The biggest storyline of 2011 will not be Jayson Werth’s missing beard or the Red Sox setting sprinting records or even the Diamondbacks’ hosting the All-Star Game amid controversy. It will be the Pittsburg Pirates breaking out of their 18-year slump and winning more than half their games.
After winning 95, 98 and 96 games in 1990, 1991, and 1992 I’m sure Pirates fans did not anticipate that 2011 would come about and their team would have not only failed to return to those heights, but failed to even finish a season with a winning record. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is approaching and while the Pirates will not win the World Series or reach the playoffs this year, in September they will be playing each of their final games with the knowledge that they are entering territory unseen in nearly two decades. As wins 82, 83, and 84 are collected, the Pirates players will be celebrating more than any team that makes the playoffs as the good times begin to return to Pittsburg.
General Manager Neal Huntington has been working tirelessly to draft, sign and develop players that will return the Pirates to their former glory. Although the job is not finished, 2011 will see the young team turn the corner. Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen and Garret Jones make up the outfield – McCutchen a five tool star in the making surrounded by two solid players. Neil Walker was the surprise middle infielder of 2010 with a good bat and a solid glove. Lyle Overbay, the former Brewer and Blue Jay will bring veteran leadership and some pop at first base and Pedro Alvarez, while up and down last year, is ready to take on the major leagues. He has matured physically and mentally and his presence at third base will define the Pirates for years to come.
The starting rotation, lead recently by the solid if not spectacular Paul Maholm, is also featuring a youth movement. Former Dodger James McDonald is on the rise and Kevin Correia is underrated. This isn’t to say it will be an easy road for the Pirates; the Astros will be bad but their fellow NL Central rivals the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds will be more successful. The Cubs are talented as well. However the Pirates of 2011 are not the same team we have seen since the early 90s. I may be a little early, but the Pirates, like the Royals, are a team on the rise.