Pittsburgh teams prepare for new season of sports

The trade of franchise player Andrew McCutchen signals the end of an era for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The trade of franchise player Andrew McCutchen signals the end of an era for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Credit: Layout Manager Credit: Layout Manager

It’s almost time to hit the books again, folks! The dog days of summer are just about finished, and you can almost feel Pittsburgh getting ready for a fall full of sweaters, coffee, and falling leaves. The most important thing about these next few months, however, marks a unique time in sports: the NFL, NHL, and MLB will all have either preseason, regular season, or postseason matchups in September and October, and the black and gold is a team to watch in all three leagues.

The Pirates are currently in season, around two-thirds of the way done with their marathon 162-game season and are sitting in a tough spot. The 2018 Pirates have been defined by streaks: an 11-game winning streak that thrust the Bucs back into contention for a wild card spot, or a very recent 4-game losing skid that has lots of fans feeling regret that the front office went all-in at the non-waiver trade deadline, picking up RHP Keone Kela and RHP Chris Archer from the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. These two trades cost the Pirates in their prospect pool, with the Bucs having to give up RHP Tyler Glasnow, OF Austin Meadows, and RHP Shane Baz, all top 10 prospects in the Pirates system at one time or another.

The bright side to all this is that the Bucs are holding onto Archer and Kela for a few years to come, and have a cheap, young, talented pitching roster under contract for the next couple of years, so even if they don’t make the postseason this year, which is very possible, they still have a chance in the coming years. Watch out for them to lose a wild card postseason matchup against the Brewers, if they make it at all.

The Steelers are looking hot right now. We’ve seen new additions from the draft in quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington, both from Oklahoma State University. Their chemistry on the field was evident in the first two preseason games.

While we haven’t seen Big Ben Roethlisberger throwing at all, there’s no reason not to believe reports coming out of training camp that Big Ben is healthier and in better shape than he has been in quite a few years. Hopefully we’ll see another spectacular season from him and fellow veterans Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell. The Killer B’s have been unstoppable in the past two years, and they aren’t looking to slow down any time soon.

The offensive trio that Pittsburgh possesses is dangerous and will be complemented with help from second-year receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, who had a breakout rookie year and has continued his success in the first two preseason matchups, with a touchdown reception in both games. Additionally, the Steelers look to have a solid one-two punch in the backfield as James Connor returns from a knee injury that ended his rookie season early. He has been doing much of the same hard-nosed, powerful ball-carrying as he did during his tenure with the University of Pittsburgh. Look for these guys to open their season strong, and carry this momentum over week to week.

The Penguins are in a tough spot. Their window of “greatness” is closing soon, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel all growing a little older, and they need to strike now while the iron is hot. The team is fresh off their first Stanley Cup playoff series loss in three years and are looking to return to the team they were when they won back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Although Malkin and Kessel are getting older, their production isn’t slowing down. Kessel is coming off a career year, scoring 92 points, breaking his previous high by 10. Malkin had 98 points last season, and only missed four games due to injury in the regular season. Crosby played all 82 games for the first time in his career, and although he didn’t score as many points as we’re used to seeing from him, he was still a threat every moment he was on the ice.

Overall, the Pens’ core is good. A strong presence that can be spread out on three lines, but what’s missing? Depth, all over the board, is the answer. The Pens addressed that problem in a rather strange manner this offseason, signing defenseman Jack Johnson to a 5-year deal, Matt Cullen to a 1-year deal, and a few other depth wingers. No one seems to stand out in the trades from this year. Jack Johnson is being heralded as a disappointment waiting to happen by every major sports newswriter, but I’m eager to see what the Penguins can do for him. These depth players don’t add a ton, but they might be competent enough to eat up some minutes for the top 6 guys. Look for them in the playoffs, but don’t expect another Cup win. I’m not too hopeful.