If you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates it makes sense that you should have a flag to fly to show your loyalty to your team. The only problem is that it will be a few years before you can really fly that fly proudly. The Pirates finished fifth in the National League Central last year with a 72-89 record but finishing out of the cellar in 2005 is going to take some doing because there was really only one substantial off-season move, trading All-Star catcher Jason Kendall to the A's for left-handed starter Mark Redman, who needs to return to the form he showed with the Marlins in 2003 to make the deal a winner.There are two real bright spots on the team, with 23-year-old left-handed starter Oliver Perez (12-10, 2.98 E.R.A.) turning into the team's ace and the apparently ageless Jose Mesa saving 43 games in the bullpen. Both of them will be pitching to Benito Santiago (.274, 6 home runs, 23 runs batted in), who is older than Mesa. There are three left-handed arms in the bullpen (Mike Gonzales, Mike Johnston, and John Grabow), which is an excessive surplus by current standards, and one of them could be traded for another position player. Shortstop Jack Wilson (.308, 11, 59) is the only solid glove in the infield where Ty Wigginton (.261, 17, 66) and Craig Wilson (.264, 29, 82) at the corners will try to compensate for that with the long ball. Rookie of the Year Jason Bay (.282, 26, 82) and veteran Matt Lawton (.278, 20, 70) will try to do the same thing in the outfield.The last time the Pirates had a winning season (1992) manager Lloyd McClendon was still playing for Pittsburgh. But this is a division where the National League wild card came from last year and while St. Louis, Houston, and Chicago should all be coming back to the pack a bit because they have each lost significant players such as Edgar Renteria, Jeff Kent, and Sammy Sosa, there is not much opportunity for Pittsburgh to really close the gap. Both Cincinnati and Milwaukee should both be improved and that leaves scant pickings for the Pirates. It is going to require another starter, such as Kip Wells (5-7, 4.55) or young Josh Fogg 11-10, 4.64) to step up closer to Perez's level to give these Pirates a fighting chance.
Rating: [4 of 5 Stars!]