MLB season preview: The Pirates have the pieces to win, but the road ahead is tough

The Pittsburgh Pirates have to feel like they’re stuck on the doorstep, waiting for someone to let them in.

The recent past has seen good Pirates teams not get over early postseason humps. And last year? They took a step back, winning just 78 games. The Pirates have the pieces to win. Problem is, so do the other teams around them. The NL Central is tough. Catching the Cubs seems like a tough order and the Cardinals are no slouches either.

[Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Baseball: Get in the game and join a league today]

The Pirates have to hope that everything comes together at the same time — that Gerrit Cole has a Cy Young type of season, that Gregory Polanco’s breakout is big and bountiful, that Andrew McCutchen finds himself and that young pitchers Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow realize their potential.

If all those things happen, the Pirates might be able to make a postseason run. If not? The Pirates might be on the outside looking in. Again.

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: Daniel Hudson
Subtractions: Neftali Feliz, Matt Joyce, Jeff Locke

If the Pirates are going to get back to their winning ways this season, it’s going to be with roughly the same group. As you can see, the team didn’t make many additions in the offseason. Daniel Hudson arrives coming off a strange season. He had a 1.55 ERA through June 21. At that point, everything fell apart. Hudson posted a 24.21 ERA over his next 15 appearances. He eventually rebounded at the end of the year, posting a 1.66 ERA over his last 25 games. He’ll probably be fine with Pittsburgh, especially under the guidance of pitching coach Ray Searage.

The losses weren’t all that huge. Hudson should replace Feliz. Joyce had his moments last year, but was ultimately a part-time guy. The team is finally ready to promote Taillon and Glasnow to the rotation, so Jeff Locke was free to leave for greener pastures. (Chris Cwik)

Can Andrew McCutchen get back on track in 2017? Pirates sure hope so. (Getty Images)
Can Andrew McCutchen get back on track in 2017? Pirates sure hope so. (Getty Images)

KEY PLAYER
For a while this offseason, it seemed like Andrew McCutchen’s time with the Pirates was going to be over. And given his 2016 season, it would have been a terrible note to leave on. After four years of elite offense, Cutch turned in a .256/.336/.430 season. Those numbers from a 30-year-old center fielder don’t exactly scream “trade for me!” so it’s not surprising that the Pirates didn’t find any takers this offseason. But that’s perfectly fine, because it gives McCutchen a chance to bounce back. He’s also learning a new position, with the Pirates having moved him to right field so Starling Marte can patrol center. We’ll have to wait and see if all this change is the fresh start McCutchen needs to find his swing again. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP AND ROTATION
Lineup
1. Josh Harrison, 2B (.283/.311/.388, 4 HR, 59 RBI, 19 SB)
2. Josh Bell, 1B (.273/.368/.406, 3 HR, 19 RBI)
3. Andrew McCutchen, RF (.256/.336/.430, 24 HR, 79 RBI, 81 R)
4. Starling Marte, CF (.311/.362/.456, 9 HR, 46 RBI, 71 R, 47 SB)
5. Gregory Polanco, LF (.258/.323/.463, 22 HR, 86 RBI, 79 R, 17 SB)
6. David Freese, 3B (.270/.352/.412, 13 HR, 55 RBI)
7. Francisco Cervelli, C (.264/.377/.322, 1 HR, 33 RBI)
8. Jordy Mercer, SS (.256/.328/.374, 11 HR, 59 RBI)

Rotation
1. Gerrit Cole (7-10, 3.88 ERA, 116 IP, 98 K)
2. Jameson Taillon (5-4, 3.38 ERA, 104 IP, 85 K)
3. Chad Kuhl (5-4, 4.20 ERA, 70.2 IP, 53 K)
4. Ivan Nova (12-8, 4.17 ERA, 162 IP, 127 K)
5. Tyler Glasnow (0-2, 4.24 ERA, 23.1 IP, 24 K)

A better year from Gerrit Cole could help the Pirates get out of playoff limbo in the NL. (AP)
A better year from Gerrit Cole could help the Pirates get out of playoff limbo in the NL. (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Like last season, Pittsburgh appears stuck in baseball purgatory. The team should be good, but good enough to top the Cubs or the Cardinals in the NL Central? A return to the wild-card spot isn’t promising either, with the Nationals, Mets, Dodgers and Giants all fighting for coveted postseason spots. If a lot of things go right — if the next wave of star prospects delivers — the Pirates could sneak into the postseason. If not, there’s at least hope for another season above .500. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Given their placement between six strong playoff contenders and a host of rebuilding teams, there’s not a lot of places for this team to go. Bottoming out would require a few injuries and perhaps a few trades of key players, which is certainly possible. Even then, they shouldn’t slip below third place or a high 70s win total. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Q: Is Jameson Taillon the best pitcher value here?
The strikeout column wasn’t splashy during Taillon’s debut, but his overall numbers fit our plans nicely (3.38 ERA, 1.12 WHIP). We can live with a moderate strikeout clip if the control is elite, and Taillon’s is — just 1.47 walks per nine. He also provides a ground-ball tilt, over 52 percent. And remember, last year was the initial comeback season after having his elbow reconstructed; the second time around is often a fun, profitable ride.

[Elsewhere: Read more pressing fantasy questions about the Pirates.]

Taillon won’t be cheap at the table, but around Pick 150 in the early ADP chase, he’s not too trendy — yet. I’m sure I’m going to have some shares. He’s on the clipboard.

BEST FOLLOW
The best thing about athletes on Twitter is that sometimes, you find out they’re just like us.


Daniel Hudson has a love/hate relationship with his sports team, just like so many of us. He also has trouble with his iPhone and, like all mortals, marvels at the hitting power of Carlos Correa. (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
The area surrounding PNC Park is absolutely beautiful, so make sure you get there early enough to take it all in. The park is built on the Alleghany River, and the walk over the bridge to get to the game should not be missed.

Before you do all that, though, make sure you stop by Primanti Bros to pick up a sandwich. They put the fries right in there, so there’s no need to worry about any sides. It might be cliché, but it’s good food and it will fill you up so you don’t have to spend a ton once you get to the ballpark. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington NationalsSan Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

– – – – – –

Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

What to Read Next