Monday, September 15, 2014

Steelers Game 2 Recap - Ravens 26, Steelers 6

This recap is way late which is actually better than the Steelers performance against the Ravens which was essentially non-existent. The Steelers were all but taken behind the woodshed by the Ravens and while the game was 10-3 at the half it quickly got out of hand in the second half as the Ravens scored the final 16 points of the game after the Steelers cut the lead to 10-6 in the third.

It wasn't as if there weren't chances to make things happen. The Steelers started out the game with the football and were all over the Baltimore defense. They ran 12 plays and went 64 yards before Justin Brown fumbled away the football and killed the drive. On the third possession of the game the Steelers went 11 plays that covered 73 yards and only came up with a field goal The Steelers ended two other drives with turnovers and never were able to get into a groove through the middle part of the game. Really tough to watch especially after how good the unit was against Cleveland.

The defense wasn't much better. They allowed the Ravens to rush for 157 yards and allowed four separate drives of 10 plays or more. While they did a decent job of keeping the Ravens out of the end zone they gave up scoring drives in four of six possessions in the second half. They weren't able to tackle, stop the run, and did a pretty shoddy job in pass coverage. Basically it was the second half of the Browns game only a little less worse. Hooray.

A continuing problem of this team is the inability of the defense to get to the quarterback or force a turnover. The Steelers failed to get to Joe Flacco and they were credited with zero quarterback hits. After they made the game close in the second half they could have sucked all the momentum out of the house with a turnover but they didn't come close. The Steelers turned the football over three times and if you are going to ask me that was the difference in the game.

The Steelers also did a piss poor job of tackling. One of the staples of the good Steelers defense over the years was the ability to tackle, especially in the secondary. The Steelers will give up pass plays, as is expected in today's NFL, but tackling the ball at the point of the catch always gave them a chance. That is not happening so far during this young season. Usually sure tackler Ike Taylor has whiffed multiple times while Cortez Allen was dismal. Troy Polamalu has never been a good tackler and Mike Mitchell seems to have more personal foul penalties than tackles this season. I better stop, I think you get the point.

The Steelers also struggled big time defending the tight end. Owen Daniels caught a pair of touchdown passes and was largely left wide open in goal line situations. Dennis Pitta also caught three of four targets in the tight end game. That sounded dirty, whatever. The Steelers have invested a lot in their linebackers recently and to be beaten constantly by tight ends is a bit frustrating to say the least.

There were some bright spots in the game. Le'Veon Bell was really outstanding again and when things weren't going well he was able to get some yards and make things happen. He carried the ball only 11 times but gained 59 yards while he caught five passes for 48 yards. The pass game was pretty dismal but at least someone on the offense wanted to play some football. I guess I should take that back. It's tough to say that nobody wanted to play football on the Steelers side because that would be a pretty harsh and unfair generalization but it was really hard to watch.

There really wasn't much else that was good. I guess it is good that this loss doesn't push the Steelers to 0-2 but at the end of the day the Steelers have played six really bad quarters of football and two really good quarters. Things won't be this bad all season but it's hard to envision the Steelers really going on a run unless there are some big time changes. The tale of the statistical tape wasn't very bad but when you turn the ball over three times and don't take it away then you are going to struggle. When you commit nine penalties for 75 yards you aren't going to win. Take those two things away and this is a three point game either way. Too bad those things happened.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pirates Game 149 Recap - Pirates 7, Cubs 3

For the first half of the game it looked like the Pirates weren't going to be able to overcome the Cubs. They fell behind 3-0 and were playing some pretty bad baseball, especially defensively. Edison Volquez didn't look very good and this had all the makings of a series loss to the Cubs. It would have really somewhat undone some of good work they had the past week but then the offense turned it on.

In the fifth inning the Pirates just went off. They scored six runs on seven hits while sending 13 men to the plate. This is the kind of thing that the Pirates should do to a guy like Jacob Turner. Last night the Pirates didn't get the offense going in time and it was partially to blame for losing that game but they stepped up in a big way.

Neil Walker had a huge day with three hits and blasted his 20th home run of the season to set a new Pirates record for home runs by a second baseman. Walker has been really good all year and while he did have the injury bug a little bit it is nice to have him playing some pretty consistent baseball and becoming a cog in the middle of the Pirates lineup.

Maybe the highlight of the game was the Pirates turning a triple play. This isn't something that happens overly often but with runners on first and second and nobody out there was a ball hit sharply to Josh Harrison who touched third and went around the horn. It wasn't even a close play at first base and was really something cool to see happen live.



Cool stuff.

