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Opening Day magic gives reason to believe in the Bucs

Opening Day of the baseball season is a time for unbridled optimism.

We're talking the Tampa Bay Rays can make it to the World Series kind of optimism.

Yeah, it can happen. It did last year, in case you forgot.

That's what makes Opening Day so special. That's why Pirates fans can think positively and hope for the best when no one is giving them a chance to have a winning record, let alone be a part of a pennant race.

So, with a caveat of anything can happen and the new season brings a clean slate, let's set aside any preconceptions and a look at why the Pirates could shock everybody this year and make the playoffs.

First, the past few years a team has come out of nowhere to make the postseason.

There are the Rays from last year, the Rockies from two years ago, the Tigers before that and the White Sox were unexpected champs in 2005.

So, why not the Pirates?

Paul Maholm could be the ace the team has been looking for. His trends are going in the positive direction and he demonstrated the right demeanor on the mound, especially when things could have unraveled in the third inning against the Cardinals on Monday.

Ian Snell could develop this year into the pitcher they were hoping for. Last season was a washout for him, but before that, he was a top sleeper on many lists. This could be the year he wakes up and puts it all together.

Russ Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens could be end-of-the-rotation keys that have been missing for years. They could make their acquisitions by general manager Neal Huntington last season look like steals.

You can't do much better offensively at catcher than Ryan Doumit. The same goes for center fielder Nate McLouth. Maybe they improve this season.

At second base, Freddy Sanchez returns to the hit machine he used to be and wins a batting title. Over at first, Adam LaRoche figures out how to hit in April and May, to go along with his sizzling summer months and has a career season.

Andy LaRoche once was a highly touted prospect in the majors. This could be the year the third baseman figures everything out, his opening day errors notwithstanding.

Out of the bullpen, John Grabow and Matt Capps are a solid 1-2 punch.

And looking at the bench, the Pirates have some power in late-inning situations.

The acquisitions of Craig Monroe and Eric Hinske give them legitimate home run threats that they lacked last year.

So you see, things might not be all that bad this season. In fact, they good be very good.

That's the power of Opening Day. Believe in it. Anything can happen.

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