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Starkey: Pirates will go 82-80 (really)

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Saturday, March 30, 2013, 11:29 p.m.
 

A wise guy could concoct several diabolical scenarios for the Pirates' 127th season, which commences Monday at PNC Park.

One would see the Pirates race to an 80-41 start, only to lose 41 consecutive games and finish 80-82 (then launch an internal “review” that reveals nothing but the need to extend all management contracts).

Another would see the Pirates sitting at 80-81 going into their final game — on the precipice of snapping that pesky little 20-year losing streak — then grab a 17-0 lead only to see the game rained out with two outs in the top of the fifth.

But I'm no wise guy. Rather, I consider myself a visionary — and I recently experienced a powerful vision regarding the season at hand:

The Pirates will stumble into June several games below .500, then right the ship behind the powerful right arm of Gerrit Cole and at least one veteran addition to the rotation (surely, one of the following — Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton — will help).

We'll see a reversal of the past two years, when the Pirates whipped the city into a frenzy by mid-July only to melt like ice cubes in a blast furnace over the final two months.

This season won't have such wild swings. The Pirates will hang around .500 all summer, then finish with a bang — winning their final two games of the season in Cincinnati against the resting Reds (division clinched), to finish 82-80.

That would represent a mere three-game improvement but would qualify as a smashing success. And if you think predicting 82 wins is insane, consider this: Clint Hurdle threw out 95. It happened during spring training when Hurdle was on 93.7 The Fan:

Host: “I'm sure there's a lot of lessons learned from every season you manage. What was the biggest thing you took from 2012?”

Hurdle: “Controlling the grind more efficiently. … There's still a sense of angst in the clubhouse about the way we finished, because you feel you're better than that. You know what? The reality of the game shows you weren't. Your record's your record. We won 79 games. Lost 83 games. Where do you go from there? How do you get to 95? When people ask me a number, 95 is the number I throw out there, and people go, ‘Wow, that's a lot of … ' and I go, ‘Yeah, you're right, it's a lot of games!' I get it, but you know what? If we win 95, we're going to be in a good place.”

Hurdle went on to break down how the Pirates could add 16 games to their win total.Here's how I see adding three as realistic:

• Andrew McCutchen has another great year, this time with a finishing kick.

• Pedro Alvarez, who has played one full major league season, improves his discipline at the plate and concentration in the field.

• Neil Walker stays healthy.

• Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez provide a productive first-base platoon.

• James McDonald finds a happy medium between unhittable and unwatchable.

• Jason Grilli does a decent Joel Hanrahan.

• Cole adds a jolt of electricity when he arrives sometime in June.

• At least one veteran starter — Jonathan Sanchez, Morton, Karstens, Liriano — surprises.

• Jose Tabata has a rebound year, eventually assuming the starting job in right field and the leadoff spot.

• Starling Marte, once moved out of the leadoff role, settles down and becomes a productive big-leaguer.

• The catcher (Russell Martin) actually throws out some runners, assisted by a staff that actually tries to hold them.

Look, there are question marks all over the place. We know this. But the Pirates are due for some good luck. We're going on a quarter century of losing here.

I'm sticking with my vision. I'm sticking with 82. If things fall apart, feel free to remind of that. I will then remind you that at least I didn't completely lose my mind.

At least I didn't throw out 95.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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