With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning tonight, Matt Holliday dropped a can of corn flyball hit by James Loney. The Dodgers rallied for two runs after that and turned a certain 2-1 Cardinals win into a 3-2 Dodgers win that puts the Cardinals season on life support and wasted Adam Wainwright's brilliant 8 inning start. And if you're anything like me, you sat back on your couch when the game ended, exhaled loudly, and said, "Damn! That looked like a Pirate game!"
I like to do this every year, but this year especially there are a few under-the-radar ex-Pirates in these playoffs to keep an eye on. By my unofficial tally, here are the ex-Pirates in the 2009 MLB Playoffs:
Boston- The Red Sox have Jason Bay, of course, but an ex-Pirate playoff mainstay is missing this year as Tim Wakefield is off the ALDS roster and may not pitch at all in the playoffs.
Los Angelheim- Short-time Pirate Gary Matthews Jr. is on the Angels bench. And while he's not an ex-Pirate, you all have my permission to root for John Lackey, the best named player in the bigs.
New York- Damaso Marte made the Yanks' ALDS, though Xavier Nady obviously didn't, since he's out for the year. Also on the roster is near-Pirate Phil Coke, who was originally supposed to be part of the Marte/Nady deal before he and George Kontos were swapped out for Jeff Karstens and Dan McCutchen. It's interesting that Coke has essentially become the LOOGY that Marte was supposed to be when the Yankees acquired him.
Minnesota- No players that wore black and gold are on the Twins' roster, but their setup man Matt Guerrier was, at one point, in the Pirates organization. He was actually part of the return for the original Damaso Marte trade back in 2002, but he was waived after two years in Triple-A in which he put up nice peripheral numbers with a bad ERA. Which is to say, "Nice work, Littlefield."
St. Louis- Dennys Reyes spent 10 1/3 awful innings over 12 relief appearances back in 2003.
Colorado- They've got Joe Beimel, former Pirate and only current Duquesne Duke in the Majors.
Philadelphia- Matt Stairs is on the roster despite an ugly 2009, presumably for his ability to swing as hard as possible and randomly run into pitches every once in a while.
Los Angeles- They have ex-Pirate farmhand Ronald Belisario who was let go last winter and since then has magically turned into a shutdown setup man. I'm serious when I say "magically." Check out his numbers over two years in the Pirates' system, and then check out his numbers in LA this year. How is that the same guy?
I'm sure I'm missing someone, so let me know in the comments and I'll update.
As I think I've stated for five years running here, I love the playoffs. I suspect that I would love the playoffs even more should the Pirates ever decide to get involved, but for now the promise of three weeks of Pirate-free baseball is actually not a bad thing. Sometimes over the course of a long, losing season, watching the Pirates and writing about them almost starts to feel like a chore. The bullpen meltdowns and starter shellackings and ugly waves at pitches out of the strike zone pile up and it's easy to watch the Pirates play and forget what a great sport baseball is. I love the Pirates and I'm not trading them in for another team, but they're not always easy to watch.
The playoffs, though, always give me a chance to watch baseball without waiting for that other shoe. To just enjoy baseball for the sport that it is without the added baggage of a rooting interest. Last night's Twins/Tigers playoff was a perfect example; I don't actively dislike the Twins and it's hard not to like Joe Mauer, but then I'm not rooting against Jim Leyland, Andy Van Slyke, and the Pirate coaching staff, either. I sat down to watch a baseball game, and a gem unfolded right in front of everyone watching.
It was baseball at it's finest; a back and forth game that dared non-baseball fans to call it boring. It was a perfect illustration of why baseball shouldn't have a clock; a game that was going to push forward until someone from one of the teams stepped up and won the game. I can't imagine a better game to kick the 2009 playoffs off with. In fact, if we get just one more game like it this year, I think we can all consider ourselves lucky.
My playoff picks are at FanHouse, as always, and given that I picked the Cubs prior to last year's playoffs and again prior to the 2009 season, I decided to shake things up by picking a team that I'd never normally pick for something like this. The real truth is this: I have no idea who's going to win the World Series this year. I'm not even sure I have an idea of who's going to win three of these first round series. That makes me really excited.
Anyways, share your picks and the team's you're rooting for in the comments. You know my picks, my rooting interests this year are the Twins (small market represent!), the Angels (because they're not the Red Sox or Yankees), and whoever wins the Cardinals/Dodgers series in the NL, because as much as I dislike about both of those teams, that's outweighed by a team from Philadelphia and Jim Tracy.
