One could argue – successfully, we might add – that the two most compelling storylines of the 2013 MLB season involved the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians.
Last year, the Pirates finished with a winning record (finally), made the playoffs (whoa) and actually won a few playoff games (seriously).
The Indians, meanwhile, made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 with a new manager (Terry Francona) and a whole host of free agents (Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, etc.), including a hulking slugger in his 40s (Jason Giambi).
All good stuff.
This year, however, both teams have been so-so. Entering play June 6, the Pirates are 28-31 and seven games out of first place in the NL Central, while the Indians are 30-30 and three games out of first in the AL Central.
Which team has a better chance to catch fire and make the playoffs?
C.J. Nitkowski doesn’t feel good about either.
“If I have to pick one – I probably wouldn’t to be honest with you,” the former pitcher and current MLB analyst said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “I just (have) no confidence in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ability to come back. They just did a pretty terrible job of recapturing or adding on to what they did last season. They had a great season last year. They finally got over .500, they made the playoffs and then they just had a pretty terrible offseason. They didn’t do much of anything, so that was a problem. And it hasn’t gotten any better.”
It remains to be seen whether the Pirates will call up outfielder Gregory Polanco, one of the top prospects in the game. Pittsburgh ranks 24th in baseball in runs.
“They have a good prospect in Polanco, and they haven’t called him up yet,” Nitkowski said. “So as they struggle in right field, they’re not making any moves. So for me, the Pittsburgh Pirates definitely are not that team.
“The Cleveland Indians, maybe.”
The Indians haven’t struggled to score runs overall – they’re seventh in baseball in that department – but they’ve struggled to score them at the right time. They’ve also been abysmal on the road (9-19 outside of Progressive Field, versus 21-11 in it).
The pitching staff also ranks below average in ERA (3.97), WHIP (1.34) and quality starts (28).
“The rotation has been hit and miss,” Nitkowski said. “Corey Kluber has been outstanding, but Justin Masterson has been pretty inconsistent as he goes into his free-agent year.”
Kluber is 6-3 with a 3.23 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 86.1 innings, while Masterson is 3-4 with a 4.72 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 74.1 innings. He also has a bloated 1.49 WHIP.
Offensively, Carlos Santana is hitting just .159, while Jason Kipnis, who has dealt with nagging injuries, is hitting .237.
“I don’t love the Cleveland Indians,” Nitkowski said. “I don’t see (either the Pirates or the Indians) as playoff teams. I don’t see them as Wild Card teams. But if I had to pick one, I’ll take the Indians.”