The Pirates offense somewhat made up for a subpar outing from Volquez. I won't say it was a terrible outing but Volquez really flirted with disaster for a lot of the game, especially early. He got through seven innings giving up five hits and three runs but he did walk five hitters. What has been so good about Volquez this year is that he cut down on the walks. Every time he goes out there and gives up a lot of free passes you kind of worry that he is going to revert back to the guy he's been since 2009. I don't think that is going to happen now but it's just a through that goes through my head.

The Brewers already got a win today while the Braves are getting waxed by the Rangers. The Giants are also losing to the Dodgers so the Pirates will hold their 1.5 game lead on Milwaukee and now a four game lead on Atlanta. They will stay 3.5 back of St. Louis (who defeated Colorado) and are three games behind San Francisco for the top Wild Card spot. Things are still looking good with 13 games left in the season.

Pirates Game 149 Preview - vs. Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates - 1:35 p.m.
Jacob Turner (5-9, 5.84) vs. Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.36)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 13-5)
March 31, 2014 - Pittsburgh 1, Chicago 0 (10 inn.) [Recap]
April 2, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 3 (16 inn.) [Recap]
April 3, 2014 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]
April 8, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 5 [Recap]
April 9, 2014 - Chicago 7, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
April 10, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 4 [Recap]
June 9, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2 [Recap]
June 10, 2014 - Chicago 7, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
June 11, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 2 [Recap]
June 12, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 0 [Recap]
June 20, 2014 - Chicago 6, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
June 21, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 3 [Recap]
June 22, 2014 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1
September 5, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 3 [Recap]
September 6, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 0
September 7, 2014 - Pittsburgh 10, Chicago 4 [Recap]
September 12, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 3
September 13, 2014 - Chicago 6, Pittsburgh 4


Lineups

Pittsburgh (78-70)
1. Harrison 5
2. Snider 7
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Martin 2
6. Lambo 3
7. Mercer 6
8. Polanco 9
9. Volquez 1

Chicago (65-83)
1. Alcantara 8
2. Baez 6
3. Coghlan 7
4. Valbuena 5
5. Valaika 4
6. Olt 3
7. Szczur 9
8. Baker 2
9. Turner 1

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pirates Game 148 Preview - vs. Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:05 p.m.
Felix Doubront (1-1, 2.25) vs. Jeff Locke (7-4, 3.60)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 13-4)
March 31, 2014 - Pittsburgh 1, Chicago 0 (10 inn.) [Recap]
April 2, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 3 (16 inn.) [Recap]
April 3, 2014 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]
April 8, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 5 [Recap]
April 9, 2014 - Chicago 7, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
April 10, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 4 [Recap]
June 9, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2 [Recap]
June 10, 2014 - Chicago 7, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
June 11, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 2 [Recap]
June 12, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 0 [Recap]
June 20, 2014 - Chicago 6, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
June 21, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 3 [Recap]
June 22, 2014 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1
September 5, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 3 [Recap]
September 6, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 0
September 7, 2014 - Pittsburgh 10, Chicago 4 [Recap]
September 12, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 3


Lineups

Pittsburgh (78-69)
1. Harrison 5
2. Mercer 6
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Martin 2
6. Tabata 9
7. Sanchez 3
8. Snider 7
9. Locke 1

Chicago (64-83)
1. Alcantara 8
2. Baez 6
3. Valbuena 5
4. Castillo 2
5. Valaika 4
6. Olt 3
7. Lake 7
8. Szczur 9
9. Doubront 1

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pirates Game 146 Recap - Pirates 4, Phillies 1

The Pirates started this road trip with a three game sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. They finished this road trip 6-4 and are now just 2.5 games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central and keep their 1.5 game lead in the Wild Card. The Pirates once against used a big inning and got just an outstanding start from Francisco Liriano to take three of four games from the Phillies and head back to PNC Park to take on the Cubs.

Liriano hasn't been good all season. In the first half of the year he posted a 4.72 ERA with opposing hitters posting a .742 OPS off him. Well in the second half of the season Liriano has turned more into the 2013 version with a 2.51 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .568 OPS and posting a WHIP of 1.082. Tonight he dominated the Phillies lineup with a season-high 12 strikeouts in eight innings of work while giving up only four hits and two walks. He was in total control today and even though he looked a little rough around the edges early leaving some pitches up in the zone but he just cruised. At one point you didn't know if Liriano could get back to the point he was last year but right now he is pitching like the staff ace and if the Pirates get into the Wild Card game he is the guy I would throw on the bump.

The Pirates got a lone run in the second inning on an Ike Davis single then tacked on three more runs in the sixth inning off A.J. Burnett. Neil Walker doubled home a run followed by a Russell Martin sacrifice fly and a Gregory Polanco single to score another run that all but put the game way. The Pirates sent eight men to the plate in that inning scoring those three runs on four hits.

