Sunday, September 29, 2013

Steelers Game 4 Recap - Vikings 34, Steelers 27

Third down and goal from the six yard line down by seven with under 20 seconds left in the game. Everson Griffen sacks Ben Roethlisberger and he fumbles. Game over. 0-4. Another loss, this one to Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Vikings. I would say that this is unfortunate but this is pretty typical for the Steelers so far this year. The defense wasn't good, the offense was average, they turned the ball over multiple times, and they weren't able to create any turnovers. So, perfect.

There are a lot of things wrong with the Steelers now. The offensive line, especially Mike Adams, was bad as Ben was sacked five times and was generally running all over the place when he didn't get the ball out in under two seconds. I am not sure what the Steelers can do about the offensive line but reports after the game were that Ben was pretty banged up and most of that is due to the fact that he is getting pounded on nearly every drop back. Some of that is on Ben for holding the ball too long but I would say most comes on the head of the offensive line. It's not going to get better and you just have to hope that Ben stays healthy as long as possible because the thought of Bruce Gradkowski as the starter is...yikes...

The defense went bad fairly quickly. A staple for this defense has always been the ability to tackle and not give up the extra yards after the catch or after first contact. Today it almost seemed like they didn't want to be bothered with tackling. I mean there are a ton of times that this came into play from the long touchdown pass to Greg Jennings to the long touchdown run from Adrian Peterson to tackles that weren't made that turned into first downs. Just bad all the way around.

Cortez Allen was particularly bad today as it seemed as if this was his first game ever. He was getting worked consistently and literally wasn't making anything close to resembling a football play. He looked lost and when playing against Matt Cassel and a group of marginally average receivers couldn't get the job done.

The defense against didn't cause a turnover and were only able to get one sack. That one sack nearly led to the first turnover of the season but it was not to be thanks to some bad luck. LaMarr Woodley had a really nice strip sack of Cassel and the ball bounced forward and as Jarvis Jones went to cover the ball it squirted away and it was picked up by a Viking for a first down. The strip sack happened on third down and would have forced a punt. It happened with 2:20 left in the first half. If that play happened under the two minute warning the ball goes back to where it was fumbled as it couldn't be advanced. Instead the Vikings get a first down and no turnover. Just typical.

There were some good things about today. Le'Veon Bell showed us why he was the second round pick. While his numbers aren't going to jump out at you he was elusive and just showed you a little bit more than anyone else on this Pittsburgh roster has done in the last few years. He had that little shake and the ability to get through tackles and make people miss and that really showed up on his first touchdown run. Yes, I said first touchdown run because he had two of them. I know, right? Turns out you are allowed to rush for touchdowns. It was very good to see him be productive and look ready to play in his first game. Hopefully this continues.

Ike Taylor was also good. While the secondary has been pretty bad with Ryan Clark, William Gay, Allen all having pretty dreadful years it is nice to always have that rock back there with Taylor. He probably could have had a pair of interceptions today but he had one knocked away by a DB and another one he probably should have had but lets not kid ourselves, he can't catch. Anyways, Taylor is going to give you his best every game and that is also reassuring.

Aside from one kickoff return the special teams were good again. So, there's that.

Not much more to say. This is a really bad football team and anything more than four or five years is a real stretch at this point. At least the Steelers can't lose next week.

Pirates Game 162 Recap - Pirates 4, Reds 2

With a lineup that featured Felix Pie, Travis Snider, John Buck, and others that most likely won't be on the playoff roster the Pirates swept the Reds who played their starting until for about for innings today.

Nothing really to take from this game. Brandon Cumpton had a nice start and might be a guy the team looks at to carry on the playoff roster (which was why I was a little surprised he started today) and Garrett Jones hit a home run in what might have been his final Pirates at bat ever.

Whatever the take from this the Pirates finished the year with 94 wins which was probably around 15-20 more than anyone had them for. They will fly back to Pittsburgh to host Cincinnati on Tuesday in the Wild Card game and if they win there travel to either St. Louis or Los Angeles (depending on outcomes today).

Get excited. The fun/excitement/heart attack feeling is just beginning. Tomorrow is going to be a tough day to get through, as will waiting all day for the game on Teusday but...

Pirates Game 162 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 1:10 p.m.
Brandon Cumpton (1-1, 2.45) vs. Greg Reynolds (1-2, 5.55)

Season Series (Pirates lead 10-8)
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
July 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 2
September 20, 2013 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5 (10 inn.)
September 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 2
September 22, 2013 - Cincinnati 11, Pittsburgh 3
September 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 1
September 28, 2013 - Pittsburgh 8, Cincinnati 3


Lineups

Pirates (93-68)
1. Pie 8
2. Tabata 7
3. Snider 9
4. Alvarez 5
5. Buck 2
6. Jones 3
7. Mercer 6
8. Harrison 4
9. Cumpton 1

Reds (90-71)
1. Choo 8
2. Ludwick 7
3. Votto 3
4. Bruce 9
5. Frazier 5
6. Cozart 6
7. Mesoraco 2
8. Izturis 4
9. Reynolds 1

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pirates Game 161 Recap - Pirates 8, Reds 3

If I told you that Charlie Morton went out and pitched only 4.1 innings where he gave up five hits and walked five Reds you would have most likely told me that the Pirates got waxed and that they would be playing a game on Sunday where the winner would get home field advantage. That was not the case as the Pirates offense came through in a big way with six home runs and the Pirates will now play a playoff game at PNC Park on Tuesday no matter what happens in tomorrow's game. Let that sink in.



Oh baby.

Lets start with Morton. It was evident early on that he really didn't just have it. In the first inning he had runners on first and second but was able to get Todd Frazier to fly out. The Pirates got two runs in the top of the third but then Morton let the Reds get three off him in the bottom of the inning. He struggled for much of the rest of the day and it really was just one of those times where a pitcher doesn't have it. Despite not having it and having the Pirates up by three Clint Hurdle sent Morton back out for the fifth inning to face the top of the order. Morton has already struggled with Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce but he was thrown back out there and all Morton did was load the bases before Hurdle came out to get him with one out. I get that Hurdle wants to get Morton the win but this needs to stop.

(Edit: I thought about this a bit after the win and I feel like I should say it. I know I am pretty hard on Hurdle for much of the things he does. As you know I am not a big fan of his in-game management but he, like Huntington, Coonelly, Nutting, are a big reason the Pirates are in the playoffs and a reason the plan has worked out the way is has. That doesn't mean I think he is a great manager but he has gotten better this year over last and he does deserve credit despite how mind numbing some of his moves are on a game-to-game basis.)

