It's hard for a sports team to shed itself of a stigma, like that of a long-time loser. The Pittsburgh Penguins had that reputation for many years before Mario Lemieux arrived in Pittsburgh (and for a few more years after); the Pittsburgh Steelers had that reputation for decades before Chuck Noll came on the scene in 1969.
Having finished with a losing record for 20 consecutive seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates are currently fighting that same reputation. However, after averaging a shade under 60 wins in '09 and '10, the Pirates have a nice mix of young talent in Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez, complemented by a group of veterans, led by pitcher A.J. Burnett and catcher Russell Martin.
After winning 72 games two seasons ago, the Pirates jumped out to a 60-44 record last year, before collapsing down the stretch and finishing 2012 with a 79-83 record. I'm not great at math, but I do have a calculator on my cellphone, and it tells me the team has averaged a tick over 75 wins the past two seasons. That may not be good enough to end years of losing, but you would think it should be good enough to end the "shock and awe" every time Pittsburgh actually wins a baseball game.
But no, unfortunately, not only are the Pirates still facing the stigma of losing more games than they win, they still have the reputation of a team that is just absolutely pathetic--if you've been paying attention, you'd know that nothing could be further from the truth.
As the roster is currently constructed, I believe the Pirates have the talent to win between 75-85 games this season. Winning 85 would obviously mean a lot in terms of shedding that "loser" label (and maybe in terms of actually making the playoffs), but I don't think it should actually shock people if it happens.
I think if the starting rotation gets a boost from a group of pitchers that include Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens and the young Gerrit Cole, that could go a long way towards helping Pittsburgh finish closer to 85 victories.
Right now, the back-end of the rotation is too shaky and unreliable. And while the bullpen may, once again, be among the best in baseball, it's also, once again, being severely taxed by a starting staff that often fails to reach the seventh inning. And like last season, an over-taxed bullpen could prove to be very detrimental in August and September. If there is one thing the Pirates have acquired in recent years, it's pitching depth. It would be nice if they could actually take advantage of that soon and find a couple more guys to eat up some innings.
In terms of hitting, this team is going to hit. The lineup may struggle at times, like it did during the first week of the season, but there is too much talent for the hitters to struggle like they did for most of 2011 and huge stretches of 2012.
Lastly, the Pirates may not be "winners" right now, but they're far from pathetic losers. So please, you out there are facebook and twitter with your "the Pirates won and the Penguins lost?" status updates, give it a rest.