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Know Your Enemy: Pittsburgh Pirates

Was 2013 a one-off? Or the start of years of contention?

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

If you think the Cubs have had a do-nothing offseason, here's a list of players the Pirates have acquired from outside their organization since the 2013 season ended, either by free agency or trade:

Duke Welker, Miguel Perez, Josh Kinney, Seth McClung, Collin Balester, Jaff Decker, Miles Mikolas, Cody Eppley, Chris Stewart, Edinson Volquez, Travis Ishikawa, Michael Martinez, Kyle McPherson, Daniel Schlereth, Adam Wilk, Elvin Ramirez, Chris McGuiness, Chris Dickerson, Robert Andino, Blake Davis, Omir Santos

So basically, they got a starting pitcher coming off two bad years, a backup catcher and a whole bunch of guys who look like the same type of players the Cubs were signing this offseason.

Coming off a 94-win year, maybe the Pirates think, "Hey, it all worked out last year, it'll work out again!" And maybe it will. Or...

The Pirates had somewhat of a lucky year in 2013. They scored only 32 more runs than the Cubs did, but had outstanding pitching, primarily from a revived Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole in their rotation, and Jason Grilli at closer. When Grilli went down with an injury, Mark Melancon stepped in; the two combined for a 1.93 ERA, a WHIP of 1.000, and 144 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 121 combined innings.

Is that sustainable? I'd say probably not, nor is the fact that every single one of the Pirates' top five relievers (including Tony Watson, Vin Mazzaro and Justin Wilson) had an ERA of 2.81 or lower and a WHIP of 1.208 or lower. They were by far the best bullpen in the National League, which covered up the fact that their offense, apart from league MVP Andrew McCutchen and league home-run leader Pedro Alvarez, was pretty bad.

Jordy Mercer, who took over from Clint Barmes at shortstop late in the year after Barmes was hitting almost as poorly as Darwin Barney, should help. But the rest of these guys... I dunno. Neil Walker is a decent hitter. Starling Marte is a decent hitter. Russell Martin is a decent hitter and he gets a lot of credit for stabilizing the Pittsburgh pitching staff after coming over on a relatively cheap free-agent deal.

The Pirates were baseball's darlings in the playoffs; everyone wanted to see them win after their 20-year losing streak (although, remembering how Pirates teams used to beat the Cubs into submission in the 1970s, that was hard for me). Could they do it again? Sure; there's definitely talent on this team. But they outperformed their Pythagorean projection by six wins, which is kind of a lot. It would not surprise me if the Pirates regressed this year.

MLB schedulers have done it again. Six of the Cubs' first nine games will be against the Pirates (the opening series, March 31, April 2-3 in Pittsburgh and April 8-9-10 at Wrigley Field). Then the two teams don't meet again until August, when they will play seven games against each other in a 13-game span, and in September, when they'll again play six games in nine on back-to-back weekends. Can't we get the two college professors to lay the schedule out on their kitchen table again? They did a better job than whoever's doing it now.