While Vin Mazzaro was able to come in and get the final two outs without letting in a run that doesn't make the decision right. One double in the gap ties the game and the last thing I want is for Hurdle to leave in Liriano in too long on Tuesday and the Pirates lose and they are done. Rather it be too early than too late.

What was good about today was pretty much everything else. The Pirates offense went 1-2-3 against Bronson Arroyo in the first inning and then they just went off. They had a pair of runners on with no outs in the second inning and failed to score but they proceeded to score at least one run from the third through sixth innings. They chased Arroyo after only 4.2 innings where they got eight hits, six runs, and five home runs.

The Pirates had 24 home runs as a team in the month of September and they had six today. Not a bad way to clinch a playoff game in Pittsburgh. Neil Walker went big fly two times and now has 16 home runs on the season. He opened up the scoring in the third inning and was followed by an Andrew McCutchen big fly for back-to-back home runs. It was awesome. Walker also went to deep center in the fifth inning to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead. Walker is starting to hit the ball really well and even his outs are hard hit balls. He is a pretty streaky hitter and this would be a GREAT time for him to start getting hot.

Pedro Alvarez went deep again today which tied the game at three in the fourth inning and it was another no-doubter. I did a little piece about Alvarez this morning (you should read it) and he is looking pretty good despite his overall numbers not looking that great. Again, if he is going to get hot this is a really good time to get hot because the playoffs are pretty important.

Has there been a better player over the last couple weeks/month than Byrd? He had three more hits today in four at bats and while he hit a ball that went off the very top of the wall last night he hit a ball today in the exact same spot that went well over the wall for a two run bomb. It boggles my mind how teams like the Reds and Cardinals let Byrd get to the Pirates at the waiver deadline. I mean they had to know the Pirates were going to make a move. Why not claim him and just block the Pirates? Rather than do that all Byrd has done has come in and mash for the Pirates and make the middle of the order a lot scarier now that they can move Alvarez down to the six spot. Don't let anyone tell you that he hasn't made a difference because he's been pretty outstanding since he came over.

Some interesting spots in the game today on the defensive side, well actually the pitching side. While the game was a little out of hand (four runs, but not totally over) the Pirates were able to use Justin Wilson against the top of the lineup. This is big because with the Pirates win you have to imagine that neither team will send out their 'A' lineup tomorrow so getting Wilson/Watson out there to get some work against the same guys they are going to work against on Tuesday. Wilson did walk a pair of hitters but in crunch time he struck out Joey Votto with one out and runners on first and second with a 97 mph fastball. It was pretty awesome to see. Watson worked the next inning and got Jay Bruce to strike out swinging and Pirate killer Todd Frazier to fly out. Big time outs whether it was a one run game or a four run game.



PNC Park is going to be home to a playoff game on Tuesday. The Pirates have 93 wins with the chance to have 94 tomorrow. Is this the real world? One thing is for sure, the North Shore is going to be crazy on Tuesday. It's going to be fun.

Pirates Game 161 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 1:05 p.m.
Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.14) vs. Bronson Arroyo (14-11, 3.60)

Season Series (Pirates lead 9-8)
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
July 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 2
September 20, 2013 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5 (10 inn.)
September 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 2
September 22, 2013 - Cincinnati 11, Pittsburgh 3
September 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 1


Lineups

Pirates (92-68)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Morneau 3
5. Byrd 9
6. Alvarez 5
7. Martin 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Morton 1

Reds (90-70)
1. Choo 8
2. Ludwick 7
3. Votto 3
4. Phillips 4
5. Bruce 9
6. Frazier 5
7. Cozart 6
8. Hanigan 2
9. Arroyo 1

Pedro Alvarez Is Weird

Now, I know you might be a little confused by the subject of the headline. Sure, Pedro might be a little goofy and we really don't get to see much of his personality as he doesn't like to do a ton of interviews and when he does he comes off as a little dry. When we do see some emotion out of him like we did after his monster home run it seems like a big deal because he just never does it. Well, that isn't what I mean about weird.

What I mean is about him as a hitter. Alvarez is a fascinating hitting because when he does something, good or bad, you aren't really surprised. If he goes a month hitting 15 home runs you don't really get too surprised and if he goes a month striking out nearly 40% of his plate appearances you aren't really that surprised. I have written a few pieces about Alvarez on here and the thing I keep coming back to is that nobody has any idea of what kind of hitter he really is and we might never know.

He is never going to be a guy that hits for a high average and he will never be a good on base guy but the return for that is his incredible raw power that will give you 35 home runs a year. This year Alvarez is hitting only .231/.293/.468 and he is striking out over 30% of his plate appearances but he launched his 35th home run last night and has been worth 2.6 wins according to FanGraphs. So, his lack of getting on base and his high strikeouts are bad but they get made up for with home runs and some decent defense this year aided by the defensive shifts.

Really the reason I wrote this article was something I found out last night while I was messing around on FanGraphs. I was looking at random statistics and Alvarez was up to bad and after his home run I was thinking that he really hasn't been doing very well lately despite the home runs. So I went to see what he was doing over the last 30 days and I found that he was hitting .206/.266/.364 and he had a wRC+ of only 80. But that really wasn't what shocked me. What shocked me is that in his last 30 days he was striking out only 21.1% of the time. That is eye popping because as I said above Alvarez is a huge strikeout guy and has yet to have an MLB season where he struck out less than 30.5% of his plate appearances.

It got me thinking, has this ever happened before? I first wondered if he ever had a 30 day stretch with a lower strikeout rate. Now I wasn't going to go through and do all of that research so what I did was go month-by-month and look at his strikeout rate. That isn't exactly 30 day stretches but it is pretty close. Here is what I came up with for his strikeout rate since he came into the league per month:

September '13 - 21.9% (96 PA)
August '13 - 31.9% (116)
July '13 - 29.5% (112)
June '13 - 32.4% (108)
May '13 - 36.4% (77)
March/April '13 - 31.6% (98)
September/October '12 - 28% (125)
August '12 - 32.1% (106)
July '12 - 31.5% (92)
June '12 - 27.1% (96)
May '12 - 31.4% (105)
March/April '12 - 37.1% (62)
September/October '11 - 26.5% (49)
August '11 - 29.3% (31)
July '11 - 38.2% (34)
June '11 - No Plate Appearances
May '11 - 26.8% (41)
March/April '11 - 32% (97)
September/October '10 - 23.1% (121)
August '10 - 36.7% (109)
July '10 - 27.6% (105)
June '10 - 43.1% (51)

So outside of September and October in 2010 this is far and away his best month as a professional in terms of striking out. So, what gives? We all (myself included) talk about the strikeouts when we talk about what kind of hitter that Alvarez can be now and going forward. I think we all are guilty of just assuming that if Alvarez cuts the strikeouts down that he will automatically produce. Sometimes that is not how it works.

