Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Pirates - Things Aren't All Bad.

Last night was admittedly really hard to process. I know that I am not part of the Pirates and I know that my life isn't really all that much better/worse in the grand scheme of things but it gives you an empty feeling when you are really invested in your favorite team doing well. As I got up this morning and went out for a run and then came back I got some time to think about what is going on with the Pirates. The conclusion I came back with was that things aren't really that bad for the Pirates, or their fans.

Before everyone rolls their eyes (you probably already have) you have to understand that I am not saying that the loss last night wasn't a big deal or it should be just forgotten about, because it shouldn't. Along with the loss earlier in the year when Starling Marte dropped a routine fly ball and the Cardinals ended up winning the game. It's really just something that is going to stick in your side until the playoffs start. Just really tough to let go.

That being said there are still a lot of good things going on. Sitting back and letting things sink in I realized that the Pirates still have some pretty good things going for them despite giving away a three run lead last night to the Reds. Lets take a look at a few of those things:

1) The Pirates have a really really really really good chance of making the playoffs. I think this gets lost a little bit in the recent struggles (losing four of last five) but right now the Pirates magic number is four with eight games to play. That means the Nationals have to win all eight of their final games and the Pirates have to go 3-5 in order for them not to make the playoffs. I don't want to say that is impossible but the Nationals have three games against St. Louis and I highly doubt the Pirates are going to not win more than a game or two the rest of the year.

Granted, this sucks because the Pirates are in a really rough spot in the NL Central race being two games back. It would take a lot for the Pirates to catch the Cardinals considering the Pirates have five more games against the Reds but I think we are all bracing for a Wild Card game with the Reds. Now, the important thing that needs to happen is that the Pirates really should want this game to be at PNC Park. The Pirates are outstanding there and Great American Ball Park is a bandbox where I don't want to play a win or go home playoff game. Playing at PNC Park favors the Pirates and right now they are dead even with Cincinnati. This is what September is supposed to be about. This part brings me into the next point which is...

2) ...Francisco Liriano. Liriano was just deadly good last night against the Reds. He went eight innings and gave up only two runs on three hits. It was noted after the game that Liriano said that he was done after the eighth inning which should have been enough to get the win for the Pirates but it wasn't. That being said Liriano has been his best when he has went to the bump for a big game. This season against the Reds this season Liriano is holding them to a .193/.276/.352 line and if they are going to play in a Wild Card game then he is going to be on the bump and I am more than OK with the Pirates chances in that situation.

Sure, Liriano has been off a little bit but he has been good against the Reds this season and has held them to this:

Shin-Soo Choo 13 12 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 .083 .154 .083 .237
Brandon Phillips 12 11 3 0 0 0 1 1 3 .273 .333 .273 .606
Joey Votto 12 10 2 0 0 0 0 2 2 .200 .333 .200 .533
Jay Bruce 11 11 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 .000 .000 .000 .000
Zack Cozart 11 10 2 0 0 1 1 1 3 .200 .273 .500 .773
Todd Frazier 10 9 3 0 0 2 2 1 3 .333 .400 1.000 1.400
Devin Mesoraco 9 6 2 2 0 0 0 3 1 .333 .556 .667 1.222
Mike Leake 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Derrick Robinson 5 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .200 .200 .200 .400
Chris Heisey 4 3 2 0 0 1 2 1 1 .667 .750 1.667 2.417
Ryan Ludwick 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667
Mat Latos 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000
Total 98 88 17 2 0 4 7 10 28 .193 .276 .352 .628
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/21/2013.

Sure, those are really small sample sizes and I usually hate using that but in a one game playoff I want Liriano out there and if that is what it comes to then I feel really good about the Pirates chances. It isn't like Frank went out there and blew it last night, it was the complete opposite.

3) The Pirates have got to Mat Latos this season. I am not saying this because the Pirates have overly roughed him up, because they haven't, but in his last three starts against the Pirates he has only thrown 16 innings where he has given up 15 hits, nine runs, and walked nine. He has had a decent amount of strikeouts (15) but the Pirates have got to him early for some runs and made him throw a lot of pitches which is exactly what you want to do against the opposing teams staff ace.

Latos is most likely going to be the guy that gets that Wild Card playoff game and while Liriano has been really good against the Reds recently the Pirates have chipped away at Latos and that might give the offense the boost they need and the confidence they need.

4) Speaking of the offense, it was nice to see them break out of it again. After a pretty brutal week where they hit only .181/.236/.319 from September 12 through September 18 with only 38 hits in seven games. Some were wondering if the offense was ever going to bounce back but all they have done in the last two games is have a pair of 10+ hit games and scored 15 runs including the game last night.

Over the second half of the season, when you don't including the Pirates brutal hitting pitchers in the equation, the hitters have hit to a .261/.332/.421 which ranks 13th/10th/7th in the leagues (where no pitchers are included) which isn't one of the best but they have been pretty good. The bullpen hasn't been overly good and has cost the team a few games recently but I don't imagine Mark Melancon being that bad in every game from here on out. The offense is back to its normal self. That is a good thing.

5) Speaking of the offense the Pirates have a nice group of players in the outfield. Take these four players for example and try to figure out who they are:

Player A: .280/.341/.427/.338 wOBA

Player B: .279/.341/.438/.342

Player C: .323/.407/.517/.397

Player D: .287/.333/.510/.362

Player C is obviously Andrew McCutchen and Player D is Marlon Byrd who is hitting .301/.348/.470/.358 since joining the Pirates. But who are players A and B?

Player A is Jose Tabata and Player B is Starling Marte. I know it might be hard to believe but Tabata has had a pretty damn good season despite how people people perceive him to be. Now Marte gives you a lot more defensively and on the bases but maybe it is just me but he doesn't look like himself at the plate and his strikeout rate (and swing rate) have been really high this season. If he doesn't look comfortable I wouldn't mind at all if Tabata got some more playing time. I know that might sound crazy to read, and if I am thinking back in the season a little bit I would have probably slapped myself for saying that but Tabata has turned into a pretty good player.

So far in September, with Marte mostly on the DL, Tabata has hit .310/.344/.500 and is striking out less than 10% of his plate appearances. Sure, he isn't taking as many walks (3.2% in September) but his season walk rate of 7.3% isn't terrible. Tabata I think should be surprising a lot of people based on his last two years of performance but this should be a really good surprise as it gives the Pirates four good outfield options for the stretch run and eventual playoff push.

I am going to stop there but I think you get the point. Last night was a really bad game and really one of the worst loses this season. With the stakes on the season at this point in September it is not to say that a loss is really bad. That being said the Pirates are still in a really good place in terms of the playoffs and while the division crown isn't probable it is still within reach, at least mathematically.

It is very easy to wake up today and be pessimistic about the Pirates going forward and how the team is perceived but this is what September baseball is all about. The Pirates get to go against the team they are jockeying with for playoff position in five of the last eight games. I know it is hard to envision what meaningful games in September is supposed to be like but we are all here. They are going to be awesome and frustrating all at the same time and it's an awesome place to be.

Things could be much worse right now Pirates fans. We all know this from experience. While last night, and much of the last five games, have been more bad than good there are still a lot of good things going with the Pirates. The playoffs are coming. That makes me smile.

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