By the time the Pirates’ season ends in 26 weeks, the Steelers will already have played four games, Penguins training camp will be nearing its end and Hallmark stores will have their Christmas stuff displayed. Oh, wait, they already have it out.

It’s baseball season, and there is a lot of time between now and that final Sunday afternoon game in San Diego at the end of September. And there is a good chance it will seem never-ending, even for the die-hard Pirates fans whose numbers seem to be dwindling with every losing season. That streak will tie the all-time record for professional sports (not just baseball) futility if it continues for a 16th season as almost everyone figures it will.

The first opening day I can recall was 1964, and I can’t remember any between then and now with less buzz about the Pirates. Oh, there is still a lot of excitement about the season beginning. But that’s because it means the sun will re-appear, school will let out, the grass will turn green and Kennywood will open. While there have been a lot of changes in the Bucco organization since this time last year, few involve baseball players. Which doesn’t lend for a lot of optimism about what we will be watching the next six months.

But ya know what? There were birds chirping outside my window when I woke up this morning. They forced a bout of positive thinking. So here goes.

The best hope that the Pirates can surprise us this year lies in their starting pitching. Ian Snell, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm had encouraging springs. Let’s ignore Maholm’s tender back in honor of opening day. Those three combined for a 3.67 ERA in Grapefruit League games. They struck out 34 while walking 13, and Duke didn’t walk a single hitter in 19 innings. Combine that with the positive vibes coming from all Pirates pitchers over working with new pitching coach Jeff Andrews, and we might finally see some dividends paid on all of the investments made the last decade on pitching.

Tom Gorzelanny is a concern because of some shoulder discomfort which bothered him last year, and Matt Morris is a concern because he just is. But even he had a decent final outing in Bradenton last Saturday against the Twins.

This year, it starts in March. Out like a lamb, as they say. But hopefully not led to a slaughter. I’m sorry, it’s the best I can come up with.

– Posted by Guy Junker

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No Hope In Sight For Pirates

February 21, 2008

I like to think of myself as a glass-is-half-full person. Throughout my life, I’ve always held the belief that things will work out for the better eventually. Trust me, I’ve had my share of ups and downs in my three-plus decades on this planet, but I always know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

All that being said, I wish I could tell you that the Pirates are going to have a good season in 2008, but for the life of me, I can’t.

This is basically the same team coming back that lost 94 games a year ago. There’s a new manager, a new GM and a new team president, and that’s all well and good. But, the air of losing still surrounds this team.

Their lineup doesn’t scare anyone. The pitching isn’t bad, but far from dominant. And when your biggest off-season move is signing a journeyman first baseman to a minor league contract, there’s little reason to believe things will get better for our Battlin’ Buccos.

Look, I want the Pirates to do well. I’m a big baseball fan, and I would love to see what the atmosphere would be like at PNC Park if the Pirates were in contention late in the season. But this team has done nothing to improve, and Jason Bay’s off-season comments were spot on. As always, I hope I’m wrong about the 2008 Bucs, but I have feeling consecutive losing season number 16 is on the horizon. Go Bucs!