I mean just look at this month. He is striking out at a drastically reduced rate and only hitting .218/.281/.391 this month. It is in stark contrast to the last time he saw a huge dip in his strikeouts as he hit .306/.355/.577 back in September/October of 2010. On the other hand high strikeout rates doesn't mean he can't be productive. In June of this season he struck out almost 33% of his plate appearances but hit .309/.380/.680 and in August 12 he struck out 32% of his plate appearances but hit .322/.425/.544.

I wish I had an answer. What seems to be a common theme is that in the months that Alvarez has been productive he has a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play). A lot of people think of BABIP as luck and luck completely. That is not really true as things such as defensive positioning, talent changes, and yes luck come into play. Over his career Alvarez has a BABIP of just at .300 which is right around league average. For this month he is at .250 which isn't horribly low (as his season average is .275 this year) so it might not be as much luck as it is teams shifting a little more this season than past years.

Teams have always really shifted towards Alvarez and he has still had months with BABIP over .350 and that typically happens in his big months. I think wanted to look at the types of balls he is hitting. As I have talked about a lot lately it is much better to hit line drives than anything else and it is better to hit fly balls than ground balls. I will copy and paste this again from FanGraphs but you should probably have this memorized already:

A line drive produces 1.26 runs per out, while fly balls produce 0.13 runs per out and groundballs produce 0.05 runs per out. In other words, batters want to hit lots of line drives and fly balls, while pitchers generally want to cause batters to hit groundballs.

The league average for the ratings are:

Line Drive: 20%
Ground ball: 44%
Fly ball: 36%

So I thought that maybe Alvarez was hitting more ground balls this month and in turn hitting a lot of ground balls into the shift. That really wasn't true as he was at 17.9%/46.3%/35.8% (LD/GB/FB) which is very near his career average of 18.7%/46.6%/35.8%. So it isn't like he is hitting a bunch more ground balls because he is doing what he always has done. Sure it would be nice for him to be at a higher level of line drives but I think eventually some balls are going to find holes.

What is the point of all of this? Pedro Alvarez is weird. He drastically cuts down on his strikeouts and that hasn't immediately turned into a great slash line. While I would be absolutely foolish to suggest that it doesn't give him a much better chance of getting on base and having more productive at bats the fact is that the extra balls he is putting in play are being turned into outs, which is unfortunate. Unfortunate because we always talk about him cutting back his strikings and that will make him a better hitter. I think that the BABIP can regress back to the mean and that will result in a better stat line because over his career he has proven that keeping a BABIP that low would be pretty unsustainable.

It might seem insignificant but for the BABIP to get back to his career average he would have three of those balls turned into outs to be turned into hits. Even if those three hits were singles that would pull his line to .253/.313/.425 which would look a lot better. You would still like it to be better, especially with him putting more balls in play, but I think you get the point.

I guess I am just not sure that Alvarez can hold the low strikeout numbers. The last time he was even close to this low was exactly three years ago so it isn't like this happens all the time. He did pick up a couple of hits last night and if he does get hot he can carry this offense for games at a time and when you are in a one game Wild Card that might be all you need. When you get into a series having a player win a game for you could be the difference in winning the series or not. Here is hoping that Alvarez can keep this up for the month of October and he can be the most dangerous hitter on the team for a stretch like he has before.

I still have no idea what kind of hitter Alvarez is and to be honest I have come to the realization that I never will. I will say that it is nice when he shows that he isn't an automatic strikeout 35% of the time. Still, he is a weird player to try and look at and try to make sense of why things happen.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pirates Game 160 Recap - Pirates 4, Reds 1

A week ago today the Pirates took a three run lead into the top of the ninth at PNC Park against the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates lost that game in horrible fashion and it really gave a lot of people a bad taste about the impending one game Wild Card game that will take place Tuesday. Tonight at Great American Ball Park the Pirates took a three run lead into the ninth inning and they didn't let that happen again. I like this result better.

A.J. Burnett was a monster tonight. He went eight innings, gave up five hits and only walked one hitter. A big difference tonight was that he didn't let a single leadoff hitter reach base. After the Reds put up runs in the first three innings of all three games last week at PNC Park it was important for things to get off to a good start and Burnett made that happen every single inning. Burnett can be up and down and when he is good he can dominate a game. Tonight he was dominant exactly when the Pirates needed him to be. This was a big time start from a big time pitcher.

The offense wasn't overly great but when they needed a big hit they got it. Marlon Byrd got the party started in the third inning as Reds starter Homer Bailey loaded the bases without the Pirates even getting a hit. The first hit they did get that inning was a single from Byrd that score Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen.

Pedro Alvarez really put the game away in the sixth inning. With the Pirates up 2-1 Byrd doubled off the top of the wall in dead center that was literally an inch away from being a home run. Alvarez crushed ball 443 feet off the batters eye. It was a monster shot and took the life out of GABP. It was a great sound.

Alvarez had two hits on the night and Byrd had three. They had five of the six hits and it was enough tonight. Moreover the Pirates took advantage of Bailey having zero control and took five walks and reached two more times on hit pitches. The Pirates took what the Reds gave them and made them pay with some hits from the middle of the order guys. Exactly what they needed to do.

While Alvarez hasn't been good recently something that had me a little surprised was when I looked over his last 30 days. Sure, he is only hitting 182/.248/.313 (entering tonight) during that time span but what caught me off guard is that he is only striking out 22% of his plate appearances. To be honest, and this is just a complete guess, I am not sure if Alvarez has ever gone a stretch with that low of a strikeout rate. His LD/FB/GB are off a little but his BABIP over those 30 days is only .216 which is unsustainably low when his career BABIP is .300. I am not sure this is something that Alvarez can keep up but just something to note. If he can get hot this would be a perfect time for it and it could be enough to carry the Pirates through some playoff games.

