Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pirates Game 107 Recap - Pirates 5, Cardinals 4

Oh baby. Four straight wins in a five game series with a chance to sweep tomorrow. A chance to sweep a five game series. On a night where Jeff Locke had one of his more forgettable starts the Pirates bullpen and offense picked him up and when the Pirates tied the score at four you kinda had a feeling that despite the bad game they had played until this point there was a pretty good chance the Pirates were gonna win. They did thanks to Tony Watson, Vin Mazzaro, Neil Walker, Russell Martin, and everyone else on that team. Just awesome.

Locke wasn't really that good tonight. He was smacked around by the Cardinals to the tune of ten hits and four runs over only four innings of work. He did strike out six but he was dinked and dunked to death and this might be a little bit of the regression that was supposed to be coming a long time ago. All things told he is pretty lucky that he wasn't torched for some more runs and actually can be commended for not giving up seven or eight runs in his four innings of work.

Watson and Mazzaro were really the unheralded story of the night. They each went two innings of work and combined to strike out four Cardinals, give up only three hits and didn't surrender a run. Both of those guys can be a little up and down at times but it was massively big for them to give four shutout innings to give the offense the time to get those last few runs.

Speaking of the offense, much of this year we have spent giving the offense a really hard time, and with good reason. They haven't been that great and for a lot of the games the pitching has really held serve and picked up the hitting. In my opinion the hitting picked up the pitching (namely Locke) tonight. The Cardinals got two in the first but the Pirates were able to score a run in their half of the first. The Cardinals got a run each in the third and fourth inning but each time the Pirates came back and matched the run they gave up the inning before. In the fifth inning they tied the game and then in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on second Martin singled up the middle to score Walker and that was all she wrote. Typically when you hear about an offense picking up the pitching staff you expect a ton of hits and a ton of runs but what the Pirates did tonight was keep things close despite the Cardinals offense waking up a little. The Pirates were going up against the Cardinals ace and it didn't matter.

Walker is probably the MVP of the game. I have been pretty hard on Walker as most of you probably know but tonight he really was the catalyst for the offense. He went deep in the third inning to make the score 3-2 and then in a play that you don't normally see he tagged up from first on a long fly out by Pedro Alvarez to get to second base with two outs. Why was that important? Because Martin was the next batter up and singled him home for the game winning run. Little things like that make a huge difference in close games and the little things are why the Pirates won.

Clint Barmes continues to swing a pretty good stick. He was 2-for-3 tonight for his second three hit night in his last three starts. Couple that with some really outstanding defense and you can't really complain when you see his name in the eight spot.

The Cardinals had 13 hits on the night but only one of those went for extra bases. The Cardinals left 11 runners on base and went 4-for-14 which is a ton better than they have been doing over their extended losing streak. Despite all of that the Pirates still managed to stick around long enough to get those few big hits and it turned into a win.

Five game series don't happen all that often and while I don't have the information in front of me I would gather to say that a five game series sweep isn't all that common. The Pirates are now 23 games over .500 and 2.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and still have the best record in all of baseball. I have no idea what is going on but this is awesome. Really awesome.

Pirates Game 107 Preview - vs. St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:00 p.m.
Adam Wainwright (13-6, 2.51) vs. Jeff Locke (9-3, 2.15)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 6-2)
April 15, 2013 - St. Louis 10, Pittsburgh 6
April 17, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 0
April 26, 2013 - St. Louis 9, Pittsburgh 1
April 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 3
April 28, 2013 - Pittsburgh 9, St. Louis 0
July 29, 2013 - Pittsburgh 9, St. Louis 2
July 30, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, St. Louis 1 (11 inn.)
July 30, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, St. Louis 0


Lineups

Pirates (64-42)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 3
7. Presley 9
8. Barmes 6
9. Locke 1

Cardinals (62-43)
1. Jay 8
2. Beltran 9
3. Craig 3
4. Holliday 7
5. Freese 5
6. Descalso 4
7. Cruz 2
8. Kozma 6
9. Wainwright 1

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pirates Game 106 Recap - Pirates 6, Cardinals 0

There are some things that are hard to do in baseball. One of them is sweep a series, it doesn't matter if it is three games or four games and it doesn't matter how bad the team is you are playing it is hard to take all the games in a series against another major league team. The other thing that is hard to do is sweep a doubleheader. Almost in the same mold as a series that is a lot of baseball in one day and more often than not one team is going to win one game and the other team will win the other. I have no stats to back this up or hard hitting analysis but that just seems to be the way baseball goes. If this were a three game series the Pirates would have a sweep and they did win both games of a doubleheader today. That is impressive.

The Pirates kept it pretty mum on who was going to be throwing game two and when it finally came back that they were going to call Brandon Cumpton up there wasn't really much I thought about it. He was alright in his few starts for the Pirates already this season but was pretty much good for five innings and then you really had to worry about him. Well, tonight against one of the best offense in baseball all he did was go out and throw seven shutout innings where he struck out five, walked one and only gave up five hits. He threw only 87 pitches with 65 of them coming for strikes. He doesn't overwhelm you with great stuff but he was pounding the zone tonight and hitting his spots and not giving into any of the Cardinals hitters. After the great start by A.J. Burnett in the first game you kinda felt like you were playing with house money in game two and if Cumpton could give you five or six good innings then you might have a chance. Well, he gave them way more than that and should really be applauded in a big way for winning this game.

While the offense was a little out to lunch in game one they came through and backed Cumpton, even though he didn't really need all that much. The Pirates scored in the second on a Yadier Molina and the game stayed that close until the Pirates put up a huge three spot in the fifth inning capped off by a two run home run by Andrew McCutchen that was pretty much pushed over the wall by Matt Holliday:



Oh man, Mr. Holliday was not made for left field at PNC Park. He was just brutally bad out there tonight.

Gaby Sanchez and Tony Sanchez knocked in a few more runs for good measure in the seventh inning but by that time the game was pretty much already over. The Cardinals offense has been just putrid recently. The had only three hits the entire night and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. You know how bad it has gotten? This:



Woof.

The Pirates collected 11 hits today and six of them went for extra bases including three tripes (Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Josh Harrison). The really remarkable thing about the game was that the Pirates scored a 6-0 victory despite going only 1-of-14 with runners in scoring position. With how many extra base hits they had it's almost unbelievable they only had one hit with a runner in scoring position.

The Pirates have already won the series and have to more to go against the Cardinals. They are 1.5 games up on the Cardinals in the NL Central and currently have the best record in baseball. It's July 30. Oh baby.

Pirates Game 105 Recap - Pirates 2, Cardinals 1 (11 inn.)

Probably the biggest thing that both teams needed in the first game of a doubleheader in the middle of a rare five game series is that the starting pitchers needed to go deep in the game and give the bullpen a rest as the game two starters are call-ups. Both A.J. Burnett and Lance Lynn did that and while the game went to extras and forced both teams to use more arms than they probably wanted to it was the Pirates who were able to get that one break and that break turned into a win in the 11th inning.

I admit that I have not always been the biggest fan of A.J. Burnett but he was outstanding tonight. He wasn't quite as great at Francisco Liriano was last night (in my opinion) but this was a great start. I only say I haven't been a fan since I have always had a problem with Burnett not going deep into games and again today he was up around 60 pitches through three innings and it looked like he was going to be lucky to get through five innings. Burnett is a really good pitcher and has been great for the Pirates since he came over a year ago but sometimes I feel like he relies a little too much on the strikeout and has never been consistent in getting deep in games. Today he did and it was much needed. Maybe nothing was better than the sixth inning to illustrate what he is all about. Jon Jay led the inning off and struck out and while he swung and missed the ball hit him in the leg and went near the dugout. Home plate umpire Eric Cooper said it didn't hit Jay and it was just a passed ball. No other umpire saw it and while Russell Martin was arguing with Cooper Jay went to second base.

