National League Preview from The Sports Network|
Monday, April 1st
(All times Eastern)
Chicago Cubs (0-0) at Pittsburgh Pirates (0-0), 1:35 p.m.
Probable Starting Pitchers: Chicago - Jeff Samardzija (0-0, 0.00)
Pittsburgh - A.J. Burnett (0-0, 0.00)
(Sports Network) - Two teams with little or no expectations kick off their
2013 campaigns on Monday when the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs square
off at PNC Park.
The Pirates teased the baseball world last season when they went into the All-
Star break holding a one-game lead atop the National League Central.
Forget the fact that the Pirates actually looked like they were going to post
their first winning season since 1992, this was a squad that resembled a
playoff team at the midway point.
But, like it did in 2011 when Pittsburgh set a major league record for the
worst finish (72-90) by a team in first place halfway through the season, the
Pirates endured a nightmare second half and became the first MLB team to
finish with a losing record after being at least 16 games over .500 at any
So, what was once a feel-good story turned into yet another typical baseball
season in the Steel City, as the Pirates stumbled their way to a 79-83 finish,
extending one of the worst streaks in baseball history with the franchise's
20th consecutive losing season..
"We're not going to answer any more last-year questions," said Monday's
starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. "We have to get over the fact that it happened.
This year is about to start."
This will be the first Opening Day start for Burnett, who enjoyed a nice
bounce back 2012 season, going 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA. However, he lost six of
his last seven decisions. Burnett's best start of the year, though, was a
complete game one-hitter against the Cubs on July 23.
Of course, the one glimmer of hope continued to be outfielder Andrew
McCutchen, who has blossomed into one of the game's brightest young stars. He
may be there for a while too, as the Pirates locked him up long term last
spring, signing him to a 6-year, $51.5 million extension.
Pittsburgh tried in earnest this offseason to add a starting pitcher, but was
outbid in most cases, and settled for an injured Francisco Liriano. While they
may not have landed a top-tier starter, the Bucs did help their rotation in a
different way by agreeing to a 2-year, $17 million deal with catcher Russell
As bad as it was in Pittsburgh, it was a far worse season on the North Side of
Chicago, as the Cubs suffered through their worst year since 1966 and
stumbled to a 101-loss campaign.
After years of trying to rebuild through free agency, it appears that the team
is now going with the approach of building through the draft with former
wunderkind Theo Epstein at the helm.
Epstein did add some parts this offseason, as outfielders Scott Hairston and
Nate Schierholtz were brought in, as were right-handers Edwin Jackson and
Cubs fans have come to accept the fact that outfielder Alfonso Soriano
probably isn't going anywhere. But, nobody seems to be complaining that much,
as Soriano had one of his best years in 2012 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI.
Soriano, who still has two years left on that massive 8-year, $136 million
pact, does provide a veteran presence on a team that is slowly but surely
being turned over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Like Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro is a burgeoning star, but his biggest
problem may be between his ears.
Maybe lost in the shuffle of the miserable season from a year ago was a
terrific year from the former Notre Dame football standout Jeff Samardzija,
who will be on the hill Monday. Samardzija pitched to a 3.81 ERA and struck
out 180 batters in about 174 innings.
Even more impressive was the fact that he was able to keep his walks down, as
he issued just 56 free passes. That was quite a contrast to his previous
season, which saw him walk 50 in 88 frames.
Chicago split 16 meetings with the Pirates a year ago.
04/01 10:24:58 ET