Saturday, June 30, 2012

Penguins Sign Sidney Crosby To 12 Year Extension

I am a little late on getting to this but as it can't be official until July 1 I just didn't get around to it, but this is big news. I think you know the news I am talking about as Sidney Crosby inked a 12 year contract extension with the Penguins that will kick in the 2013-14 season for a total of $104.4M. This will essentially keep Crosby in a Penguins sweater for the rest of his career with the contract running through the 2024-25 season.

As you may have been able to figure out the average annual value of the contract is $8.7M which is the exact same cap number that he is sitting at right now. The maximum contract number Crosby could have got according to the current collective bargaining agreement is 20% of the total cap which would mean that if Crosby wanted the money he could be making in upwards of $14M. Crosby left a lot of money on the table to be a Penguin and that has to make you feel good as a fan of the team.

Over his career Crosby has been one of the best in the world. In his seven NHL season Crosby has scored 223 goals and added 386 assists for an average of 1.40 points per game. He has won almost every award possible (Art Ross, Hart, Lester, Rocket Richard, NHL Leadership) and even brought the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh. He is the face of the NHL and the face of Pittsburgh hockey. Injuries have derailed him much of the last few season but if he can be healthy this is going to be a great contract and you will see one of the best players in the world in black and gold for a long time.

Things aren't all good on this as you might expect. Crosby has had a problem staying healthy the past few years with his concussions and had a problem in the past with a high ankle sprain. Crosby has only played 63 games in the past two seasons and while he has piled up 103 points (40+63) during that span you don't really want one of, if not the best player in the world only playing 63 games in a two season span.

Obviously any player that you sign for a long term deal you run the risk of injury and having them not be able to play but I think we can all understand where the hesitation might be coming from. One more hit and Crosby could be done for the year. Sure, there is long term IR that the Penguins could put him on but the money is still going to be paid out to him. The Penguins do not have insurance to cover a concussion in the contract but I guess that just goes along with the risk.

All told this was something that needed to get done. The Penguins did take a risk but Crosby also did his part by taking far less money to stay in Pittsburgh. He loves this city and made no mistake about letting it be known that he wanted to finish his career here and he showed that to everyone with this extension. He also want to be able to still build a winner around him so the extra cap help that he gave the Penguins there is still room to add impact players.

The $104+M contract is a lot of money but when you sit down and think about it Crosby has given the Penguins so much more than that and will bring them so much more money because of the marketing. He is the reason the CONSOL Energy Center is here and he is the reason that the Penguins are one of the most premier franchises in the entire NHL. He wants to be here and Shero and company wanted him to be here. This was a no brainer and while there is a decent bit of risk involved in this you don't let the best player in the world go on the open market when he is just going into his prime.

Pirates Game 77 Recap - Pirates 7, Cardinals 3

Last night was an offensive explosion that gave the Pirates a fairly easy win but today it was a great mixture of clutch offense and great pitching to take the second straight game from the Cardinals 7-6. Just an absolutely great win that sets up a chance for a sweep that would pump some energy into Pirates fans as they come back to PNC Park for a series against the Astros.

You can pretty much sum up the offense of today's game by the top of the first inning. The Pirates got two quick outs with Alex Presley and Jose Tabata and then things really opened up. Andrew McCutchen got a broken bat single to right field followed by a single through the left side by Garrett Jones to set the table with runners on the corners. Neil Walker earned a walk on the next at bats to bring up Pedro Alvarez with the bases loaded. Pedro worked the count to 3-2 and then absolutely demolished a Lance Lynn fastball that was right down the gut for a quick four runs. I typically watch games in my apartment by myself and as soon as the ball hit the bat I yelled out "Oh my God." That is how hard that Pedro hit this ball and it felt so good to see it go out of the park.

That was a great thing to see and it wasn't just because the Pirates got four runs off one swing of the bat, it was more about how they got those runners on base more than getting them all in. With two outs it looked dead but McCutchen and Jones got on base and anything can happen when you get guys in scoring position. Walker worked the count and got on base to load them up and then Alvarez took the pitches as they were and forced Lynn to put one down the middle rather than potentially walking in a run. A month ago and Pedro swings through that but this time he got every bit of the pitch.

Jeff Karstens had a pretty forgettable outing his first time back but he was the 2011 version today with only one inning where he didn't have things going his way. Today he went seven innings and gave up only four hits and a pair of runs. Both of those runs came in the third inning when he gave up a couple of hits and a walk when he started out facing the bottom of the order. While he is not known as a strikeout pitcher but got seven punch outs, with some pretty key ones, for an offense that is one of the best in all of baseball.

The Pirates offense really responded after the Cardinals made it a two run game. Jose Tabata belted a leadoff double and then Jones earned a one out walk which set up a well placed Walker double to score Tabata. Clint Barmes grounded into a fielders choice to score Jones and get those two runs back.

If that wasn't enough the Pirates added another run in the top of the ninth inning to match a run that the Cardinals scored in the bottom of the eighth inning. Really good to see the Pirates able to match runs when they have a lead and not leave anything up to chance in late innings. Refreshing to see.

Outside of the win the big news is the possible injury that McCutchen suffered in making a pretty spectacular diving catch. He dove head first and his left hand got snagged in the grass and it is now being categorized as a sprained wrist and he is day-to-day. He did stay in the game for a few more innings and even bat but on a check swing he looked like he was in some discomfort and was taken out later. He looked like he was pretty lucky on the diving catch as his wrist didn't stick in the grass and actually gave which might have saved him a broken wrist. If he did have a broken wrist it would obviously be a huge loss for the Pirates and would dash a lot of hopes for almost all Pirates fans. He is the nucleus of the team and having him miss any amount of time would be really bad.

All-in-all it was a great day for the Pirates. Coming into the series I was hoping for two wins and they did that in the first two games of the series. I don't agree with Bob Walk a lot but he brought it up during the broadcast that a sweep gets the Pirates three games in the standings on the Cardinals but winning two only gets them one game better than the Cardinals. That is a two game swing and if the Pirates can get the sweep that will set them up pretty nicely when they go back to PNC to play the Astros next week.

Penguins Resign Matt Niskanen

In something that really shouldn't be a huge shock to most people the Penguins finally got a deal done with restricted free agent Matt Niskanen earlier today for two more years at an annual cap hit of $2.3M.

This was pretty much a no brainer move for Ray Shero as Niskanen really had a nice year last year for the Penguins. While the defense was really up and down from player to player last year Niskanen was about as consistent as they came and was someone that you could rely on.

Last year Niksy had a cap hit of $1.5M so this raise is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things which makes it a really nice move for Shero and the Penguins, as well as Niskanen. He has made it very clear that he loves Pittsburgh and if you have read any of the stuff on Twitter today you can see that he wants to be here and that he considers Pittsburgh home.

After the move to sign Niskanen the Penguins now have just under $12.3M left to fill out their roster. Currently they have two goaltenders, six defenseman and 11 forwards on the books.

All in all this signing and the play of Niskanen last year really just reinforces how good the trade was that sent James Neal and Niskanen to the Penguins in exchange for Alex Goligoski. The first year things didn't go real well for the Penguins but last year it paid massive dividends.

The Penguins also announced earlier that they resigned goaltender Brad Thiessen for one year with a NHL contract value of $525k.

Pirates Game 77 Live Blog - @ St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals - 2:15 p.m.
Jeff Karstens (0-2, 6.35 ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (10-3, 3.23 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (41-35)
1. Presley 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 3
5. Walker 4
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barmes 6
8. McKenry 2
9. Karstens 1

Cardinals (40-37)
1. Schumaker 4
2. Jay 8
3. Holliday 7
4. Beltran 9
5. Craig 3
6. Freese 5
7. Descalso 6
8. Cruz 2
9. Lynn 1





Hit the jump for the live blog 


Andrew McCutchen And 30/30




Last night I was watching the Cardinals and Pirates playing and in his second at bat Andrew McCutchen laced a ball into the left centerfield gap that hit the warning track and hit the wall. This ball was crushed as if he got under it just a little bit more the ball would have got out in about a half of a second.

