St. Louis Cardinals against the National League: Pittsburgh Pirates


Nobody is talking about the 98-win Pirates in the NL Central ahead of 2016, despite finishing with the second-best record in baseball a year ago. The St. Louis Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Pirates 19 times in 2016.

2015 Record: 98-64

Notable Departures: RP Antonio Bastardo, RP Joe Blanton, RP Joakim Soria, SP Charlie Morton, SP J.A. Happ, SP A.J. Burnett 2B Neil Walker, IF Pedro Alvarez, 1B Corey Hart, 3B Aramis Ramirez

Notable Newcomers: RP Neftali Feliz, RP Juan Nicasio, SP Ryan Vogelsong, SP Jon Niese, IF John Jaso

Against St. Louis in 2016: 3 games April 3-6 @PIT, 3 games May 6-8 @STL, 3 games June 10-12 @PIT, 4 games July 4-7 @STL, 3 games September 4-7 @PIT, 3 games September 30-October 2 @STL

The Outlook:

With everybody in the media losing their minds over the all-mighty Cubs, while they wonder if our Cardinals can keep up with the absolute greatest team ever, nobody is talking about a very talented Pittsburgh squad in the Central.

The Pirates finished a game ahead of Chicago in the NL Central standings a season ago (two back of St. Louis), yet, nobody talks about the second-best regular season team in baseball from 2015 as a challenger for the division this year.

Outside of maybe their starting rotation, there really isn’t much of an argument for Pittsburgh being better than they were a season ago. Still, they are stacked with speed and talented hitters. They are the National League equivalent of the Kansas City Royals, last year’s World Series winner.

Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) on the base paths against the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Cardinals won 11-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) on the base paths against the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Cardinals won 11-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pirates have an MVP-level talent in their outfield in Mr. Andrew McCutchen to compliment their Cy Young-level ace by the name of Gerrit Cole. I think that Clint Hurdle is a top-five Manager, and it is hard to find many holes on the Pittsburgh roster.

The Pirates are going to catch absolutely everything in the outfield with the likes of Starling Marte in left, McCutchen in center and Gregory Polanco in left. Offensively, that trio combined for 50 home runs to go with 68 stolen bases a year ago. They are lethal at the plate and lethal on the base paths.

The Pirates will miss power threat Pedro Alvarez at first base this year, but hope that John Jaso and Michael Morse can fill in with an on-base/power combo to replace Alvarez’s production. With some combination of Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Jung Ho Kang and Sean Rodriguez added in, there aren’t any holes on the Pittsburgh infield.

While the Pirates still miss Russell Martin‘s production behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli filled in admirably in 2015 when he turned in a career-best .296/.370/.402 slash line over 450 at-bats.

Pittsburgh will return the starting pitching trio of Cole, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke at the top of their rotation. Cole and Liriano combined for a 32-15 record a season ago, and both guys eclipsed the 200 strikeout mark as well. Locke had a down year, posting an 8-11 record with a 4.49 ERA over 30 starts, but he has been a very reliable arm over five season with the Buccos.

Filling out the rotation will be newcomers Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. Neither guy has the flashiest of career numbers, but both have plenty of Playoff and World Series experience. Niese threw 6 1/3 Postseason innings last October, including 4 2/3 innings of relief in Game One of last season’s Fall Classic.

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Vogelsong combined to throw 37 playoff innings during San Francisco’s 2012 and 2014 World Series runs with a 2.92 ERA and 3-0 record.

The bullpen will be the Pirates’ biggest question mark in 2016. Mark Melancon will close games for the Pirates this year. A season ago, Melancon recorded 51 saves in 53 opportunities, best in the National League.

The Pirates will look to replace eighth-inning guy Joakim Soria and middle-innings arms Antonio Bastardo and Joe Blanton with newcomers Neftali Feliz and Juan Nicasio.

Nicasio turned in a 3.86 ERA in 56 appearances with the Dodgers a season ago. Feliz showed signs of dominance early in his career with the Rangers, before Tommy John surgery and the ineffectiveness that followed the procedure stalled his career. In 48 innings between Texas and Detroit last year, Feliz turned in a 6.38 ERA with a 1.56 WHIP.

I am of the opinion that Pittsburgh has just as good of a shot at winning the Central this year as Chicago or St. Louis, despite the lack of media attention this off season. The Pirates have averaged better than 93 wins per season since 2013 en route to three straight second-place finishes in the division.

I think that the Pirates just might be the most motivated of the NL Central trio to take the division this year. Whether or not they perform well enough to accomplish that goal will work itself out this summer.

They need an MVP season out of McCutchen. They need a Cy Young season out of Cole. They need their outfield trio to blossom into superstars. All of the potential is there. The Pirates just have to put it all together.

The Pirates went just 17-21 against St. Louis and Chicago a season ago. While that isn’t a bad mark against 100 and 97-win teams, the fact of the matter is that it ended up costing the Pirates the division. They have to find a way to be better than .500 against those clubs this year if they want to win their first NL Central title since 1992.

The Cardinals won the season series against Pittsburgh 10-9 a season ago. The Pirates scored 79 runs in those contests while the Cardinals scored 76. You cannot get much more even than that.

Next: St. Louis Cardinals against the National League: Milwaukee Brewers

I don’t anticipate any different result in 2016. Given the fact that 10 of the 19 match ups this season are in St. Louis, I’m going to take the Cardinals to edge the Buccos by the same 10-9 mark as in 2015. With the Cardinals having a stronger bullpen, I think that they will steal a couple of games from the Pirates in the middle innings, adding to Pittsburgh’s frustrations in this true juggernaut of a division.