The Pirates had a fantastic year in 2015. They won 98 games for just the third time since 1909 (yes, 1909, when they set their franchise record with 110). They made the playoffs for the third straight year, just the third time in team history they'd done that.
And what did they get for all this? Dispatched quickly in the wild-card game by the Cubs.
Can't say I'm sorry about that, either. Though I did commiserate with Pirates fans in Pittsburgh after the game. Because I know how losing a winner-take-all game in your home park feels. We all do.
I'd be perfectly happy with the same result in 2016, too, and the Pirates, along with the Cubs and Cardinals, could make it a triad headed to the N.L. playoffs again.
The biggest change for the Bucs will be the absence of Pittsburgh native Neil Walker, who was traded to the Mets, largely because the Pirates didn't think they could afford to sign him to a contract extension. They do have infielders who can take over, presuming Jung Ho Kang returns from the injury he suffered when Chris Coghlan ran into him last September. Based on this article from last Saturday, it's unclear whether he'll be ready for Opening Day.
Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison will likely be the Opening Day double-play combination; if Kang is ready, he probably heads to third base, replacing the retired Aramis Ramirez.
The Pirates will also change first basemen, with Pedro Alvarez gone. John Jaso was signed as a free agent. He's played two career games at first base and has played 100 or more games in a season just twice in his career, so Michael Morse will also see time at first base, as could Sean Rodriguez, when he's not smashing things in the dugout:
The Bucs return the rest of their offense intact, including, of course, the excellent Andrew McCutchen, always an MVP candidate.
Their rotation will have changes. Following the departure of J.A. Happ and A.J. Burnett, the Pirates have decided to go with pitchers who do not go by initials: Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong . This would seem to be a downgrade, in my view. (Not for the names, but for the talent.) The Pirates also traded away Charlie Morton, so they will be hoping that pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow will be ready to take over a rotation spot fairly soon.
The Bucs' bullpen will be minus Joakim Soria, who has moved on, but Arquimedes Caminero, who can throw close to 100 miles per hour, should move up in the pecking order behind closer Mark Melancon (who the Cubs actually hit pretty well last year -- five of the 12 runs he allowed and one of his two blown saves) and setup men Tony Watson and Jared Hughes.
The Cubs and Pirates will play 19 times this year, beginning with a three-game series in Pittsburgh May 2-3-4. The first Wrigley meeting will be May 13-14-15, and the teams will play a four-game series in Pittsburgh the final week of the year (September 26-27-28-29), which could be key for playoff positioning.