Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pirates Game 16 Recap - Pirates 11, Brewers 2

This game was a lot closer than the score in the headline will indicate. The Pirates and Brewers were actually tied for much of the game before the Pirates scored three runs in the seventh inning and six runs in the eighth inning to really put this game way out of reach.

Edison Volquez was masterful, yet again, and the Pirates did just enough to get Yovani Gallardo out of the game after only six innings while he threw 114 pitches. Gallardo actually didn't pitch all that bad as he only gave up two run on three hits but the Pirates did a nice job by taking four walks and really making him work despite not really doing a ton on offense. Once the Pirates got to the Brewers bullpen things fell apart pretty fast for them.

Volquez is the best starting pitcher through the first three weeks of the season. I will let you reread that sentence if you need to and let it sink it. That is the reality of the situation. That isn't even saying things are bad, Charlie Morton has done a pretty decent job and while Gerrit Cole has been up and down he has been mostly good but what Volquez has been that good. The big knock on him coming into the season was that he didn't throw enough strikes. Tonight he threw 77 pitches and 53 of those went for strikes. That is...really good. He actually could have went deeper into the game but with the score 2-2 and a runner on first I guess Clint Hurdle thought pinch hitting Josh Harrison and having him try to bunt was a better idea (more on this later). Volquez only walked one and gave up eight hits which is a little less than ideal but he just got the job done and that is awesome from a guy I thought was going to be fairly awful before the season.

The Pirates offense struggled a bit against Gallardo but he's pretty good. As much fun as it would be to bash the Pirates offense early they really did a nice job of forcing the Brewers hand and getting into their bullpen early. The Pirates mashed that pen. Before they did that they actually got to Gallardo for a pair of runs that came in the bottom of the first when Andrew McCutchen went deep to centerfield on a middle-middle fastball. It was his first of the season and it was beautiful.

Anyways, the Brewers went with Rob Wooten and the Pirates were all over him. He recorded only one out and gave up three runs on three hits and also walked a guy. The key hit was a pinch hit two run bomb from Harrison that was probably done by mistake. Let me explain...

In the top of the seventh inning the Brewers had a man on first base with nobody out and they pinch hit for Gallardo. OK, nothing wrong with that, something they were going to have to do with him already having 114 pitches and the game being tied. Problem is they sent up a position player to pinch hit, and asked him to bunt. He (Logan Schafer) actually struck out trying to bunt. I actually said to myself before this happened "wow, this is a great way to not score runs" and they didn't score a run.

So the very next inning Jordy Mercer led off with single and Hurdle went with Harrison. I immediately knew what was going to happen. Pinch bunter. Not only is this an awful idea form a tactical standpoint but Harrison is a pretty horrid bunter. If you are going to pinch hit to bunt why do you not use someone like Morton or Cole to do so? Why burn a position player to essentially give himself up? To the shock of nobody Harrison couldn't get a bunt down in two attempts. Shockingly (to me) he was able to swing with two strikes and he hit a home run. I know it might seem like it is impossible for pinch hitters to, you know, hit, but it did happen. A rally killing home run without the aid of a bunt gave the Pirates the lead for good. Clint, stop doing stupid shit like this.

Anyways, the Pirates got another run in the inning and then the Brewers brought in former Pirates prospect Wei-Chung Wang, who the Brewers took from the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft, and he got rocked. In the ninth he gave up six runs on six hits and gave up home runs to Gaby Sanchez and Pedro Alvarez. The Brewers are trying to keep Wang on the rester the entire year to keep him and not have to return him to the Pirates but I can't imagine they will be able to do this much longer.

What was nice about the offense tonight was that they collected 12 hits and 11 runs but also walked six times while striking out only seven times. Almost universally when you have the same number of walks as you do strikeouts you are going to be doing something right. The Pirates did that today. I know you will say that they got a lot of this off a Rule 5 guy but they were having some good plate appearances against Gallardo and he's been really good this year.

The top four hitters in the Pirates lineup had seven hits. That will do. Travis Snider and Neil Walker were the only position players that played that didn't have a hit.

The Pirates won. That is fun. Yay winning.

