Why Pirates should be optimistic about latest fast start

    The Pittsburgh Pirates are no strangers to fast starts in recent years, including their 20-8 start to the 2023 season. The problem has been sustaining those fast starts over a full 162-game season. While that has been an issue and should cause some skepticism until they change the narrative around them, there are some extremely encouraging signs and developments to go with their 5-0 start to the 2024 season.

    It’s the first time the Pirates have started 5-0 since the 1983 season, so let’s take a look at some key developments that should give them reasons for optimism.

    The foundation of a solid lineup is place

    The Pirates have scored at least six runs in each of their first five games and definitely have some intriguing everyday pieces in their lineup.

    Outfielder Bryan Reynolds is a proven middle-of-the-order bat, while third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes finally started to hit in the second half of the 2023 season to add even more value to his Gold Glove defense.

    Both players are ripping the cover of the ball so far.

    But the true game-changers here are shortstop Oneil Cruz and catcher Henry Davis. These are the players the Pirates need to count on to go from “rebuilding team” to potential contending team. Cruz has the highest upside of any position player in the organization and is blessed with a rare combination of power and speed that gives him 30-30 potential at the plate. Almost all of his 2023 season was lost to an early ankle injury just 10 games into the season. He is back healthy this season, and after a great spring training performance, he is off to a strong start with a .316 average and .855 OPS through five games.

    Davis, meanwhile, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft and has taken over as the team’s starting catcher. While there is some concern over his long-term fit defensively, he has the bat to be an everyday player. Getting those two high-upside bats in the lineup for a full season could dramatically change the look of the Pirates lineup if they both hit.

    High upside arms are on the way

    The biggest question mark at the start of the season is probably the state of the starting rotation, where only Mitch Keller is a proven top-of-the-rotation starter. But that could change very, very quickly.

    The Pirates have two elite pitching prospects working their way toward the majors, and one of them, Jared Jones, already made a strong first impression by striking out 10 batters in his big league debut over the weekend. That came on the heels of him not allowing a single run in all of spring training.

    The real excitement will begin when 2023 No. 1 overall pick Paul Skenes gets to Pittsburgh.

    The Pirates are starting him in triple-A to open the season to help him build up to a big league workload, and he consistently topped 100 mph in his first start this season while also striking out five batters in three innings. Having two young starters in Skenes and Jones that can consistently top 100, while also having Keller (an All-Star a year ago) is the foundation of a potentially dominant top of the rotation.

    The bullpen can shorten games

    The major strength the Pirates do have over other teams this year is their bullpen, which has the potential to be one of the best in the league this season. David Bednar is one of the game’s best closers, while they also added Aroldis Chapman as a set-up man to handle eighth innings and other high-leverage situations. Colin Holderman is also a strong set-up man, while Luis Ortiz and Roansy Contreras have elite arms that can miss bats.

    There are a lot of big ifs and question marks in the lineup and rotation, and they might not be ready to be a serious contender this season, but there is a very clear core of high-end players starting to find their place. They might finally be starting to trend in the right direction. Add in the fact the National League Central might be the weakest division in baseball from top-to-bottom, and they might be able to hang around a lot longer than expected. 

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