There haven't been a whole lot of reasons for Pittsburghers to believe in our hometown Pirates.
Year after year, Bucco fans are disappointed by mediocre play, intolerable management, and the departure of familiar faces. Die-hard fans show Bruce Willis-esque resiliency by continuing to recite their mantra, "This is the year!"
Unfortunately, for 15 long years, those fans have been very wrong.
Breaking news—This is the year!
But, before you get your hopes up, I'm not promising a World Series Title. I'm not even promising you a playoff birth. I do promise, however, this will be the year that brings excitement back to Pittsburgh Baseball.
So, it's time to stop talking about Sid Bream being thrown out by Barry Bonds. Let's start talking about how this year's Pirates will mend our somber souls.
Last year, Pirates fans were devastated by the departure of outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady. The Pirates were finally able to put together an efficient offense, and it felt as if the franchise was a couple pitchers away from being feared.
While you can't replace what a Jason Bay brings to a baseball team, the trades made were actually for the better.
The Pirates spent a lot of last year determining what to do with outfielder Nyjer Morgan. Morgan was expected to be an every day center fielder for the Pirates. All that changed with the emergence of Gold-Glove winner Nate McLouth.
With Bay in left field and Nady in right, Morgan was limited to bench time while with the Pirates. When Bay and Nady went their ways, the Buccos profited by getting Morgan the big league experience he needed.
With Nyjer Morgan batting lead-off to start this season, the Pirates have added a much needed spark to the front of the lineup. Morgan's speed on the bases brings a threat to steal on every pitch, as well as the ability to score from first on your most average of doubles.
With double-machine Freddy Sanchez batting second in the lineup, the Pirates will have an opportunity to score first in a lot of ball games.
Bay shipping up to Boston has also allowed Ryan Doumit to take his rightful place as the Pirates' cleanup hitter. The future star led all National League catchers in batting average last season, and he will get a lot of chances to produce RBI this year. Doumit's ability to get on base will give All-Star Nate McLouth the protection that he needs, as well as generate potential runs for long-bomber Adam Laroche.
Right fielder Brandon Moss is finally getting his chance to be an everyday ball player. Nady's presence to the ball club can't be replaced, but Moss has a pop in his bat that should eventually produce "X-Man" like numbers.
Although outfielder Andrew McCutchen is currently in AAA ball, he should be a member of the team in the coming months. McCutchen is a top prospect, and should be able to make waves at the big league level soon.
Expect McCutchen to get chances, but as long as Nyjer Morgan is an effective leadoff man, he won't be an every day player—this year.
While the young and energetic outfield will surely spark a struggling franchise, a new level of depth will be the reason for Pirates' success.
The team has finally acquired a formidable bench during the offseason. Veterans Ramon Vazquez, Eric Hinske, and Craig Monroe will bring a sense of leadership to the young team. While these players currently round out the bench, each can fill a starting role if and when they are needed.
Through last year's trades, the Buccos have finally developed what can be considered a full pitching rotation.
Paul Maholm is an ace. It doesn't matter which angle you look at him, he is the anchor to the Pirates' ship. Maholm leads a team of Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, and Jeff Karstens, that promises to be the best Bucco rotation in a long time.
Snell is full of potential that needs to be realized—that much is certain. To ensure success, it will be vital for Ian to pitch much better than he has in his first two outings. Both he and Zach Duke were once believed to be the aces of the squad, but have struggled to be consistent in the last two seasons.
Duke has a re-instilled confidence largely due to new pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan. With Kerrigan's help, the talented hurler should re-emerge as a consistent threat from the mound.
There is a lot that is expected of trade-comers Ohlendorf and Karstens. The two pitchers were highly ranked prospects in their organizations before joining the Pirates last trade season. The depth they bring to the rotation is important, and will provide the Pirates with the chance to see a quality start from all five of their starters.
When it comes time to close, it comes time for Matt Capps. Capps is a fast rising star that takes passion to the mound with every appearance. He is unafraid to make hitters hit, and should be a great closer for years to come. If the Pirates have the lead in the ninth, the "Mad-Capper" is going to give them the best possible chance for a win.
There are a lot of reasons why the Pirates will be the best team that we've seen in a long time, but this isn't going to be the dream year that so many fans have been wishing for in years.
This is, however, going to be the year that you can start expecting more from your Pittsburgh Pirates.
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