Pirates Game 16 Preview - vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:05 p.m.
Yovani Gallardo (2-0, 0.96) vs. Edinson Volquez (0-0, 1.29)

Season Series (Milwaukee leads 3-0)
April 11, 2014 - Milwaukee 4, Pittsburgh 2
April 12, 2014 - Milwaukee 3, Pittsburgh 2
April 13, 2014 - Milwaukee 4, Pittsburgh 1


Lineups

Pittsburgh (7-8)
1. Marte 7
2. Martin 2
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Walker 4
6. G. Sanchez 3
7. Snider 9
8. Mercer 6
9. Volquez 1

Milwaukee (11-4)
1. Gomez 8
2. Segura 6
3. Braun 9
4. Ramirez 5
5. Lucroy 2
6. Davis 7
7. Reynolds 3
8. Gennett 4
9. Gallardo 1

Penguins/Blue Jackets Game 1 Goal Calls

Thanks to Benstonium for sending this my way.


Penguins ECQF Game 1 Recap - Penguins 4, Blue Jackets 3

The playoffs are finally back and damn did it feel good. I was lucky enough to have some tickets to last nights game and it was well worth the price of admission. It wasn't necessarily a great game from the Penguins but as the game wore along you could get the feel that this was the Blue Jackets first rodeo in the postseason and while they came out strong they struggled late and the Penguins capitalized.

The Blue Jackets really came out blazing and it almost seemed like they wanted to prove they weren't going to be push around and scared and it worked. Jack Johnson opened up the scoring for Columbus almost six and a half minutes into the game when Brandon Dubinsky came into the zone and made Paul Martin looked really foolish and got the ball to

The Penguins got on the board when Jussi Jokinen took a pretty unreal pass from Evgeni Malkin and somehow got the puck through what seemed like all of the Blue Jackets player in uniform and beat Sergei Bobrovsky. Seriously, look at this gif and you can see four Blue Jackets players in the picture when Jokinen had the puck. No idea how this got through with little trouble.



The fun didn't last all that long as Columbus took the lead back 45 seconds later when Mark Letestu found the back of the net on the power play. Rob Scuderi doesn't take too many penalties but he took an iffy interference call and it only took Columbus 15 seconds to tie the game back up. It really was an ugly play as there was one Penguins defenseman caught behind the net (Brooks Oprpik) and the other was was also behind the net (Paul Martin) before recovering just in time to see the puck in the back of the net. Look up how to not kill a penalty and this was probably it.



The Penguins go their first power play opportunity of the night as the first period expired. They nearly had a full power play as the second period opened up but it was Columbus who made them pay. Kris Letang wasn't able to handle the puck at the blue line which gave Derek MacKenzie a breakaway. He beat Fleury. 3-1 on the shorty. Bad times.

That is when it seemed like the flip switched. The Penguins got a redirection goal by Beau Bennett on the same power play that MacKenzie scored and then the Penguins got another power play goal 45 seconds later when Matt Niskanen scored from the left dot and tied the game. The one thing Columbus couldn't do was give the Penguins too many chances on the power play and they gave the Penguins too many chances on the power play.



and



The game was starting to tilt in the Penguins favor and it looked like the Blue Jackets were running out of gas. As we got into the third period things started to take shape. That is when Brandon Sutter, who was outstanding all night, won it.



Ballgame.


Here are some other thoughts about the game.

The Good

- Brandon Sutter was one of the best players on the ice last night for the Penguins and he skated his balls off. He only had about 13:30 of ice time but every time he was on the ice he was making something happen. The stats aren't really going to show that he had a good game (38.5% Corsi for in all situations) but I thought he was a vital role is last nights game on a third line that switched up about halfway through the game. I think some of the low advanced statistical numbers have to be looked at in context through. Sutter started 91% of his shifts in the defensive zone. For context, that is a ridiculously high number. Bottom line is Sutter was really good tonight.

- Evgeni Malkin hadn't played a game in some time thanks to an injured foot but he was flying all game. He made a great pass to set up the first goal and was the most noticeable Penguin on the ice in the first period when most of his teammates weren't playing a good hockey game. He had a pair of assists and every time his line was on the ice they had a chance to score. Malkin had a CF% of 60% in 5v5 situations and when he was on the ice a lot more stuff was happening in the Columbus end than was in the Pittsurgh end. Exactly what you expected to happen when he came back and teams couldn't completely load up to stop one big line. They now have to do that twice.

- Brian Gibbons was very, very good. Maybe the best player on the ice for the Penguins on the night. He didn't get a lot of ice time (11:45) but he was playing well enough that he was tossed up to the first line to play with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. He drew two penalties for the Penguins and was a beat on the penalty kill. In 5v5 situations he was the Penguins second best Corsi player (64%) and what he brought to the table last night was big time.