Now this was really on Martin as he has to go get that ball and worry about arguing later but the fact still remained this it was a brutal call that put Jay on second base with no outs. To further trouble Burnett's next pitch was pretty close to on the black on the outside corner and he didn't get the call. Burnett threw his arms in the air a bit (which he shouldn't have done) but Cooper took exception and nearly charged the mound as he was yelling at Burnett. Martin had to almost hold him back and while this was going on third base umpire Jeff Kellogg tried to come and talk to Burnett but he waved him off and was visibly pissed (as I would have been). I was a bit worried that Burnett might unravel with the emotions but all he did was get out of the inning without Jay even reaching third base. Just a huge momentum switch and really, really fun to watch.

Burnett finished the game going seven innings and throwing 113 pitches and striking out nine while walking three and giving up only three hits. The Pirates got another strong start and while the offense wasn't doing much against Lynn Burnett gave the team a chance. The Pirates picked him up in the 11th and while he didn't earn the win he probably should have.

The bullpen really wasn't great but they were able to do just enough. Mark Melancon was his usual stud self and Justin Wilson was good in pumping in consistent 99 mph fastballs to Cardinals hitters but Bryan Morris and Vin Mazzaro really struggled and thanks to some good defense they were able to escape.

I am not really that big of an Alex Presley fan but he has played pretty well all over the outfield for the Pirates. Yesterday he was able to contribute with a RBI hit late and today he was facing a lefty and hit a ball right back up the middle, off his glove and into left field to score Martin and walk it off for the Pirates. He has some decent speed and can play decent defense so with the lack of consistency from Travis Snider and Jose Tabata you can't really have a problem with running him out there.

Thanks in large part to Burnett the Cardinals were held to only 1-of-10 hitting with runners in scoring position. They also stranded three runners on third base from the third inning on. For a team that has been lauded for their great performance with runners on second and/or third (rightfully so) they have been held in check so far this series.

Really good win for the Pirates. Before the series I thought if the Pirates could get two wins they would be more than alright going forward, but after taking the first two games it has you also feeling anything less than a series win would be a pretty big disappointment.

Onto game two!

Pirates Game 106 Preview - vs. St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates - 8:30 p.m.
Tyler Lyons (2-3, 5.51) vs. Brandon Cumpton (0-1, 4.02)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 5-2)
April 15, 2013 - St. Louis 10, Pittsburgh 6
April 17, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 0
April 26, 2013 - St. Louis 9, Pittsburgh 1
April 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 3
April 28, 2013 - Pittsburgh 9, St. Louis 0
July 29, 2013 - Pittsburgh 9, St. Louis 2
July 30, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, St. Louis 1 (11 inn.)


Lineups

Pirates (63-42)
1. Marte 7
2. Mercer 6
3. McCutchen 8
4. G. Sanchez 3
5. Alvarez 5
6. T. Sanchez 2
7. Tabata 9
8. Harrison 4
9. Cumpton 1

Cardinals (62-42)
1. Carpenter 4
2. Jay 8
3. Holliday 7
4. Craig 9
5. Molina 2
6. Adams 3
7. Freese 5
8. Kozma 6
9. Lyons 1

Pirates Game 105 Preview - vs. St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates - 4:05 p.m.
Lance Lynn (12-5, 3.98) vs. A.J. Burnett (4-7, 2.96)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 4-2)
April 15, 2013 - St. Louis 10, Pittsburgh 6
April 17, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 0
April 26, 2013 - St. Louis 9, Pittsburgh 1
April 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 3
April 28, 2013 - Pittsburgh 9, St. Louis 0
July 29, 2013 - Pittsburgh 9, St. Louis 2


Lineups

Pirates (62-42)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 3
7. Presley 9
8. Barmes 6
9. Burnett 1

Cardinals (62-41)
1. Carpenter 4
2. Jay 8
3. Holliday 7
4. Beltran 9
5. Adams 3
6. Cruz 2
7. Descalso 5
8. Kozma 6
9. Lynn 1

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pirates Game 104 Recap - Pirates 9, Cardinals 2

Man, this was a fun game to watch. The Pirates just lost a series to one of the worst teams in the league (although Miami has been playing better of late) and they were going to play five games against one of the best teams in all of baseball. All the Pirates did was come out and open up a can against that team and pick up a pretty important win.

Now, all wins are important and no matter who you beat the win counts the same. Before tonight the Cardinals were 1.5 games up on the Pirates and while a lot of people are talking this season up as "the biggest series in [insert something ridiculous]" I think it would be foolish to say this wasn't a big series to measure where you are as we get ready for down the stretch run. The Pirates could only win one game in this five game series and they would still be alright, but nobody wants to see that. What the Pirates did tonight was win that one game and set themselves up to try and pick up a series win and possibly lead the NL Central after these five games. They are still a half game back but picking up this first win was pretty big, especially with a double header tomorrow.

Francisco Liriano was just outstanding tonight. He started to lose it a little in the seventh inning but was able to gut that out to go seven strong, giving up only four hits and a run while striking out eight. The Cardinals didn't get their first hit until the fourth inning. His pitches were moving a lot and many of those eight strikeouts were on pitches that weren't even close to being in the zone. Allen Craig has been pretty outstanding all season and Liriano got him to strike out three times while Yadier Molina struck out twice when facing Frank. He is the best pitcher on this staff and while he can lose his control/focus from time-to-time he still give the Pirates an outstanding chance to win every single time he's on the bump.

A game can't be won in the first inning but you sure can put yourself in a great position to win it. The Pirates did that. Jake Westbrook has been pretty awful against the Pirates and he started the game by walking Jose Tabata, hitting Neil Walker, giving up a run scoring single to Andrew McCutchen, and then missing his spot by a good bit and giving up a three run bomb to Pedro Alvarez. 4-0 Pirates before an out was recorded. That is exactly how you come out of the gates in a big series like this.

Westbrook actually settled down (relatively speaking) as the game went on but he threw so many pitches that it really didn't matter. The Pirates actually were held at bay for a while despite getting a good bit of runners on base. It was the seventh inning that they finally put the game away with five runs on four hits with a Gaby Sanchez sacrifice fly (!!!!), Alex Presley single, a Clint Barmes double, and a Starling Marte pinch hit single. Everyone came to the party.

Some were questioning what Clint Hurdle was doing sitting Jordy Mercer for Barmes but Barmes has actually been hitting pretty well. Coming into the game he was hitting .279/.367/.349 with a 12% walk rate (!!!!). He has been good enough to be on the field and with good defense I think I have no problem with him getting more at bats even though Mercer has played really well this year. All Barmes did today was double twice and drive home two runs.

The Pirates went 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position and drove in four runs with two outs. Good stuff on that front.

Again, this game isn't the end all be all for the season in terms of these five games but this was a really good start for the Pirates.

Pirates Game 104 Preview - vs. St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:05 p.m.
Jake Westbrook (7-4, 2.95) vs. Francisco Liriano (10-4, 2.33)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 3-2)
April 15, 2013 - St. Louis 10, Pittsburgh 6
April 17, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 0
April 26, 2013 - St. Louis 9, Pittsburgh 1
April 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, St. Louis 3
April 28, 2013 - Pittsburgh 9, St. Louis 0


Lineups

Pirates (61-42)
1. Tabata 9
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 3
7. Presley 7
8. Barmes 6
9. Liriano 1

Cardinals (62-40)
1. Carpenter 4
2. Beltran 9
3. Holliday 7
4. Craig 3
5. Molina 2
6. Freese 5
7. Robinson 8
8. Kozma 6
9. Westbrook 1

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pirates Game 103 Recap - Marlins 3, Pirates 2

Sometimes you win (last night), sometimes you lose when you shouldn't (Friday night), and sometimes the other teams pitcher is just really, really good and he dominates you. That last part pretty much summed it up today. 20 year old Jose Fernandez took it to the Pirates and went eight innings while striking out 13 Pirates and after giving up a pair of runs in the second inning just cruised through the rest of the game. Gerrit Cole went for the Pirates and while he was good Fernandez was just better.