While that ball wasn't a home run it got me thinking, could this be the year that Andrew McCutchen could challenge to be a 30/30 guy? For those of you unfamiliar with what the 30/30 is that means that a player hits 30 home runs and steals 30 bases in the same season. It is a somewhat obscure stat but one that not many players can get to. Sure, there have been a ton of players that have hit 30 home runs but not all of them have the athleticism or base stealing ability to get the 30 stolen bases.

A little back story on how few players have ever got to the 30/30 club. In Major League Baseball history there have only been 37 players to get into the 30/30 club with the first being Ken Williams with 39 home runs and 37 stolen bases in 1922. The next instance of this didn't come until 1956 when Willie Mays accomplished it for the first time. Since those days it has happened more often due to the fact that players are now bigger, faster and stronger but it is still a pretty impressive feat when you can hit this milestone.

The Pirates have only one player on that list and that is the great Barry Bonds as he did it twice with the Pirates in 1991 and then again in 1992.

Last year an astounding four players were in the club with Ryan Braun (33/33), Matt Kemp (39/40), Ian Kinsler (32/20) and Jacoby Ellsbury (32/39) all accomplishing the feat. Since the 2000 season it has happened 20 times so it is not as uncommon as before but still something that makes you turn your head.

Last season McCutchen saw a bump in his home run total as he cranked out 23 home runs and stole 23 bases. As you know McCutchen slumped in the second half of last season which significantly hindered his on base percentage and therefore hurt his chances of swiping bases. So far this year it has been much, much, different as before today's game with the Cardinals he is getting on base at nearly a .400 clip and along with that his is hitting the ball out of the part at a pretty serious rate.

So, like I said, I was watching the game and saw the double and really didn't give much thought to it. I threw out a question on twitter to see what people thought and nobody got back to me so I really didn't put much more into it. Then in the ninth inning McCutchen crushed a pitch into the left centerfield seats for his 15th home run of the season. The galway point for the home run side of the 30/30. At this point McCutchen already has 14 stolen bases so he is just about half way there through only 76 games.

To put this is a little more perspective here is a breakdown of all of the 30/30 members since the 2005 season and what their numbers were through the first 76 games (home runs/stolen bases):

2011
Matt Kemp (20/21)
Ryan Braun (15/16)
Ian Kinsler (8/15)
Jacoby Ellsbury (9/24)

2009
Ian Kinsler (19/16)

2008
Hanley Ramirez (16/19)
Grady Sizemore (17/17)

2007
David Wright (13/16)
Jimmy Rollins (13/14)
Brandon Phillips (14/15)

2006
Alfonso Soriano (24/18)

2005
Alfonso Soriano (19/8)

Total average (15.5/16.5)


So as you can see McCutchen is right about on line with what the last handful of 30/30 guys have done through 76 games. Obviously that doesn't mean a lot because all of this will depend on McCutchen's second half play and if he can avoid the canyon that he fell into last season. I don't think that he will be able to keep up quite the hitting display he has put on thus far but thinking of him as a 30/30 player isn't too far out of the question.

While being 30/30 might not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things it truly tells you about how hard it is to do. While more players are doing it recently that doesn't mean it is easy and it surely doesn't mean just any player can do it. It takes a special and complete player to do such a thing and for McCutchen to reach this would be both really fun to watch and really encouraging in his development.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pirates Game 76 Recap - Pirates 14, Cardinals 5

The Pirates came out and got behind the eight ball against the Cardinals and then just unleashed their bats on the host and used the home run to defeat the Cards in the first game of a three game series. For a team that hasn't had home run power in the recent past it is a lot of fun to see them hit home runs with some kind of consistency and right now it is winning them ballgames.

The game in total was really weird for the first few innings. The Pirates had Kevin Correia on the bump going against Adam Wainwright. Although Wainwright doesn't have the greatest numbers this year he has pitched really well and was a stud in 2010 before missing 2011 with Tommy John surgery. Needless to say I wasn't very excited about the prospect of this game from the start, luckily the Pirates were able to grab it.

Things started off right in the first inning with a pair of runs on a two out hit by Neil Walker. I know I have been kind of hard on Walker the past week but he is right in the middle of one of his hot streaks and its as huge to come up with runners on second and third and two outs and get those two runs in to give the Pirates an early lead.

Correia blanked the Cardinals in the bottom half of the first inning but it got pretty ugly after that for them. The Cards got one back in the second when Allen Craig scored after doubling to lead off the inning and then in the third inning the game broke open. After Correia gave up a leadoff walk and a single he struck out Matt Holliday but gave up a RBI hit to Carlos Beltran. The hit by Beltran drove in a run but more importantly it was his 2,000th career hit. Beltran is a very good player and got a much deserved standing ovation from the St. Louis crowd.

Wouldn't have been bad if they didn't get much more than that but Craig came up and blasted a ball into the left centerfield seats for a three run bomb that made the score 5-2 and if you were a Pirates fan you really couldn't feel good about where this game was going. I am not going to lie I was pretty much resigned to the fact that the Pirates weren't going to be able to come back from this but boy am I glad I was wrong.

The Pirates got back on the grind in a big way starting in the fifth inning. The Pirates were able to load the bases with two outs and up came Pedro Alvarez. He started the game with two pretty bad at bats but it didn't matter as he took the first pitch, an inside fastball, and clubbed it down the first field line for a bases clearing, game tying, double. Just feels great that you can get the kind of production out of Pedro.

The sixth inning really put the game in the Pirates hand as they went deep three times and scored four runs to take a four run lead, a lead that they wouldn't give up. It all started with a Clint Barmes leadoff home run and then was followed by a pinch hit home run by Alex Presley. I mean, for real, back-to-back jacks from Barmes and Presley? That was the second game that the Pirates went back to back after Garrett Jones and Alvarez went back-to-back the day before in Philadelphia. The Pirates added two more when Jones went deep to right field to score McCutchen who singled before him. What an inning.

The Pirates added on a few more runs later in the game as Brad Lincoln pretty much came in and did whatever he wanted to the Cardinals hitters.

Corriea ended up only going five innings and to be quite honest I am pretty shocked he got that far. You will see me talk about stats that are meaningless in baseball like the RBI and pitchers wins and this is a prime example while. Correia gets credit for the win but he really didn't pitch well at all. He gave up five runs on six hits and threw 90 pitches and forced the Pirates hand to get to the pen when it was a 100+ degree day on the field. The Pirates were actually lucky it wasn't worse. After Pedro tied up the game Correia gave up a leadoff base runner and the runner on third with two outs with Craig coming up to bat. Craig had already doubled and homered in the game so it would have been more than alright to work around him but not only did Correia get behind him 2-0 but served up a pitch right now the middle on a 2-1 count that Craig nearly took out of the ballpark to right centerfield. You can't be doing that and even know he got out of the inning you can't serve up home run pitches to the hottest hitter in the lineup.

As bad as Correia pitched today Lincoln was just the opposite. He threw three innings tonight out of the pen and was truly dominant. He allowed one hit in the three innings of work and struck out four batters without walking one. He may not be a viable starting pitching prospect but he is going to earn his money out of the pen where he has been sensational this season.

What more can you say about the offense? They had 18 hits tonight, the most since July of 2010 and it didn't matter who was up, they were going to have a great chance of getting a hit. Six different hitters recorded more than one hit and only Rod Barajas didn't record a hit in the victory. What a performance.

