As much as everyone is saying that the Indians/Pirates series this week isn't a big deal, it still is to me. Growing up smack between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, I was always tempted by the awesome Indian teams of the 90s to give up my allegiance to the Pirates and turn to the dark side. I was incredibly jealous of my friends that were Indians' fans. The second reason this series is important is because watching the Pirates piss away the whole summer losing baseball games is not fun, and having lost five of six and dropping to eight games below .500, the Pirates are in immediate danger of doing so (again). They now face off against a last place team with the chance to pull out of this skid. If they don't, well, I don't see things turning around for a while.Anyway, this series gets kicked off when Ian Snell and David Huff, both guys that have been pretty disappointing this year, take the moundat 7:05 tonight.
I don't know how many of you saw this on Friday, but the Twins have asked Major League Baseball to look into what they consider to be irregularities in Miguel Angel Sano's age documentation and MLB has agreed to do an investigation. The general idea is that the Twins say that they believe it's possible that Sano's mother had a child named Miguel Angel Sano that died at birth and that the player currently thought to be Sano is an older teenager using the dead child's birth certificate to appear younger.
It's important to remember that right now, this scenario posed by the Twins seems incredibly unlikely. As the original blog post (ESPN Insider only) points out, Dominican laws requires children to be "declared" before a birth certificate is issued meaning that most children that die during birth wouldn't have birth certificates. This coupled with the fact that the Pirates have done their "bone-graft test" (that's in quotes because I have no idea what it is, not because I doubt the veracity of it), which has shown that he's between 16 and 17 seem to indicate pretty strongly that the Twins are just trying to cover all their bases with a 6'3" 16-year-old before offering him a seven-figure signing bonus.
Despite all this, Jorge Aragure, who posted the story at ESPN about the investigation, still thinks the Pirates are the favorites to sign Sano, and in an interview on Tyler Hissey's podcast shortly before the allegations went public, Kiley McDaniel (who's covering the Latin American market for Baseball Prospectus) indicates that there aren't many questions about Sano's age and reiterates that the Pirates have had the most interest, though ten teams may be willing to go as high as $3 million.
All of this kind of gives me the gut feeling that little has changed with Sano, even with this pending allegation. If MLB does find reason to think he's older than he claims, he'll be suspended for a year. I'm still not sure that's likely and part of me wonders (WARNING: BASELESS SPECULATION AHEAD) if the Twins didn't ask for an investigation to try and drum up uncertainty and scare other teams off. In the interview I posted above, McDaniel doesn't shy away from the "Latin Stephen Strasburg" label and when you read that Cards' GM John Mozeliak flew to the DR to watch him in person, it really gives an idea of how interested other teams are in this kid.
That being said, he's still just 16 years old and I'm still a little slow to agree with people who say that the Pirates HAVE TO SIGN HIM, LEST OUR FUTURE BE CAST INTO THE FIERY PITS. Seeing how the Pirates operated the second day of the draft, I don't really feel that their success in the draft is tied to Sano, assuming they can get a decent number of the high school pitchers signed.
All of this is mostly a reminder of what Sano is; a great young talent that I'd certainly rather have in the Pirates' organization than out of it, but a free agent nonetheless. If he ends up signing somewhere else, that doesn't mean that the Pirates failed to sign him, necessarily, but jsut that he picked another team. As much as he seems to have a relationship with Rene Gayo and be interested in the Pirates', he has an American agent who's telling him just what the Pirates are and what a future with them might mean. If he doesn't sign, we'll sign other free agents in Latin America, and we'll hope that they pan out. Just because a kid is the most highly touted when he's 16 doesn't mean he's going to be the best player.
Earlier today, the Pirates announced that Brad Lincoln would be moving from Altoona to Indianapolis. Given Lincoln's dominance of the Eastern League this year, this was unsurprising news. Much more surprising, however, is the news (via John Perrotto) that Pedro Alvarez is being promoted from Lynchburg to Double-A Altoona.
