In the second installment of our Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke interview with Pat Lackey, we spoke about breakout seasons, historic collapses, and "realistic" expectations. In case you missed it, here is Part I from Tuesday.
TNB: For a majority of the 2011 season the Pirates were the "feel good story" of the year and at one point were the first place team in the Central. How were they successful and what happened in the second half of the season?
WHYGAVS: They were never going to be able to sustain their early season success over the course of a full season, because it was mostly built on a smoke and mirrors pitching staff that was getting outs with a low ERA despite the lowest strikeout rate in the National League. The offense had its share of trouble due to poor performances and injuries, and when the pitching staff started to lag there was nothing on the other side of things to pick them up. When you couple that with the Brewers' red-hot second half and the Cardinals' late surge, the Pirates ended up with a late-season collapse of historic proportions.
TNB: Pedro Alvarez was the second overall pick in the 2008 Amateur Draft, but hasn't shown much promise since his 2010 debut. What can we expect from him in 2012?
WHYGAVS: That's the million dollar question, for sure. Alvarez still has impressive raw power, but he really tends to out-think himself at the plate, which gets him behind in the count, which almost never ends well for him. I'd like to hold out a little bit of hope that he can become a Carlos Pena/Ryan Howard type of hitter, a real three-true-outcomes guy, but honestly I'm worried that he'll even be that good. If he can't cut down on his strikeouts, he's going to have trouble being a useful big league hitter.
TNB: Can Andrew McCutchen live up to breakout year he had in 2011?
WHYGAVS: Absolutely. In fact, McCutchen tailed off a bit in the second half of the season (he had a rough spell in July and a bad September). Since he's only 25, I'm kind of hoping that he can put together a full season in 2012 that matches his first 90-100 games from 2011 and raise himself up another level on the hierarchy of big league stars.
TNB: Is Joel Hanrahan (an ex-National) the best closer no ones ever heard of?
WHYGAVS: Hanrahan's improvement with the Pirates has been incredible to watch. When he came over from the Nats in 2008, it sometimes looked like he couldn't throw a strike to save his life. Last year, he only gave up 16 walks in 68 2/3 innings. In fact, if I had one complaint about Hanrahan last year, it was that he occasionally threw too many strikes, hammering away with his fastball when he had an opportunity to put away hitters with his nasty slider. I don't know if he's the best closer no one's heard of at this point, since he managed to rack up 40 saves and make an All-Star team, but he's certainly a heck of a reliever and I'm expecting more of the same from him 2012.
TNB: What are the expectations for the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates? Can they compete in a division with the defending champion Cardinals, the slugging Brewers, and the dark horse Reds?
WHYGAVS: Honestly, I don't see any way the Pirates can keep up with the Reds and Cardinals this year. I think those two teams are going to be among the NL's best, and the Pirates just aren't there right now. If they get improved performances from Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker to go with McCutchen and Erik Bedard stays healthy and Charlie Morton and James McDonald build on what they did in 2011, there's an outside shot that the Pirates could have their first winning season since 1992 (a very outside shot, I'd say, as there'd have to be quite a few things that go right for them to get to that point), but I don't see them keeping up with either the Reds or the Red Birds in 2012.