Pirates are in the postseason for the first time since 1992, city decides to start dressing up their newborns in pirates gear.
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Huh. Okay.

Dear Fans of a National League team

If your team is not named St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, or Los Angeles Dodgers, you better be praying for a playoff spot.

As it stands, the closest Wild Card contenders for the Cardinals and Reds (who would be the two Wild Card teams if the season ended today), are the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Washington Nationals, who are 8.5 and 9 games back, respectively.

Looks like the National League is just about locked up, barring a 2011 Red Sox-esque collapse. American League isn’t looking much more interesting, but it’s something to follow.

A.J Burnett flourishing in Pittsburgh

If you follow baseball, it’s no secret that Burnett was a huge bust with the Yankees. After having career years in Toronto before packing his bags and putting on the Pinstripes, his career was never really the same.

A huge reason why Burnett’s time in New York was such a “bust” because people over hyped him. In 2008, before coming over to New York, his record was an impressive 18-10. However, his ERA was just a smidge above 4. The Yankees seem to have always been in playoff contention, so any added player that could “bolster” their team, everyone expects them to be on fire.

In his time as a Yankee, Burnett went 34-35. In 2009 he was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA. Realistically, not very bad at all. Saying that he played in AL East is the reason he had an ERA over 4 does not work; Toronto Blue Jays are also in that division.

2010: 10-15
2011: 11-11

Both seasons he had an ERA over 5. It doesn’t help that he’s been notorious for giving up a good amount of home runs because he’s a hard thrower. So putting him into Yankee Stadium with that infamous short right field, as well as the field as a whole being smaller than most, probably contributed to his higher home run total, thus his raised ERA.

In actuality, Burnett has always been a good pitcher. Just good. A number 3-5 starter on most teams. He may be an Ace on a handful of teams, but on a team like the Yankees, being anything higher than No. 3 in the rotation, or expecting him to be that high, is a bit ridiculous.

The lowest ERA he ever recorded in a season with more than 25 starts was in 2002. 7 years before the Yankees acquired him. And it was 3.30. Very good, but nothing to really turn your head. After that, he hovered between 3.70 and 4.00 in just about every season, aside from 2005’s 3.44 ERA performance.

Ergo, expecting Burnett to go 19-8 with an ERA under 3, which it seems a lot of people were expecting to happen, was not a good idea. Even the 18-10 record of 2008 should have thrown up red flags; a W-L record means nothing, especially if in that season, the pitcher had an ERA over 4. That means that he was backed by a lot of offense, or pitched VERY well when he won, and pitched terribly when he lost.

Before his 18-10 season? Let’s look at his other W-L records in previous seasons:

2007: 10-8
2006: 10-8
2005: 12-12
*2004: 7-6
*2003: 0-2
2002: 12-9

*2004 and 2003 were shortened seasons for him.

Now, even if you believe that W-L is a great way to measure a pitcher’s talent, before 2008, he wasn’t a star pitcher. 2008 was a career year for wins and strikeouts. His WHIP was 1.34, he walked a lot, and he actually gave up more runs in 2008 than 2009.

Bottom line? I’ll admit that Burnett really slumped in a Yankees uniform. At least, in 2010 and 2011. But he was never an Ace and never should have been treated like one, or expected to pull numbers that were numbers he never attained, even in his 2008 performance, which arguably, while it was a career season, wasn’t that good.

So, to get to the point of this article: Why would Burnett flourish in Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh is the MLB’s smallest marketing team. They are also rebuilding, so to speak. There are low expectations for the team, much less eyes on him, and a weaker division to pitch in.

You can look at his stats and grimace, or you can be rational. He’s 1-2 with an ERA of 8.04. He must have started off the season terribly!

Well, in only one start.

In his first start, he pitched 7 innings, gave up 3 hits and no runs while striking out 7. Great, right? Second start, 6 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs and 8 strikeouts. Not bad at all. After two starts, his ERA was 1.38. he had struckout 15 and walked 5 in 13 innings of work. The walks could be a bit lower, but that’s Burnett for you; he walks a lot.

