Five Major Questions for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016

San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates

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Can the back end of the rotation support Cole and Liriano?

In Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, the Pirates have one of the better one-two punches in the league. Jon Niese is a nice number-three starter. He will not lose too many games outright. After the top trio, as is the case for most small-market teams, the drop is quite significant to Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong. Locke went 8-11 with a 4.49 ERA in 30 starts a season ago, and Vogelsong will be 39 in July and is coming off a 9-11 season with a 4.67 ERA. When Locke and Vogelsong take the hill, the Pirates have to hope they can get the ball to the bullpen without too much damage. Expeting much more than a 4.00 ERA out of Locke and Vogelsong may be too big an ask from the Pirates front office.

In reality, Locke and Vogelsong are just holding down the fort until Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow reach the big leagues. Both big-time prospects could be in the rotation at some point next year. If Locke and Vogelsong can provide at least replacement-level pitching until the next wave of young studs reach the rotation, the Pirates should be able to make do.

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