As I said, Cole was pretty good today. He went seven innings and while he gave up three runs he surrendered only four hits and struck out eight while walking two. He was throwing some nasty pitches and most things were working well for him today. Things got away from him in the fourth inning when he gave up a pair of runs but he bounced back with a six pitch fifth inning so it looked like he might be able to hold off the Marlins for the rest of the time he was in the game. Problem was he made one more mistake and that mistake went 415 feet off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton. Ballgame.

Not much else to say from this game. The Pirates really needed to at least win this series as the Cardinals and Reds have been dropping some games but they were unable to do so. Pretty big series coming up against the Cardinals starting tomorrow. Five games including a double header on Tuesday. Should be fun.

Pirates Game 103 Preview - @ Miami Marlins

Pittsburgh Pirates at Miami Marlins - 1:10 p.m.
Gerrit Cole (5-3, 3.51) vs. Jose Fernandez (6-5, 2.74)

Season Series (Tied 1-1)
July 26, 2013 - Miami 2, Pittsburgh 0
July 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 7, Miami 4


Lineups

Pirates (61-41)
1. Marte 8
2. Tabata 7
3. Walker 4
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 9
7. G. Sanchez 3
8. Barmes 6
9. Cole 1

Marlins (39-63)
1. Hechavarria 6
2. Yelich 7
3. Stanton 9
4. Morrison 3
5. Lucas 5
6. Solano 4
7. Marisnick 8
8. Mathis 2
9. Fernandez 1

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pirates Game 102 Recap - Pirates 7, Marlins 4

In some ways this was exactly what you expected from the Pirates when they played the Marlins and in some ways this was exactly what you didn't want to happen from the Pirates when they played the Marlins. All things told today the good outweighed the bad and the Pirates came away with a 7-4 win and coupled with a Cardinals loss (finally) they are able to gain a game and keep things interesting.

Over much of the recent past I have been all over the offense (as I should have been) for how bad they were. Today they were the highlight of the game. The Pirates pounded out 14 hits and went 6-of-17 with runners in scoring position. As bad as the Pirates have been with RISP they regressed to the mean (in a good way) and got it taken care of tonight. In the first inning they started the game with back-to-back doubles and scored three runs and really set the tone offensively in the win.

Travis Snider and Jordy Mercer were the only starters not to record a hit and they hit in the seventh and eighth spot in the order so that puts in perspective what the offense did tonight. Actually Pedro Alvarez was the only of the other six position players to get a hit that only had one hit on the night. That is what I am talking about. That is what you expect when you play the Marlins.

What you don't expect when you play the Marlins is letting them get back into the game after you take a substantial lead. The Bucs got out to an early 3-0 lead but they gave one of the runs back in the bottom of the first inning. Not terrible but when you throw up a crooked number the thing you want to do is put a zero in the next half inning. The second inning was scoreless but the Bucs offense was able to put up two more runs in the top of the third inning to take a 5-1 lead and most people (myself included) thought this game was pretty much over. The problem was that the Marlins didn't as they got three runs in the bottom of the third inning thanks to a pair of errors from the Pirates and five hits from the Marlins.

Luckily Charlie Morton was able to settle down the the Pirates were able to add on two more runs at the end of the night to give them some room for mistake that they wouldn't need.

It is really hard to figure out Morton. At points he looks like he is the guy that we all want him to be and then at other times he looks rather ordinary. Tonight he wasn't good and he wasn't bad, he was just ordinary. He was only able to go five innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on nine hits. The good thing was that he didn't walk a single batter and he struck out six but you need to get more than five innings out of a starter. He gave up almost two hits an inning and really didn't wow you like he has at some points this season. The Pirates won so it really doesn't much matter to me but I would like to see a little more from Chuck. the defense wasn't good behind him but nine hits in five innings isn't good.

You know who had a great night? Michael McKenry. He went 4-for-5 and while he was injured later in the game he really gutted it out and finished the game thanks to Russell Martin being out due to a bummed knee (that isn't thought to be serious). I know some people are really going to try and talk themselves into being all about McKenry after tonight but I think we need to keep this in perspective. He had a really good night but this is more of an outlier than it is something that we should expect going forward. I think this tweet from Tim Williams really said it all:



McKenry probably isn't one of the best 25 that should be on the big club and that doesn't change after the game tonight. He seems like a great guy and a person that all clubhouses would like to have but his talent just isn't there. If he could play some defense then I could understand it, but he can't. I think of it like this, if Martin would go down in a Wild Card playoff game would you feel great about McKenry being behind the plate? I wouldn't. Maybe Tony Sanchez wouldn't do great but I think I would rather have him in that position than McKenry. Again, he had a really good night and that was a big reason the Pirates won tonight but that should be the extent of how we look into this, just tonight.

Starling Marte is a frustrating player to watch for me. If he was even close to average in in plate discipline he would be an unreal player. He still has been really good this year but I brought this up at during the game tonight and I think this is where it is tough to watch Marte in the leadoff spot:





Look, Marte is an unreal talent and is wildly exciting to watch but if he is going to leadoff for the Pirates he is going to have to start being better at the plate. His on base percentage is largely tied to his batting average and that isn't a good thing. He does get hit by a pitches a good bit but that doesn't make up for his ability to not take a walk and swinging at way too many pitches outside of the zone. I like Marte but for him to be more successful he has to work on this and get closer to the league average. I am not sure he can do this but if he does he could probably be close to a McCutchen like player with a little less power, better defensive ability and offer a ton more stolen bases.

Neil Walker is a guy I am not really high on but he had a night tonight. He had a hit in his first three at bats (I think) and ended the night 3-for-5. He is a guy that if he can get his bat going, even if only on the left handed side, it could be a massive plus for the Pirates offense going forward.

Good win for the Pirates. Win the series tomorrow.

Pirates Game 102 Preview - @ Miami Marlins

Pittsburgh Pirates at Miami Marlins - 7:10 p.m.
Charlie Morton (2-2, 3.35) vs. Tom Koehler (2-5, 4.38)

Season Series (Miami leads 1-0)
July 26, 2012 - Miami 2, Pittsburgh 0


Lineups

Pirates (60-41)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Jones 3
6. McKenry 2
7. Snider 9
8. Mercer 6
9. Morton 1

Marlins (39-62)
1. Hechavarria 6
2. Yelich 7
3. Stanton 9
4. Morrison 3
5. Solano 4
6. Polanco 5
7. Marisnick 8
8. Brantly 2
9. Koehler 1

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pirates Game 101 Recap - Marlins 2, Pirates 0

Coming into the night I really didn't think the Pirates were going to get shutout by the Marlins. The problem is that the Pirates got shutout by the Marlins. The Marlins scored two runs and the Pirates scored zero runs. That blows.

The offense couldn't get anything done and only had five hits all night and while Jeff Locke tap danced around trouble for much of the night he couldn't keep the Marlins off the board.

Locke is a guy that I have no idea how to read. He struck out nine hitters tonight in 6.2 innings of work but he also walked six. The big blow came in the sixth inning when Locke walked both the seventh and eighth batters with one out and then gave up an infield single to Placido Polanco to plate the eventual game-winning run. I am actually surprised that this hasn't happened more to Locke this season but when you don't throw strikes and put runners on for free this is what happens.

Really not much else to say. The Pirates offense wasn't good but they had a pretty good series against Washington so I am will to chalk this game up to the tone of "shit happens." Sometimes you are going to win games and sometimes you aren't, tonight was the latter. People are going to jump on this loss because the Marlins suck but they have won games before and they will win more games after this one. The Pirates win the next two and things will be good.