What is refreshing to see this year is that the Pirates are able to put the ball out of the ballpark. Last season the Pirates only had 107 home runs and since PNC Park opened in 2001 the most home runs in a season they had is 163 in the 2003 season. This season they have 76 home runs already through 76 games which puts them on pace to nearly equal the 2003 mark. Pretty impressive stuff for a team that has been pretty inept in recent past.

So, it will be pretty cool when McCutchen doesn't start the All-Star game, right? How do you respond to going 0-for-5? By going 4-for-5 with a home run, double, three runs scored and three RBI. What an outstanding player and he just keeps getting better. It really doesn't matter who is on the bump, McCutchen is going to find a pitch he likes and hammer it. He is now up to .344/.399/.594 and there truly aren't too many better hitters in the majors right now.

All in all not a bad night. It started with the Pirates trailing 5-2 half way through the game and it ends with the Pirates having 19 hits and scoring 14 runs. With the nine run victory that pushes the Pirates run differential to the positive side for the first time since the first week of the season.

Coming in I thought getting one of the three wins would be alright but getting two would be ideal. Winning this first game of the series really sets them up nice to win the series and get some momentum going into a series at PNC Park with the Astros.

Pirates Game Day 76 Live Blog - @ St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals - 8:15 p.m.
Kevin Correia (3-6, 4.03 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-7, 4.32 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (40-35)
1. Sutton 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 3
5. Walker 4
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barajas 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Correia 1

Cardinals (40-36)
1. Furcal 6
2. Jay 8
3. Holliday 7
4. Beltran 9
5. Craig 3
6. Molina 2
7. Freese 5
8. Descalso 4
9. Wainwright 1





Hit the jump for the live blog 


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pirates Game 75 Recap - Pirates 5, Phillies 4




Sometimes in a game it takes consistent scoring and timely hitting in order to get a win and then other times it takes one big inning and holding on. The Pirates did the latter and earned a split in Philadelphia. It looked really good at the beginning and didn't look so good at the end but they got the outs when they needed to and won 5-4.

For the offense this was all about one inning. The Pirates used a pair of home runs to race out to a five run first inning and it turns out that is all the team needed. Garrett Jones started it off with a single to right field to score Drew Sutton with one out and then Casey McGehee tanked a pitch in the next at bat to left field for a three run home run. That was all well and good but then Pedro Alvarez blasted a line drive home run to right field to round out the scoring. Five runs, four hits and a nice cushion for A.J. Burnett.

The problem for the Pirates was that they only had three hits the rest of the game. Not good but they did enough in the first inning to survive. This was also a pretty significant win because the catalyst for the offense, Andrew McCutchen, didn't reach base so it was a true team effort in that first inning.

Burnett had a really solid outing and just continues to pitch very feel for the Pirates as he went 6.2 innings and struck out seven batters only yielding three runs on six hits. I think that most thought that A.J. would do better in Pittsburgh than his past two years in New York but he has really been a horse for this team and has been paired with James McDonald to be the stoppers of the team. Love it.

Things got interesting later in the game as Jason Grilli gave up a home run to Hunter Pence to lead off the eighth inning and then proceeded to hit the next batter before recording the first out. After an infield single it was first and second with only one out and that is when Grilli buckled down. He got pinch hitter Jim Thome to strike out in a big situation for the second consecutive night and then got the N.L. leading hitter Carlos Ruiz to foul out to McGehee who made a spectacular play at first base. It will be on SportsCenter tonight. It is also one of the video's on MLB.com. Check it out.

Things got more interesting for Joel Hanrahan in the ninth inning as he gave up a leadoff hit to Jimmy Rollins and was sacrificed to second to put a runner in scoring position with one out. The Hammer didn't care as he recorded a strikeout of Shane Victorino and a fly out by Pence. Boom. Raise it.

It wasn't a great game for the Pirates and the Phillies probably feel like they should have came out on top, but they didn't. They got the series sweep so they are going out of Philadelphia just as they came in which isn't ideal but I will take it. Getting two out of three from the Cardinals that would make for a huge week. All in all this series against the Phillies was pretty good considering how it started.

Pirates Game 75 Live Blog - @ Philadelphia Phillies

Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies - 1:05 p.m.
A.J. Burnett (8-2, 3.24 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (2-7, 5.24 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (39-35)
1. Sutton 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 9
5. McGehee 3
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barmes 6
8. McKenry 2
9. Burnett 1

Phillies (36-41)
1. Rollins 6
2. Pierre 7
3. Victorino 8
4. Pence 9
5. Polanco 5
6. Wigginton 3
7. Fontenot 4
8. Kratz 2
9. Kendrick 1






Hit the jump for the live blog 


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pirates Game 74 Recap - Pirates 11, Phillies 7




No idea where to even start with this recap. The game started bad, went really good, got really bad then got really good again. Thank God it didn't go really bad again because I am not sure that losing a game like this would have been good for the overall feel of the team but the offense busted out the bats and had a great night. I don't know if I feel overly good about this win but at the end of the day a win is a win and I will take it no matter how it goes down. Saying "Raise it" at the end of the night is all that matters.

With James McDonald on the mound and the Phillies going with the bullpen by committee approach you had to feel pretty good about them getting a win tonight but it really didn't start off like that. With two outs in the first Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz went back-to-back and you just had a feeling this might turn into another one of "those nights." Thankfully it didn't.

The Pirates came back with a charge starting in the second inning with three runs on a Michael McKenry (!) home run. To be honest this inning was about as frustrating as you get but with one swing of the bat it turned into what was a bad inning into a good one. Casey McGehee walked to lead off the inning and then Clint Hurdle put on a hit and run only Walker didn't feel the need to swing at a hittable pitch and McGehee was hung waaaay out to try. McGehee actually stopped halfway down the base path and it was over from there. I went into my feelings on Walker last night but just a frustrating at bats. Luckily he had three hits after that disaster of an at bat.

The Pirates scored a pair of runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. Things looked good and you were able to laugh and joke with your friends and things didn't seem as hard as they used to.

In the fourth McGehee hit a ball to dead centerfield that went deep into the shrubs over the 405' foot mark and then McDonald came up and singled home Walker for what was a pretty big run at the time.

The Pirates then got three runs on four hits in the fifth inning to push the lead to six. After Drew Sutton walked and Andrew McCutchen laced a single back up the middle Walker singled home Sutton with one out and then Jose Tabata and McKenry singled home runs in back-to-back at bats with two outs. This was something they couldn't do in the first two games.

That is when things got really interesting. A six run lead shouldn't make you feel like it is still a ballgame but we aren't talking about any typical ballgame. After throwing a bunch of pitches in the first two innings James McDonald was semi worn down and he gave up a pair of runs in the sixth before Jared Hughes came in to shut the door. That was about it for Hughes as he gave up a pair of runs in the seventh and wasn't able to record an out. Tony Watson came in and gave up three hits and a run and didn't even record an out himself. The game was now 8-7 after Watson departed with runners on first and second with no outs. Oy vey.

What happened next was easily the turning point of the game and probably won the game for the Pirates at the time. In what was a mind boggling decision by Hurdle he went with Brad Lincoln over both Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan. All Brad Lincoln did was get three straight outs and not let a single runner get to third base. What a ballsy and gutsy outing by Lincoln. Lincoln got Hunter Pence to strike out on a full count curveball in the dirt and then got Shane Victorino to fly out to shallow left field. Then came up Jim Thome. Thome is past his prime but is still a big threat to hit the long ball and with the way the inning had went you could just see the gap shot coming. All Lincoln did was throw three pitches with the final one being a fastball nearly right down the gut that Thome swung right through. What a moment.

The Pirates used the eighth inning to put the game away with three more runs. Alex Presley walked (!) to leadoff the inning and then scored when Sutton doubled to way deep right field. McCutchen followed with a towering home run to push the game to 11-7. The pen did its best to see the Phillies in the game but the offense just would not let it happen.

