As winter rolls through the Midwest, baseball fans in Pittsburgh anxiously await the end of March and Opening Day. Opening Day is the day where each team has the same record, a clean slate. A chance to start fresh and prepare for a grueling 162 game schedule over seven months. A chance at relevancy, something that has escaped the Pirates in recent years. A chance to challenge for a NL Central Division crown. However with the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers at the head of the class, coupled with revamped lineups in Cincinnati and St. Louis, the 2019 National League Central Division will be the most competitive division in baseball.

Pirates Voyage

The upward potential of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019 will be the pitching rotation and bullpen. In late July 2018, the Pirates acquired starting pitcher Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays. As a member of the Rays, Archer was a two-time All-Star and has a couple of innings of postseason experience. Despite Archer’s lanky appearance (6’ 2” and 195 lbs.) he is a power pitcher averaging 200 strikeouts a season. The Pirates will look to Archer to build off a solid September (2-1 and 2.70 ERA) and lead a starting rotation that boasts fellow right-handers Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, who each won 14 games in 2018. Gritty veteran Ian Nova rounds out the projected rotation and he looks to improve upon a disappointing nine-win season. Look for top prospect Mitch Keller, a right-hander, to make his debut for the Steel City as well in 2019. The bullpen has some talented arms as well and has the potential to shut down opposing batters late in games with newly acquired right hander Keone Kela as a set up reliever to hard throwing lefty closer, All-Star Felipe Vazquez.

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Bucs Bats

The concern for the Pirates continues to be run production (4.30 runs per game in 2018) and timely batting. The Bucs have called upon new hitting coach Rick Eckstein to shoulder the task for 2019. The search for power begins with third year switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell. Bell looks to rebound after a pedestrian 2018 campaign in which he saw his homerun total drop from 26 in 2017 to a mere 12 last year. Outfielder Corey Dickerson (13 HR 55 RBI) made positive strides in 2018 and will be looked to anchor the lineup along with speedy outfielder Starling Marte (20 HR, 81 RBI, 33 SB). The Pirates look to second baseman Adam Frazier to be a catalyst at the top of the lineup as he replaces two time All-Star Josh Harrison. Frazier has shown some flashes with the bat the last couple of seasons and will have the opportunity to contribute immediately for the Bucs. Talented right fielder Gregory Polanco will start the season on the disabled list as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum. If the Pirates pitching staff and lineup can weather the storm for the first couple of months of the season, Polanco could be the spark the team needs to make a playoff run once he returns.

The time is now for players on the Pirates roster like Archer, Taillon, Bell, and Frazier to take the next steps for the Pirates. Manager Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates face the challenge of playing each team within the league’s toughest division 19 times, and it will take the emergence of leaders on the mound and at the plate to join the top echelon of the division.

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