Pirates Game 101 Preview - @ Miami Marlins

Pittsburgh Pirates at Miami Marlins - 7:10 p.m.
Jeff Locke (9-2, 2.11) vs. Henderson Alvarez (0-1, 3.28)


Lineups

Pirates (60-40)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 9
7. Sanchez 3
8. Mercer 6
9. Locke 1

Marlins (38-62)
1. Hechavarria 6
2. Yelich 7
3. Stanton 9
4. Lucas 5
5. Morrison 3
6. Solano 4
7. Marisnick 8
8. Mathis 2
9. Alvarez 1

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pirates Game 100 Recap - Nationals 9, Pirates 7

Last night in the recap I talked about how hard it is for the Pirates, or any team, to sweep a four game series and today's Pirates game and performance. The Pirates hadn't swept a four game series on the road since 1997 and while the Pirates have got just about every break in the series they couldn't overcome a really brutal first inning where A.J. Burnett gave up four hits and the Pirates defense committed three errors and put them on the wrong side by four runs at the onset and while they were able to square the game in the ninth inning it was too little, too late.

I didn't get to see the first inning but after that pretty terrible inning Burnett seemed to bounce back to some degree. He did give up a lot of base runners in the first inning but from inning two through seven he gave up only five hits and one walk. Burnett hasn't been as good as you would want him to be and while he was generally good today he had one bad inning and in the end that cost the Pirates the game. I was actually surprised he got through seven innings as he has a propensity to throw a lot of pitches but he was able to keep the game at a four run deficit and give the Pirates a chance to come back. At one point he escaped a bases loaded, no out jam with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout.

This was a little bit of a weird game. As I said above the Pirates got behind 4-0 in the first inning but chipped away the Nationals lead to only one run by the sixth inning thanks to a two run bomb from Josh Harrison in the sixth. That pretty much got the Pirates square and really had you feeling that they were going to win. Unfortunately for the Pirates Vin Mazzaro had a rare night where he wasn't good and gave up three runs in the eighth inning to stretch the lead back to four for the Nationals. In the top of the ninth the top of the order was up and it got really interesting. The Pirates ended up scoring a few runs and got the bases loaded with two outs, down by two. Harrison came up and wacked a 2-2 pitch back up the middle to plate a pair of runs and tie the game. Just unreal what this team can do. Bottom of the ninth though and drove a pitch from Bryan Morris into the left centerfield seats for a walk-off. Losses suck.

While the loss stings this kind of game really is what the Pirate team is all about. Twice they were down four runs and both times they battled back to make a game of it and then tie it. Down by four runs in the ninth inning is not something that any team, or fan, feels good about but with this team you always have the feeling that if they can get a guy or two on early they can make something happen.

Jordy Mercer continues to swing a pretty good bat. He completed a 3-for-4 night with a couple of doubles and a walk. He wasn't performing very well offensively but has bounced back nicely the last week or so and that is good to see. While Clint Barmes has been swinging a decent bat I think we all know that probably won't last and to get some good games from Mercer makes me feel much better.

The top of the Nationals lineup killed the Pirates today. The 1-4 hitters combined to go 11-for-19 with six runs scored.

While the Pirates lost this game I still think this is successful series winning 3-of-4. While the Pirates have got to 21 game over .500 they have never been able to get to 22 wins over. I think these are the kind of problems that good teams normall have. This is weird.

Pirates Game 100 Preview - @ Washington Nationals

Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals - 12:35 p.m.
A.J. Burnett (4-7, 3.07) vs. Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.89)

Season series (Pittsburgh leads 4-2)
May 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Washington 1
May 4, 2013 - Washington 5, Pittsburgh 4
May 5, 2013 - Washington 6, Pittsburgh 2
July 22, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Washington 5
July 23, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Washington 1
July 24, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Washington 2


Lineups

Pirates (60-39)
1. Marte LF
2. Mercer 2B
3. McCutchen CF
4. Martin C
5. Alvarez 3B
6. Sanchez 1B
7. Harrison RF
8. Barmes SS
9. Burnett P

Nationals (48-53)
1. Harper 7
2. Rendon 6
3. Zim 5
4. LaRoche 3
5. Werth 9
6. Span 8
7. Lombardozzi 4
8. Suzuki 2
9. Gonzalez 1

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pirates Game 99 Recap - Pirates 4, Nationals 2

Strong pitching and timely offense, that is what the Pirates do. While it is not ideal to rely on your pitching staff to make one and two run games hold but that is how it has been for much of this year and it worked again tonight. Francisco Liriano was pitching really well and the Pirates got a second inning run and then added three more in the ninth to ice it away. Winning is fun.

Liriano was really, really good tonight. Fresh off his worst outing of the year against the Reds on Friday night he put up one of his better outings of the season tonight. The Pirates needed it. He started the game off with a four pitch walk to Nationals leadoff hitter Scott Hairston and then all he did was go in complete shutdown mode. he didn't allow a hit until the seventh inning and allowed only two hits on the night. He struck out eight batters, including Hairston with one out and a runner on second base in the eighth inning on a 3-2 slider that was in the bottom half and might have been his best pitch of the night. He did walk three batters but when you have the stuff he did tonight and only give up two hits that isn't too much of a concern. He utilized a pretty good change-up and continued his progression in peppering the zone with his slider rather than only being able to use it as an out pitch. His fastball has been really good as he hit 97 tonight on one of his fastballs and consistently sat around 94. I think a lot of people are waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of his performance but outside of his last start he has been nothing less than excellent so far. I admit that I get a little worried when he throws up a few walks here and there and temporarily loses control of his command but right now he is the staff ace.

The offense was once again pretty bad. It must be noted that the Nationals had Stephen Strasburg was on the bump and he was really good tonight despite some struggles this season. He has three plus pitches and isn't afraid to use any of them. The Pirates have always struggled with him as he has struck out 12 hitters or more four times in his career and he has struck out the Pirates 12 times or more three times. Strasburg made one mistake when he left a 97 mph fastball over the outer half and Pedro Alvarez made sure that he paid for it. That was in the second inning and while the Pirates only had one other hit in the game against Strasburg Liriano was able to make it stand until the Nationals had to go to the pen and that is when the Pirates cashed in some insurance.

The offense wasn't very good against Strasburg but they were able to scratch home a run (so to speak) and have a lead despite Strasburg pitching really well. Once Strasburg came out after eight innings the Pirates were able to get the insurance run they badly needed. The Pirates had two hits heading into the ninth inning and they got three in the ninth inning alone. The offense wasn't good tonight but they did enough and jumped on the pen when they finally got to it with three runs to all but put the game away.

Speaking of Alvarez, he just looks so much better. I think we are really seeing him evolve as a hitter. When he first came up he would have his hot and cold streaks but normally his cold streaks far outweighed his hot streaks. That hasn't been the case recently. It seems that his hot streaks have been getting longer and longer as he has evolved as a hitter and it is really good to see. Don't ask me how as Trib beat writer Travis Sawchik sent out this tweet after the home run:


Whatever the case I don't care. You can try to rationalize what Alvarez is but I don't think anyone really knows. Since the middle of last season to now Pedro has had two really good, long streak and one bad streak (the start to this year) so you can say the he has been doing a lot more good than bad. As long as he keeps giving good at bats and working the entire field I must say that he has played really well this year.

So the Pirates won the series heading into the last game. A three game sweep is really tough to do which makes winning four straight games in a series really, really tough. The Pirates put themselves in that position tonight and a sweep of the Nats not only would propel the Pirates into a strong winning streak heading to Miami but it would really put the Nationals behind the eight-ball more than they already were. Finish them.

