Things are not going well right now. I suppose there's always tomorrow. Or later today, I guess.no comments
Things are not going well right now. I suppose there's always tomorrow. Or later today, I guess.no comments
Saying that the Pirates' offense has to start to get better soon is a true statement given how badly things have gone in the season's first four games, but Clayton Kershaw is starting for the Dodgers tonight, so maybe tomorrow is the day to hope for better. Jeff Locke gets the start for the Pirates. I'd say that if he can give the Bucs a start like Jonathan Sanchez did last night that that's probably the best that we can hope for, but if he gives up more than a run or two it's going to be trouble against Kershaw. First pitch tonight is 9:10.no comments
Jonathan Sanchez vs. Zack Greinke. West Coast trips never seem to go well.
One of the things that I hate the most about April baseball is this sentence: "I know it's early, but ..." followed by a complaint about whatever pre-season concern they had. The Pirates offense has looked terrible in three games against the Cubs this week and it's been a little depressing to see, but they were also three games played in a freezing cold Pittsburgh April. It sucks, but it's not worth drawing conclusions about anybody from these three games.
Of course, that includes the pitching staff. The good news is that there was some good news on that front today. James McDonald, King of Not Getting Out of the Seventh Inning in 2011, Duke of the Second Half Collapse in 2012, and Earl of Not Getting Out of the Second Inning Against a Double-A Team in an Exhibition Start in 2013, was excellent this afternoon. He cruised through seven easy innings against the Cubs, throwing 61 strikes in his 97 pitches, holding the Cubs to two hits, two walks and a run. Every single cold weather small sample caveat that you use to dimiss the Pirates' pitiful offensive performance can be used to brush off the solid outings by AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald, of course, but I'll counter that by saying that every single good start by James McDonald is a little more evidence we can put on the "Good James McDonald" side of the list, and that makes me sleep a little easier at night.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, McDonald's good outing wasn't enough. Jared Hughes came on in the ninth inning and in a "hindsight's 20-20" moment, Clint Hurdle left him on the mound to face Nate Schierholtz. Hughes wasn't terrible against lefties in 2012, though they did have a .429 slugging percentage against him, and he was a pretty effective reliever until he ran out of gas late in the year. Still, there are an awful lot of questions about his early-season peripherals to go with his collapse questions and platoon splits, which means that as of now I view Hughes as a solid middle-relief guy but maybe not my first choice in a high leverage situation. By that point, of course, Mark Melancon had already been burned and Jason Grilli was being futilely saved for a save opportunity and so the Pirates don't really have a ton of options other than Hughes. All of that being said and with the open admission from me that this is purely back-seat managing with the benefit of hindsight and that I likely wouldn't have batted an eye or thought twice about it had Hughes gotten through the top of the ninth unscathed, it seems a little foolish to me that Hughes was allowed to pitch to a lefty with a runner on base in a one run game with the knowledge that Carlos Marmol was just waiting to hand the Pirates a run or two in the bottom of the ninth. What's the point of having two lefties in the bullpen if you can't bring Justin Wilson in in exactly that sort of situation?
In any case, maybe that would've been moot if the Pirates had gotten a few more hits. Andrew McCutchen reached on an error to start the seventh and stole second base, but with three chances Gaby Sanchez, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker couldn't drive him home. The ninth inning started with a Starling Marte single, a Russell Martin walk, an Andrew McCutchen single, and a Gaby Sanchez single, but Pedro Alvarez still somehow found himself in an 0-2 hole against Marmol before striking out and Neil Walker bounced into a double play. Really, one more hit in the seventh or ninth inning means that we're talking about this game much differently.
Of course, the Pirates didn't have that hit and so they go 1-2 against the Cubs despite three excellent pitching performances. With Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke in line to face the Dodgers this weekend, that's a little bit worrisome.no comments
AJ Burnett pitched well and lost in the first game of 2013. Wandy Rodriguez pitched well in the second game and won. The most important pitcher in the rotation for the season's first two months is not Burnett, nor is it Rodriguez. It's today's starter, James McDonald. McDonald had a Jeckyll and Hyde 2012 season with an All-Star worthy first half and a brutal second half. He wasn't all that impressive this spring, and his spring ended with a shelling at the hands of a minor league lineup. Spring results are meaningless (remember how bad Tom Gorzelanny was in the spring of 2007 before his breakout year?), but McDonald is hugely important while the Pirates wait on Liriano, Cole, and Karstens. If McDonald pitches well, the Pirates will get good starts more often than not in the early season. If he doesn't, they won't. I really think it might be that simple.
McDonald's opponent is Travis Wood, who is not very good. The first pitch today is at 12:35 because the Pirates have to be in LA tomorrow. Fire up your radios for the first getaway day of 2013!
