Expectations low for Pittsburgh Pirates as team enters its 135th season

PITTSBURGH — If high expectations are a team’s worst enemy, then this year’s Pirates have a very good friend. That’s because the expectations are extremely low as the Pirates enter their 135th season.

In some ways, it can’t get much worse than the very forgettable 60-game season of a year ago, when the Bucs finished with only 19 wins and 41 losses, easily the worst record in major league baseball. It’s important for the Pirates to have faith in their long-term strategy, and to stay with their 2021 plan.

The offseason came with changes, most notably, the exit of two popular players. Jameson Taillon was traded to the Yankees while Josh Bell was dealt to the Nationals.

Now, all eyes are on the future, to 2021 and beyond. The wheels are turning in the latest rebuilding of the Pirates. In the second season of the new regime, GM Ben Cherington and manager Derek Shelton are focused on fundamentals and development.

The future will be built around two 24-year-olds: third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and right-handed pitcher Mitch Keller. Hayes’s late-season debut turned into a spectacular September, when he batted .376 with five home runs, three triples and 17 doubles. He finished sixth in voting for National League Rookie of the Year. In part because of injuries, Keller’s season wasn’t as spectacular. In five starts, he was 1-1 with a 2.91 ERA.

The Pirates will also need bounce-back seasons from other players, including LF Bryan Reynolds, SS Kevin Newman and 2B Adam Frazier. Those three players had disappointing 2020 seasons, but have rebounded with solid performances in spring training. Joining Reynolds in the outfield will be CF Anthony Alford and RF Gregory Polanco. Erik Gonzalez will help at shortstop. With Hayes taking over the job at third base, Colin Moran will settle in full-time at first base, where he committed only two errors last season. Jacob Stallings and Michael Perez will handle the catching duties.

The starting rotation has options. Chad Kuhl will start the season opener in Chicago Thursday. He’ll be joined in the rotation by Keller, and possibly J. T. Brubaker, Tyler Anderson and Trevor Cahill. Steven Brault will start the season dealing with a moderate left lat muscle strain. The bullpen includes probable closer Richard Rodriguez, as well as Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton and Michael Feliz.

This team isn’t projected to contend this season, and while the goal of any team is to win, the Pirates, and their fans, will be relying on perspective this season, and the wins that could come down the line from the foundation being built in 2021.