Lineup: There's modest promise here, and it all stems from Andrew McCutchen. The young CF is a star in the making, and anchors a lineup that's filled out with a collection of fallen prospects and league-average players. Of the former group, Jeff Clement, Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge will fill in the infield corners and left field - and that's not a bad thing. All three are still coming into their own, just reaching the age where they could record career-best seasons. Then again...they probably won't. As for the rest, Ryan Doumit is a solid catcher, Aki Iwamura is league average personified, and Garrett Jones, despite a mammoth season next year, figures to be nothing special. And at shortstop, the Pirates don't really have a viable option; it's between Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby, neither of whom are going to really even approach league average. So it's not a bad group overall, and if the young'ns take a step forward, they could actually be a bit intriguing.
Rotation: Unfortunately, the pitching won't help make up for it. Zach Duke (the leader in games started for the Pirates in this decade, shockingly) is your 'ace,' but he's...well, he's not so good. Paul Maholm is a starter in the same mold, but has at least some bright spots...though those have been offset by an inability to strike people out. Ross Ohlendorf is tall and from Princeton....but isn't a guy you want as your 3 starter. Kevin Hart...Daniel 'The Lesser' McCutchen (for his sake, we kind of hope that one doesn't catch on)...Charlie Morton....yeah, the back end doesn't look a whole lot better. Morton at least has some promise, and could well be a solid back-end guy, but when that's the highest praise that you can offer a starter in this group, then that's not saying too much.
Bullpen: They let Matt Capps depart, which was a wise move financially, but a poor move in terms of present talent. Octavio Dotel is not a bad late-game option, but with his health history, he's not someone you want to rely on as your closer. Brendan Donnelly was good in limited action lats season, but he's not been truly effective for a couple of years now. D.J. Carrasco did yeoman's work, tossing 92 innings of pretty decent ball, and should be in line for a couple spot starts and will be an effective long reliever. Beyond that, there's a lot of castoffs fighting for a few spots. Expect to see a lot of different people coming out of the Pirate 'pen this season, but don't expect greatness. Neal Cotts is here, though, which is kind of neat.
Overall: They're definitely making strides, as there is some legitimate promise here. However, they're still the Pirates, and they're still terrible. They'll benefit somewhat from a weak division, but this team is simply not set up to win - not now, and not in the near future. GM Neal Huntington is doing the best he can with limited options, but there simply isn't much to build around unless the former prospects find a mid-career surge. With limited options in the minor leagues, and no real trade bait, the Pirates have a big hill to climb. Still.
Predicted Record: 66-96, 6th place NL Central
Beer: Steel Reserve 211. This was one of the first matches we made when considering doing the beer previews, though to be honest, at the time we thought it was called Steel City Reserve. So basically this whole series was founded on a case of mistaken identity. But whatever; Steel Reserve, despite being brewed in California (we thought Pittsburgh - Steel City), is a cheap beer that is meant to make you incapable of even menial tasks. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a low salary and are incapable of the menial task of winning baseball games. QED.