I said I'd watch the game, not find a new way to say "Kevin Hart pitched poorly, the offense was crappy, and the Pirates got blown out." Because all of those things happened. Again.
The Pirates suck. No one is paying attention. Pittsburgh is almost entirely shut down for the G-20. But you know what? I'm going to keep watching. I have to keep watching. The people that complain about the team being or joke about the park being empty without having real knowledge of the team drive me nuts, and so I'm watching the Pirates in protest of them. They're probably going to lose tonight. I'm not sure the lineup they're starting is better than the Durham Bulls lineup that won the AAA championship last night. I don't care. There's two weeks of baseball left and I'm going to try and enjoy it, no matter how hard the Pirates try to ruin that experience.
Kevin Hart goes for the Pirates while Homer Bailey's already penciled in for seven strikeouts for the Reds. Paid attendance will probably be around 10,000. Actual attendance? I'm almost afraid to look.
First link today isn't strictly Pirate-related. For the G-20, the PG compiled Dejan Kovacevic's list of things he loves about Pittsburgh that used to run when he was on the road. For a Pittsburgh expat, it's an amazing list. What a city. Why am I a Pirate fan? Because they're from Pittsburgh.
Buried in last night's misery was one bright event: Eric Hacker's Major League debut. My Bloguin brother It's About the Money has been following Hacker for some time; he interviewed Hacker last September and kept in touch in the off-season. Congrats to Hacker on overcoming his arm problems and making his debut last night.
In regards to the losing, DK does the legwork to let us know just how bad the Pirates are right now, but Andrew Johnson at FanHouse really put it in perspective for me this morning by writing that the last time the Pirates were this bad, Benjamin Harrison was president. Benjamin Harrison! He's one of the presidents I can never remember!
This game was disgusting. I turned it off for about an hour after the Reds five-run fifth inning because watching that inning nearly made me physically ill. I'm not kidding. It's almost as if the Pirates players read my post about ERA this morning and went out of their way to prove that it can be a virtually meaningless stat. With the bases loaded and one out, Paul Janish hit a weak grounder right in front of Ryan Doumit; Doumit fielded the ball, stepped on home plate, and threw a strike to Garrett Jones, who couldn't hold on to the ball as he collided with Janish at first base. Doumit got charged with the error, the inning didn't end, and five runs (all earned) scored. Duke wasn't great tonight, but he didn't deserve his fate.
What was maybe the worst part of the inning, though, was watching the Pirates botch bunt coverage with runners on first and second and no outs. When Johnny Cueto squared to bunt, Neil Walker and Jones charged, Delwyn Young moved to cover first, and Ronny Cedeno moved to cover second. That left no one at third, which was the base the lead runner was moving towards. It didn't end up mattering because Cueto squared around to bunt and moved the runners over, but had he been paying attention the lead runner could've moved to third without even a bunt. Coupled with Doumit and Jones (OK, mostly Jones, I don't know why Doumit got that error)'s sloppy play, it was just a brutal inning to watch.
Then, things got worse. The game was already over in the eighth inning, when I tuned back in, but I flipped the game back on in time to watch Carlos Fisher enter the game for the Reds, walk Steve Pearce on four pitches to load the bases, walk Andrew McCutchen on five to score a run, and then watch Brian Bixler take one strike, then flail at three of the next four pitches (all of which were borderline at best) for his ridiculous 24th strikeout in just 39 attempts this year. It was horrible.
The next two days are going to be among the most embarrassing days in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Beautiful PNC Park is going to be almost completely empty because of the G-20 summit and the Pirates are going to trot an apathetic excuse for a baseball team that will almost certainly be drubbed by an awful Cincinnati Reds squad. Honestly, I'm sad just thinking about it.
Yes, the Pirates are still playing. Yes, they are still allegedly playing baseball. Tonight marks the last G-20-free baseball night, but I'm not sure the summit could actually have a more negative effect on attendance than the Pirates' play over the last six weeks. Zach Duke goes against the Reds' Johnny Cueto. Unlike the last few times these two teams played, last place is certainly not on the line.
Or, the next in the "Were we wrong about" series, which is slowly becoming inaccurately named.
Before the 2009 season began, Paul Maholm was coming off of a great season, which seemed to build on the good second half of 2007 that he had. He seemed to be building towards something good. Zach Duke, on the flip side, managed to stay healthy for most of 2008 but for the most part, he resembled the ineffective pitcher he was in 2006 and 2007. Two pitchers moving in different directions.
Enter 2009. Duke's ERA has dropped nearly a full point from 4.82 to 3.96. His WHIP has dropped from 1.50 to 1.31. He made the All-Star team. Maholm, on the flip side, has seen his ERA jump from 3.71 to 4.46 and his WHIP from 1.28 to 1.44. Suddenly the perception shifted; Maholm has fallen victim to some kind of "Pirate curse" that befalls Pirate starters. Duke, meanwhile, has regained the "magic" he had during his amazing rookie season in 2005. But is that really what happened? Follow after the jump while I try to answer.
You know what? I'm out of ways to say, the Pirates played well tonight, but because their bullpen is only built to last for at most four innings a night, we simply ran out of pitching and lost in the 11th inning. I fully understand that this is a massive exaggeration, but it seems to me that at least 70 of the Pirates 92 losses have come in this fashion.
The good news is that I think that as the starting pitching gets stronger, the bullpen immediately benefits from some of the guys we have in the rotation now becoming relievers. The bad news is that WE'VE ONLY WON THREE FREAKING GAMES IN THE MONTH OF SEPTEMBER.
DK has jump started the talk about free agency at the PG today by mentioning that Neal Huntington is again talking about being aggressive in free agency. The mentioned targets this morning are some of the players the Pirates traded last month (likely spear-headed by John Grabow) and Rick Ankiel. It's obviously a bit early for this kind of speculation, but after reading the story the free agency gears started churning in my head.
I find Ankiel to be an incredibly interesting player. There's really no comparison for a guy that spent his early 20s pitching, quit pitching to go back to the bottom of the minor league ladder, became an outfielder, and suddenly returned as a good big league hitter. He made some big strides from 2007 to 2008 until his late season injury, but he's obviously taken a big step back this year and he's very injury prone. Taking him and putting him in right field (I know it's suggested that he'd play left for the Pirates, but his UZR numbers aren't great, Milledge has looked pretty good in left, and he's obviously got a cannon for an arm) would probably give the Pirates one of the better defensive outfields in baseball and if he can regain his form at the plate, he'd give the Pirates some pop from the left side of the plate.
As interesting as Ankiel is, though, I still don't see any big name free agents signing with the Pirates in the near future. We've seen in the past that most free agents regard Pittsburgh as the baseball Arctic and I can't imagine that's going to change before Pedro Alvarez gets to Pittsburgh, unless the market completely freezes some guys out, a la Reggie Sanders in 2003. On top of that, signing a guy like Ankiel is a move that I'd think would be one of the last moves to make as the pieces come together, not a move that comes in the middle of the process.
Huntington's got a boat load of cash to use how he sees fit and despite the ugly results from the last six weeks, things are starting to come together for this franchise. It's happeningly slowly, but in some regards building a baseball team is like putting together a huge puzzle with five other people. Each person takes a corner or starts to put it together and those individual parts take shape on their own, even if it's not immediately apparent how they all fit together. This winter could yield some interesting results for the Pirates; they've got money to spend and it's very likely that the market will move slowly. If they can convince a free agent or two that they really are moving things in the right direction, they might be able to find an unexpected piece of that puzzle.