Bucs’ success hangs on 2 scenarios


PITTSBURGH — There are two overriding questions as the Pirates open the 2017 season in Boston tomorrow:

n How good will the starting pitching be?

n When/how will the Jung Ho Kang situation be resolved?

An unfavorable answer to either could doom the Pirates to a second straight losing season. A positive resolution to both should keep them in contention all season.

Baseball success is dictated by starting pitching. The Pirates have plenty of potential, but the fate of the team depends on how well the starters do.

Last season fell apart primarily because the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 starters, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, did poorly. Cole, a 19-game winner in 2015, couldn’t get past a series of minor injuries. He lost confidence and his season was lost with it.

Liriano was a disaster, statistically one of the worst starters in the National League, until he was dispatched to Toronto for 2017 payroll relief.

Cole has had a solid spring training, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t rebound. He’s a major talent who should be coming in to his prime years.

The second starter is either Ivan Nova or Jameson Taillon, and there’s reason to be hopeful about both. Nova was a strike thrower in his 11-game trial with the Pirates, and showed enough to earn a three-year, $26 million contract after he sampled the free agent market.

Is Taillon ready to take another step after an impressive debut? He sat out two seasons because of injuries and seemed to be anxious to make up for that lost time. His stuff was impressive, and his poise was even better.

The Pirates can live with Chad Kuhl being competent in the No. 4 spot. No. 5 starter Tyler Glasnow is a wild card, capable of great and frustrating things within the same inning.

But better to let Glasnow work out his problems at this level rather than sending him back to Class AAA, where he has nothing left to prove.

The Kang situation has a potential huge impact on a lineup that badly needs power. Forget about the morality of embracing a guy guilty of multiple DUI violations. If and when he’s eligible, he plays. Sorry, but that’s how sports works.

If Kang is back in the middle of the lineup, he’s a legitimate power bat who can be counted on for 25 to 30 home runs over a season. If he’s not there, it’s a scramble.

Not only do the Pirates lose a power bat, they’re forced to make daily decisions. David Freese could take some of the games at third base, but not all of them. Does Josh Harrison have to move back to third? If he does, will shortstop Jordy Mercer play with multiple second-base options? That’s not a good situation.

If the starting pitching holds up, the Pirates will be on the plus side of .500 and play relevant games through the end of September.

If not, it’s going to be a repeat of 2016 — a team that isn’t successful and isn’t especially interesting to watch.

Contest update

There’s still time to enter the annual “Guess How Many Games The Pirates Will Win” contest.

You email me two numbers: the number of games the Pirates will win, and (the tiebreaker), the number of home runs they’ll hit this season.

If you win, a box of leftover Pirates promotional stuff will be mailed to you (only open to addresses in the United States).

The email address is at the bottom of this column. The deadline is Thursday at 2 p.m.

It isn’t as good as Powerball, but it doesn’t cost anything to enter.

Paradise on the horizon

Just think … in another 24 hours, you won’t have to hear anyone blathering about their brackets for another 11 months.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com