All in all the offense was really great tonight. They pounded out 14 hits and every player in the lineup had a hit except for Pedro Alvarez. The hitters went 7-for-16 with runners in scoring position and took six walks with three home runs and a pair of doubles. This is the offense you like to see more often and it is a fun offense to watch.

Again tonight it was really all about McKenry. I still don't think that he is an everyday guy but he went 2-for-4 tonight with four runs batted in that included the big three run home run. I think that he wasn't in a very good groove with McDonald tonight but they were able to battle through it and get the job done. While Rod Barajas doesn't have to go on the DL with the bone bruise the solid play from McKenry is letting him rest a little more than he normally would if McKenry wasn't playing well. Hopefully he can keep it up through the weekend.

McCutchen is just a beast of a player. He went 2-for-5 on the night with the home run and even put in a web gem nominee in the eighth inning to rob Hector Luna of a double in the right centerfield gap. I have no idea why teams are pitching to this guy but they continue to do so and he continues to make them pay. It will come to a point where they just walk him when first base is open but until they do he is going to punish the baseball.

I have no idea what Sutton is going to be. He had a pair of hits tonight and had five pretty good plate appearances. I don't think Sutton is going to be one of those "hidden gem" guys because he did this exact thing with the Rays before he kind of went down the tubes but as long as he is hitting well you need to have him in the lineup. I kind of put him in the same category as McKenry. Ride the hot hand.

As frustrating as Walker makes me he really bounced back and had a nice offensive game after a really bad first at bat. He went 3-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored while he doubled in one of his at bats. Walker is a frustrating player because he is so streaky and I think that he gets way too much of a pass from the media and fans in Pittsburgh but nights like tonight really show you what he is capable of.

As you know I am a huge Tabata fan but something needs to give. In the big eighth inning that the Phillies had he misplayed a ball pretty bad when he lost it in the lights and earlier in the game he came up with runners on the corner and only one out he struck out when he saw six pitches and not a single one of them were in the strike zone. I have no idea what his deal is but he has just been brutal. I know a ton of people are talking about getting Tabata out of the lineup but I am just not sure there is a good alternative. Tabata has been bad but he gets on base at a much better rate than Presley and lets not pretend like Presley has been good at all. Also do not give me the #freeStarlingMarte stuff because he progression and movement through the system should not be determined by the play of Tabata or Presley. Tough situation and I have no idea what to do.

This was the first time of the season when McDonald gave up more than three runs. He didn't have his best stuff tonight but he still gave the team a chance to win. He only got 5.2 innings and threw 100 pitches but he really settled down after the first inning. He was all over the place in the first and hung a pitch that Ruiz took deep but then he settled in and threw four straight scoreless innings to let the Pirates offense score some runs. Was it an ideal outing? No. Did he do enough to give the team a chance to win? Absolutely. You aren't going to go out and give up only one or two runs in eight innings every start and I have said this before that I like to judge a pitcher on the outings he has when he doesn't have his best stuff. McDonald passed that test tonight. Last year this kind of start to the game for McDonald would have led to a outing of less than four innings with him giving up six or seven runs. A huge improvement this year.

All the things I talked about were important in the game but Lincoln's inning of work was by far, and away, the most important point of the game. The pitch he threw to Thome was a challenge pitch and where it was located it was either going to be a strikeout or a 500 foot bomb. Luckily it was the former. Lincoln might not have been a success as a starter but he has been lights out in the pen and that was no more evident than it was tonight. After tonight Lincoln has inherited eight runners and not let a single one of them score. Just great stuff from Lincoln tonight.

Going into the series I thought that a split would be OK and three wins would be preferable but now the Pirates have a chance to split with A.J. Burnett on the bump. It is an afternoon start (1:05 p.m.) so make sure you remember that.

Pirates Game Day 74 Live Blog - @ Philadelphia Phillies

Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies - 7:05 p.m.
James McDonald (6-3, 2.19 ERA) vs. Raul Valdes (2-0, 1.84 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (38-35)
1. Harrison 6
2. Sutton 7
3. McCutchen 8
4. McGehee 3
5. Walker 4
6. Alvarez 5
7. Tabata 9
8. McKenry 2
9. McDonald 1

Phillies (36-40)
1. Rollins 6
2. Pierre 7
3. Utley 4
4. Ruiz 2
5. Pence 9
6. Victorino 8
7. Wigginton 3
8. Fontenot 5
9. Valdes 1





Hit the jump for the live blog 


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pirates Game 73 Recap - Phillies 5, Pirates 4

If last night was a defensive struggle that led to the Pirates demise tonight it was the offense (to an extent) and some terrible managing by Clint Hurdle that had the Pirates drop the second straight game to the Phillies. I hate Philadelphia.

It was really the same story as the Phillies got a 4-1 lead through three innings off Erik Bedard but unlike last night when Jeff Karstens just crumbled Bedard was able to get through six innings of work and only give up those four runs and really put the Pirates in a good place to win the ballgame. The good part was that Michael McKenry got the Pirates fourth run with a homer in the top of the ninth inning. The bad was that the Phillies were able to get a run off Juan Cruz in the eighth inning to make that home run a moot point.

The Pirates had their chances in this game but just couldn't get it done. They made a habit of leaving a ton of runners in scoring positions as they went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position which included not getting a single run after newly added Drew Sutton doubled home a run to make the game 4-3 which set up runners on second and third with no outs in the seventh inning. The Pirates had runners on second and third with no outs and down one and wasn't able to get a single run in after Sutton doubled home Clint Barmes.

The way that inning ended was the first real big head scratcher. Neil Walker came up with one out and lifted a relatively shallow pop fly to left field and McKenry thought he was going to be able to make it. I am not sure if third base coach Nick Leyva sent him or McKenry went on his own the ball beat him by four feet to home plate. All of this with Andrew McCutchen on deck. Now, if McKenry doesn't go they would have just probably walked McCutchen with the base opened at first and had to deal with Garrett Jones or a bench player but that might have been the better play. I don't really think it was the worst decision to send McKenry to go but he had really no chance.

The other just brutal time of the game was in the eighth inning when McCutchen doubled, for the second time, to lead off the inning and then was left stranded at second base after some just brutal hitting and managing. Interestingly enough a lefty was brought in to start the inning and after the Cutch double Garrett Jones was pinch hit for and Josh Harrison came to the plate. The first pitch was offered at via a bunt and popped up behind the plate. First out.

I have no idea when anyone is going to ask why Hurdle is just making brutally bad decisions in terms of bunting and this was one of them. There were no outs in the inning and the winning run was already in scoring position. Getting to third isn't that big of a deal because of what kind of speed McCutchen has. It is just mind blowing that Hurdle has to answer to nobody when he runs this team out of games.

By no means was that bunt the end all be all to the game because the next batter, Casey McGehee, popped out to first base and then Pedro Alvarez struck out. The Pirates did make it semi interesting in the ninth inning but the poor play in the previous eight with runners in scoring position was really more important. Just brutal.

There were a few good things that happened which was led by McKenry. While I don't think McKenry is even a good backup option for the Pirates he came in and went 3-for-3 with a home run, a pair of RBI and a run scored. McCutchen was the only other Pirate who had more than one hit as he stroked a pair of doubles to continue his hot play but there wasn't much else going on. Jose Tabata gets a lot of heat and went 0-for-4 but just as bad tonight was Neil Walker who went 0-for-3 and is in the midst of a 3-for-26 slump but nobody will talk about that because he is the "hometown kid."

Bedard wasn't good tonight but he wasn't terrible either. Four runs in six innings isn't ideal but things could have been much worse. He hasn't been that great in the last eight starts or so. He has given up four or more earned runs in five of his last eight starts and he has failed to even go four innings in two of his last five. While he hasn't been terrible he hasn't been as good as he was earlier in the season. His xFIP is around 4.00 right now and he is starting to pitch more to that now which might be his regression to the mean. Hopefully he can bounce back and start pitching better going forward as he will need to be up there with James McDonald and A.J. Burnett to hold this staff together.

