The Cincinnati Reds will start the first week of the season at home that includes a weekend series with one of the best teams from 2015.
Pittsburgh (98-64, 2nd in NL Central, 2GB, Wild Card)
Key Additions: Neftali Feliz, John Jaso, Kyle Lobstein, Ryan Vogelsong, Jason Rogers, Juan Nicasio, Jon Niese
Key Departures: Charlie Morton, Travis Snider, Antonio Bastardo, Joe Blanton, Keon Broxton, Joakim Soria, Neil Walker, J.A. Happ, Andrew Lambo, Travis Ishikawa, A.J Burnett (retired), Radhames Liz, Aramis Ramirez (retired) Corey Hart, Pedro Alvarez, Jaff Decker
Reds Dates: April 8-10, May 9-11, Sept 16-18 @Pit April 29-May 1, Aug. 5-7, Sept 8-11
The Pittsburgh Pirates recorded the second best record in baseball, but compiled a 34-42 record against NL Central opponents last season including an 8-11 record against the Reds. This proved problematic when they faced the Chicago Cubs and Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card game to send the Pirates home early for the second straight season. Manager Clint Hurdle, now in his sixth season, has led the Pirates to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons after the team went through a 20 year drought.
The expectations are still high for the Bucs as they still have a good chunk of players secured for lower end salaries, but the Pirates will have to make some decisions in the future. They already passed on Pedro Alvarez and let him sign with the Baltimore Orioles and traded longtime second baseman and Pittsburgh native, Neil Walker, to the Mets for pitcher Jon Niese. Niese will be one of three left handed pitchers in the Pirates rotation alongside Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke. Liriano is set for Opening Day while Locke will get the series opener next Friday in Cincinnati.
Gerrit Cole returns as they team leader in wins and ERA after he posted a 19-8 record with a 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts. He also earned his first All-Star appearance, but when the Pirates offered him a contract, Cole seemed less than thrilled that he was making nearly the same amount as he did in 2015. The Pirates are fully taking advantage of the fact that Cole is not yet arbitration eligible to help keep their payroll in check and build around their prized pitcher.
Pittsburgh also returns one of the best back-ends to a bullpen in Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. Since they’ve been working together in 2013, Watson has 97 holds to Melancon’s 100 saves earning both at least one All-Star appearance. Melancon set the Pirates record for saves in a single season with 51, besting Mike Williams’ 46 in 2002 for a team that won just 72 games.
The Pirates also bring back one of the best outfields in baseball with Gold Glove left fielder Starling Marte, center fielder and former MVP Andrew McCutchen, and right fielder Gregory Polanco. Marte and Polanco each finished in the top five in stolen bases last season in the NL while McCutchen was in the top ten in walks and RBI.
The one question mark once again for the Pirates is who will play first base. Pittsburgh experimented with Alvarez last season, but now the Pirates have three options in former Brewer Jason Rogers, John Jaso and Michael Morse, who joined the team near the end of last season. Jaso will likely get at bats against right handed pitchers with Morse and Rogers figuring to get time against lefties. Third base will also be vacated by Jung Ho Kang until his return from a fractured leg and knee injury. The Pirates went out and acquired former Cardinals third baseman David Freese to help fill the gap with last year’s third baseman, Cincinnati native Josh Harrison, taking over for Walker at second.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will first meet at Great American Ballpark on April 8 and then go to PNC Park at the end of April. Locke is set to face Alfredo Simon on Friday, with Juan Nicasio expected to face Raoisel Iglesias Saturday, and Anthony DeSclafani is set to return Sunday against Liriano. Here’s a look at what the Pirates should look like to start the season (as of 3/31).
Starting Rotation (2015 stats):
1. Francisco Liriano (12-7, 3.38 ERA)
2. Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60 ERA, All-Star)
3. Jon Niese (9-10, 4.13 ERA w/Mets)
4. Jeff Locke (8-11, 4.49 ERA)
5. Juan Nicasio (1-3, 3.86 ERA w/Dodgers)
Closer: Mark Melancon (3-2, 2.23 ERA, 51 Saves, All-Star)
C. Francisco Cervelli (130 Games played, .295 avg, 7 HR, 43 RBI)
1B. John Jaso (70 GP, .286 avg, 5 HR, 22 RBI w/Rays)
2B. Josh Harrison (114 GP, .287 avg, 4 HR, 28 RBI)
3B. Jung Ho Kang (126 GP, .287 avg, 15 HR, 58 RBI)
SS. Jordy Mercer (116 GP, .244 avg, 3 HR, 34 RBI)
LF. Starling Marte (153 GP, .287 avg, 19 HR, 81 RBI, 30 SB, Gold Glove)
CF. Andrew McCutchen (157 GP, .292 avg, 23 HR, 96 RBI, All-Star)
RF. Gregory Polanco (153 GP, .256 avg, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 27 SB)
C. Chris Stewart
1B. Michael Morse
1B/3B. David Freese, Jason Rogers
IF. Pedro Florimon, Sean Rodriguez
OF. Matt Joyce