Huge tip o' the cap to @bwzimmerman for the illustrationno comments
The list of things that I don't really understand in baseball is infinite, but somewhere near the top of it is this: the veteran pitcher who's out on the mound and not quite pitching like himself, but still has things so completely under control that you never really doubt him. That was Wandy Rodriguez on Wednesday night against the Cubs. Rodriguez is mostly a ground ball/strikeout pitcher these days, but for five innings he was mostly a flyout/strikeout guy. From what I can tell and what I can remember, the first groundout that Rodriguez induced tonight other than a sacrifice bunt was the last out of the sixth inning. And still, Rodriguez was absolutely cruising against the Cubs. He got stronger as the game went on, too; the first time through the lineup he didn't strike anyone out, but the second time through he notched three Ks. He didn't really look like Wandy Rodriguez at all, but he was definitely in control.
That was true until the seventh inning. His pitch total wasn't all that high, but a combination of the cold weather and maybe his short spring left him pretty visibly gassed in the seventh. He hit Anthony Rizzo with a 1-2 pitch to start the inning, which was pretty surprising to see given his control in the earlier part of the game. He gave up a tweener single after that, then struck out Scott Hairston and hit Wellington Castillo with a pitch. By this point, it seemed clear that Rodriguez was gassed; he only hit three hitters total in 2012 and seeing him hit two in an inning was pretty alarming. Clint Hurdle stuck with him for some reason, though, and the result was the at-bat of the night. Rodriguez got ahead 0-2 on Brent Lillibridge in the count, but just couldn't finish him off. If the two HBPs weren't enough evidence that Rodriguez was gassed, being unable to finish off Brent Lillibridge was the clincher. The first 0-2 pitch was the third straight curveball of the at-bat. Lillibridge fouled that one off, and Rodriguez started working in the fastball. He threw two fastballs, a curve, and three more fastballs while Lillibridge fouled off enough pitches to fill the count. On the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Lillibridge sat in looking for one more fastball and Rodriguez somehow fooled him with what certainly looked like a belt-high hanging curveball for strike three.
Hurdle mercifully pulled Rodriguez at that point and then went completely crazy (he brought Tony Watson in to face a righty, then let Watson bunt for himself after Clint Barmes lead off the bottom of the seventh with a double), but the turning point of the game was Wandy Rodriguez somehow gutting out that bases loaded strikeout of Lillibridge despite having nothing left in the tank. Watson and Jason Grilli slammed the door shut without much incident and now the Pirates are 1-1.
There were a few offensive performances worth mentioning. Andrew McCutchen's RBI double in the fourth inning was big, since it ended up resulting in two runs after Starlin Castro's error on a Gaby Sanchez ground ball. Starling Marte came through to single Barmes home after the puzzling Watson bunt in the seventh, which gave a nice cushion for Watson and Grilli. Really, though, this game was mostly about Wandy Rodriguez. All of the flyouts early on were very strange and he clearly ran out of gas in the seventh inning of this one, but he still shut the Cubs down through the better part of seven innings. This is the exact sort of start that I'm worried that James McDonald, Jeff Locke, and Jonathan Sanchez won't be able to turn in, and so it's nice to know that Rodriguez is capable of it.
There's something about the first win of the season, isn't there? The winter is always long and it seems just a little bit longer when the Pirates lose on Opening Day.no comments
I know that this is a bit of a leftover from the really bad times of being a Pirate fan, but whenever the Pirates start out the season 0-1 there's a voice in the back of my head that says, "If the Pirates can't win this game, they might never get to .500 again!" I don't really think that's true this year (nojinxnojinxnojinx), but the voice is still there.
In Game 2, Wandy Rodriguez takes the mound for the Pirates in his 2013 debut after spending most of spring training with the WBC Champion Dominican Republic team. Gaby Sanchez is once again starting at first base against a right-handed pitcher (Edwin Jackson), which is honestly an incredibly frustrating thing that's going to have to be discussed in the nearish future.
Anyway! The Cubs are starting a terrible lineup of "Major League" players tonight that includes someone named Dave Sappelt batting leadoff and Brent Lillibridge at third base. The Pirates should really, really try to avoid losing a series to this team. If they're going to do that, they're going to have to win this game tonight. The first pitch is at 7:05. The players will be completely frozen by 7:22. Score early or don't score at all.no comments
Former Pirate minority owner Jay Lustig gave an interview to the Tribune Review in a story that was published late last night in which he gave some perspective on Bob Nutting's reign as owner of the Pirates. I'd recommend reading the whole thing, but the key passage is this:
“If you are a small-market franchise, if you want to win, you have to be willing to lose ... money,” said Lustig, 58, a Rostraver money manager and businessman who also is board chairman of Adfitech Inc. “(Nutting's) problem is he is a rational owner in an irrational business.
