The 2020 season wasn’t going to be an easy one for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the team opting to start rebuilding from the bottom up after an abysmal 69-93 season in 2019. As such, the Bucs were never likely going to be in contention this year.
The modified 60-game schedule — which can be viewed in the scoreboard on page B-3 — has all but ensured that.
Released this week, the new-look schedule has the Pirates playing their traditional NL Central foes — the Cubs, Reds, Cardinals and Brewers — as well as teams from the AL Central: the Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Royal and Twins.
Of those nine opposing teams on tap for the Bucs, only two finished with worse records last season: the Tigers (the MLB’s worst record at 47-114) and Royals (59-103). In addition, the White Sox (72-89) and Reds (75-87) were the only other teams on the schedule that finished below .500, but still placed ahead of Pittsburgh last season.
On the flip side, the Twins eclipsed the century mark with a 101-61 record, while the Indians finished 93-69, just three games back of the second Wild Card spot in an ultra-competitive American League last season.
And then, of course, comes the divisional opponents from the NL Central, all of which finished in front of Pittsburgh last season. The Cardinals took the division with a 91-71 mark in 2019, while the Brewers won the second Wild Card spot with an 89-73 record.
Five games behind the Brewers, Chicago finished 84-78, while the Reds enjoyed the cellar with the Bucs at 75-87.
With that lineup of opponents, online sportsbook Bovada has the Pirates over/under win total set at 25.5.
Pittsburgh’s 2020 baseball season will officially begin (at least as scheduled) on July 24 in St. Louis, the first game of a three-day set. The Bucs then come back to PNC Park the next day for their home opener, the first of three games against the Brewers.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier, as by the time Pittsburgh hits the 30-game mark after Aug. 25, they will have only played three games against a team with a worse record from last year — a home series against Detroit Aug. 7-9.
The back half isn’t much better, as only one series — a three-game road set at Kansas City from Sept. 11-13 — features an opponent that was worse a year ago. That means of the Pirates’ 60 games this year, only six will be against opponents Pittsburgh was above last season.
If the schedule weren’t enough for low optimism this year, the Pirates roster doesn’t exactly generate a lot of excitement, either.
First, pitcher Chris Archer — who the Pirates acquired in a disastrous 2018 deal in exchange for Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow — is out for the year after requiring surgery in early June to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. That’s a big loss, considering only Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams started more games last year.
It wasn’t as if the Pirates’ pitching staff was going to wow anybody in the first place, though. Pittsburgh had the fifth highest ERA last season at 5.18, and didn’t add anybody to really give hope for much of an improvement.
If there were any cause of hope, it was that the Pirates’ offense ranked fifth in terms of batting average last season. With Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and a few other rising stars still on roster, fans will at least get a glimpse of the future.
But as for 2020’s order, consider that Pittsburgh ranked 20th in total RBI last season and that lineup is still virtually intact, save for the loss of Starling Marte.
Marte racked up the most hits (159), second most homeruns (23) and second most RBI (82) last season, and is being replaced by Jarrod Dyson, a 35 year old who batted .230 last year in 130 games played with the Diamondbacks.
Put it all together, and you have a Pirates season that will feel so long for fans, it’ll be almost as if the typical 162-game slate was played.
(Joel Whetzel, a Bradford Era sportswriter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)