Pirates Game 99 Preview - @ Washington Nationals

Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals - 7:05 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (9-4, 2.44) vs. Stephen Strasburg (5-7, 2.97)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 3-2)
May 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Washington 1
May 4, 2013 - Washington 5, Pittsburgh 4
May 5, 2013 - Washington 6, Pittsburgh 2
July 22, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Washington 5
July 23, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Washington 1


Lineups

Pirates (59-39)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Jones 3
6. Snider 9
7. McKenry 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Liriano 1

Nationals (48-52)
1. Hairston 7
2. Rendon 6
3. Zimmerman 5
4. Werth 9
5. LaRoche 3
6. Ramos 2
7. Span 8
8. Lombardozzi 4
9. Strasburg 1

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pirates Game 98 Recap - Pirates 5, Nationals 1

Well for all of those people that are worried about the collapse the Pirates are doing a pretty bad job of letting them have their fun. After dropping the first two games after the break the Pirates have won the next three games and now are back at 20 games over .500 and keeping pace with both the Cardinals and Reds in what is becoming a very good season. This was a rally nice game from start to finish for the Pirates coupled with some key hits and a solid pitching performance from Gerrit Cole.

This was one of Cole's most complete games of the season. He didn't really wow you with a ton of strikeouts and he did struggle with his control some but he got a ton of ground balls and only gave up a few hard hit balls. Hell, he only gave up two hits to the Nationals through his seven innings of work. He struck out seven and allowed only one walk. It was just a really good outing for Cole. What was even funnier is that Cole had two hits on the day including a two out hit that plated a run in the three run Pirates second inning. Cole hasn't always been on top of his game this year, usually having one bad inning, but this wasn't one of those games.

The Pirates offense did a pretty good job tonight. They had a couple of hits with runners in scoring position (2-for-9) and only struck out six times while gathering ten hits. They got three runs in the second inning and made it stand. The Pirates pitching staff has been unreal good so the Pirates don't need to have 15 or 16 hits a night, they just need to drive in four or five runs and they are going to win a lot of games.

The middle of the order really did work for the Pirates tonight. Pedro Alvarez was 2-for-4 and hit his 25th home run of the season in the eighth inning to give the pitching staff some breathing room while Russell Martin went 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored. In the eighth after Alvarez's home run he single through the left side then stole second and went to third on a bad throw then scored on a Gaby Sanchez double. That eighth inning from those two guys really put the game away when it was still very much in doubt despite a really great outing from Cole.

Cole with ten ground ball outs and six fly outs. I can deal with that.

Good for the Pirates to get the win here with the next two games going against Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

Pirates Game 98 Preview - @ Washington Nationals

Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals - 7:05 p.m.
Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.89) vs. Taylor Jordan (0-2, 3.32)

Season Series (Tied 2-2)
May 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Washington 1
May 4, 2013 - Washington 5, Pittsburgh 4
May 5, 2013 - Washington 6, Pittsburgh 2
July 22, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Washington 5


Lineups

Pirates (58-39)
1. Marte 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 3
7. Walker 4
8. Mercer 6
9. Cole 1

Nationals (48-51)
1. Harper 7
2. Rendon 4
3. Zimmerman 5
4. LaRoche 3
5. Werth 9
6. Desmond 6
7. Span 8
8. Ramos 2
9. Jordan 1

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pirates Game 97 Recap - Pirates 6, Nationals 5

Good to be back after a vacation weekend which included a game in Cincinnati. Now we are back to real life and while the Pirates lost a few series recently they got a good win in the series finale against the Reds and then held on against the Nationals in Washington in the first game of a four game set. It all wasn't good and the Pirates are still struggling in some aspects but I will take a win every day of the week, no matter how they come.

Before we get to much about the game the huge story out of the game was that it seems as if Jason Grilli might have an injury. Well, he probably does have an injury to his right arm but nobody has any idea how bad it may or may not be. Twitter is abuzz with the seriousness that most people think it is (career ending) and there are others who think he could possibly be alright (not many people actually think this) and I am sure it will be somewhere in between. I highly doubt anyone knows anything tonight and probably won't until he gets a MRI but here is to hoping it is on the better side of the possibilities. While I personally think that the Pirates could survive without Grilli that doesn't mean that losing one of your top relievers isn't a big deal.

On the happy side of the equation the Pirates got a monster night from Andrew McCutchen. He went 2-for-4 which isn't anything that will make your eyes pop out but in his first two at bats he went deep for two run shots each time and was a huge reason the Pirates were able to take a 5-0 lead after four innings of play. While there are some people who are really appreciate how good Cutch has been so far this season but a lot of people really aren't taking notice because he hasn't been as good as he was last year. He is now hitting .307/.379/.504 and is one of the top position players in the entire league. He will soon be in the MVP discussion if he isn't already. Think about this, Cutch is due an average of about $12M a year for the next five years thanks to his contract extension, think about what he could get if he just went through arbitration and hit free agency. He would have, as the kids like to say, all the money.

Charlie Morton was a little hot and cold tonight. He was about as good as I have ever seen him for the first four innings as he allowed only one base runner (I think) and was throwing pitches that nobody would be able to hit. The movement he was getting on his pitches was just unreal and he was able to get both righties and lefties out. The fifth inning he started to lose it a bit. He gave up a solo home run to Adam LaRoche and then after a decent sixth inning gave up a two run bomb to Jason Werth to make the score 5-3. All-in-all it was a pretty good start for Chuck as I think any of us will take an outing of 6.2 with only giving up three runs. If he can harness more of what he had in innings 1-4 then he could be a dangerous starter the rest of the season.

You know who had a really nice night at the plate tonight? Jordy Mercer. Every single one of his five plate appearances were great and he saw 29 pitches in his five plate appearances. Just really outstanding stuff tonight. Clint Barmes also had a nice night with two (!!!!) walks and has generally looked good in the last couple of weeks. This gives the Pirates a good problem in that you could really make a case for either guy playing at shortstop when Neil Walker comes back (possibly tomorrow). What it could do is give you a nice option against lefties (which Walker does not do well again) to play Mercer at second and Barmes as short as long as Barmes can give you something with the bat. Time will tell.

The Pirates were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. What sucks is that the Pirates haven't been coming through with runners in scoring position but while this isn't ideal I don't think it is a problem that any one thing is going to fix. In my opinion this is just something that will eventually come around and just like the current 30 game streak without a sacrifice fly they will start hitting better with RISP.

The big news tomorrow is obviously going to be the Grilli news. I am a little more optimistic than most and here is to hoping I am right.

Pirates Game 97 Preview - @ Washington Nationals

Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals - 7:05 p.m.
Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.19) vs. Dan Haren (4-10, 5.61)

Season Series (Washington leads 2-1)
May 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Washington 1
May 4, 2013 - Washington 5, Pittsburgh 4
May 5, 2013 - Washington 6, Pittsburgh 2


Lineups

Pirates (57-39)
1. Marte 7
2. Mercer 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 9
7. Sanchez 3
8. Barmes 6
9. Morton 1

Nationals (48-50)
1. Harper 7
2. Rendon 4
3. Zimmerman 5
4. LaRoche 3
5. Werth 9
6. Desmond 6
7. Span 8
8. Ramos 2
9. Haren 1

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pirates Game 96 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 1:10 p.m.
Jeff Locke (8-2, 2.15) vs. Homer Bailey (5-8, 3.82)

Season Series (Tied 6-6)
April 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5
April 13, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 1
April 14, 2013 - Pittsburgh 10, Cincinnati 7
May 31, 2013 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 0
June 1, 2013 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 0
June 2, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5. Cincinnati 4
June 17, 2013 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 1
June 18, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 0
June 19, 2013 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 1
June 20, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Cincinnati 3
July 19, 2013 - Cincinnati 5, Pittsburgh 3
July 20, 2013 - Cincinnati 5, Pittsburgh 4


Lineups

Pirates (56-39)
1. Marte 7
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. McKenry 2
6. Jones 3
7. Mercer 4
8. Barmes 6
9. Locke 1

