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Inbox: Are the Bucs better than expected?

Pirates beat writer Adam Berry answers questions from fans
MLB.com @adamdberry

I know, I know, it's four games. But is it possible the Pirates are better than we expected?
-- Dan A., Pittsburgh

Yes, the Pirates are 4-0, and you can't take that away from them. No, you can't draw any reasonable conclusions after four games. They've played about 2.5 percent of the season, they've won four games by a combined seven runs, and three of those four games were against the rebuilding Tigers.

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I know, I know, it's four games. But is it possible the Pirates are better than we expected?
-- Dan A., Pittsburgh

Yes, the Pirates are 4-0, and you can't take that away from them. No, you can't draw any reasonable conclusions after four games. They've played about 2.5 percent of the season, they've won four games by a combined seven runs, and three of those four games were against the rebuilding Tigers.

Submit your question to the Pirates Inbox

But your question is interesting, because it's about perception. When they traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, some fans started sounding the 100-loss alarm. Barring some type of disaster, this is not that kind of team. Most data-based projections have them finishing closer to .500, somewhere in the 75- 78-win range, right where they were the last two years.

Are they better than that? Time will tell. There's an interesting edge to this group's attitude, which we've seen from Day 1 of Spring Training.

Their lineup is deep, as manager Clint Hurdle has said. It's also probably better than most people expect, but only as long as everyone -- particularly the top four of Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and Josh Bell -- stays on the field.

Everyone agrees that Jameson Taillon is bound for a great season if he's healthy, and there is upside in the rotation. But the starters -- particularly Taillon and Ivan Nova -- must consistently carry a bigger workload, because there are a lot of question marks in the bullpen beyond Felipe Rivero and George Kontos.

Video: MIN@PIT: Taillon fans nine in Pirates' home opener

Michael Feliz has good stuff, but he needs to control it and trust his full arsenal, which he didn't do while throwing 17 straight fastballs on Opening Day. There have been some encouraging signs from Tyler Glasnow, and Steven Brault is at least temporarily a starter again while Joe Musgrove is sidelined.

Nobody else really jumped out and claimed a bullpen spot in Spring Training, so they're figuring it out on the fly with a bunch of young relievers. Maybe they will develop into those roles as they pitch in them -- as Dovydas Neverauskas said Monday, "How else are you going to get experience?" It's critical that they do, because a shut-down bullpen helped the Pirates outperform projections from 2013-15.

The Buccos lack a "true" fourth outfielder. Will this hurt them in the long run?
-- Jay W., Pittsburgh

For now, it's only a problem if/when there's an injury because they like their three everyday outfielders. Ideally, there won't be many starts in the outfield available for anyone other than Marte, Polanco and Corey Dickerson.

Video: PIT@DET: Dickerson plates run with first hit on Bucs

In the long run, it could be an issue. It was last year when Marte and Polanco went down and part of their solution was starting John Jaso, a catcher-turned-DH-turned-first baseman, and Jose Osuna, a first baseman by trade.

I found it interesting that they listed Adam Frazier as an outfielder on their Opening Day roster. The super-utility man is probably the closest thing they have on this roster to a "true" fourth outfielder. His defensive metrics last year were above-average despite some early growing pains, and he should hit enough to hold his own in the lineup.

I know it's early, but if Dickerson continues to struggle and Austin Meadows does well in Triple-A, do you think they call him up?
-- Eric S., Lock Haven

Let's start with the obvious: Dickerson has played three games. If he were 1-for-13 with two strikeouts over three games in mid-June, we'd barely notice. He's been fine in left field. The 2017 American League All-Star is not just a placeholder.

Could Meadows force the issue? Eventually, sure. This spring, he looked like the top prospect that he is. If they need another outfielder early on, though, it'd probably be Jordan Luplow. They want to make sure Meadows is healthy and ready after he battled injuries and slashed .250/.311/.359 in 72 Triple-A games last season. Let him get comfortable and show he's figured out that level before you think about calling him up.

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates

Was the Colin Moran grand slam the official end of Jung Ho Kang's Pirates career?
-- Alex W., Blacksburg, Va.

It was an unforgettable moment for Moran, but quite frankly, the Pirates already moved on from Kang. The acquisition of Moran proved that as much as anything.

Video: MIN@PIT: Moran slugs a grand slam to right-center

Kang hasn't been able to acquire a work visa since his DUI arrest in South Korea in December 2016. The Pirates kept in contact and checked on him when he played winter ball, and Kang remains under contract, albeit unpaid while on the restricted list. But Moran is their third baseman, grand slam or not.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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