In his third start is where he got knocked around.

He pitched 2.2 innings while giving up a sky high 12 runs on 12 hits. There’s where his ERA came from.

Now, when your pitcher is struggling, you generally don’t leave them in there to struggle even more. When you realize that he’s not up to his usual stuff, you pull him. Not Pittsburgh!

They left him out to dry, and let Burnett get shelled more than he should have. One explanation could be because in the game before, Pittsburgh’s starter only lasted 4.1 innings, and the bullpen after him gave up 5 runs. It’s entirely possible the bullpen was depleted and they were hoping to get a couple more innings out of Burnett, and it just didn’t happen.

As you may have been able to guess, his last start was fully situational. Not to mention that he was pitching against a strong Cardinal’s offense that had Carlos Beltran “Belting” 2 home runs off of him.

I think Burnett will pitch decently in a Pirates uniform. I don’t expect him to pull All-Star numbers or Cy Young numbers, but they will be good numbers for a team that has little expectations overall. And that will be a great thing for Burnett.

Not everyone can handle The Big Stage.

NL Central Predictions

Continuing with the predictions, here is the National League Central edition of it.

1. St. Louis Cardinals: 93-69
2. Milwaukee Brewers: 86-76
3. Cincinatti Reds: 83-79
4. Chicago Cubs: 77-85
5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 72-90
6. Houston Astros: 68-94

With Adam Wainwright back in the Cardinal’s rotation, Chris Carpenter and Wainwright will be a formidable one two punch in the front of the rotation. Jake Westbrook must keep his ERA and WHIP down if he wants to keep the rotation strong, though. Even though they lost Albert Pujols, the addition of Carlos Beltran helps the wounds a bit, and they can look ahead to getting a younger first baseman to man it, as Pujols is past his prime, regardless of his level of skill and power.

The loss of Prince Fielder is a heavy blow to the Brewers lineup. Fielder slugged 38 home runs and 120 RBIs last season, so filling that hole will be a hard thing for the Brewers to heal from. However, the Brewers have a much deeper lineup than one would think. A lineup consisting of Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, and Alex Gonzalez is nothing to take lightly. Their main strength is the quality of their rotation, with Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and the emergence of John Axford as a superb closer could have them take the Central crown away from the Cardinals, but with the loss of Fielder, one should expect their power numbers to take a hefty drop from last season. If they want to keep in contention, their rotation and bullpen need to be in tip-top shape.

The Reds have a great team, but tapered off last season and fell of the charts it seems. Joey Votto continues to be one of the league’s best hitters, but until the Reds get him better protection and more depth to their lineup, they won’t be going too many places. Another team that must rely on their rotation and bullpen shining to counteract the down power numbers. They did score the 7th most runs in the league, but also gave up the 11th most runs, but with some players having career years, one shouldn’t expect the same numbers as last year, though they are very possible.

The lovable Cubs try, you have to give them that. Starlin Castro is proving to be a future superstar, and if the Cubs can lock him up, it’ll be a great step in the right direction. Alfonso Soriano is still one of the games best outfielders, David DeJesus is a good player, but aside from those, their offense is lacking something awful. Couple that with a lacking rotation, there isn’t any clearer answer than these guys will have to have players with career years and consistently good numbers to make it anywhere.

It seems like the Pirates surprised people last year by doing surprising decent, compared to their usual terrible seasons. They even lead their division for a short time in the first few months of the season, but they fell apart rather quickly. They finished last in nearly every offensive category, and still ended the season rather disappointingly. They acquired A.J Burnett in the offseason from the Yankees, but whether that is a pro or con is a subject to debate. Andrew McCutchen and his pals will have to deal with yet another down season.

The Astros actually had better offense than the Pirates last season, but it was their pitching that ruined them…aside from their still terrible offense. Giving up the third most runs in the entire league will do that. On a batting average standpoint, they were 10th overall, which isn’t bad. But a team needs more than batting average to make their offense numbers count.

Predictions for the NL Central. What are your predictions?