- It has been well documented that MAF has struggled in the playoffs in some kind of big way. Things didn't start out all that well for MAF last night despite some big time breakdowns by his teammates in front of him but when he needed to step up and close the fort he did. After the shorthanded goal to open up the second period he was perfect and despite some help from the post on one occasion he was the reason that the Penguins got the win in regulation. The Blue Jackets came really hard at the end and he had to make a couple of tough saves, and he did. I still don't think we know if this is something we should expect going forward because it is just one game but it was nice to see him not totally implode like he has in the past.

- The power play was deadly good. If the Blue Jackets want to have a chance in this series then they are not going to want to take penalties. Columbus got sloppy at the onset of the second period and while they scored the shorthanded goal they had to kill two Penguins power plays and they didn't stop either of them. The Penguins tied the scored on those power plays and eventually won the game. It is no secret that the Penguins rely on their power play for a lot of their offense so when you do that you need to cash in. Cash in they did.

- Matt Niskanen is going to get ridiculous amounts of money this offseason. He was absolutely outstanding on the ice and was easily the Penguins best defenseman on the ice. Not only was he solid on the defensive end but he scored a power play goal and assessed on the other PP goal. When he came over with James Neal in the trade a few years ago not a lot of people gave it much thought but he has really turned into a really good player for this team and with some of the defenseman not playing very well this year he's stepped up in a big way.

The Not So Good

- I talked about the power play being really good but truth be told the special teams were really up and down the entire game. In a 2-1 game with almost a full power play on a fresh sheet of ice you can't give up a shorthanded goal. The Penguins did that. They also looked completely lost on the Columbus first power play goal. I think overall the special teams did a good job, especially late in the game where they dominated the Columbus power play, but there are absolutely things that need to be worked on.

- Kris Letang had a forgettable game. He took two really bad penalties and was actually luck that he wasn't given a five minute major for spearing Boone Jenner while the Penguins were on a power play. WHILE THE PENGUINS WERE ON A POWER PLAY. Letang was yanked off the top power play unit early thanks to the shorthanded goal he helped give up and he seemed to be out of his element for stretches of the game. He was nearly an even Corsi player for the game in 5v5 situations but 75% of his zone starts came in the offensive end. He needs to be better than that.

- The Penguins were wildly sloppy with the puck, especially at the beginning of the game. Overall they turned the puck over 10 times and misplayed some pucks that turned into odd man rushes the other way. They were reckless and careless at times and it led them to being down two goals. While they were able to come back and win they can't make a habit of doing this.

- Paul Martin's first period. Yikes. He got turned inside out on Johnson's first goal and then was wandering around aimlessly for the Blue Jackets second goal. He got much better as the game went on but that was a forgettable first period for Martin. Not something that we have seen a lot of out of him so I am not overly worried.

- Rob Scuderi really struggled. He got a lot of offensive zone starts (60%) and was the Penguins second worst Corsi player in 5v5 situations (45.2%). He and Brooks Orpik (who was also not very good last night) have been struggling for a good while and when Letang struggled as much as he did tonight you have to have one, or both, of those two play better than they did.

- Normally I only talk about Penguins players and play here but the Blue Jackets needed Bobrovsky to play really well and he played really bad. He was probably one of the worst players on the ice last night for Columbus and when you goaltender struggles you aren't going to have a good chance to win. Three of the four goals he gave up last night were pretty soft and for as much as the two Columbus fans sitting next to me at the game last night wanted to talk about "Playoff Fleury" maybe they should be a little more worried about Playoff Bobrovsky.

Other Odds and Ends

- The Jackets came out and laid the wood. They outhit the Penguins 48-27. I don't think that is necessarily a good thing because the only chance you have to hit is when you don't have the puck and when you don't have the puck you can't score. That being said I think we all knew coming in that Columbus was going to try to get physical, and they did. Dubinsky (nine) and Jenner (seven) combined for 16 hits and you bet this is going to be a trend that they try to get to continue. The Penguins did a pretty good job of not getting too worked up about it so that is definitely a positive.

- The Penguins got a lot better as the game went on. Above I talked about the fact that it looked like Columbus ran out of gas and that might have something to do with the playoff atmosphere. I never got the sense that the Penguins pressed, even after being down 3-1, and they just let the game come to them. They nearly dominated the second half of the game and the score reflects that. Now, lets try to get better in the first half of the game.