I don't really think that it is a must that the Pirates get home field advantage for the Wild Card game because of how close this series has been this year, but man it would be nice. I think the Pirates have a better chance at winning at home but in a one game "series" anything can happen and I can see the Pirates winning in either ballpark. What came up in my Twitter feed earlier really made me sit back and think about it though when Lance McAlister, a Reds radio talk show host, said this:



That gives you goosebumps. The Pirates need to win one of the next two games to play at PNC Park in a playoff game. Just thinking about the atmosphere and electricity there gives me goosebumps. Hopefully Charlie Morton and company can take care of this tomorrow and make Sunday's game meaningless.

Steelers Game 4 Preview - vs. Minnesota Vikings

When the NFL set up the schedule for the games in London I was a little surprised to see the Steelers in a game. Granted it wasn't going to count as their home game and their international ties through the Rooney's made it a little better to swallow and understand but this game has taken a huge hit since then.

When the game was scheduled this was a game between a team that had a back that ran for 2,000 yards last year and was a playoff team and another team that just missed out on the playoffs and is the one of the traditional powers in the NFL over the last 10 years. Instead what they got are two really bad teams that are a combined 0-6 on the season.

Things are bad for both teams. To put things in a little bit of perspective the Steelers defense is probably the best unit that will step on the field Sunday. That is the same defense that only has three sacks and has yet for force a turnover. That is the best unit on the field.

Hope you have fun London!

As it was last week here are some of the key terms I am going to use to break down the Bengals for your reference. All information came from Football Outsiders :

DVOA - DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative.

DYAR - Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the player’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.

ALY - Adjusted Line Yards. Based on regression analysis , the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages:

Losses: 120% value
0-4 Yards: 100% value
5-10 Yards: 50% value
11+ Yards: 0% value

These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations. Finally, we normalize the numbers so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry.

Power Success - Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.

Stuffed - Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Since being stuffed is bad, teams are ranked from stuffed least often (#1) to most often (#32).

Adjusted Sack Rate -  Gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.

Catch Rate - Catch Rate represents the percentage of passes to this receiver completed. This is a reference to incomplete passes, not dropped passes.

Success Rate - This number represents the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays. A player with higher DVOA and a low success rate mixes long runs with downs getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. A player with lower DVOA and a high success rate generally gets the yards needed, but doesn't often get more.

Effective Yards - translate DVOA into a yards per attempt figure. This provides an easy comparison: in general, players with more Effective Yards than standard yards played better than standard stats would otherwise indicate, while players with fewer Effective Yards than standard yards played worse than standard stats would otherwise indicate. Effective Yards are not the best way to measure total value because they are more dependent on usage than DYAR.

QBR - Total QBR (listed as just QBR) is a metric created by the ESPN Stats & Information group. Total QBR is based on the expected points added by the quarterback on each play, then adjusts the numbers to a scale of 0-100. League average is 50. There are five main differences between Total QBR and Football Outsiders' DVOA metric (with further explanation here):

-Total QBR incorporates information from game charting, such as passes dropped or thrown away on purpose.
-Total QBR splits responsibility on plays between the quarterback, his receivers, and his blockers. Drops, for example, are more on the receiver, as are yards after the catch, and some sacks are more on the offensive line than others.
-Total QBR has a clutch factor which adds (or subtracts) value for quarterbacks who perform best (or worst) in high-leverage situations.
-Total QBR combines passing and rushing value into one number and differentiates between scrambles and planned runs.
-Total QBR is not adjusted for strength of opponent.

Vikings Offense

Offensively the Vikings haven't been very good. I mean I might as well come out and say it but when you are 0-3 and are coming off a loss to the Cleveland Browns you probably aren't going to have a great offense. Minnesota ranks 19th in the league averaging only 336 yards per game but despite that they are seventh in the league in points per game scoring 27 points per game.

Overall the Vikings offense ranks out about as good as the Steelers offense does. They are 25th in the league with an offensive DVOA of -14.3% while their offensive DAVE is 27th with a -11.8% value. The Steelers rank 27th and 28th in both of those areas. Furthermore the Vikings pass offense ranks 30th in the league with a DVOA of -22.1% while their rushing attack is near the break even point with a DVOA of -3.2% which ranks 14th.

The quarterback position is probably the one that gets Vikings fans most worked up these days. While the Vikings don't have an overly great defense and have struggled to run the football they have struggled pretty badly from the quarterback position which is headlined by Christian Ponder. Ponder was the 2011 first round pick of the Vikings and has still yet to really grow into the position.

Last season Ponder had his best year as he threw for 2,935 yards and 18 touchdowns which improved on his 12 touchdown, 1,853 yard campaign he had in 11 games in his rookie season. So far this year Ponder has been better at throwing the ball down the field as he has a yard per attempt average of 6.91 and while that is not very good compared to his peers, it is much better than the 6.08 yard average he had last season. So far this season Ponder has thrown for 691 yards and two touchdowns while completing 59% of his passes, which is his career average.

Ponder has been pretty consistent this season as he has thrown for 236, 227, and 228 yards in his three starts this season and threw a touchdown in each of his first two starts. Last week against Cleveland he completed 25-of-42 passes for 228 yards and a pick in the Vikings third loss of the season.

While the numbers are perfectly, um, below average, Ponder ranks near last in DYAR and DVOA this season among the 34 qualified quarterbacks. His DYAR of -119 ranks 31st in the league and his DVOA of -27.7% was good enough for 29th in the league. I mean those just aren't very good numbers and puts Ponder as a pretty significant downgrade to a replacement level player. Needless to say the Vikings fans are not having a great time with him under center and are actually calling for Matt Cassel to play.

Here is the thing, Matt Cassel isn't very good. Last season when he was with Kansas City he played in only nine games and threw for 1,796 games where he threw for 12 touchdowns and completed only 58% of his passes. Furthermore his career yard per attempt average of 6.60 isn't very good. So I guess what I am saying Vikings fans is that you want to bench Christian Ponder for another Christian Ponder. So, um, yea.

UPDATE - I had this written out well before the Vikings announced that Ponder was going to miss the game because of broken ribs. I actually had the part already written about Cassel so I guess that is a good thing?

Anyways, Cassel isn't good. At all. He hasn't played this year but last year with Kansas City he was one of the worst in the league. Among the 39 qualified quarterbacks Cassel ranked 36th with a -353 DYAR and also 36th with a DVOA of -30.4%. His QBR was 36.5 and his effective yards only totaled 996 while he threw for over 1,600 yards. That is not good.