Sure, I am pretty frustrated about the game because it is one the Pirates should have won but in the grand scheme of things it is just one loss of 162 and the Pirates are still only three games back of the division and it is almost July. They have McDonald and Burnett going in the next two games so if they can get a split here everything is gravy. People talk about building a wall around a group of games or a time period and these first two games of the series is the kind of games you build the wall around.

On to the next one...

Pirates Game Day 73 Live Blog - @ Philadelphia Phillies

Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies - 7:05 p.m.
Erik Bedard (4-7, 4.13 ERA) vs. Vance Worley (3-4, 2.78 ERA)

Lineup:

Pirates (38-34)
1. Tabata 7
2. Walker 3
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 9
5. McGehee 3
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barmes 6
8. McKenry 2
9. Bedard 1

Phillies (35-40)
1. Rollins 6
2. Polanco 5
3. Pence 9
4. Ruiz 2
5. Victorino 8
6. Wigginton 3
7. Mayberry 7
8. Fontenot 4
9. Worley 1




Hit the jump for the live blog 


Monday, June 25, 2012

Pirates Game 72 Recap - Phillies 8, Pirates 3

Well tonight was another one of "those" nights. You know what I am talking about, early on you know the game is going to be long and usually things start out pretty horrifically bad and only get worse. Well, that was tonight. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong and it led to an 8-3 loss in the first of a four game series in Philadelphia. The Pirates haven't had a game like this since the Baltimore series so it's not like this is becoming a recurring problem but it is never fun to watch your team get worked, especially in Philadelphia.

Like I said, in games like this it gets bad early, and boy did it get bad early for the Pirates. This was the first start coming off the DL for Jeff Karstens and he got rocked pretty had to the tune of four runs on five hits which was aided by three Pirates errors. Just a brutal inning.

The Pirates tried to come back but every time they managed to get a run or two across the plate the Phillies would answer right back. It never really was close and while the Pirates had a decent amount of base runners they grounded into three double plays, two of which came off the bat of Clint Barmes.

The first inning was pretty bad. Jose Tabata had two errors and didn't catch a fly ball that landed a few feet in front of him which had the "he doesn't care" crowd at in full force. Make no mistake about it Tabata should have had that fly ball which would have made two outs and given the team a much better chance to get out of the inning with one a run or two come across the plate. The throws weren't the greatest but by no means was the inning Tabata's fault. I know it is pretty well documented that I am a huge Tabata fan so this might be bias but putting that whole inning on him is a pretty big stretch.

Also people need to stop with the "he doesn't care" narrative. It is getting old fast and I don't think there is one person out there who truly things any athlete doesn't care and if you do your name is probably Skip Bayless.

Pedro continues to swing a pretty solid bat as he had two hits tonight and almost has his average up to .230 after it was a minimal .189 only ten days ago. The other big news of the game was that Rod Barajas left the game in the second inning with what was being reported as a bone bruise on his left leg. Not really sure what caused this but he took a foul ball off one of his knees and then was involved in a play at the plate in the bottom of the first inning but there was no contact. I honestly hope this is something minimal because if Michael McKenry has to be the every day guy it's not going to be good for the Pirates. McKenry did have two hits on the night but his told is as a backup and even at that he is only average at best.

Karstens really didn't have it tonight. After he gave up the four runs in the first he gave up a run in the third and two more in the fourth. All told he gave up 11 hits and seven runs (six earned) in five innings of work. Obviously this is his first game back and after the first inning he really did look like he got things together a bit better but I would have liked to have seen a little more from him in this one. We'll have to see what he has going forward. The positive is that even in the first inning the ball really wasn't getting hit overly hard and the Phillies did a nice job of hitting some good pitches. Hopefully he can bounce back the next time through the rotation.

Three more against the Phils. Gotta get at least two against them.

Pirates Game Day 72 Live Blog - @ Philadelphia Phillies

Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies - 7:05 p.m.
Jeff Karstens (0-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (6-6, 5.04 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (38-33)
1. Presley 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 3
5. Walker 4
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barajas 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Karstens 1

Phillies (34-40)
1. Rollins 6
2. Pierre 7
3. Pence 9
4. Ruiz 2
5. Victorino 8
6. Polanco 5
7. Wigginton 3
8. Fontenot 4
9. Blanton 1




Hit the jump for the live blog 


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pirates Game Day 71 Recap - Tigers 3, Pirates 2

The last time the Pirates faced off against Justin Verlander it ended with the Pirates getting one hit and that lone hit came after 8.2 innings in a shutout loss. Today the Pirates got their first hit of the game by their first batter of the game and they even scored a pair of runs but couldn't complete the sweep in a 3-2 loss.

This was a pretty nice baseball game all the way around. Kevin Correia came out and had a pretty bad first inning where he gave up a two run shot to Quintin Berry but really settled down after that and pitched six pretty good innings.

It got really interesting in the seventh inning as Pedro Alvarez ripped a one out single and then Garrett Jones drilled a Verlander change up to right field to tie the game. The look on Verlanders face was perfect and the shot of Jones jogging to first base and seeing the fans freak out in the background was perfect. That it is what it's all about. What a moment.

It was all for not though as Chris Resop gave up a run in the top of the eighth inning on a two out single by Delmon Young and it was a lead that the Pirates couldn't overcome.

Overal it was a fun baseball game to watch. The Pirates seemed like they had a much better approach than the last time they faced off against Verlander and gave it all they could, but they just fell a little bit short. Verlander is the best in the game and to go toe-to-toe with him and almost get the win is a step in the right direction. The Pirates should actually feel pretty good where they are in the grand scheme of things right now. I think they are in a much better place than they were last year and as we get into July we will start to see if they can group together wins against some subpar teams. The trades are going to start to take shape and while things are not really wide open right now they should start to loosen up in the coming weeks.

All-in-all not a bad series for the Pirates. They took the first two games and were close to getting the sweep. Getting a win today would have went a long way but if you win a majority of your series' then you are going to have a good year and that is exactly what the Pirates have been doing recently. Just keep staying the course and try to get a series win in Philadelphia.

Pirates Game Day 71 Live Blog - vs. Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers at Pittsburgh Pirates - 1:35 p.m.
Justin Verlander (7-4, 2.57 ERA) vs. Kevin Correia (3-6, 4.12 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (38-32)
1. Presley 7
2. Harrison 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. McGehee 3
5. Alvarez 5
6. Jones 9
7. Barmes 6
8. McKenry 2
9. Correia 1

Tigers (34-37)
1. Jackson 8
2. Berry 9
3. Cabrera 5
4. Fielder 3
5. Young 7
6. Avila 2
7. Peralta 6
8. Raburn 4
9. Verlander 1





Hit the jump for the live blog 


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pirates Game 70 Recap - Pirates 4, Tigers 1

It is really starting to feel like in these recaps I am coming on and saying a lot of the same things recently and it feels great to do so. The Pirates just keep getting the job done and today it was once again Andrew McCutchen and some great pitching that got it done as the Pirates go to six games above .500 with a 4-1 win over the Tigers. Oh my.

McCutchen is going to get much of the praise for this game, and deservidly so, but for me this was all about the pitching staff. As a whole today the staff which included innings from Brad Lincoln, Juan Cruz, Tony Watson, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan gave up only four hits to a pretty good Detroit lineup and struck out ten batters while walking only two and giving up a lone earned run.

