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Pirates Look to Plunder Division Crown

Andrew McCutchen Pittsburgh Pirates MLB

The beautiful ball park and snazzy uniforms are some of the most aesthetically pleasing in the game, but the recent postseason results have been a bit more on the grotesque side for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates have made it to the postseason in three-straight seasons via the National League Wild Card and have won said game just once (2013). Sadly, the Bucs have been shutout in the previous two and have been outscored 12-0 in the process, including their 4-0 defeat to the New York Mets in last year’s game.

The Central is as tough as it gets in baseball with each of the Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs making it to the playoffs last season. The Pirates won 98 games last season for crying out loud. That was enough to win any other division in 2015.

This season, the Cubs are favored in Central futures at -150 with the Pirates close at +300 at onilne shop Bovada. Since the Central Division was created in 1994, the Pirates are the only club to have played in the division that have not won it.

The last time the Pirates won the World Series, ESPN launched on cable TV and a Sony Walkman cost you around $200. Yes, 1979 was a magical season in Pittsburgh and the Pirates adopted “We Are Family” as their theme song en route to a seven-game win over the Baltimore Orioles in the Fall Classic. They are currently +2000 in 2016 World Series futures and are led by one of the National League’s best players in Andrew McCutchen.

McCutchen leads what is supposed to be one of the best outfields in baseball that also includes Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. The latter had somewhat of a disappointing season as he knocked just nine home runs and hit .256 en route to a 2.3 WAR.

What is concerning in Pittsburgh is that McCutchen’s WAR has dropped more than a full win in each of the past two seasons. He has gone from 8.4 (2013) to 6.9 (2014) and, finally, to 5.8 (2015). Are his best days behind him? He’s entering just his age-29 season, so you’d be inclined to say “no”. If the Pirates are going to win the Central in 2016, Cutch will no doubt have to reverse that eye-opening trend.

Elsewhere in the lineup, they may have lost Pedro Alvarez and his 27 home runs, but he never really offered much more than that and his potential replacement at 1B, John Jaso, actually had a higher WAR in less than half the number of plate appearances.

The pitching staff my raise questions, however, as ace Gerrit Cole deals with rib inflammation that has delayed him from throwing off the mound in the spring. The backend has undergone a bit of a facelift as gone are A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton, and in are Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. The latter pair enter the picture to round out a group that lags behind the Cubs and Cardinals – on paper at least - so pressure could be on guys like Jeff Locke.

Considering how good the Pirates have been each of the past three seasons, the 86.5-win total might seem a touch low. They have easily eclipsed that number each season since 2013 and, in these early days at least, look like a good bet to surpass it in 2016.

The Bucs will have to buck a lot of trends if they hope to take the next step in 2016. With the Cubs only getting better and the Cardinals the envy of the division, however, that task will be easier said than done.

But it always is easier said than done when it comes to the Pirates.

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2016 Pittsburgh Pirates Futures Odds
MarketOdds
World Series+2000
National League Pennant+1000
National League Central+350
Win Totals86.5

Odds as of April 1 at Bovada

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