The Steelers had a pretty good chance facing Ponder and to be honest that doesn't really change facing Cassel. They both aren't good.

What the Vikings are more well-known for is their ground attack. When I say ground attack I mean Adrian Peterson. Last season Peterson came off reconstructive knee surgery and made the league his bitch. He ran for 2,097 yards on 348 carries and 12 touchdowns which was good for a 6.0 yard per carry average and he was just winning games by himself, despite his teams passing game. In his last five regular season games last season he ran for 150 yards or more and in nine of his last 10 games he ran for 100 yards or more.

There were huge expectations for Peterson this season, and rightfully so, and so far he hasn't really been able to live up to those. He has ran for 281 yards and three touchdowns this year and is only averaging 4.1 yards per carry. In his first carry of the year Peterson went for a 78 yard touchdown run and then followed that up with 17 carries for 25 yards and a touchdown. Last week against the Browns he rushed 25 times for 88 yards and a score but didn't have a run for further than nine yards.

This isn't uncommon since Peterson only gained 230 yards on 58 yards and he didn't have his first 100 yard game until a week four win over the Lions where he ran for 102 yards on 21 carries. The big difference here is that Peterson was coming off knee surgery like eight months prior and he isn't this year but at any moment he is able to just win a game by himself.

The advanced stats would go on to support the notion that Peterson has been struggling as he ranks 27th in the league with a -7 DYAR and 24th with a -10.6% DVOA. These numbers help set the reason that the Vikings are winless and if he isn't ripping off large chunks of yardage then it is going to be hard for them to win. His success rate sits at only 46% which is 17th in the league and his 234 effective yards really go a further describe that Peterson just hasn't been that good this season. That could all change in the blink of an eye, and here is hoping it doesn't this week.

The Vikings are a little light on the receiving depth and talent. While I am sure some of this has to do with the play at quarterback there really isn't all that much star power. The big get for the offense this offseason was signing former Packers receiver Greg Jennings but so far Jennings has been a little bit of a no-show offensively. On the season Jennings has only 11 catches for 160 yards and no scores. He had a pretty solid game against the Bears in week two but the production has been somewhat scarce since. Last week against the Browns he was targeted six times and caught three passes for 43 yards with his longest coming on a 27 yard reception.

Jennings currently ranks 47th among qualified receivers in terms of DYAR with a total of 20 and he also ranks 47th in DVOA at 0.7%. To put those in a little bit of perspective Jerricho Cotchery is ranked right behind Jennings in both off those categories. Jennis has been right around league average receiver and you will usually look for a little more production from a guy who signed a five-year deal worth as much as $47.5 million with $18M guaranteed.

The most valuable receiver on the team right now is Jerome Simpson who has 218 yard receiving on 12 catches. He also leads the team in catches and yards per catch (18.2). Simpson has been marginally effective as he ranks 34th in DYAR (39) and only 28th in DVOA (12.1%). For an offensive unit that is pretty bad at throwing the football he is their best option at the moment. Most of that value is coming off the first game of the season as he caught seven passes for 140 yards. That is all well and good but the following games showed him catching two passes for 49 yards in week two and three passes for 29 yards last week. Yikes.

The guy that is really interesting for me is Cordarrelle Patterson who was a first round pick of the Vikings this past year. He really hasn't got much to show for his skills outside of a 105 yard kickoff return for a touchdown and after catching two passes in each of the first two games he had one catch for 10 yards last week. I doubt he is very effective but he is a big, athletic body that can make a play when the ball is in his hands.

Kyle Rudolph is the main pass catching tight ends as he is fourth on the team with 10 catches but only has 97 yards. He has one of the team's two touchdown catches (Peterson has the other) so I am not really sure I would expect much from him.

The passing game has struggled and the Vikings offensive line really hasn't done much to help the situation. On the season they have given up 10 sacks and have an adjusted sack rate of 9.2% which ranks them 27th in the league. The league average for adjusted sack rate is 7.1%. The Vikings rank three spots below the Steelers in adjusted sack rate.

Minnesota has been below league average in running the football. They post an adjusted line yardage of 3.47 which is about a half yard shy of what the Vikings running backs are getting on their carries (4.09). The Vikings actually do a really nice job in the short yardage situations as their power success rate is 89% that ranks seventh in the league. It doesn't help that Peterson is build like a bull and can get a lot of yardage on his own but all it takes is an average offensive line to give Peterson some room. The Vikings are just about average as they have a stuffed percentage of 21% which is 18th in the league and like I said they just have to give Peterson a chance and he will make the yardage count.

The Vikings are best when they are running the ball in the interior of the line. That makes sense as Peterson is a bigger back that can take the punishment and is backed up by the 4.14 ALY they have when they run the ball up the middle or off the guards. That is their most successful spot as they rank 11th in the league and it is well above the league average of 3.80 ALY when teams run up the middle. They are right above league average when they run to the left tackle which results in an ALY of 3.67 (league average is 3.53) and ranks 13th in the league but they rank no better than 20th in the league in any of the other three spots (left end, right end, right tackle).

Vikings Defense

It might not come to a big shock to most people but Minnesota is just as an average defensive team as they are an offensive team. That is to say that they aren't necessarily good and they aren't necessarily bad. The Vikings are actually giving up yards by the boatload so far this season. They rank 29th in the league allowing teams to gain nearly 430 yards per game and those yards are turning into points as they have allowed 32 points per game over the first three games. Quarterbacks are having more success than running backs as the Vikings are allowing 316 yards through the air and "only" 114 on the ground per game. So far the Vikings have given up 34, 31, and 31 points. So, yea.

The Vikings fair a good bit better according to Football Outsiders. Overall the Vikings rank 19th in the league with a DVOA of 0.8% which means that they are just barely on the wrong side of being average. Against the pass they rank 14th in the league with a DVOA of -0.4% and against the run they rank 23rd with a DVOA of 3.2%. While the numbers against the run are the worst of the trio of numbers it isn't overly bad to where you can proclaim them easy to run on.

While the pass defense hasn't been that great they have had a wild amount of success against number one receivers. While it might be a little subjective how the guys over at Football Outsiders ranks receivers from other teams I am not sure I would really have a problem with how they rank players from team to team. Minnesota actually ranks third in the league against opposing top receivers with a -55.5% DVOA with those top receivers getting thrown at a little over nine times a game for just under 70 receiving yards.

