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Monday, March 26, 2012
Over/under: Wins for Pirates

By David Schoenfield

Wait ... we haven't done the Pittsburgh Pirates?

On July 25 last season, the Pirates beat the Braves to improve to 53-47. They were tied for first place in the NL Central. They had outscored their opponents by six runs, so the record wasn't a complete fluke, although many pointed to an overachieving starting rotation as cause for concern. That night, the Pirates lost that 19-inning heartbreaker to the Braves. You can't point to one game, of course, but the Pirates went 19-43 the rest of the way to finish 72-90. While a disappointing finish, it was the club's best record since 2003 and a 15-game improvement over 2010.

Much of the same cast is back. Jose Tabata and Alex Presley will assume full-time roles in the outfield alongside Andrew McCutchen with Garrett Jones moving to first base. Clint Barmes, a solid defender, was brought in to play shortstop. Once again, former No. 1 pick Pedro Alvarez will be given a chance at third base. The Pirates will need his power bat to finally meet expectations if they are to improve on the 610 runs they scored in 2011 (14th in the NL). Casey McGehee provides depth if Alvarez struggles again.

The rotation finished 11th in the NL with a 4.21 ERA. The Pirates traded for A.J. Burnett and signed Erik Bedard, although Burnett will miss a few weeks after suffering a fractured orbital bone. If healthy, those will help improve a staff that finished last in the league among strikeouts from starters. Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia round out the rotation options. The bullpen posted a 3.76 ERA, 12th in the NL.

The Pirates haven't finished above .500 since 1992. The oddsmakers aren't expecting a breakthrough. The over/under is 73 wins.