Lincoln hasn't been good for much of this year when he has been in a starters roll but there was something that clicked today. He only went six innings but racked up seven strikeouts and walked only one while walking one. He didn't give up a hit until the sixth inning and even mixed in the change up a little bit today which was really nice to see. The big problem with Lincoln this year was that he was only using two pitches, his fastball and his curve, and when one of those wasn't on he was really in trouble. Today he threw 79 pitches and seven of those were change ups. Moreover he wasn't just throwing them just to throw them, six of them went for strikes and two of them were swing and miss pitches which registered strikeouts. Having a third pitch is huge and today Lincoln had that third pitch. Now, I still don't think Lincoln is a starter but this was an outstanding performance from him today and as much credit as McCutchen is going to get for the win, Lincoln should get just as much, if not more.

The rest of the staff did just as well as Lincoln. The other four relievers went on to pitch a near perfect three innings where they only walked one batter and gave up two hits. Cruz didn't have a great outing but Watson came in and stopped the bleeding in the seventh inning and Grilli had an outstanding bounce back performance after blowing a save a few nights ago. Grilli stuff was as good as it has been all season as he struck out a pair of hitters in an inning of work to push his k/9 ratio to 14.13. Impressive. Hanrahan came on and earned his 19th save even though he gave up a hit to Prince Fielder and a walk to Delmon Young. Then with two outs it took three dirty sliders to strike out Alex Avila.

Now, on to Mr. McCutchen. While he didn't have the best day at the plate going 1-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and an intentional walk but that one hit resulted in three runs and essentially got all the runs the Pirates needed. Max Scherzer got Cutch in a 0-2 count and threw a pitch over the plate and he just hammered it for his 13th home run over the left field fence. A three run shot to make it 3-0. Maybe the most amazing thing of the whole situation was that a packed PNC Park was chanting "MVP, MVP, MVP" as McCutchen touched home plate. When was the last time that happened? Just a moment that gave you goosebumps.

The offense only had eight hits on the day but did a good job to make those eight hits count. McCutchen got the big one with the three run jack but Neil Walker came through with a clutch single in the seventh inning to score Casey McGehee on a 0-2 count. That run answered the lone run the Tigers got in the top of the inning. Just a great job of putting the ball in play and getting the run in. You have to love stuff like this.

I have been pretty hard on Alex Presley this season and while I don't see him as a long term answer for the Pirates I still think he can be a nice bench/fourth outfield option for them down the road. Today he got a pair of hits with two doubles and between him and Jose Tabata they combined to go 3-for-6 with two runs scored and only one strikeout. The guys who hit in front of Cutch are going to get pitches to hit and if they can do that then the Pirates are going to be in good shape.

All wasn't good in this game, however. Late in the game the offense had a chance to really put the Tigers away but they weren't able to do so. In the seventh inning. With runners on the corner and Josh Harrison up all that Harrison needed to do was put the ball in play someone and get a huge run across. The first pitch of the at bat Harrison took a massive home run cut, something that was in no way necessary. Then Clint Hurdle throws up the squeeze play. Harrison gets an absolutely beautiful pitch to put down and he missed it. He looks like he is trying to bunt for a base hit but all he needs to do it put it down. He doesn't and Walker is easily tagged out at home. With a runner on second and two outs Harrison strikes out. Just a horrible at bat for Harrison.

For the record I am more than OK with the squeeze play at that juncture of the game. It is late and the Pirates are up three runs. I am more than OK trading an out for a run especially when the Pirates only need to get six more outs. Harrison has to get the bat on the ball in that situation no matter what. He didn't.

Then in the eighth inning as the Pirates get runners on first and second with nobody out. Tabata bunts both runners over (which I also agree with) to set up a pair of runners in scoring position. The Tigers do the right thing and walk McCutchen for one of the Pirates hottest hitters in McGehee. McGehee and Walker both strike out and leave the bases loaded with no runs.

The Pirates have done a really nice job of taking advantage of these situations but you have to get some runs across the plate and put the game away. It might not have haunted them this time but one time it might.

Those bad things I talked about there aren't good but whatever. Yesterday I talked about the Pirates playing with house money when facing Max Scherzer today and Justin Verlander tomorrow. The Pirates have the series win and if they can get the sweep tomorrow that will say a lot about this team.

Speaking of Scherzer you just have to tip your cap to this guy. Before the game it was released that his brother had taken his own life and he still went out there and competed and threw a pretty good game minus the one pitch to McCutchen. I can't even imagine what he must be going through and I am sure going out there to pitch helped him keep his mind off of it because that is just something that is so terrible that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. My heart goes out to Max and his family and I hope he is able to cope with this and find some closure.

I am still not sure what this team is but it is amazing to watch right now. Just a ton of fun.

Pirates Game Day 70 Live Blog - vs. Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers at Pittsburgh Pirates - 4:05 p.m.
Max Scherzer (6-4, 5.17 ERA) vs. Brad Lincoln (3-2, 3.82 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (37-32)
1. Presley 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 3
5. Walker 4
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barajas 2
8. Harrison 6
9. Lincoln 1

Tigers (34-36)
1. Jackson 8
2. Boesch 9
3. Cabrera 5
4. Fielder 3
5. Young 7
6. Avila 2
7. Peralta 6
8. Santiago 4
9. Scherzer 1




Hit the jump for the live blog 


Friday, June 22, 2012

Pirates Game 69 Recap - Pirates 4, Tigers 1

The Pirates just keep playing solid baseball and took advantage of some bad Tigers defense and got a win for A.J. Burnett for the seventh straight start in a 4-1 victory.

Tonight I must admit I was a little sidetracked because of the NHL draft and what happened with Jordan Staal but this was a really good win for the Bucs. Going into the series I thought that if the Pirates could win one of the three games against the Tigers then this would have been a good series and to get a win in the first game really has them playing with house money, in my eyes.

The Pirates came out of the gate fast and scored all four runs in the first two innings. In the first they started off with three straight hits as Alex Presley scored on a Neil Walker single and then Walker came home when Garrett Jones grounded into a double play.

The second inning was, um, interesting. Pedro Alvarez and Rod Barajas occupied first and second base with one and and A.J. Burnett came to the plate. Burnett put down what was a pretty bad bunt but Tigers pitcher Doug Fister picked up the ball and chucked it into left field that scored Alvarez and then left fielder Delmon Young bobbled the ball to let Barajas score to make it 4-0 Pirates.

Let me put this in a better way. Before the bunt was put down Barajas was on first base. The bunt was put down and thrown away and Barajas scored. Let that sink in for adjust a little bit. Barajas scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt. Oh man. If you didn't see the game then you missed him sliding head first into home. It wasn't as much slide as it was a belly flop. It was awesome.

That was pretty much it though. The Pirates had seven hits through four innings but the bats went a little silent as they only had two hits from that point on but it was all enough as Burnett and the Pirates pen was really good.

Burnett had his pitch count run up a good bit and threw 98 pitches in only six innings but he was pretty good. He gave up only two hits and struck out four. He did walk three guys but he really had another gutty win. He has won his last seven starts and he is the first Pirates pitcher to do that since Dock Ellis in 1974. Not too bad for a guy that a lot of people didn't want here, huh?

Andrew McCutchen. This guy. Another three hits tonight and none of the hits were really crushed but they were some really great at bats. The third of his hits he fought off a pitch on his hands and got the barrel on the ball up the middle for a hit and another one he took I believe what was a 0-2 pitch and put it into the outfield for a base hit. This guy just really is on another level and is getting on base at over a .400 clip and has nearly a 1.000 OPS. The scary thing is that I don't even think McCutchen is done developing and there are still parts of his game that he needs to refine. Kid is scary good.

Not much else to say but that this was a good win. Get to face Max Scherzer tomorrow who dominated the Pirates in his last start and then they get to see Justin Verlander on Sunday who nearly no hit the Pirates the last time they played each other so it isn't going to be easy. Another win in this series and you have to consider this a huge success. Bring it.

Penguins Trade Jordan Staal To Hurricanes

In what might have been one of the more obvious moves of his tenure Penguins General Manager Ray Shero made a tough call and dealt Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for the Canes #8 overall pick (Derrick Pouliot) in this year's draft, center Brandon Sutter and defensive prospect Brian Dumolin.

