Questions Persist About the Pirates and Cardinals - Will They Really Be Great Again?

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Questions Persist About the Pirates and Cardinals – Will They Really Be Great Again?

Chicago Cubs

mccutchen wainwrightI don’t need to remind you that, before being knocked out of the playoffs in October, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates were the two best teams in baseball last season.

The former finished with a cool 100 wins, while the latter finished just two wins shy of that mark. They both had dangerous offenses and some of the best pitching in the league. It’s a shame they made such an early playoff exit … he said slyly.

Although neither team did much to improve for 2016, most pundits continue to hold them in high regard, based on the indisputable success of their 2015 seasons. The Cardinals, especially, seem to be getting the extra slack/longer leash, but I’m not sure if it’s entirely right. As I put it recently on Twitter:

Indeed, while the writers and analysts around the league continue to believe that both teams will come close to repeating their dominant 2015 seasons, the statistical projections systems do not.

Earlier this week, for one example, PECOTA released their annual projections, and the results were not as bright for the Cubs’ divisional rivals. At 83 and 82 wins respectively, the Pirates and Cardinals are projected to finish a full 10 games behind the Cubs (92 wins). Moreover, those win totals would leave them just short of the playoffs, behind the Washington Nationals (87 wins) and San Francisco Giants (87 wins), who would take the Wild Card spots.

Similarly, when FanGraphs released its initial Projected Standings for 2016, the Pirates and Cardinals didn’t fare quite as well as I suspect many had come to hope. At 84 wins apiece, both the Pirates and Cardinals were once again projected to miss the playoffs, falling behind the Wild Card slots taken by the Giants (85 wins) and Mets (85 wins).

The projections, you see, underscore the various questions both teams are facing in 2016, and it would seem that each teams’ various beat writers are beginning to take notice.

In an article for the St. Louis Post, Derrick Goold address 10 Spring Questions for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. Among the more notable – or, let’s say, worrisome – questions in the list, Goold wonders who will play first base, who will lead off, if Yadier Molina (and several others) can make a significant return from injury, and where the Cardinals will find their power. There are answers to some of these questions, and it’s never smart to bet against the Cardinals, but they are facing some serious issues heading into 2016.

In an article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Stephen J. Nesbitt similarly identifies Five Key Questions Heading into the 2016 Pirate Season. First, and most importantly, Nesbitt asks if the Pirates have done enough this offseason to make up for what they’ve otherwise lost. If you recall, leaving the Pirates are Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Aramis Ramirez, A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton (as well as their 50 home runs and 356 innings pitched, Nesbitt aptly points out). Additionally, it seems, the Pirates have questions at first base, second base, the rotation and even the bullpen – where they’ve historically been excellent (league leading 2.67 ERA in 2015).

All in all, I wouldn’t expect the NL Central to be a cake walk for the Cubs, but these rivals do come with some serious questions for 2016. In a lot of ways, they are completely different teams than they were last year, with a whole new set of issues to overcome. Riding the success of 2015, alone, will not be enough.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami