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Imagine this potentially disastrous scenario for the Pirates pitching staff: Veteran A.J. Burnett starts pitching like he's 38-years-old. That's it. That's the entire scenario.

Every other pitcher performs to their prior standards, but Burnett—who has been absolutely fantastic thus far in 2015—simply starts to show his age and pitch like the vast majority of 38-year-old major league pitchers have performed over the long history of the game.

That is to say, he stops contributing in a positive way to the team's playoff contention.

That could be a disaster.

Of course, Burnett has shown no signs of such a drop-off. He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball through the season's first two months. Even last year, when he led the National League in losses, he battled through a hernia to pitch every fifth day—for a poor Phillies squad—and still managed to remain competitive.

But such a sudden decrease in performance wouldn't be shocking; it's what happens eventually to all athletes, and it often happens suddenly.

So what if Burnett becomes a non-factor for the Pirates? They still have Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton and plenty of depth, both at the major league and minor league levels. Right?

Don't be so sure.

Cole is a bona fide ace. That's quickly becoming less of an opinion and more of a fact.

But beyond Cole, there is no sure thing in the Pirates rotation, and the depth is a question mark as well.

Until he joined the Pirates three years ago, Liriano had only posted back-to-back seasons of sub.4.00 ERA's once. He had spent the majority of his career with double-digit losses and bloated earned run averages in the fives.

Morton, who is off to an outstanding start, has been a good major league pitcher when he's been healthy. But his 162-game average over the course of his career is a 9-15 won-loss record and a 4.48 ERA.

Jeff Locke and Vance Worley are what they are: decent depth at the back-end of a rotation.

And as for the trio of young aces in waiting—Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow—all three either are, or recently have been, on the shelf. Taillon is just getting close to pitching competitively after Tommy John surgery. Kingham is not yet a month removed from the major procedure. Glasnow is recovering a sprained ankle.

Taillon and Kingham were once viable candidates to force their way into the major league rotation toward the end of the season – while Taillon could conceivably still do so, it will obviously be late in the summer of 2016 before Kingham is ready. Glasnow’s Triple-A arrival date likely has not changed, but the near simultaneous injuries to the team’s three most promising young arms only serves notice of how quickly things can change.

This isn't to suggest that the Pirates are heading toward a collapse, merely to point out how fine a line it is between winning and stumbling.

It doesn't take much. All it could take, in fact, is for a 38-year old with over 2,600 career innings pitched to finally start acting his age.

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