Will the Pirates celebrate the 100th Anniversary of their first World Series title with a deep run into October?
It's been 100 years since the Bucco's defeated the Detroit Tigers in seven games to bring home their first World Series title. In order for Pittsburgh to send the sports world aflutter with talk of a “Centennial Celebration” – as well as the obligatory “Worst to First” articles – they will have to address these five burning questions:
1. Is there lasting effect from the Bay trade? : In a great article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Dejan Kovacevic's ink well runs dry explaining in vivid detail the trade that sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and Andy LaRoche to the Pirates (among others). Was this seven minutes that immediately sent the team into rebuilding mode (yet again) or did this trade mark the beginning of something new? After the trade, the Pirates went into a 17-34 tailspin to end the season. If there is any lingering bad blood over the trade we will know soon enough.
2. Is there a 10 game winner in the house? : For the second time in the 122 year history of the Pirates, no starting pitcher won ten games (ten games!) and pitching coach Jeff Andrews is now without a job. The Bucs did bring in Pennsylvania-native Joe Kerrigan hoping that his presence alone would be good for at least 4 wins per starter. Kerrigan afterall coahed Pedro Martinez during his Cy Young seasons of 1999 and 2000.
3. Can anyone spell OPS? : The Pirates ranked 13th (out of 16) in the National League in OPS last season. For a “small market” team this is the kiss of death. The bright spot? Ryan Doumit. With an .858 OPS last season, there is every reason to believe that Doumit batting 4th in today's opening day line-up, will help set the table for the Pirates. Now if only the others would follow suit.
4. Will the real Freddy Sanchez please stand up? : 2006. The year of Freddy Sanchez. .344 average and a batting title. How do we follow that up Freddy? 2007. .304 average. But Sanchez turned 30 in 2008 and his average dipped to a .271 – his worst mark since 2004 when he played in only 9 games for Pittsburgh. Is this a product of age? Or was Sanchez benefitting from the protection in the order that only an All-Star like Bay could afford? John Russell has Sanchez hitting 2nd just in front of Nate McLouth. Perhaps this will be enough protection for Sanchez to return to the land of .300 hitters.
5. Is Paul Maholm an ace? : Maholm will get the shiny pearl today to begin the season. At 26, no one will say that Maholm is over the hill. He has increased his SO/BB percentage over the past two seasons and faced 90 more batters than ever previously in his career in 2008. The Pirates handed Maholm a 3 year extention despite going 9-9, but the lefty has looked consistent. Today, Maholm will make his first Opening Day start. Will he be up to the challenge this season and fulfill the promise the Pirates saw in him when they took him 8th overall out of Mississippi State in 2003? Can he be an workhorse ace? First pitch at 4:15.
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Written by David Fulco