The Vikings really slip back into the middle of the pack after that though as they rank 18th against number two receivers with a DVOA of 13.2% and 13th in the league against every other receiver with a DVOA of -11.8%. That is where the Steelers are going to have to hurt the VIkings. If last week was any indication then Antonio Brown is going to get a ton of targets and a bulk of the looks from Ben Roethlisberger. Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and Markus Wheaton need to pick up the slack if Brown is taken out of the game. Are they able to do that? I guess we will see.

Minnesota doesn't do a great job at getting to the quarterback as they have registered only two more sacks than the Steelers through three games. If you are counting that means they have five sacks total and an adjusted sack rate of only 4.6% which is 29th in the league. The Steelers rank 31st in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 3.0%. Quarterbacks should feel decently good in this game. I guess.

The Vikings are giving up runs in bunches so far this season. Opposing running backs are averaging 4.57 yards per attempt while the defensive line for the Vikes has an adjusted line yards average of 4.08 which ranks 25th in the league. The league average for running back yards against is 3.96. Furthermore Minnesota has been less than successful in short yardage situations as opposing teams have an 83% power success rate which is 25th in the league. They are a little better in brining down backs at the line or behind it with a 22% stuffed percentage that ranks 12th in the league.

The best place to go after the Vikings on the ground is up the middle and off the tackles. When running up the middle or off the guards opposing offenses are running for an ALY of 4.09 yards that ranks 22nd while they also rank 22nd when rushing off the right tackle with an ALY of 4.31. The spot that has hurt the Vikings the most is when teams are rushing off the left tackle where offenses are getting an ALY of nearly 5.00 which is good for 28th in the league. It will be interesting to see who breaks because the Steelers have been pretty awful at running the football. They are coming off the best week of the season but overall they rank 32nd in the league running up the middle and off the guards with only a 2.40 ALY while having a 1.67 ALY off the left tackle. They do have some success off the right tackle with an ALY of 4.19 but lets not kid ourselves, the Steelers struggle. Which incompetent running/run stopping team is going to win? Man oh man.

Chad Greenway leads the team in tackles from his linebacker position with 25 total tackles (18 solo) and an interception. Last season Greenway led the team with 148 tackles while also picking up three sacks. Jared Allen is a force to be recon with on the defensive line and can carry a defense on his own. Last season he had 12 sacks a year after having 22 sacks in 2011. Allen has racked up double-digit sacks in each of the last six season and so far this year he has one. Given the chance he can rack up three or four at one time so this actually scares the daylights out of me for Roethlisberger.

Erin Henderson is the Vikings middle linebacker and right now has been the most successful player on the field for them. He leads the team with a pair of interceptions and also had two of the Vikings five sacks on the season.

Free safety Harrison Smith leads the secondary with a pair of interceptions and three passes defended while making 23 tackles (20 total) while corner Josh Robinson has 17 tackles (16 solo) but has only one pass defended.

Vikings Special Teams

The Vikings special teams actually have some game breakers on it and can win some games if you let them. Overall the special teams isn't that great with a DVOA of -1.6% which is good for 21st in the league but they are tops in the league in kickoff returns with a DVOA of 4.9%.

Minnesota has been really good on kickoff returns as they have an average of 31.3 yards per return which is good for second in the entire league with rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returning seven kickoffs for an average of 37.4 yards including a 105 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

In terms of punt returning the Vikings have only returned three punts this season for a total of eight yards so that hasn't really been overly successful. Last season the Vikings were 20th in the league on punt returns with a nine yard per return average and returned one punt for a touchdown. I wouldn't expect much in the punt return game from Minnesota.

In terms of field goal kicking the Vikings have one of the better young kickers in the league in Blair Walsh. Now you might think that because Mr. Walsh is on my fantasy team and you might be right, but on the real he is pretty damn good. So far this season he is a perfect 6-for-6 in field goal tries with two coming from 40 yards or further. Last season Walsh was nearly perfect connecting on 35-of-38 attempts which included a perfect 10-for-10 on field goals 50 yards or more. While he gets a good bit of chances from the Vikings offense being incapable of moving the ball at times if the game is close late then I would be pretty scared if the Vikings got within range of Walsh which is around 55-60 yards.

The Vikings punter's name is Jeff Locke. Yup, for real. For those of you that aren't Pirates fans Jeff Locke is also a Pirates pitcher that was an All-Star in the first half of the season before completely falling apart in the second half and probably being left off the playoff roster. So, yea. Anyways, Locke the punter. He is 12th in the league this season with an average of 47 yards per punt and his net average is nearly 42 yards per punt. His punts are being returned for an average of 7.1 yards and has pinned opponents inside the 20 on four of his 15 punts while forcing a fair catch on four punts. So, take that for what it's worth.

Game Notes:

- The Steelers and Vikings do not meet much. They have only three meetings since 2001 and the Steelers have won all three of those meetings with the last meeting coming in October 2009 when the Steelers won 27-17. In that matchup the Steelers held Adrian Peterson to only 69 yards on 18 carries.

- Speaking of the running game the Steelers are going to be getting back Le'Veon Bell back. This stands to be a huge upgrade over what the Steelers have, that is if he lives up to some of the hype. As a team the Steelers are only averaging just under 52 yards per game on the ground and they are 30th in the league with an ALY of only 2.74. Bell was the Steelers second round pick this past year and was slated to start the season as the starter before he went down with a foot injury. Should be fun to watch.

- This stands as the obvious statement but neither team wants to be 0-4 and one is going to be 1-3. That has to happen. Both of these teams have played some truly awful football this season and it might not take a great performance to win. Which ever team wins the game is going to probably just have to make a couple plays and that could be enough.

- Where the Steelers have a pretty significant advantage is in the special teams game. Overall they rank seventh in the league over at Football Outsiders with a DVOA of 3.2%. Kicker Shaun Suisham has hit each of his four field goal opportunities with two of those coming between 40-49 yards. While the Steelers have been a little below average in the kickoff return they rank eighth in the league in punt returns with an 8.4 yard per return average. The return units are doing a pretty good job as the Steelers rank tops in the league allowing only a 12.7 yard per return average and are allowing an 8.5 punt return average which is 21st in the league. In a game of pretty evenly matched teams.

