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Bold Predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Season
A true ace starter
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been able to earn a playoff berth in back to back seasons, which now creates some expectations as they head into the 2015 season. In 2013 the team was able to lean on A.J. Burnett who was able to produce a season that mirrored that of many other number one starters around baseball. In 2014 they did not have that luxury with Burnett signing with the Phillies, but with internal growth offensively, they were able to once again qualify for the National League playoffs. The Pirates head into the 2015 season with A.J. Burnett back with the team, but at 38 years old his presence on the roster does not come with the expectation of being the Pirates ace starting pitcher. Francisco Liriano is now scheduled to make his second straight opening day start, with 24 year old Gerrit Cole scheduled to follow him in the rotation by pitching the second game of the season. Finding a true ace on the pitching staff this season will go a long way towards helping the Pirates win a division title, but some other factors will be involved. A division title and a deep playoff run are on the line as the implications for what could happen if some of the following scenarios play out in the Pirates favor this season.
The Pirates will get strong production from their shortstops
Gone are the days of Jordy Mercer being satisfied with just slightly above average offensive production at the shortstop position in the National League. Mercer now has to work hard in order to hold off newcomer Jung-Ho Kang at the shortstop position. This spring, Mercer has shown signs that he has been working on his offensive game after putting up a very strong defensive season for Pittsburgh last year. With Kang and Mercer being big players at the shortstop position, the Pirates are likely to get above average power production from either one, regardless of who earns the most playing time. Kang has faced some adjustments this spring while facing MLB pitching for the first time, but he still has been able to flash the power that has scouts believing he could hit 20 or more homeruns as the Pirates starting shortstop in 2015.
The Pirates win a division title if Francisco Liriano Throws 200 innings or more
Francisco Liriano recently earned the opening day start for the Pittsburgh Pirates, to end a long streak of seasons where they did not have the same opening day starter for back to back seasons. For Liriano, his career high in innings pitched is 191 and two thirds in his 2010 season with the Minnesota Twins. He has been a strong contributor for the Pirates each of the past two seasons, but after making 26 starts and pitching 161 innings in 2013, he was only able to make 29 starts while pitching 162 and a third innings in 2014. For Liriano to reach the 200 inning mark in a single season, that would mean he would have to pitch very efficiently throughout that season, all the while staying healthy. This type of contribution from the Pirates opening day starter, would mean the Pirates finally had an ace starter to lean on in their quest to win the National League Central division title for the first time in franchise history.
The Pirates will score more than 700 runs this season
After scoring 682 runs in a strong offensive effort a season ago, the Pirates are looking for more in 2015. The Pirates had the second best runs created number in the National League last season, which suggested their work at the plate should have produced more than the 682 runs that they scored. With Josh Harrison now in position to be in the starting lineup for a full season, and Starling Marte set to build on his breakout season from last year, the expectations are high for the Pirates offense in 2015. With plenty of power up and down the Pirates lineup, they expect to produce enough runs to win a division title in 2015. While the offense for the Pirates can only win a certain amount of games on their own, they do make up the most important unit for the team's win creation this coming season. Scoring more than 700 runs in a pitcher friendly ballpark, would go a long way towards helping the Pirates to win the National League Central in 2015.
Two or more Pirates will have 30 homeruns seasons
This is one of the tougher predictions to hold true for the Pirates in 2015, due to the limited candidates to hit 30 homeruns. The Pirates have plenty of candidates to hit 20 homeruns in a single season, on their roster for 2015, but only Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen have hit 30 homeruns for the Pirates before. Andrew McCutchen was able to hit 25 homeruns last season despite missing 14 games with his first career stint on the disabled list. With all the other areas of the game that McCutchen fills the stat sheet in, 30 homeruns would likely have him taking home his second MVP award. First basemen Pedro Alvarez put together back to back 30 homerun seasons in 2012 and 2013, so the expectation is for him to return to those numbers in 2015 with his health at 100 percent. Gregory Polanco and Neil Walker are the only other players on the Pirates roster that have shown the raw power to produce a 30 homerun season. Walker comes off a season in 2014 where he produced a career high 23 homeruns, and he expects to add to that total in 2015. With this in mind, two or more hitters producing 30 homeruns for the Pirates would give the team a huge advantage in the race for the National League Central title in 2015.
Will these predictions hold true?
The above predictions are considered bold because the chances that all of them hold true are far from guaranteed. Broken down individually, each prediction does not seem farfetched for the talented Pirates team to accomplish as they head into the 2015 season with high expectations. The performance and depth of the Pirates pitching staff will be the key for the team to meet expectations in 2015, with the team hoping to finally find at least one ace pitcher to lead an extended postseason run. The predictions for the Pirates offensive talent have a great chance to hold true, after the team proved last season that their quick bats up and down the lineup make them one of the only teams in baseball that can handle high velocity fastballs on a regular basis. With athleticism in the form of quick bats at the plate, and great defense in the field, the Pirates have the opportunity to accomplish big things throughout the 2015 MLB season.