This is one of many articles here on Beyond the Box Score that tell you why a certain team will win the World Series in a few weeks. Let me let you in on a little secret. The others are wrong. Except for the one that tells you that the Yankees are going to win it all, because I happen to be a filthy blood-sucking Yankees fan. However, in the event that the Pirates end up winning the World Series, you'll be able to tell your friends that you read it here first.
The Pirates are going to win the World Series, by the way. I picked the Buccos to win it all in our pre-season poll. That's because the Pirates are the proud owners of one of the most complete rosters in the game, and that was a fact before Jung-Ho Kang revealed to the world that he can play with the best of them. Kang is now out for the year yet the Pirates still possess an excellent shot to make a very deep run into the postseason.
First and foremost, any team that can count Andrew McCutchen as a member is off to a fine start. Then when Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are patrolling the corners it's a pretty good day at the office. The McCutchen/Marte/Polanco trifecta is one of the the best in the game and the three have combined for 11.3 fWAR. Throw in a massive breakout by Francisco Cervelli (3.7 fWAR and 14.4 runs saved from pitch framing according to Baseball Prospectus), Neil Walker and a solid bench (Josh Harrison, Michael Morse, Sean Rodriguez and others) and the Pirates are in good shape to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the field. However the loss of Kang is still a brutal blow. Kang was Pittsburgh's second-best player at 3.9 fWAR and was of the team's best sources of power.
Pitching is also a source of strength for the Pirates. Gerrit Cole may have completed his metamorphosis into a true ace, and Francisco Liriano can be untouchable when he's on. A.J. Burnett's swan song has yielded a 3.33 FIP and in a truly strange twist of fate it seems that none other than J.A. Happ will be the fourth starter after Ray Searage's latest
deal with Satan himself coaching miracle. There's another one of those in the bullpen, too. In his time with the Pirates this season, Joe Blanton has a 10.22 K/9 and 2.12 FIP in relief. He adds to the strong relief corps of Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Antonio Bastardo and a rejuvenated Joakim Soria.
The only thing standing between the Pirates and a mad dash to the World Series is Jake Arrieta. You may have heard of him. He's kind of good at baseball. He's also the starter for the Cubs in the NL Wild Card game. Arietta has actually been tougher on lefties this year, but that's contrary to both his career splits and the splits he posted in his first year with the Cubs. Let's assume that he'll regress to the norm in the Wild Card game. Here is the likely starting lineup for the Pirates.
|Player||R/L||Career wOBA v. RHP|
It should be noted that Josh Harrison (.318 career wOBA vs. RHP) could potentially start in place of Ramirez for defensive reasons. Some of these statistics are also not reflective of the player's true talent level. Ramirez was once a monster of a hitter but has slowed with age, and Cervelli had quite an offensive breakout this season. It would not be unreasonable to mentally adjust those numbers because of that.
Arrieta has allowed a .243 wOBA to right-handed hitters this year, and that's probably worse than his actual talent level due to the strange reverse splits he's displayed. Pittsburgh's most dangerous bats, McCutchen and Marte, are righties, as are Ramirez, Cervelli and Mercer. Platoon splits are not the alpha and omega of matchup leverage, but Arrieta will be quite the tough nut for the Pirates to crack on Wednesday.
Should they overcome him, the Pirates will be a difficult team to stop. This is a team that can beat the opposition in every aspect of the game and steal your lunch money while they do it. They have the second best record in all of baseball for a reason. Fear the Pirates.