The Pirates have been eliminated from postseason contention, and not long ago they ensured a second-straight losing season. Given the recent baseball renaissance in Pittsburgh, that's a disappointing outcome. Will 2018 bring better fortunes? That's the matter at hand.

The structural problem for the Pirates is that three teams -- the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals -- are better off in the here and now and likely have rosier outlooks for 2018. The Cubs still have that championship core of position players, and they're flush with the resources necessary to fortify the rotation on the free-agent market. The Brewers arrived a bit ahead of schedule in 2017, and they're impressive crop of young talent should keep them in contention for the foreseeable future. The Cardinals' young 2018 rotation of Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, and Jack Flaherty should do the heavy lifting in St. Louis. All of that is a challenge for the Pirates as we ponder their chances in 2018.

Speaking of which, a lot of things need to happen in order for the Pirates to matter in the NL Central next season. Consider what follows to be a non-exhaustive list ...