PITTSBURGH — In a 162-game season, it’s nearly impossible to make any concrete judgements about a single team.

However, you can get a gauge on where your team stands early in the season. In the Pirates case, there were quite a few eye-openers to start the year in Chicago…

1. Infield play has to be the top area of concern

A slew of errors on Opening Day could have been costly. An error on Saturday by the team’s best infielder, first baseman Lyle Overbay, contributed to the Pirates eventual downfall in allowing a five-run eighth inning to blow a 3-0 lead and lose, 5-3. And finally, a throwing error on a seemingly routine double-play ball by shortstop Ronny Cedeno nearly cost the Pirates a win in Sunday’s 5-4 victory.

The Pirates infield wasn’t good last year defensively and can’t allow that to continue if they hope to deliver on what all Pirates fans are looking for this season — forward progress.

2. The top of the order looks extremely good

Looking at the top of the lineup, Pirates fans should be pretty happy with opening weekend. Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen are all batting .286 or higher after opening weekend. Walker hit a grand slam on Opening Day, and McCutchen knocked a two-run homer out later in the same game. Tabata was consistently good all weekend at the plate, punctuating the series with a 3-for-5 day Sunday, scoring two runs and getting all three base hits as the leadoff hitter in the first, third and fifth innings.

3. Clint Hurdle is off to a rocky start with pitching

I don’t believe MLB managers influence games as much as most people, but I did see Hurdle put his team in compromising positions this weekend with how he utilized his starting pitching. On Saturday, Hurdle pulled Paul Maholm after 6 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball only to see Evan Meek give up five earned runs in the eighth inning to eventually lose. Sunday, Hurdle left Ross Ohlendorf in the game when it seemed certain he would be pulled after the fifth inning. Ohlendorf gave up a home run to Alfonso Soriano in the first at bat of the sixth inning, giving Chicago a 4-3 lead.

Managers make decisions they believe in and then count on the players they insert to execute. Therefore, Hurdle can’t be fully blamed in these situations. Nevertheless, he’s allowed to take some of the blame and there was definitely blame to go around in those situations.

4. This team’s maturity will show on the road

The Pirates won 17 games on the road last season — yes, 17. The two wins in Chicago represent over one tenth of the road wins the Pirates accumulated last season. Given the surprising ability of the Buccos to play well at home in 2011, an improved road record may be all they need to show improvement this season. If nothing else, the road record at year’s end will show the maturity level of this team.

The countdown to 17 has begun. Only 15 more. Seems pretty simple, right?

5. We will be entertained in 2012

Win or lose, this team in probably going to be in a lot of exciting games this year. With the lineup’s ability and improved power, the pitching staff’s unpredictability and the infield’s hot and cold play, we’ll be on the edge of our seat a lot.

I’m not sure if it will be in a good or bad way, but it should be fun to watch!

Here’s to a season of improvement this year. I’ll be handling all of your Pirates coverage here on 937thefan.com so stick by the Bucs Blog.

You may have read my stuff over at Area 4-1-Zoo during football or basketball season. I have a lot of similar coverage planned, along with some new stuff as well! I hope you’ll join me for what is hopefully a fun an entertaining season!

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Chris Gates | Bucs Blog

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