Given the current state of the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s a glass half empty/glass have full situation.
They are coming off of a season in which they finished with a 76-86 record, a 14-win improvement from their 62-100 showing in 2022. The key core of the latest rebuilding efforts finally reached Pittsburgh with the expectation that several young players will be key contributors next season.
Also in their favor, it doesn’t look like it will take 100, or maybe not even 90 wins to take the National League Central. And on top of it all, Oneil Cruz will be back on the field after being sidelined for the majority of the 2023 season.
On the other hand, the Pirates’ starting rotation is still a concern heading into next season despite a pair of additions. Pittsburgh finished last year with two full-time members in the rotation. Johan Oviedo, who was one of those two pitchers, will miss all of next year following Tommy John surgery. Starting catcher Endy Rodríguez is also out for the year.
So, what should your expectations be for the Pirates as the start of the 2024 season inches closer? That’s up for you to decide, but several Pirates are taking the glass half full route, as to be expected.
“All we wanted was to make it to the playoffs. Unfortunately, we didn’t,” Liover Peguero said at PiratesFest. “Last year, we didn’t have the team that we have this year now. I feel like this year’s going to be a huge year for us, just trying to make it to the playoffs. That’s our main goal.”
Peguero was one of a handful of rookies to carve out a significant role with the team last season. As is the case with many young players in their first real taste of the big leagues, there were flashes of excellence and some growing pains.
Now that the likes of Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Henry Davis, Jared Triolo and others know more about what it takes to be a big leaguer, the Pirates will rely on them to take the next step and help push the club towards contention.
“We have a lot of young talent,” reliever Colin Holderman said. “That second year in the big leagues is a little better than the first. You kind of understand what the travel is like, the media, just all the stuff that comes with it so I’m excited to see what these young guys can do.”
Whenever the Pirates do return to the postseason, it would mark the first time it’s happened since a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card game in 2015.
It may seem far-fetched to believe that the Pirates will be in the playoff picture this coming season, but don’t tell Andrew McCutchen that.
McCutchen is the only player currently on the Pittsburgh Pirates to experience playoff baseball while wearing the black and gold. Now going into his age-37 season, there’s obviously more urgency for another ‘Buctober.’
McCutchen drew comparisons to the reigning National League champions when asked about the 2024 Pirates.
“Look at what the Diamondbacks did. Look at where they ended up. Who had ‘em there? Nobody. I can’t say nobody. I’m sure some people, especially within that organization, that’s what they believed in. But I’m sure all of us standing here didn’t have that on their card at the end to say the Diamondbacks were going to be in the World Series. They were able to do that.
“I say all that to say, ‘Why couldn’t that be us? Why couldn’t we be in that position?’ I see us being similar to them. We’re not a team that’s going to out-slug people. But if you play good defense, pitch when you need to pitch, make the pitches when you need to make them, do the job, get guys over, move ‘em, get ‘em in, play small ball, you can win the game.”
Mitch Keller, the ace of the Pirates’ staff, noted a different feel with this group heading into spring training and the eventual start of the regular season.
“Our expectations are through the roof, man. We want to win. We’ve always wanted to win, but I feel like we have a really good, cohesive group where we can come together and really do something special.”
It will take much more than team chemistry for the Pittsburgh Pirates to take another significant leap forward in the win department to earn a spot in the playoffs.
For now, the dream is still alive and there is genuine belief it can happen. It may not be much, but it’s at least a start in the right direction.