“People say he is a cheap owner, but nothing is further from the truth. He allocates the money properly. He wants to make enough money to keep us from going into the red. He is running the business rationally, trying to make money. No small-market teams that win make money.”
Lustig goes on to say that, basically, he wishes the Pirates were owned by a real life equivalent of Jed Clampett; some crazy old man willing to throw away his substantial life savings on making the Pirates a winning baseball team.
Let me be clear: obviously, what Lustig wants is what every Pirate fan wants. I would love (love love love love) to live in a universe where the Pirates could be on equal footing with the Yankees in the same way that the Steelers are on equal footing with the Cowboys and the Penguins are on equal footing with the Rangers. I would also love to never have to worry about grant money and for all of my experiments to always work on the first try. The problem is that (and here I'm going to pull out the biggest dork card in my arsenal) as Dumbledore once told Harry Potter, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."
Who are these small market owners that operate with no regards to profit? Some of the best small market teams (Tampa Bay, Oakland) operate on much tighter budgets than the Pirates. The Reds and Brewers are similar teams to the Pirates and they both seem to have hit functional payroll caps in the ballpark of $90-100 million. This seems like a lot more money than the Pirates spend right now, but it won't when Andrew McCutchen's extension really kicks in and Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez hit arbitration.
Let's imagine that there is a billionaire that wants to call the Pirates. Let's give him a crazy name, like, say, "Mark Pork Ham And Swiss With Pickles And Yellow Mustard." Now, Mark PHASWPAYM has a ton of money and he even owns a successful NBA team, maybe the Mallas Davericks. How did he make that NBA team successful? It wasn't by pumping tons of money into the team at personal detriment to himself, it was by figuring out what other NBA teams were doing wrong and trying to do those things better than everyone else. Why on earth would we expect that Mr. Pork Ham And Swiss With Pickles And Yellow Mustard would run his baseball team differently?
The Pirates' problem is this: in order to compete as a small market team, you have to be smarter and better than everyone else and I'm not sure that the Pirates are. They very honestly might have been if they'd been hired in 2001 instead of Dave Littlefield, but the way baseball teams are run has changed enormously in the last decade and the Pirates have been consistently behind the curve. Right now, the Pirates are followers in an arena where they need to be revolutionaries. The Yankees can afford to be behind the curve, but the Pirates just can't.
It seems to me that our time as Pirate fans would be better spent wishing that the Pirates would find their own Andrew Friedman or Jeff Luhnow and less time hoping for The Perfect Owner to buy the team.no comments
Like most baseball fans, I was glued to my computer tonight watching Yu Darvish dominate the Astros in his quest for a perfect game. The Astros are the Astros, sure, but Darvish's curveball was the proverbial wiffle curve tonight and it made the Astros look ridiculous all night. Darvish strung together strikeout after strikeout and out after out, putting down 26 hitters in a row, and then someone named Marwin Gonzalez singled though Darvish's legs, leaving him inches away from the perfect game.
Like most baseball fans, I sighed a little bit. Who doesn't want to see a perfect game? Unlike most baseball fans, I immediately thought of Paul Wagner.
You can be forgiven if you've forgotten Paul Wagner or never knew about him in the first place. Wagner was one in a long string of underwhelming starting pitchers for the Pirates, just one face in a sea of Josh Foggs. 1995 was particularly unkind to Paul Wagner. After 12 starts, he was 1-10 with a 5.94 ERA. He was removed from the rotation for a bit, then put back in for six more starts in July and early August. They went a little better, but not much. He was yanked from the rotation again in August, still searching for his second win. He made four relief appearances after that. The first two were OK: in one of them, he went five innings in relief of Esteban Loaiza and picked up his second win, in the second he was for some reason allowed to pitch the ninth inning of a two-run game and earned his third and final career save. The next two relief outings were pretty disastrous, though. Still, the Pirates put him back into the rotation for some reason to make a start against the Colorado Rockies in August 29th.
For one night, Wagner found the zone. I'm not sure I'd say he was dominant because he put his share of runners on base (three walks and a HBP), but he racked up 11 strikeouts and kept the Rockies without a hit for eight innings. Wagner got the first two Rockies in the ninth, too, and then on a full count -- just one strike away from a no-hitter -- Andres Galarraga hit a little grounder into no-man's land between second and short for a hit. Wagner got the next batter to finish up the one-hitter.
It's funny what sticks with us. Every time I see a pitcher fall tantalizingly short of a no-hitter or a perfect game, I remember watching Paul Wagner just miss his improbable no-hitter. I suppose this is what being a Pirate fan will do to a person.no comments