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Can Pirates flirt with .500?
May 10, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode
The Pirates have a real chance (emphasize "chance") to take a run at .500 this year for two simple reasons: they are clearly better than they have been and no one in the National League (outside the Phillies) is very good (as ably demonstrated by the Astros and Dodger bullpens the last two days).
For that to happen, Pittsburgh needs a few things:
> First, they need Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez to drive in some runs. Given each man's history, that's a reasonable expectation.
> The last three days have shown they desperately need Evan Meek to return to 2010 form. Chris Resop has a great arm but there's a big difference between being the seventh-inning guy (pitch 2-3 times a week) and the eighth-inning guy (pitch 4-5 times a week). Jose Veras has a great arm but he's just too wild to be trusted as a seteup man. Joe Beimel is a lefty specialist who can't be effective in a larger role at this point in his career.
> They need Kevin Correia to keep on forgetting that he's Kevin Correia. That Kevin Correia has a career ERA of 4.50+ and has never won more than 12 games. This Kevin Correia is looking like he could win 15-17 times.
> Finally, they need a decent No. 5 starter to emerge who can win 8-10 games the rest of the way as Ross Ohlendorf's injury is sounding more and more each day like a 60-day DL type situation. (Former TV10 sports guy Mike Fink @mikefinksports pointed out to us on Twitter the other day that the Pirates already have FIVE No. 5 starters. Mike will be playing the Algonquin Room at the Seneca Allegany Casino all week with two shows at 8 and 10 p.m. The cover is $7 and your first drink is free.) Seriously, Jeff Karstens is serviceable in that role, but, as Bob Walk noted on Monday night's telecast, Karstens is a 60-75 pitch guy who's better suited to middle relief. The obvious choice is Brad Lincoln but it doesn't sound like Neil Huntington is sold yet on Lincoln's ability to pitch down in the zone at the Major League level.
Nothing we've written above is outrageous enough to contend that 81 wins is a pipe dream for Pittsburgh, but if you flip just a couple of those scenarios you're looking at a much more realistic 70- to 75-win season.
A return to form by Evan Meek would go a long way toward allowing the Pirates to compete in the NL Central into the summer months.