Know Your Enemy: An early look at the NL Central

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Pittsburgh Pirates

Sep 25, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) hits a sacrifice fly scoring Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison (not pictured) in the third inning of their game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2014 W-L: 88-74

The Pirates took the biggest blow in the division when they lost catcher Russell Martin to free agency. Martin leaves a gap in the offense that the Pirates hope can be filled by former MVP Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Josh Harrison. McCutchen has been well known in the league for many years, but Harrison broke out in 2014 with a .315 average. If the Pirates want to be in the playoffs again, McCutchen and Harrison will need to have high averages again and hope third baseman Pedro Alvarez can emulate his 2013 season, when he hit 36 home runs with 100 RBI.

The Pirates hope Gerrit Cole can be the ace of their rotation, but he will need to improve on his 3.65 ERA. Veteran Francisco Liriano has bounced back since signing with the Pirates in 2013, averaging a 3.20 ERA in the two seasons since. He re-signed with them this offseason on a three-year deal. The Pirates also brought back A.J. Burnett after he spent one season with the Phillies. He struggled in Philly but looks to get back into the form he was in during his previous Pirates stint.

The Pirates look like they will be the Cubs biggest competition if they’re competing for second in the division. The loss of Martin could be the difference between the Pirates making the playoffs again, or losing out to the Cubs or another NL team.

Next: Milwaukee Brewers