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Welcoming back America's pastime

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:21 a.m.

Spring is finally here, well almost.

Down south, bats are cracking and gloves are popping. It's baseball season, the best time of the year.

Baseball is upon us with the start of Grapefruit League games this past weekend. I don't know how anyone else feels about it, but I think Opening Day should be a national holiday.

As the Buccos prepare to hopefully, and finally, end 20 years of losing seasons, I can only remain optimistic yet again.

I am glad to see that newly acquired catcher Russell Martin got this fantasy of playing shortstop for Team Canada out of his head. Ok, fine, you want to play for your country, go right ahead but play catcher. Better yet, stay in spring training and learn the nuances of your new pitching staff. I like that decision better, too.

I think Martin is going to play a big factor in the team's success this season. Think about it. What if Rod Barajas throws out maybe 20 runners last season. How many more runs does that save? How many more wins do those runs account for? Too bad we'll never know. It all starts with actually trying to hold runners on first base, though.

Who's in right?

Who will be in right field when it comes time for opening day? Starling Marte has taken the reigns in left, McCutchen is a superstar is center, so who plays next to him on the other side?

Travis Snider, Garrett Jones, Alex Presley, and dare I say, Jose Tabata, are all in the mix.

I think we're going to see Snider get the gig. Giving up Brad Lincoln, as effective as he was last season, means that someone in the front office thinks Snider has a big upside.

Who's in the rotation?

Well, it's all ready been declared that A.J. Burnett will get the start when the Bucs host the Cubs on Opening Day in Pittsburgh. We know James McDonald, Wandy Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano, and Jeff Karstens are in camp as well. Rumors have it that Karstens will remain in the rotation until Liriano is ready. If he's not, is Jonathan Sanchez the next guy in or will they throw lefty Jeff Locke into the mix. He didn't look bad throwing three shutout innings Sunday against the Braves.

Will we finally see Gerrit Cole throw off a major league mound this year? I say yes, but not until late in the season.

Look for fellow pitching prospect Jameson Taillon to make the start for Team Canada against the United States in the first game for each team in the World Baseball Classic.

And for the record, how about we just add baseball back in the Olympics and knock it off with the WBC in the middle of spring training?

Early tests

Even though it's early on in the season, we should get a decent read on how the team will fare as it tries to end “the streak.”

33 of the first 42 games the Pirates play this season are against teams that finished above the .500 mark. Not to mention that the Houston Astros have bolted for the American League. They accounted for 12 Bucco wins last season.

Too early for predictions?

Buccos finish 86-76 and will compete for the second wildcard spot.

Nationals in the NL East, Reds in the Central, Dodgers in the West. Braves, Cardinals, Giants, and Pirates compete for two wildcard spots.

In the AL, let's go Toronto in the East, Indians in the Central, Angels in the West. Tigers, A's, Red Sox, and Orioles compete for wildcards.

Angels win the World Series. You heard it here first.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or