Reds (55-42)
1. Choo 8
2. Heisey 7
3. Votto 3
4. Phillips 4
5. Bruce 8
6. Frazier 5
7. Cozart 6
8. Miller 2
9. Bailey 1

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pirates Game 95 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 4:05 p.m.
A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.06) vs. Mat Latos (8-3, 3.53)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 6-5)
April 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5
April 13, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 1
April 14, 2013 - Pittsburgh 10, Cincinnati 7
May 31, 2013 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 0
June 1, 2013 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 0
June 2, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5. Cincinnati 4
June 17, 2013 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 1
June 18, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 0
June 19, 2013 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 1
June 20, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Cincinnati 3
July 19, 2014 - Cincinnati 5, Pittsburgh 3


Lineups

Pirates (56-38)
1. Marte 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 3
7. Mercer 4
8. Barmes 6
9. Burnett 1

Reds (54-42)
1. Choo 8
2. Heisey 7
3. Votto 3
4. Phillips 4
5. Bruce 8
6. Hannahan 5
7. Cozart 6
8. Mesoraco 2
9. Leake 1

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pirates Game 94 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 7:10 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (9-3, 2.00) vs. Mike Leake (8-4, 2.69)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 6-4)
April 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5
April 13, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 1
April 14, 2013 - Pittsburgh 10, Cincinnati 7
May 31, 2013 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 0
June 1, 2013 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 0
June 2, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5. Cincinnati 4
June 17, 2013 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 1
June 18, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 0
June 19, 2013 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 1
June 20, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Cincinnati 3


Lineups

Pirates (56-37)
1. Marte 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 3
7. Mercer 4
8. Barmes 6
9. Liriano 1

Reds (53-42)
1. Heisey 7
2. Choo 8
3. Votto 3
4. Phillips 4
5. Bruce 8
6. Frazier 5
7. Cozart 6
8. Mesoraco 2
9. Leake 1

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pirates Video Roundtable - 7/15/2013

I was lucky enough to be invited back to the Pirates Video Roundtable that James Santelli of Pirates Prospects puts together on [pretty much a] weekly basis. If you didn't catch the initial episode that aired like three weeks ago then this is just basically a video podcast where a various amount of Pirates bloggers get together and talk about the team and random other stuff.

Today we touched on a lot of stuff that included:

-The home run derby and how we thought Pedro Alvarez would do

-The first half of the season and how it compares to 2011 and 2012

-Who the biggest surprise might be for the second half of the year

-Some trade prospects

-Gregory Polanco and if we could see him this season if he was fast tracked

-Took some questions (some more interesting than others) from Twitter.

I just wanted to thank James again for including me. It is always fun to talk some Pirates with some knowledgeable people.

Enjoy:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pirates Game 93 Recap - Mets 4, Pirates 2

The Pirates finished up the "first half" of the season today and after 93 games the Pirates are sitting with 56 wins and now are on pace for 98 wins with 69 games left in the season. That is damn impressive. In the entire 2010 season the Pirates managed only 57 wins, right now after 93 games they have 56 wins. What a journey it has been.

This game was a loss. Gerrit Cole got knocked around in the first inning for three runs and then settled down to throw five innings where he gave up six hits and struck out five but it yet again was the early innings that got the best of him and forced him to be pretty much perfect the rest of the way. Cole came out of the gate strong for the Pirates but he has struggled on and off in the big leagues. I think this is what Neal Huntington was talking about when he was saying that Cole still needed some work in AAA and was still saying that they really weren't ready to call him up when they did this year. I am not saying that Cole has been bad by any stretch but there is still room for improvement and hopefully he can make those improvements as the second half unfolds.

The offense was stagnant for much of the game and really didn't come alive until the final three innings. The Pirates lead the league in come from behind victories but I think I speak for everyone when I say that this isn't how you want to play the season when you get behind and hope you can come back. Today was the Sunday lineup with Michael McKenry in the lineup and had Jose Tabata hitting in the five spot but the offense has been a problem for more than just today and more for just this series. Maybe the All-Star break off will help some of the bats recharge.

Starling Marte and Clint Barmes each had a pair of hits. While Marte had two hits and has played pretty well this year I still would love to see him learn how to command the strike zone. A vast majority of the time I don't really think he knows if the pitch is going to be in the zone or not and while I don't think he predetermines if he is going to swing or not he doesn't seem to be very good at recognizing pitches. Not a good thing for your leadoff hitter when he is pretty bad at drawing walks. I can't imagine how dangerous he could be if he could get his walk rate up to 7% or 8% rather than the 3.5% that he is at now.

Before the game today we learned that Mark Melancon was named to the National League All-Star team. He replaced Jeff Locke who skipped his start today with "back tightness" and will make the third start post break. Good on Melancon as he absolutely deserves to be on the All-Star team as he has been ridiculous good this year. That makes it five All-Stars for the Pirates. Pretty neat.

While the sweep would be good, the Pirates are still 19 games over .500 and have had a really good season so far. A lot of people are going to be waiting for a collapse to come but this is as good as I have felt about the Pirate in the past couple of seasons where the Pirates have been good at the break. Fun times to be a Pirates fan.

Pirates Game 93 Preview - vs. New York Mets

New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates - 1:35 p.m.
Dillon Gee (6-7, 4.60) vs. Gerrit Cole (4-2, 3.68)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 5-1)
May 9, 2013 - New York 3, Pittsburgh 2
May 10, 2013 - Pittsburgh 7, New York 3
May 11, 2013 - Pittsburgh 11, New York 2
May 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New York 2
July 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New York 2 (11 inn.)
July 13, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, New York 2


Lineups

Pirates (56-36)
1. Marte 7
2. Mercer 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Tabata 9
6. Jones 3
7. McKenry 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Cole 1

Mets (40-50)
1.Young, Jr. 7
2. Murphy 4
3. Wright 5
4. Byrd 9
5. Satin 3
6. Nieuwenhuis 8
7. Buck 2
8. Quintanilla 6
9. Gee 1

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pirates Game 92 Recap - Pirates 4, Mets 2

The start of this game looked much like the last ten or so games. The Pirates were facing a spot starter that has been a bullpen arm because Matt Harvey was being held out and the offense treated him like he was Cy Young. AJ Burnett threw a lot of pitches and only made it through 5.2 innings but the bullpen picked him up and the offense woke up against Carlos Torres and the Mets bullpen to pick up a series win and a chance to go into the break on a four game winning streak.

Look, I talked about it last night but the offense hasn't been good. Tonight they started out slow as I mentioned above but they ended the game with ten hits and eight of those hits came from the fifth inning on. The Mets got a two runs lead with a run in each the fourth and fifth inning but the Pirates chipped away with a run in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a run scoring single by Jordy Mercer to score Garrett Jones who doubled to leadoff the inning. The Pirates eventually got the bases loaded but couldn't tie the game since Jose Tabata bounced into a double play.

The way the Pirates tied the game was awesome. Only because I pretty much called it before it happened. As Andrew McCutchen stepped to the plate to leadoff the bottom of the sixth inning this is what I said before the first pitch:



What happened like 15 seconds later? Cutch goes yard. I don't want to say I was the reason the Pirates tied the game, but I was probably the reason the Pirates tied the game.

Cutch came through again in the seventh inning when he came up with Travis Snider on second and Jose Tabata on third when he shot a ball past David Wright that scored Snider. Two clutch hits in back-to-back innings for a guy that a lot of people thought was having a down year. Honestly, there are people that aren't happy with McCutchen. While I wouldn't say that he is having a great year I think he is having a really, really good year. I think last year set a bit ridiculous expectations for his year this year but he has been one of the best players in the National League. I think he is flying under the radar and I had some people disagree with me on Twitter about this but his season has been about as solid as you can expect and he has yet to breakout.