Walker was the only Pirate with more than one hit for a team that had eight hits total. The Pirates went 3-of-13 with runners in scoring position and left seven guys on base so they weren't as productive as you would have liked them to be but with as good as Liriano was I don't think it really mattered tonight. Another hit or two and it's a laugher.

The big news out of this game is that Starling Marte was forced to leave the game due to "discomfort" in his left arm. Marte was hit by a pitch in the second inning and looked to be a good deal of pain. He did stay in the game but was replaced the next half inning. It looked like it was right above the elbow so unless something is broken I assume (hope) it won't be too bad. Marte has been one of the leagues best hitters over the past month plus and if he misses any time it would be a huge hit. The Pirates offense is good but when you need to win as many games as possible down the stretch you want to have all your top players healthy.

The Cardinals took a loss to day to the Reds (thanks Johnny Cueto!) and despite the Giants winning and the Brewers leading the Marlins after seven innings (at the time of me writing this) it was a good week for the Pirates. Six wins in the last seven games will go a long way for this team if they want to get into the playoffs. At that point anything can happen.

Pirates Game 146 Preview - @ Philadelphia Phillies

Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies - 7:05 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (4-10, 3.74) vs. A.J. Burnett (8-15, 4.29)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 5-1)
July 4, 2014 - Pittsburgh 8, Philadelphia 2
July 5, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Philadelphia 2
July 6, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Philadelphia 2 [Recap]
September 8, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Philadelphia 4 [Recap]
September 9, 2014 - Philadelphia 4, Pittsburgh 3
September 10, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Philadelphia 3 [Recap]


Lineups

Pittsburgh (76-69)
1. Harrison 5
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Martin 2
6. Marte 7
7. Davis 3
8. Mercer 6
9. Liriano 1

Philadelphia (67-78)
1. Revere 8
2. Franco 5
3. Byrd 9
4. Howard 3
5. Ruf 7
6. Ruiz 2
7. Hernandez 4
8. Galvis 6
9. Burnett 1

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pirates Game 145 Recap - Pirates 6, Phillies 3

After last nights brutal loss the Pirates really needed to bounce back. Not that they couldn't lose tonights game but with the Braves already winning earlier in the day and the Cardinals being down much of the night it was a good time to gain a game in the division and keep the 1.5 game lead in the Wild Card. It also wouldn't hurt to possibly go up another game on the Brewers even though they were winning 1-0 as the Pirates game ended. The Pirates didn't play a great game but they got some really huge hits when they needed it and the bullpen was as good as they have been in some time.

Vance Worley took the bump tonight and he wasn't that good. He was getting hit around and while he kept the Phillies at bay he threw a lot of pitches and just gave me that uneasy feeling most of the night. He did make it through five innings of work and gave up three runs on four hits but threw nearly 100 pitches doing so. With the way the Pirates bullpen has been pitching this was pretty terrifying. Maybe the worst part of this was that Worley gave up a two run scoring hit to opposing pitcher Jerome Williams in the fourth inning. I think that was the part of the game where I thought that it was going to be a repeat of last night.

It wasn't a repeat of last night. Thankfully Ben Revere and Grady Sizemore had no idea how to play outfield in their own home park in the fifth inning which led to Andrew McCutchen recording his first career inside the park home run. It. Was. Awesome. He got around the bases in just over 15 seconds and while Revere and Sizemore were pretending like they had no idea where the ball was the camera was fixed on Cutch rounding the bases and it was so much fun to watch. His core is still not healthy but he's still playing well enough to help this team win.

After a Neil Walker groundout Russell Martin went deep and gave the Pirates the last run they would need. Martin is going to make all the money in free agency. People are going to bitch and moan that the Pirates are too cheap to keep Martin but right now he is going to be able to make as much money for as many years as he can. Not many teams are going to be able to give him that opportunity and unfortunately the Pirates are not one of those teams.

The Pirates got some insurance in the sixth inning with back-to-back run scoring hits from Josh Harrison and Starling Marte. All told the Pirates collected 13 hits. They struck out eight times against Williams, who isn't very good at all, but in the end they got to him and then teed off on the Phillies bullpen. Harrison, Marte, and McCutchen all went 2-for-4 with a run scored and a run driven in and Martin, Jordy Mercer, and Travis Snider also had two hits. It was a very balanced offensive attack and it was a little rocky but who cares.

The bullpen needs touched on though. They have been pretty bad all season but tonight they used a couple of September call-ups and the regular rock solid guys to get the job done. Bobby LaFromboise, John Holdzkom, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon faced a combined 12 hitters and not a single one of those hitters reached base. I am not sure how to react to this because base runners have been the norm recently but it was pretty cool to just sit back and watch perfect innings from the bullpen.

The Pirates are in a good place right now and a win tomorrow would be huge. A split wouldn't be terrible but with a chance to get three wins in a four game series against a not very good team before the last home stand of the season.