The 2018 season symbolizes a new era of Pirates baseball. In the offseason they traded franchise icon, Andrew McCutchen to the Giants and ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros. These moves made it seem as if the Pirates were beginning another rebuild. The Pirates made three straight playoff appearances from 2013-2015. Since 2015, they haven’t made the playoffs or had a winning record. Through six games this year they’re 5-1, which has had some wondering if they could finish above .500 this year. A lot of things have to go right for that to happen, but it’s not impossible. This season’s first six games has shown what this team will need to do to shock the baseball world.
Many people don’t see the Pirates as playoffs contenders because of their pitching staff. Their rotation is lead by Ivan Nova, who is the only starter with more than three years of MLB experience. Their number two pitcher is Jameson Taillon, who has ace stuff, but last year was his first season in the majors. The rest of the Pirates rotation consists of Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl and Joe Musgrove. Like Taillon, both Williams and Kuhl have one year of MLB experience. In order for this team to make a playoff run they’ll need these pitchers to surpass expectations. They’ll also need them to pitch deep into games, as Trevor Williams was the only starter through their first six games to go six innings.
The performance of the starters is key because the Pirates have a very young and inexperienced bullpen. They have one of the best closers and young arms in baseball in Felipe Rivero. Outside of Rivero, George Kontos is the only other bullpen arm who has had success in the majors. The bullpen will be a big factor in whether or not this team surprises people, as early on they have struggled.
With a full healthy season from both Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, the Pirates offense should be much better. Their biggest offseason acquisition, Corey Dickerson, is a good replacement for McCutchen. The offense should keep this team competitive on a nightly basis. The pitching will determine how far this team will go. The National league central is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball and only got better in the offseason. The Brewers added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to improve their offense. The Cardinals added power with the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna. Facing these teams will show if the Pirates can exceed expectations or not.
So far this season the Pirates have played the Tigers, Twins, and Reds. Both the Tigers and Reds are not supposed to be playoff teams this year. The Twins could be, as their young talent and their improved rotation could make them surprised contenders. Through six games, the Pirates have shown they have what it takes to be a competitive team. The real test will come when they play teams expected to be in the postseason. If the pitching can continue to keep them in games and the offense continues to hit, then this season will be one to remember for the Pirates.