After Burnett went out the Pirates pen led by Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon, and Jason Grilli gave up one hit. That's it, one hit. I feel like I need to say that the deal in which the Pirates got Melancon is going to be an unreal steal for the Bucs. Melancon is just plain filthy. His cutter is nearly unhittable and while he has given up a few runs this year I think he has been the best Pirates reliever even when you include Grilli. This guy is an All-Star even if they don't reward middle relievers.

Something I forgot to talk about when I originally posted this was maybe the play of the game. It came in the fifth innings with runners on first and third and a ground ball was hit to Pedro Alvarez and he was able to make a play, while he was playing deep, that gunned down Eric Young Jr. at home. At that time that preserved a one run deficit for the Pirates. While the Mets would go on to score a run later in the inning that play probably limited a lot of further damage and won't be looked back as a turning point but could be looked at as the play of the game. I talked about Alvarez earlier in the day (you should read it) and I talked about Alvarez's improved defense (among other things) and that is a reason why he might be the team MVP this season. The play will look easy in the box score but watching it live that was a hell of a play by Alvarez and should not go unnoticed.

The Pirates have now won three straight games after losing their previous four games. They are back to 20 games over .500. People were worrying that the collapse was already happening during the four game losing streak and I guess what we have learned is that these wins are really hurting the collapse.

Also after the win tonight I saw a bunch of "26 to go" tweets that deals with the number of wins the Pirates need to break the losing seasons record. Can we cut this shit out please? I am not sure about you but why would any fan of any team ever cheer for their favorite club to go only one game over .500? That is beyond ridiculous. I understand what breaking "the streak" would mean for the fans but lets try and be real here, that is not really that important. If the Pirates go 82-80 this year then have eight more losing season was it really that big of a deal? Spare me the streak bullshit and give me the playoffs.

A chance to go into the break 21 games over tomorrow with Gerrit Cole on the bump. Get it.

Pirates Game 92 Preview - vs. New York Mets

New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:15 p.m.
Carlos Torres (0-1, 0.51) vs. A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.05)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 4-1)
May 9, 2013 - New York 3, Pittsburgh 2
May 10, 2013 - Pittsburgh 7, New York 3
May 11, 2013 - Pittsburgh 11, New York 2
May 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New York 2
July 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New York 2 (11 inn.)


Lineups

Pirates (55-36)
1. Marte 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 3
7. Mercer 4
8. Barmes 6
9. Burnett 1

Mets (40-49)
1. Young 7
2. Murphy 4
3. Wright 5
4. Davis 3
5. Byrd 9
6. Nieuwenhuis 8
7. Buck 2
8. Quintanilla 6
9. Torres 1

Who Is Pedro Alvarez?

This is a question that I think a lot of people ask themselves through a typical Pirates season over the past couple of years. Before I get into this I must admit that this is a question that is not going to be able to be answered. All we know for sure is this is a guy that is going to strikeout greater than 30% of his plate appearances and someone that has some of the best raw power in the game. When he does put balls in play they can go a long way and that is what keeps us fixated on the player that is Pedro Alvarez.

We have seen some of the best of Alvarez and some of the worst. It is really a frustrating thing to watch because when he is good he brings that Sidney Crosby vibe when he comes to the plate. You know, the type of player that you wait to go to the bathroom because he is up. I won't say it is the same feeling you get when Crosby gets the puck and goes one-on-on with some joke defenseman but I think you can put them in the same breath. The problem is when he is bad, he is REALLY bad. Kind of like watching Brian Bixler hit bad. I hate Brian Bixler.

We all know what happened with Alvarez. He was drafted second overall in 2008 and he was thought to be the big Pirates bat that was going to be the first person to highlight the new management team's plan to finally rebuild the team. He made his debut halfway through the 2010 season and did pretty well for himself hitting for a .256/.326/.461 line with 16 home runs in only 95 games (386 plate appearances). Most thought that while pitchers would be able to exploit him and his 30+% strikeout rate he would still be able to make up for that with a decent walk rate (9.6%) and the raw power that we all heard about from his time at Vanderbilt.

This was actually one of my favorite YouTube's of all time from when he was drafted:



That is what the kids like to refer to as "swag".

From that point on things looked really down for Alvarez. In the 2011 season he was just flat out brutal. He played in only 74 games for the Pirates and was sent down to AAA thanks to a .191/.272/.289 line. Despite hitting 18 home runs he couldn't overcome the near 31% strikeout rate and posted a -0.9 fWAR for the Pirates. He was sent down to AAA and most were hoping this was just a case of the "sophomore slump" where the pitchers were able to get a book on him and he would have to make the adjustment to become a big lead hitter.

2012 started a tough journey where in the first 55 games of the year Alvarez hit .189/.274/.373 with eight home runs and 65 strikeouts in only 205 plate appearances (32%). There was legitimate talk of sending him back down to AAA for the second straight season to see if they could get him on track. The Pirates didn't do that, and it paid off.

Starting on June 16, 2012 where Alvarez went 2-for-4 with a pair of home runs against Cleveland in the second game of a three game series. From that point on Alvarez raked the rest of the season. In the final 94 days of the season Alvarez hit .274/.352/.518 line with 22 home runs. Granted, his strikeout rate was still really high (113 strikeouts in 381 plate appearances for a 30% rate) but he was collecting more hits. Now for those of us who have watched Alvarez over the course of his brief career knows that these hot streaks happen and that he could be just as bad.

2013 started off slow. Again. In the first 52 games of this season Alvarez hit only .199/.263/.420 with 12 home runs and a strikeout rate of 35%. Again though he turned a corner. Since those first 52 games he is raking at a .331/.386/.678 rate over the last 31 games and while his strikeout rate is still absurdly high (31%) he launched 12 home runs in 132 plate appearances and has been the Pirates best hitter over that span.

Furthermore when you take Alvarez's numbers from around the midpoint of last season (June 16 when he went off) he is hitting .264/.331/.521 with 24 doubles and 46 home runs over 707 plate appearances. It is true that his strikeout rate is high (31%) but that is something I think we all know that is going to be consistent. Over that span he has a .362 wOBA (which is one of my favorite stats) and this season, during this stretch, has looked as comfortable and composed as ever.

So what does all this mean? I wish I could tell you. I think the only thing we truly know is that he is going to strikeout a lot (over 30%) and he is going to be a streaky hitter (see what I said above). I guess when I look at Alvarez I still see a guy who can center this lineup. 2011 was horrible and the start of 2012 was a carryover from that. But something happened in that game against the Indians and since that time he has been a very productive hitter in what amounts to more than a seasons worth of plate appearances.

I am not here to tell you that this is going to be the true guy we are going to see in future years, but here to tell you that this is the kind of guy that he is going to be. He is going to struggle to start the year but if you wait it out he is going to reward you. Last year he was very good over the last 95 game and so far he was bad for just as many games to start the season and is now rebounding just like he did a year ago. I think ideally you would like to see him lay off some more pitches and get his walk rate over 10% but it seems like this is going to be a 40 home run guy that will be around the .250 mark with a 30% strikeout rate. That strikeout rate is going to be the reason that people won't be able to consider him a top tier player but those home runs will get him paid. Big time.

Alvarez is a guy that Pirates fans love to hate. Sure everyone is gushing over him now when he is hot but it just takes a bad six or eight game stretch before people want him back in AAA. He is a guy that fans will never truly like and will be a guy you look back on and think that he is better than what you thought he was, much like Adam LaRoche.

At one point it was thought that he was going to have to be a first baseman and through his first three years there was a good case against that being inevitable. Something funny happened though, he became a really good third baseman. Now I am not saying that he is going to challenge for a gold glove but this year he has really played close to plus defense (if not plus defense outright) and has really transformed how I looked at him defensively.