PREDICTION - This game just has boring written all over it. I mean I am a huge Steelers fan but lets not pretend like this is some big five star matchup. This game is being played in London and there are going to be about a billion Big Ben references, so, yay. Anyways, I talked about it before but the Steelers have the best unit in the game in their defense despite not getting any turnovers and if the offense can look anything like last week then they will stand a good chance of getting the win. Steelers 31, Vikings 24

Pirates Game 160 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 7:10 p.m.
A.J. Burnett (9-11, 3.39) vs. Homer Bailey (11-11, 3.40)

Season Series (Tied 8-8)
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
July 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 2
September 20, 2013 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5 (10 inn.)
September 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 2
September 22, 2013 - Cincinnati 11, Pittsburgh 3


Lineups

Pirates (91-68)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Morneau 3
5. Byrd 9
6. Alvarez 5
7. Martin 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Burnett 1

Reds (90-69)
1. Choo 8
2. Ludwick 7
3. Votto 3
4. Phillips 4
5. Bruce 9
6. Frazier 5
7. Cozart 6
8. Hanigan 2
9. Bailey 1

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pirates Game 159 Recap - Cubs 4, Pirates 2

I was unable to watch any of the game since I had to be at my real world job so I was only able to follow GameCast and periodically look at Twitter.

From what I could tell Francisco Liriano was decent, but fell apart in the sixth inning. With the game tied at one he served up a three run home run to Darnell McDonald which was the difference in the game.

The Pirates offense had a good bit of base runners on but weren't able to get any of them in. They went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left eight guys on base. That isn't going to work. There were points where the Pirates were putting together some good at bats but it seemed to always stall.

The bad part about this loss is that the Reds lost too. If the Pirates were to have pulled out a win they would have had a two games on the Reds and would have only needed one win this weekend to wrap up home field for the Wild Card. The Cardinals also won so unless they fall flat on their face against the Cubs the Pirates will be in the Wild Card game. As it sits now, it's easy. Whoever wins the Pirates/Reds series is going to host the Wild Card game.

It is going to be an unreal weekend.

Pirates Game 159 Preview - @ Chicago Cubs

Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs - 2:20 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.88) vs. Jake Arrieta (3-2, 3.94)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 12-6)
April 1, 2013 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 1
April 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 0
April 4, 2013 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 2
May 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 4
May 22, 2013 - Pittsburgh 1, Chicago 0
May 23, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 2
June 7, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 0
June 8, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2
June 9, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 1
July 5, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2
July 6, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 1
July 7, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 3
September 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 1
September 13, 2013 - Chicago 5, Pittsburgh 4
September 14, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1
September 15, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 2
September 23, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1
September 24, 2013 - Pittsburgh 8, Chicago 2


Lineups

Pirates (91-67)
1. Marte 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Morneau 3
5. Jones 9
6. Alvarez 5
7. T.Sanchez 2
8. Barmes 6
9. Liriano 1

Cubs (65-93)
1. Castro 6
2. Barney 4
3. Rizzo 3
4. Murphy 5
5. Lake 7
6. McDonald 9
7. Sweeney 8
8. Boscan 2
9. Arrieta 1

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pirates Game 158 Recap - Pirates 8, Cubs 2

The Pirates did what they needed to do for a second night in a row in Chicago. The Cubs are not a good team and the Pirates came in and took care of business. The Pirates got a much better performance tonight than they had last night, offensively at least, so it wasn't as tense but all wins count the same and they got the job done. Gerrit Cole was good both on the bump and at the plate and that is really all the Pirates needed tonight. 91 wins with four games to go. Pretty awesome.

Cole did a pretty nice job overall. He lost himself in the sixth inning but was able to wiggle out of a huge jam and kept the game at a comfortable distance. In six complete innings he gave up seven hits and a walk and was really good for the first five innings. All told he struck out six and you can really tell that he has been given more leeway with his secondary pitches, especially his curveball, and that has been what he has needed to rack up those strikeouts to the degree in which most expected out of the gate. Holding onto a five run lead to start the seventh Cole allowed the first three runners to reach and then gave up a run on an error by shortstop Jordy Mercer. During that point of the game there was some serious consideration to go to the pen but Cole really gutted up and got it done. He struck out Dioner Navarro on a 3-2 pitch and then got Luis Valbuena to strikeout looking on an inside fastball before getting Donnie Murphy to fly out to right field on a ball that probably leaves the part on most days. Good thing today wasn't most days. Overall Cole was good again and has been one of the best starters down the stretch run. He should get one more start in the season finale at Cincinnati and hopefully more starts as the playoffs go on.

The Pirates offense faced a left handed pitcher tonight in Chris Rusin and they did exactly what you expected them to do against a left handed pitcher. They hit him all over the yard. Rusin lasted only 2.1 innings where he gave up four runs on six hits while walking one and striking out only one. The Pirates have a really good offensive lineup when they face lefties and they proved it again. Despite the error later in the game Mercer went deep for the fourth run and an unlikely guy, Pedro Alvarez, doubled to right field an inning prior for the Pirates first run. Another unlikely character, Cole, actually followed up things with two outs in the second inning driving in a pair of runs. Who would have thought?

All told the Pirates had 12 hits on the night. Starlings Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Marlon Byrd, and Alvarez all had two hits with Alvarez picking up a pair of doubles and three RBI while Marte and McCutchen also had a run batted in. After struggling last night to put some runs on the board it was nice to see the Pirates break out a little bit even if it was against a lefty and mostly the pen. Whatever, it all counts the same to me.

The Cardinals won tonight and the Reds lost. That means the Pirates are still two games back of the division and are now one game up in the Wild Card. I know Pat Lackey mentioned this on Twitter tonight but I will just reiterate it here, this win doesn't really mean a whole ton unless the Pirates win tomorrow and the Reds lose. If the Pirates and Reds both win tomorrow then the Pirates would still have to win the series in Cincinnati to have the Wild Card game be played at PNC Park. The first tiebreaker for where the Wild Card game is to be played if two teams are tied is head-to-head record an going into the series these two teams are tied 7-7. So if the Pirates are one game up and they lose the series then they will play that game in Cincinnati. The only way they wouldn't need to win the series is if they are two games up which would mean that they only need to win one of the games to host the Wild Card. I hope that made sense. Hopefully the Cardinals lose a couple games and the Pirates can win a few more games and they won't have to worry about the Wild Card. I am assuming that is not going to happen so...