Earlier in the week it was leaked that the Penguins offered Staal a ten year contract in the range of $60M and Staal turned it down. That was given more life when Staal's agent came out and said that they were no interested in talking an extension and a lot of people in Pittsburgh took that as he didn't want to be a Penguin.

Fast forward to today when GMRS started talking to Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford around 4:30 p.m. and they wrapped everything up around 6:45 p.m. just about 15 minutes before the draft started.

Staal was an absolute cog for the Penguins in his time with the team. All told he scored 120 goals, earned 128 assists and posted a plus-53 plus/minus rating in 431 regular-season games. None of the goals may have been bigger than the shorthanded goal that Staal scored in the 2009 Stanley Cup in game four to really flipped the script and pushed the Penguins into winning the Cup.



He was a huge member of the team and the primary key in the Penguins great PK units. He is widely considered the best two way center in the game and I would agree with that.

The key to the whole deal was Brandon Sutter. Rutherfurd said after the trade that if Sutter wasn't a part of the deal then this wasn't going to go down. Sutter will immediately be the Penguins third line center and he has the ability to play a good shut down role while adding some offense. In 286 games for Carolina Sutter has 53 goals and 54 assists and he put up 17 goals last season and scored 21 in only 72 games in the 2009-10 season. Sutter is also an outstanding face-off fan that won over 50% of his draws last year which is something that the Penguins needed an upgrade in,

I am not going to pretend to know anything about Brian Dumolin but from the little I heard he seems to be a pretty decent prospect that could be a physical presence in the Pittsburgh blue line.

The Penguins also drafted Pouliot. I haven't been following much on the draft but if you want to know about the guy you need to go check out Jesse over at Faceoff Factor. They do by far the best work in terms of the draft.

If you thought trading Staal wasn't going to happen then you really weren't following anything in the last month or so. Staal wasn't going to resign with the Penguins and it was the right move by GMRS to get something for Staal while he could. Considering that Carolina seemed to be the only vocal team in the mix it is kind of surprising that they were able to get such a good return for it. I love Staal more than the next guy, and I will never forget what he meant for this team and what he did for them, but sometimes a general manager needs to make a tough decision and pull the trigger. If GMRS let Staal play the season out he wasn't going to get anything out of this. Right now the Penguins got a pretty nice return for a guy that wasn't going to be on the team after next year.

Does this trade make the Penguins better for next year? No, it doesn't. Sutter isn't going to come in and do what Staal did and for next year that is going to hurt, but this just isn't about next year. Staal is due a pretty hefty raise and Sutter is coming in making just about $2M a year over the next couple of years. That is a huge cap savings for a team that doesn't have a ton of room. There has been some talk that the Penguins are clearing some room to try and sign Zach Parise when July 1 hits. Oh my Lord. I don't know how realistic that is (I really doubt it happens) but there has been a lot of talk that the Penguins are very serious about Parise. If that happens I don't think too many people are going to be missing Staal as much.

The tough thing about all of this is that as fans we get way too attached to players. We feel like they are a part of our extended family and when are truly good player and person like Staal leaves it is tough to deal with. The fact of the matter is that this is still a business. Staal didn't want to be the "third fiddle" in Pittsburgh and he probably wanted to make his money and he couldn't do either of those things in Pittsburgh. He was going to be a free agent and through his play he earned that right. Does it suck to see him leave Pittsburgh? Sure it does, but at the same time I am glad the Penguins have a general manager that has the balls to make a deal like this when his hands are somewhat tied.

In Ray Shero you should trust.

Pirates Game Day 69 Live Blog - vs. Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:05 p.m.
Doug Fister (1-3, 2.68 ERA) vs. A.J. Burnett (7-2, 3.52 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (36-32)
1. Presley 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 9
5. McGehee 3
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barajas 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Burnett 1

Tigers (34-35)
1. Jackson 8
2. Berry 9
3. Cabrera 5
4. Fielder 3
5. Young 7
6. Avila 2
7. Peralta 6
8. Santiago 4
9. Fister 1





Hit the jump for the live blog 


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pirates Game 68 Recap - Pirates 9, Twins 1

My oh my, that was a fun game to watch. I know I have said this a couple times already this season maybe and I am sure I will say it again if the Pirates continue to play some pretty good baseball but this was maybe the best game of the season from a viewing perspective. The Pirates offense bounced back from a bad night last night to put up nine runs and 12 hits. Oh yea James McDonald pitched his first complete game of his career. Ho hum.

To be honest this wasn't really that close. If James McDonald only had an average start then Andrew McCutchen would have been the star of the show. Not that he wasn't a star in this game but he got the Pirates started in the first and all but put the game away in the second inning.

With two outs in the first McCutchen tripled to right centerfield and then scored on a Garrett Jones infield hit. In the second inning he came up with the bases loaded an hit an absolute rocket to left centerfield for a bases clearing double. You know, just a normal day at the office for one of the games best players.

Cutch is now up to .339/.397/.574 on the year and went 3-for-4 tonight and only came a home run shy of the cycle. He was standing on deck in the eighth inning but didn't get a chance to come up for that final at bat. His swing has been so good and consistent this year that it really isn't even funny. He has been locked in pretty much all season and has the confidence that nobody can get a pitch by him. While his strikeout rates are a little high this year and his walk rate is down there isn't too much to complain about with him.

While the Pirates, namely McCutchen, gave McDonald four runs to work with in the first two innings he wouldn't need nearly that much as he was pretty dominant on the bump. I am not going to sit here and pretend like the Twins have a good offensive lineup, because they don't, but McDonald pretty much did whatever he wanted on the mound tonight. As I said before he went all nine innings for the first time in his career and became the first Pirates pitcher to go the distance this season. He gave up a mere six hits and struck out five while not walking a single batter, lowering his ERA to 2.19. He threw 120 pitches which also was a season high but during the game there wasn't really a single time I thought he wasn't in control and that is really great to see.

While McDonald was cruising and McCutchen was, well being McCutchen, the rest of the offense decided that they wanted to join the party. It started in the sixth inning when Pedro Alvarez singled and then Rod Barajas went deep for the seventh time this season. Then in the seventh inning the Pirates really started to have some fun. Birthday boy Garrett Jones went deep to right field to score McCutchen, who singled to start the inning, and then Alvarez hit a ball out of PNC Park.

Let me say this, I watch nearly every Pirates game in my apartment, largely alone, and I don't really get too too excited during the game. When the ball left Alvarez's bat I yelled. This ball was absolutely tanked and hit the top of the wall on the far left side of the right field stands and bounced down to the river where some guy sitting on the river walk. Pedro has been swinging a pretty good bat and after striking out and grounding to first he produced two really good at bats that accounted for three runs. I know we would all like to see some more consistency from him but don't worry about that right now and just soak in what he is doing. It is truly fun to watch a guy with the power he has hit the ball that far.

Just an outstanding game overall. A dominant pitching performance and the bombs away offense really gives you an idea of what this Pirates team can do. The Twins aren't good and their pitching really isn't good but when you are playing a bad team you have to win that series and burry them. That is what the Pirates did.

The Tigers come into town for the weekend and it isn't going to be easy. A.J. Burnett goes for the Pirates tomorrow night so that will give them a very good chance to win but then the Bucs will face off against Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander on Saturday and Sunday. The worse part? The Pirates will send out Brad Lincoln and Kevin Correia on Saturday and Sunday. Man. Who cares, great win for the Pirates tonight.

