6. PITTSBURGH PIRATES
It’s a fourth consecutive season that the Buccos are raising the Jolly Roger at PNC Park. The Pirates are off to a 14-9 start, good enough for 2nd place in the division. Problem for the Pirates? They just can’t seem to outright WIN that NL Central crown. They keep getting caught up in the Wildcard game, and then losing to a tough opponent in a one-and-done.
That’s a problem for another, much later day. For now the Bucs are trying to get back into the postseason in any way they can, in what is an improved division and improved NL race overall. They are led by one of the most talented outfield trios in the game in Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte.
The 29-year old ‘Cutch’ has made the NL All-Star squad for five straight seasons, and has finished among the top five in the NL MVP race four straight, winning the honors in 2013. The 24-year old Polanco is a major breakout candidate, and the 27-year old Marte is pushing to join McCutchen as an All-Star. Heck, for that matter so is Polanco.
Their infield lacks punch, but they are all hitting and contributing, as is the bench. On the mound, 25-year old Gerrit Cole is an emerging Cy Young contender, and Francisco Liriano gives them a nice 1-2, righty-lefty punch. But thus far the contributions of Jon Niese and Juan Nicasio have been surprising, and important. If the bullpen can improve just a bit, they’ll be in the race all season again.
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