- The officiating was a little weird tonight. I don't think that is really a complaint but there were numerous interference calls on both sides that weren't being called in the regular season. For as tight as they called some of the game tonight they would get away from that for periods where they would let the teams play. It was, odd. Not good odd or bad odd, just the way officiating can be when there is a human element.

- The Penguins got ripped in the face-off circle early in the game but as they started to turn play around that flipped. They ended up winning the face-off battle 40-31 and that played a role in the outcome of the game, at least in my opinion.

- For what it is worth I thought the gold out looked really sharp and went over really well. The CONSOL crowd usually gets a lot of guff from Penguins fans for not being a good atmosphere but I thought there was some great energy in the building last night and it was a blast to be at.


Overall I don't think the Penguins played a great game but they got the win. They are really going to need to tighten up in a lot of different aspects if they want others games in this series but the truth remains that a win is a win and you will take it however they come. With two days off I anticipate there will be a lot of adjustments made, even if they are small, and we see a better team come out of the game on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Penguins ECQF Game 1 Preview - vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets

7:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game
April 13, 2014 - Ottawa 3, Pittsburgh 2 (SO)


Probables

Pittsburgh (0-0) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Beau Bennett
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Lee Stempniak
Brian Gibbons - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Columbus (0-0) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Boone Jenner - Ryan Johansen - Blake Comeau
Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Derek MacKenzie - Artem Anisimov - Jack Skille
Corey Tropp - Mark Letestu - Jared Boll

Defense
Fedor Tyutin - James Wisniewski
Jack Johnson - Dalton Prout
Ryan Murray - David Savard

Goaltender
Sergei Bobrovsky


Season Series (Pittsburgh won 5-0)

March 28, 2014 - Pittsburgh 2, Columbus 1



December 29, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Columbus 3



December 9, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Columbus 1



November 2, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Columbus 0



November 1, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Columbus 2




Stats

Pirates Game 15 Recap - Reds 4, Pirates 0

Just another bad day at the ballpark for the Pirates. They got a really nice pitching performance on this day from Francisco Liriano but the bats where nowhere to be found and once Joey Votto hit a two run bomb in the seventh inning to turn a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 lead it was pretty much over. This was a massively forgettable road trip that ended with the Pirates going 3-6.

I bet that the team is going to be unreal happy to return to Pittsburgh. I mean sure they are join got be happy to see their family and sleep in their own beds but not playing at three of the most homer friendly fields in the league is going to be a huge stress relief for the pitching staff. Consider this:



The Pirates played at all three of those parks on this road trip. True that they are all in the division but playing them all in a row is not going to help. I am not sitting here saying that is why the Pirates had some trouble giving up runs (not today, but at times in general) but it is pretty easy to say that these are three of the more hitter friendly parks in the league.

Really a shame today for Liriano because he pitched a really nice game. It didn't start off all that well as Liriano gave up a run on two walks and two wild pitches in the first inning without giving up a hit. It looked really bad at that point but Liriano got it together and was pretty lights out the rest of the way. He did give up the home run to Votto but until that at bat he gave up only the one run and five other hits. Overall he went seven innings, gave up six hits, three walks, and struck out seven.

The Pirates might have been able to get all over Johnny Cueto in the Wild Card game last season but today he was back to his normal self against the Pirates and didn't allow them much of anything. He gave up only three hits and allowed only five balls to leave the infield while working a complete game shutout. Sometime the other pitcher is better than you and while some might bash the Pirates offense this is a team that put up 13 runs in the previous two games. Cueto was just better today. The Pirates offense wasn't good, by any stretch, but Cueto was really good.

The offense struck out 12 times today, eight times looking. It was really that bad. There isn't much to discuss on this front so I am just going to leave it at that.

More NL Central games on the horizon as the Brewers come to town.

Pirates Game 15 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 12:35 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (0-2, 4.00) vs. Johnny Cueto (0-2, 2.14)

Season Series (Tied 1-1)
April 14, 2014 - Pittsburgh 8, Cincinnati 7
April 15, 2014 - Cincinnati 7, Pittsburgh 5


Lineups

Pittsburgh (7-7)
1. Tabata 7
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. G. Sanchez 3
6. Walker 4
7. T. Sanchez 2
8. Mercer 6
9. Liriano 1

Cincinnati (5-9)
1. Hamilton 8
2. Votto 3
3. Phillips 4
4. Frazier 5
5. Heisey 9
6. Ludwick 7
7. Pena 2
8. Cozart 6
9. Cueto 1