On the first day of the 2009-2010 offseason, a few things are immediately clear. One is that despite the fact that the Pirates' roster has a long way to come before it's ready to contend, there won't be a lot of personnel changes in 2010. Looking at the current roster, this is where I think the following players stand:
- Andrew McCutchen is the future.
- Ryan Doumit will continue to play until he's traded.
- Garrett Jones will be given the opportunity to prove that 2009 was not a fluke.
- Lastings Milledge will play regularly, probably in left field, until he proves he can't.
- Andy LaRoche has earned another long audition, perhaps at second base.
The Pirates can use a shortstop and maybe another infielder to push LaRoche a bit (something Ramon Vazquez isn't capable of), as well as a corner outfielder/first baseman. And pitching, because everyone can use pitching. That doesn't mean that the Pirates will be a good team if they get these things because they're still using a large part of the roster on unquantified talent, but they'll certainly be better than they were these last two months. After the jump, I've identified some trade and free agent targets, just for discussion's sake. Feel free to add your own in the comments; I always seem to have a poor imagination for this kind of thing.
As a baseball fan, I have never been a part of a longer, stranger season than the 2009 Pirates' season. The Pirates entered the season looking like a 95-loss team with an awful pitching staff and three impending free agents. They exit the season as a 99-loss team with surprising pitching depth and a bunch of question marks. They traded half of the position players that took the field on Opening Day, two starting pitchers that seemed like the future of the franchise just two short years ago, and one of their best relievers. They set a record for both Major League Baseball and all American sports by racking up their seventeenth consecutive losing season. Before a late season hot streak to avoid 100 losses, they dropped 23 of 26 games.
And despite all of this, I'm not kidding even a little bit when I say that on October 4, 2009, I feel better about the future of the Pirates than I have at any point since the inception of this blog. The turnover on the big league roster this year was remarkable and it gets most of the focus from the public, but internally the focus has been on rebuilding a minor league system to feed that big league club and strides made there are what's important for the future of the Pirates. Keep reading after the jump.
Like you expected it to end any other way. The final Pirate game of the 2009 season was a forgettable 6-0 loss that involved seven Pirate pitchers and an 0-for-13 performance with runners in scoring position while the Buccos kept on the trail to make Homer Bailey this generation's version of Mike Hampton (four of his eight wins were against the Bucs and he held us to just six runs in 25 1/3 innings in those four starts). A lot of interesting and good things have happened to the Pirates this year, but almost none of them happened to the Major League squad and while they were worth watching down the stretch for Andrew McCutchen, Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Garrett Jones, and some of the young starters, they were also very, very difficult to watch these last three months.
Like I said before, the season review is coming tonight and the off-season stuff is going to start probably tomorrow with an off-season wish-list, but for now I want to thank everyone that's read this blog during the season. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since I started blogging in 2005, and yet each of the five seasons I've done this, traffic has grown significantly. I've always thought of this as a testament to Pirate fans, who do still exist, and who are as smart and passionate as the fans of any other baseball team out there despite the hand we've been collectively dealt over the past 17 seasons. Thank you all for sticking with me to the bitter end once again. I couldn't do this without you.
Before talking about tonight's Pirate game, I want to take a second to air some grievances. This afternoon, the Twins are playing the Royals. Zack Grienke, the best pitcher on the face of the planet, is starting for the Royals while the Twins are one game behind the Tigers for the AL Central title. This is, quite literally, the only game of consequence this afternon. For some reason though, FOX, which holds the rights to all of the Saturday afternoon games, isn't televising this game on any scale that even resemebles "nationally." In Chapel Hill (which is not remotely a baseball market of any sort), I'm stuck with the Braves and the Nationals with absolutely no recourse because FOX doesn't allow the games they hold the rights to to be broadcast on Extra Innings or MLB.tv. Instead of being a showcase for great October baseball, FOX has driven me to watch a crappy football game between Penn State and Illinois.
Anyways, the Pirates look to continue their late season hot streak when Zach Duke makes his last start of the year against Johnny Cueto. Can they stay focused after clinching a sub-100 loss season? I'd like to see them ride this hot streak right to the end of the year. I guess we'll find out tonight if that's going to happen.
Sometimes, I find things that explain the way I think about baseball better than I could actually do it myself. So if you've got time this afternoon, please read this post by Joe Posnanski about Theo Epstein. Both Theo's explanation of why JD Drew is a very good player and Posnanski's explanation of why Theo is a fantastic GM are spot on.