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Know your enemy: Pittsburgh Pirates

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You’re not going to recognize a lot of these guys.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

At last year’s All-Star break, the Pirates were 44-45 and just 2½ games behind the first-place Cubs in the N.L. Central.

Then not only the proverbial wheels, but everything else, fell off. The Cubs swept the Pirates at Wrigley Field coming out of the break, part of a 4-25 (!) run that put the Bucs well out of contention. They didn’t really make any deadline deals — the only major one involved Corey Dickerson’s departure. Francisco Cervelli, a solid catcher in Pittsburgh for several years, was released in August, but looking at the list below, the only other significant player gone from Pittsburgh is Starling Marte.

There’s more, of course; closer Felipe Vazquez was arrested and charged with sexual assault. He’s facing a possible long prison term and likely won’t ever play baseball again. His trial is set to begin next month. Keone Kela and Kyle Crick supposedly got into it in a clubhouse that manager Clint Hurdle had clearly completely lost by the end of the season.

Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington were fired. Former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington took over and hired Twins bench coach Derek Shelton, a well-respected figure in the game, to manage. So there’s that, but Cherington probably has a rebuild on his hands. The Pirates did the right thing by cleaning house after the ugly end to 2019.

The Pirates do have some talented players, including first baseman Josh Bell and infielder/outfielder Adam Frazier, who absolutely crushed Cubs pitching in 2019 (.369/.406/.554, 24-for-65 with nine doubles), and a couple of solid starters in Joe Musgrove and Chris Archer.

But this is probably a 100-loss team. The Pirates had 20 straight losing seasons from 1993-2012, then made the postseason three consecutive years. The last one of those featured them losing the wild-card game to the Cubs in 2015. Since then they’ve muddled around contention for the last three years until the second-half collapse in 2019 that had them go 25-48 after the All-Star break.

KEY ADDITIONS: Luke Maile, Guillermo Heredia, Socrates Brito, Hector Noesi, Jake Elmore, John Ryan Murphy, Robbie Erlin, Derek Holland, Andrew Susac, Charlie Tilson

KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Starling Marte, Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Francisco Liriano, Brandon Maurer, Dario Agrazal, Elias Diaz

The Cubs will face the Pirates 19 times this year, including 10 of the season’s first 30 games.

March 31-April 1-2, April 27-28-29, September 14-15-16-17 at Wrigley Field
April 6-7-8-9, May 19-20-21, September 22-23 at Pittsburgh