The Pirates are more likely than not to land outside the playoff picture in 2020, but they’ve not given up the notion of wreaking some havoc on the NL Central this year. To do so, however, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman will need to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, writes Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
True enough, Reynolds and Newman came out the gate strong in 2019, posting 3.2 fWAR and 2.4 fWAR, respectively. And yet, teaming their rookie duo with Josh Bell’s breakout bat still only amounted to the 20th-ranked offense by runs scored (758 runs) and 19th by wRC+ (92). Beyond these three, the other two Pirates rounding out their top five by wRC+ in 2019 now play for different teams (Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson), and the sixth is a pitcher (Steven Brault). Immediately upon the close of 2019, the Pirates had planned to give Brault a go as a two-way player, but with new leadership up and down the organization, it’s unclear what his role will be.
Regardless, Jarrod Dyson is the biggest addition made to the position player group this winter. Reynolds and Newman are core pieces of this lineup, and the good news is this: If they do slump in their sophomore seasons, they should have enough leash to find their way back.
Let’s jump from the bottom of the NL Central to the top and check in with the reigning divisional champs…
- As spring training games kick off (weather permitting), hitters around the league are putting their offseason swing adjustments to the test. Paul Goldschmidt, Harrison Bader and Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals will all be deploying tweaked swings to some degree as they seek the kind of offensive consistency that eluded the trio last year, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Goldy was the most successful of the three, but his fortunes at the plate sunk and fell seemingly on a monthly basis, and he never quite settled into the type of season to which he is accustomed. A .260 BA was his lowest mark since 2012 by almost 30 points, and while his power remained decidedly above average, it did drop from the astronomical heights of the couple of seasons prior. Still, even in a down year, Goldy produced 16 percent more offense than average. Any substantive regression to his career norms should be enough to raise Goldy’s stock back to the level of franchise cornerstone where the Cardinals expected him to be when they acquired him for three players and a pick last winter.
- Unsurprisingly, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt wasted no time in naming Jack Flaherty their Opening Day starter, per Goold. Flaherty drove the Cardinals' second-half push to 91 wins and their first divisional crown since 2015. Who follows Flaherty in the rotation is a more compelling question for those in Cardinals camp this spring. There are no shortage of options, from rotation holdovers like Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas, to former ace Carlos Martinez, to newcomer Kwang-Hyun Kim. Adam Wainwright will be somewhere in the rotation after a rejuvenating 14-10 season in which he posted a 4.19 ERA/4.36 FIP across 31 starts. The bridge from Flaherty to Wainwright (to Chris Carpenter to Matt Morris) is a tangible reminder of the Cardinals’ institutional success. 2007, Wainright’s first season as a starter, remains the only losing season the Cards have suffered this century. (They went 78-84 and finished in third place.)