Pirates Game Day 68 Live Blog - vs. Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:05 p.m.
Liam Hendriks (0-3, 7.83 ERA) vs. James McDonald (5-3, 2.32 ERA)

Lineups:

Pirates (35-32)
1. Presley 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Jones 9
5. McGehee 3
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barajas 2
8. Harrison 6
9. McDonald 1

Twins (27-40)
1. Span 8
2. Revere 9
3. Willingham 7
4. Morneau 3
5. Plouffe 5
6. Doumit 2
7. Dozier 6
8. Casilla 4
9. Hendriks 1




Hit the jump for the live blog 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pirates Game 67 Recap - Twins 2, Pirates 1

In what has been a pretty good month for the Pirates offense where they rank in the top-10 of many of the major offensive categories but tonight the offense didn't have a good night as they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Twins where the Pirates only managed five hits and squandered their very few prime scoring opportunities through some great defense by the Twins and some terrible managing from Clint Hurdle.

There really wasn't much going on in this game as both teams combined for only 12 hits and the pitching was pretty good for most of the night. It didn't start off great for Erik Bedard as he threw nearly 30 pitches in the first inning and gave up a run on a Trevor Plouffe single to score Josh Willingham. Bedard then loaded the bases before getting out of the inning but it was pretty frustrating considering that all the hits and damage came with two outs and the Willingham hit that started the inning came on a 0-2 count.

The Pirates bats were pretty much shut down by Francisco Liriano for mostly the entire game until they broke through in the seventh inning. The Pirates got the bases loaded and up came Rod Barajas to hit for Jared Hughes and roped a 2-1 pitch into the left centerfield gap that looked for sure to be getting to the wall until Denard Span came out of nowhere and made a web gem catch that only allowed one run to score instead of three. Just a huge game altering play.

What was it game altering? Because the very next inning Willingham took Jason Grilli deep for a 2-1 lead and that was pretty much all she wrote. The Pirates actually had a decent chance in the ninth inning as Pedro Alvarez was walked on four straight pitches and what do the Pirates do with a position player at the plate? Try to bunt. Not nay do they try to bunt but they have Clint Barmes bunting with two strikes. What on God's green Earth is Clint Hurdle thinking? After that Michael McKenry flew out to left and Hurdle had only Garrett Jones left on the bench to face a lefty where he has exactly zero hits on the season. Great bench management though.

Hurdle gets way too much of a pass for his giving away of outs and terrible game management. He is a good interview and is a really good talker but at some point he has to be accountable for how terrible he making in game decisions. Bunting is one thing but bunting with two strikes in the ninth inning with the tying run on first base where the pitcher walked on four pitches in inexcusable. I just can't take much of it anymore but heaven forbid anyone bring it up to him. Just frustrating beyond words.

Not too much to add after that rant. As you can see I am not very happy. All things considered though Bedard had a nice start. He went six innings and only gave up four hits while striking out seven. He did walk a pair of Twins but both of those happened in the first inning and after that he was on point. It was pretty important after a string of below average starts but he looked pretty locked in after the first and total threw 17 first pitch strikes to the 24 batters he faced. This was a good step forward and hopefully he can get back to what he was doing at the beginning of the year.

Pirates need to get a win tomorrow. Losing this series would not be good. That is all.

Pirates Game Day 67 Live Blog - vs. Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:05 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (1-7, 6.24 ERA) vs. Erik Bedard (4-7, 4.36 ERA)

Lineup:

Pirates (35-31)
1. Tabata 7
2. Harrison 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. McGehee 3
5. Walker 4
6. Alvarez 5
7. Barmes 6
8. McKenry 2
9. Bedard 1

Twins (26-40)
1. Span 8
2. Revere 9
3. Willingham 7
4. Morneau 3
5. Plouffe 5
6. Dozier 6
7. Carroll 4
8. Butera 2
9. Liriano 1




Hit the jump for the live blog 


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pirates Game 66 Recap - Pirates 7, Twins 2

How good does it feel to come out and get a win and have the offense once again come up with some hits and runs all while Kevin Correia was on the bump for the Pirates. Sure, the Pirates were playing one of the worst teams in the league in the Twins but I will take wins against any team that the Pirates play against.

The offense actually got started in the first inning and it came from an unlikely source. Josh Harrison launched his second home run of the year into the left field seats but it wasn't really as routine as that. The ball wasn't even deep enough to go out but it hit off the very top of the wall and off Josh Willingham's body and went over the fence. It was a pretty good sign of things to come for the Pirates on the night.

They added a single run in the fifth with a Casey McGehee sacrifice fly and then they scored a pair of runs in the sixth and three more in the seventh inning to negate a two run blast that the Twins got in the top of the seventh inning. Ho hum. Clint Barmes platted a run with one of his three hits (!) in the sixth followed by a RBI groundout by Matt Hague.

The seventh inning was highlighted by an absolute bomb by Andrew McCutchen to left field that stayed just inside the left field foul pool to score Harrison and then Rod Barajas hit a ball that would have been out in most ballparks but only resulted in a sacrifice fly. A run is a run though and that rounded out the scoring for a 7-2 win.

I will say that Correia came out and gave the team a pretty good chance to win. He didn't go very deep in the game but his control was much improved from his past few starts and he turned it over to the pen with the Twins scoring no runs. He gave up four hits on 5.1 and struck out two while only walking one. As a guy who will be sitting in the fifth spot of the rotation this is what you are looking for but to be honest I don't feel comfortable that he will be able to do this on a consistent basis but he was able to get it done tonight and right now that is all that matters.

There is no two ways about it, the offense was really good tonight. Maybe it wasn't an all around effort but three guys in the lineup had three hits and another had two. Sure that is 11 of the team's 12 hits from four guys but when you get good pitching you aren't going to need more than that.

McCutchen is just a freak, especially when he is hitting lefties. Coming into tonight he was hitting a league-best .458 against left handed pitching and he collected three more hits tonight in four at bats to raise his overall average to .332 and raise is OPS to .952 with the home run and then double later in the game. He was only a triple away from the cycle. He is far and away the best hitter on the team and how he only ranks tenth on the All-Star game ballot is beyond me. He is one of the best outfielders in the game and through the first 66 games of the season you are seeing why.

While I touched on a few of the things that Harrison did tonight it really doesn't say how good he really was. He was one of the players with three hits tonight and every time he got a hit he scored. It does help hitting at the top of the order to do that but the Pirates have struggled this year at the top of the order getting on base and this just shows you what can happen when you do. I don't particularly think that Harrison is any more than just a bench utility guy but to come off the bench after not playing much recently to get three hits and score three runs and give a spark to the team means a lot and every team needs a guy like that.

The next thing I am going to type is going to be weird to read, but rest assured it is the truth. Clint Barmes is not at the mendoza line and is hitting .200 after a three hit night. I know, you might want to slap yourself in the face and read it again but it is true. Three hits and even drove in a run with a great hit and run that resulted in a double. Barmes hasn't been good all season but when you get one of his good games you need to win it because you never know when it might happen again. He is hitting .286 in June and even though that is only 49 at bats it is still a massive improvement. Not saying he is going to do this the rest of the year, because he's not, but if he can hit .250 from here on out the lineup is not a total loss at the end of the night.

The biggest question mark going into the game tonight and into the week is what is Pedro Alvarez going to do? He had a great weekend but if there is anything we know with Alvarez it's that as quick as the hot streak comes is just as quick as it could go away. Well, tonight it stayed around. He worked a full count walk in his first at bat and then weakly grounded out to first base in his second before smacking a single up the middle and then crushing a ball to left centerfield that nearly left the yard but alas he had to settle for a double. I can deal with this kind of game for Dro. No idea what this even means or how much longer this will continue but I will roll with it and I suggest you do too.

To be honest I really can't find much to be mad about tonight. It was a really good win where they got seven runs and had 12 hits. The starting pitching was good enough and the bullpen was pretty good aside from one pitch from Juan Cruz. I know you can't say that series should be a sweep but the Pirates could be in a good spot to take three games from the Twins and that will be clutch considering the Pirates have a pretty tough matchup against the Tigers this weekend.