We now have two guys at the top of our rotation who can eat up innings and have "miss the bat" stuff. Both guys are really walking into great situations. Health, both mental and physical will decide how their seasons end up, but here are some reasons to have high hopes.
The biggest reason is the woeful offenses in the NL Central. The Astros are predicted to have a historically bad year. Even if they have some of their young guys with breakout seasons, this team is going to be awful, strikeout a lot and not score few runs. The Cubs are in the same boat. Two of their top three leading power hitters are gone in Pena and Ramirez and they are shopping their third in Soriano. The Brewers look to have a solid pitching staff, but they will also need to be a lot better as Fielder is gone and Braun looks to miss 50 games. They picked up Ramirez, but he is getting older and is going to need to carry that offense. The Reds return a solid lineup, but they do strikeout a lot. If Macdonald can take a step forward, then our strikeout per nine as a staff should jump 10 fold. The Cardinals also look to return a solid offense, but they also lost the best player in the game. Both Berkman and Beltran will be injury risks and have the possibility of dropping off.
The NL Central should have the fewest runs scored as a whole in the league(quite possibly by a large margin.) Then you look at our defense. We are strong up the middle. We have one of the fastest and best defensive outfields in the league. We also right now have 6 major league starters with a 7th looking for his opportunity. Undoubtedly there will be injuries, but we are deep enough to throw someone other than Brian Burress in there to compete. This is the time of season to have unconditional optimism. This is something that is still hard for Pirates fans, but if you take into account our strengths and the overall weakness of our division, there really is reason to think this is the year we break .500.