The Pirates have the best pitching staff in the National League this side of Milwaukee. Bob Friend finally won the 20 games everyone all along said he would to rank as the top right-hander in the league. Behind him are two other right-handers with youth and experience and pitching equipment, Vernon Law and Ronnie Kline. With a deceptively facile motion and perhaps the finest curve anywhere, young George Witt came up to the Pirates at midseason and posted a breathtaking 1.61 ERA while winning nine and losing only two games. Another youngster, Curt Raydon, won eight with a good sidearm sinker, and has only to learn to pace himself to become a bigger winner. Veteran Harvey Haddix, the only lefthander here, should find his chores a little easier this year now that he's working in spacious Forbes Field. Ready to throw his fork ball and fast ball anytime is the hard-working little (5 feet 8) reliever El Roy Face, whose 26 saves were the major league high last season. Backing up all this strong pitching is a solid defense and good hitting of the line-drive variety. Bill Mazeroski, the 22-year-old second base genius with the quicksilver movements and the fabulous hands, not only is the best in baseball at his position, but bats well and with power (19 home runs). Teaming with him at short to give the Pirates an admirable double-play combination is field leader Dick Groat, a consistent .300 hitter. With aggressive Don Hoak at third, the Pirate infield is second to none. Bob Clemente in right and Bill Virdon in center are two young men who can run, throw and hit, while stringbean Left Fielder Bob Skinner ranks behind only Stan Musial as a National League left-handed hitter. At first base there is a plethora of power—Ted Kluszewski, Dick Stuart and Rocky Nelson. Since only one can play at a time, the others reinforce a strong bench, which includes reserve Outfielder Roman Mejias, Infielder Gene Baker and either Smoky Burgess or Hank Foiles, depending on who is not catching at the moment.
The only weak link in this nicely balanced team is a lack of outstanding power. There is a host of good batters in the lineup but few of their hits go sailing into the stands. Without last year's big home run gun, Frank Thomas, there is even less power. Dick Stuart might make up for Thomas' absence, but the way he plays first it's a good thing Manager Danny Murtaugh has all that other defense around. The shortage of sluggers finds partial compensation in the large dimensions of Forbes Field, favoring the line-drive hitters with which the Pittsburgh lineup abounds.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
In order to make a stronger run at the pennant this year, the Pirates needed a left-handed starting pitcher and a good left-handed-hitting catcher. Joe Brown, Pittsburgh's able general manager, found both in Cincinnati, and in the winter's biggest trade came up with Harvey Haddix and Smoky Burgess; he had to give up Frank Thomas, but Cincy sent along capable Don Hoak to take Thomas' place at third base. Haddix, a trim and crafty southpaw with pinpoint control, is at 33 still rated a good winning pitcher. For years, Burgess was the best pinch-hitting second-string catcher in baseball. He should add power to the lineup. Hoak, who has always been a good fielder, became a valuable hitter two years ago when he closed his stance. Injuries slowed him down last season (among other things, he broke his nose for the 10th time, a record for right-hand-hitting third basemen), but Hoak remains one of the toughest competitors in the league. Rocky Nelson, the world's best hitter in the minors and one of the game's great talkers, is back again to show everyone he can really hit in the majors, given the chance. He'll be given the chance this year, and the Pirates, at worst, will have a decent-fielding first baseman for the late innings. The only thing against rookie Pitcher Bennie Daniels is a habit of getting behind on the hitters.
THE BIG IFS
If Big Klu, who, without an aching back, this spring looked as frisky as an overgrown pup, can play just a little bit like he did a few years ago, and if Dick Stuart is for real (16 home runs in half a season in 1958), then much of the Pirate power problem will be solved. If Smoky Burgess can hit as well as he did with Cincinnati, and Don Hoak is truly a .293, 19-home-run hitter, then who needs more power? There could be trouble if the valuable reserve infielder Gene Baker doesn't get over his knee operation. Without him, only ever-ready Dick Schofield is available to fill in if any of the front-line infielders is injured.
The Pirates have a lively young team which has suddenly matured into a solid, first-class ball club. Some of last year's weaknesses have been patched up, and now there are few other teams around with the Pirates' balance. Most fans hope to see someone other than the Braves and the Yankees in the World Series next fall. Pittsburgh is their best bet.
EL ROY FACE
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