I think that defensive point really highlights what I think Alvarez is all about. He has always been, and will always be, a streaky player but as long as his good streaks can outweigh his bad streak then this could turn out a lot better than some of us thought halfway through last season. The bad streaks still come but they seem fewer and while he still strikes out a ton I think people need to shed this notion that he doesn't care or doesn't work on his game. I think the last 90+ games of last year and the current 30+ game stretch now proves that and his defense this year absolutely proves that point.

He might not ever live up to his number two overall pick billing but for a guy that is going to hit 30-40 home runs a year and play decent defense at third base I think this is a guy that can be a cog in the middle of the Pirates lineup and a guy you can have a fun time watching as he drops baseballs out of PNC Park. Again, I am not here to tell you who he is or what kind of player he is because that is an impossible question to answer, but I am here to tell you that he has been pretty damn good over the last year and I can appreciate that progression in his game.

The hate for Alvarez will always be there but understanding the ups and downs and appreciating how he has evolved should help stem some of that, if you want it to.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pirates Game 91 Recap - Pirates 3, Mets 2 (11 inn.)

There is one thing that never gets old and that is seeing a shit ton of tweets that say nothing but "Raise it" one right after another. Nothing matters about that game at that point, that means the Pirates won another ballgame. It doesn't matter if they had 20 hits or they had only six in 11 innings, they won. Ugly wins count the same as pretty ones and while tonight's win was a really ugly one it still counts as number 55 on the season and marks the 55th time in 91 games that you saw a string of Raise it's. It feels good, real good.

The offense was bad, again. I sound like a broken record but outside of the final game of the Mets series the Pirates have just been really bad offensively. They went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and wasted a chance to win the game in the ninth with a leadoff double that turned into nothing with the game tied. The Mets were able to work around hitters with intentional walks and get some huge outs but their luck ran out when Jordy Mercer punched a ball up the middle with two outs in the 11th to score Andrew McCutchen who led the inning off with a leadoff [unintentional] walk.

I think we are all past the point in thinking that the Pirates offense is going to be good, or even average, but at the rate they are playing now they will regress to the mean just about as much as the pitchers are going to regress to the mean. The Pirates have been really, really bad with runners in scoring position this recent stretch and to be honest it really isn't that sustainable to be that bad for an extended period of time. Balls will fall like they did on Wednesday but I assume this will even out a little bit more after the break. I mean, it has to right? Hopefully.

Pedro Alvarez continues to be really good. He took the first pitch he saw tonight and went deep for an early 2-0 Pirates lead. That was his only hit in five at bats but he made it count and I will take that. He has been really good for much of the past year and I really think it gets overlooked that while he has struggled for portions of this season he has been a much more consistent hitter. He is still striking out a ton but he is getting on base at a decent clip and driving the ball over the fence.

Charlie Morton was really good. He was able to give the Pirates seven strong innings, scattering six hits and only walking one. He gave up both runs to the Mets, one came on a good pitch that David Wright fought off for a flair into right field and the other was a mistake fastball that was basically middle-middle that Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit out of the park in the seventh inning. Outside of that Morton was really good. He struck out three hitters and got 11 ground ball outs and five fly outs and gave the Pirates the start they needed. If he can continue to pitch like that it will go a long way for the team seeing as how they don't know how long Wandy Rodriguez will be out.

The pen was good. Again. Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, Bryan Morris, and Vin Mazzaro combined to pitch four scoreless innings and only gave up three hits, two of which were given up by Watson. They have been good all year and while I still think they might need some help back there with the addition of another starting pitcher (to push a current starter to the pen) I think you can be nothing but happy for what they have done this year.

Like I said, a win is a win and the Pirates won. All that matters.

Mets/Pirates Series Primer

Pirates Game 91 Preview - vs. New York Mets

New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:05 p.m.
Jeremy Hefner (4-6, 3.39) vs. Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.38)

Season Series (Pittsburgh lead 3-1)
May 9, 2013 - New York 3, Pittsburgh 2
May 10, 2013 - Pittsburgh 7, New York 3
May 11, 2013 - Pittsburgh 11, New York 2
May 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New York 2


Lineups

Pirates (54-36)
1. Marte 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Alvarez 5
5. Martin 2
6. Jones 9
7. Mercer 4
8. Barmes 6
9. Morton 1

Mets (40-48)
1. Young Jr. 7
2. Murphy 4
3. Wright 5
4. Davis 3
5. Byrd 9
6. Nieuwenhuis 8
7. Recker 2
8. Quintanilla 6
9. Hefner 1

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pirates Game 90 Recap - Pirates 5, Athletics 0

For as much struggle as the Pirates have had this week they put that all behind them, at least for one night. The Pirates were hurting in a big way offensively, especially with runners in scoring position, but they cranked out 12 hits and went 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position and in the third and fourth innings, when they scored all of their runs, they sent 16 men to the plate combined. Every starting hitter had at least one hit except for Gaby Sanchez who was productive regardless by having a pair of walks in his four plate appearances. Great night for the offense.

The offense might have overshadowed what was another outstanding outing by Francisco Liriano. When he was signed before the season the Pirates caught some flack for singing a guy that hasn't been good and while he could strike out a ton of guys he walked just as many. After breaking his non-throwing hand and missing the start of the season he has been nothing short of the staff ace he was with the Twins in 2010 when he anchored that rotation. In his 12 starts this year the Pirates have won nine of them and Liriano has posted nearly a two win season (via FanGraphs) while striking out over a batter per inning with a filthy slider. The slider, which he throws over 36% of the time, was unhittable last night. The A's managed five hits but when he wasn't striking them out he was generating weak contact. There was a small jam but he bared down and made the pitches he needed to. In past seasons he might have walked a few guy and gave up the back breaking hit, but not this year. At least not yet. This might be the staff ace right now despite what Jeff Locke has done.

The key to the Pirates offense last night? They struck out only six times and walked three times. The top three hitters (Starling Marte, Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen) combined to go 6-for-13 and in the first four innings of the game the Pirates hit .500 as a team (11-for-22). Sure they didn't hit late, but they didn't need to. When they had the chance to land a blow they did it and with some great starting pitching it held up.

I think watching Tabata this year has been pretty interesting. He was banged up for some time but after last night (when he had two hits) he is hitting .306/.369/.459 on the season. That comes with a small sample size (with only 123 plate appearances) but with Travis Snider not playing very well it is nice to have at least someone producing in the right field spot. I am not sure if Tabata can continue this since he is frequently injured but right now he looks healthy and we are starting to see the guy that people were talking about in spring training this year with a slimmed down figure and someone who looked like he was ready to put two bad years behind him.

The Pirates get the day off today before a three game series with the Mets to close out the first half of the season. The Pirates will not have to face Matt Harvey as he is going to skip his start that was supposed to be in this series so that is a good thing. After losing four straight they are back in the win column and are 1.5 games behind the Cardinals at 18 games over .500. Things are still pretty good despite the offensive struggles recently the the "sky is falling" attitude. Maybe this is reading too much into one game but the standings say the Pirates have been the better team 18 more times than the other team being better than them so maybe the four game losing streak was the outlier. Maybe. Maybe not. Who cares, the Pirates won.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pirates Game 90 Preview - vs. Oakland Athletics

Oakland Athletics at Pittsburgh Pirates - 7:00 p.m.
Tommy Milone (8-7, 4.11) vs. Francisco Liriano (8-3, 2.20)

Season Series (Oakland leads 2-0)
July 8, 2013 - Oakland 2, Pittsburgh 1
July 9, 2013 - Oakland 2, Pittsburgh 1


Lineups

Pirates (53-36)
1. Marte 7
2. Tabata 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Martin 2
5. Alvarez 5
6. Sanchez 3
7. Mercer 4
8. Barmes 6
9. Liriano 1

Athletics (54-37)
1. Crisp 8
2. Lowrie 6
3. Donaldson 5
4. Cespedes 7
5. Freiman 3
6. Young 9
7. Norris 2
8. Green 4
9. Milone 1