Alvarez, who was given the day off today, was off to a good but unimpressive start with the Hillcats, hitting .247/.342/.486 with 14 homers and 70 strikeouts in 284 plate appearances with Lynchburg. The power numbers are great, but the strikeouts are pretty troubling, especially for a guy who's biggest rap as a college hitter was his tendency to swing and miss a little bit too much. There has been some thinking, though, that the high strikeout rate is a product of lower quality pitchers focusing solely on Alvarez and feeding him a heavy diet of breaking pitches. In certain cases, some prospects get sick of walking and start swinging at everything, creating a line like the one Alvarez has put up so far in Single-A.
I haven't seen Alvarez play (and actually, I don't know many people that have), so I'm a little slow to give him the benefit of the doubt on something like that. If you look at his splits, his numbers have improved in May and June, but his strikeouts really haven't. That's not to say that I'm convinced that's not the case either, I just don't know enough about the situation to make a judgment either way.
It's certainly possible he'll go to Altoona and start destroying the ball and I'm more than rooting for that, but as his K's and inconsistent performances kept piling up with Lynchburg, I've started to mentally adjust my expectations for him downwards towards a Carlos Pena-type three true outcomes big league career.
The question I currently have deals with the reasoning behind the promotion. Was it done because Kyle Stark, Huntington, and whoever else figures in on this decision think that the Single-A pitching was affecting Alvarez's development and not aiding his growth? Or was it done because they hope that's the case and they don't know what else to do with him?
For as good as the 3-0 lead that the Pirates raced out to on the strength of Andrew McCutchen and Freddy Sanchez, I had a sense in the early innings that it was not going to be Paul Maholm's day. It certainly was not and after the Rockies took their 5-3 lead in the fourth, the rest of the game kind of felt like a lost cause.
If nothing else, this weekend sweep at the hands of the Rockies is just more evidence tht the Pirates have a long ways to go before anyone will consider them a "good" team. On Friday, their offense was shut down by Jason Marquis. On Saturday, their bullpen melted down in miserable fashion. On Sunday, one of their better starters got blasted. Three days, three losses, three different methods. The off-day tomorrow is going to be a much-needed one.
I got home last night at just after 11 PM, so I did what I normally do on nights like that and flipped the TV on to the Extra Innings channel while loading up MLB.com to see if the Pirates were still on. I saw that not only where they still on, but they were winning 7-4 in the eighth inning AND the game was on the HD channel. Triple score!
I turned the game on as the ball Chris Iannetta hit was literally in the air and headed over the fence to make the score 7-7. This was not a good sign. When the Pirates came to the plate in the top of the ninth, I thought to myself, "We have to score here, or we won't win." We didn't score. Then Todd Helton hit a ball about 800 feet while the stupid, pompous Rockies' announcers freaked out about how relevant the Rockies were again now that they'd won 15 of 16 and pulled to within, oh, 9 1/2 games of first place. Yeah, they didn't mention that. This is one of those games that we thought would probably happen coming into the season, but since our 'pen has been better than expected, the end of that game last night kind of hit like a sledgehammer.
On the bright side, it seems like Charlie Morton pitched well last night. PitchFX measured his fastball as averaging 92 mph and the graph shows that he topped that number quite a bit. His curve and changeup also seemed to give a nice change of pace with some movement, so we can call this an encouraging first start, I think, given his line for the night (2 ER in 5 innings with 2 BB and 5 K). He also got some good backing defense from Nyjer Morgan and Andrew McCutchen, while 'Cutch added his fourth triple of the year with the bases loaded in the seventh.
Those brigh spots don't make this loss much easier to swallow, though.
Charlie Morton gets the second start of his Bucco career tonight, which hopefully will last longer than his first. he matches up with ex-Ray Jason Hammel. Don't forget this one starts at 8:10, not 9:10 like last night.
Monroe is gone, Steve Pearce is coming up in his place. A precursor to another move, or just done to get Pearce into the lineup regularly with Brandon Moss struggling?
Last night's quick recap: Ohlendorf struggled, Marquis dominated us, Andrew McCutchen is awesome. I'm off to Charlotte for the day.