Pirates Game 158 Preview - vs. Chicago Cubs

Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs - 8:05 p.m.
Gerrit Cole (9-7, 3.23) vs. Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 11-6)
April 1, 2013 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 1
April 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 0
April 4, 2013 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 2
May 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 4
May 22, 2013 - Pittsburgh 1, Chicago 0
May 23, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 2
June 7, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 0
June 8, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2
June 9, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 1
July 5, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2
July 6, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 1
July 7, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 3
September 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 1
September 13, 2013 - Chicago 5, Pittsburgh 4
September 14, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1
September 15, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 2\
September 23, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1


Lineups

Pirates (90-67)
1. Marte 7
2. Mercer 6
3. McCutchen 8
4. Byrd 9
5. G. Sanchez 3
6. Martin 2
7. Alvarez 5
8. Harrison 4
9. Cole 1

Cubs (65-92)
1. Castro 6
2. Lake 7
3. Rizzo 3
4. Navarro 2
5. Schierholtz 9
6. Murphy 5
7. Bogusevic 8
8. Watkins 4
9. Rusin 1

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pirates Game 157 Recap - Pirates 2, Cubs 1. PLAYOFFS!

What better way to get back on track than going to Wrigley Field and beating the Cubs. OK, maybe there are a lot better ways to get back on track but after losing a bunch of games recently it doesn't matter who you play or how it happens, you just want to get a win and keep yourself at least tied for the top spot in the Wild Card race and giving yourself a chance to officially make the playoffs. The Pirates did all of that tonight even though it was particularly easy or pretty.

Starling Marte, a guy who hasn't played much recently after coming off the DL went deep in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game to all but win this one for the Bucs. This coming off the previous half inning where Mark Melancon gave up the lead in his third straight appearance. They all aren't pretty folks.

As it has been for some time now Charlie Morton was really, really good. Tonight he worked seven innings, scattering three hits, and now allowing a single run. He struck out five, walked only one, and finished the game with 89 pitches. The sinker was working and when the leadoff hitter got on for the Cubs in the sixth and seventh innings it was ground ball double plays that got him out of any trouble that might have been around the corner. Morton was recently named to a playoff rotation and this is why. While the Cubs aren't a terribly good it was a performance that the team needed and Morton was able to deliver.

The offense really didn't do a whole ton. They scored a first inning run when Neil Walker went deep for the fourth time in the last five games and that was all they needed. While the Cubs didn't put together a ton of hits the Pirates didn't either as they had only six hits in the game and the only baserunner to reach after the sixth inning was Marte and all he did was circle the bases. Luckily that's all the Pirates needed.

Who cares about anything else. As I was typing the last paragraph the Wastington Nationals lost and the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the 2013 postseason. Let that sink it. I didn't really know how i feel about the Pirates doing a lot of celebrating for just clinching a Wild Card but watching that team in the clubhouse was awesome. It's been a really long time since the Pirates have even sniffed playoff baseball and that year is finally here. 90 win as of today with five games left. 90 wins and in the playoffs for a team that lost 105 games in 2010.

Neal Huntington, Frank Coonley, Bob Nutting, Clint Hurdle, Jeff Banister, Ray Searage, and every single person and play on that team deserves this. It's been almost unlimited heartache and being able to finally, officially, stamp your ticket to the postseason is pretty awesome. Even if it only guarantees you one game. The Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals are still fighting out this whole NL Central/Wild Card thing but for tonight this is about a team that most predicted to win between 70-78 wins before the season by damn near everyone going to the playoffs and not giving a shit about anything else.

If you didn't see the interview Andrew McCutchen had in the interview it really just sums all this up. He was literally speechless and didn't know what to say. That is what it is all about. That man has been the best player in the National League this season and he deserves this. We all do. Enjoy it. There are bigger fish to fry over the rest of the week but for tonight it's all about the playoffs, and the Pirates are there.

Buy your gear people. It's real.

Steelers Game 3 Recap - Bears 40, Steelers 23

I guess what I could do is come in here and tell you that the Steelers played better than the second week which was better than the first week and that would make you feel all better about the team and maybe give you the idea that the team can turn it around. That really isn't the case. The Steelers did play better but at 0-3 the playoffs are more of a prayer than a reality and while they could conceivably go 13-3 I think most of us would bet our lives that wouldn't happen.

Crunched between a brutal start and a brutal end to the game was actually some good football. The Steelers offense posted 23 points which was more than they had in the entire rest of the season (albeit two games) combined. The problem is that the Steelers turned the ball over five times and the defense didn't create a turnover, again, and that really was the problem in a nutshell.

It is hard to really pin down some of the things that happened last night. I mean we will first talk about Ben Roethlisberger. He probably had his best game of the season where he threw for 406 yards and a pair of touchdowns but in the same breath he fumbled three times (lost two, one returned for a touchdown) and threw two interceptions, one of which was taken back for touchdowns. What was encouraging was that Roethlisberger was finally able to get the ball down the field as he posted a 9.9 yard per attempt average and fired touchdown passes of 33 and 21 yards so it wasn't just the dink and dunk. The bad was that he just doesn't look that locked in. Now a lot of this has to do with him getting hit nearly every drop back because the offensive line isn't doing their job but he is missing some throws that he hasn't missed in the past. I think overall he is playing pretty well but you can't turn the football over four times and expect to win.

The same can really be said about the defense. On the one hand they allowed the Bears to gain only 258 yards and they held Jay Cutler to throw for under 100 yards until the fourth quarter. Outside of a 55 yard run from Matt Forte they held the Bears to only 52 yards rushing on 27 carries. So how do the Steelers lose this game? They lose it by not creating a turnover and only getting to Cutler twice. That is how. After teh Steelers cut the Bears lead to four with about 10 minutes left in the game they allowed the Bears to go on a nine play, 72 yard drive that ended in a Cutler touchdown pass that put the game out of reach. The key plays on that drive was a 13 yard run by Cutler on a third and 10 from his own 26 and then followed later by a 41 yard completion to Brandon Marshall that set up the touchdown pass. Like I said I am not saying the defense was bad, because the offense really put them behind the eight ball a couple of times, but at some point you have to create a turnover.

The one guy who deserves all the praise in the world is Antonio Brown. I have been pretty vocal about the fact that the Steelers don't have a number one receiver and that Brown was really just an average number two, but last night he really was good. He caught nine passes for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Every time Roethlisberger needed a big play Brown was there and he wasn't just making the average catch and run plays, he was making highlight catches. It was really good to see Brown break out of his shell a little bit and was right in sync with Ben and it made all the difference in the world in making this offense look good and keeping them in the game.

The Steelers also did a pretty nice job of running the football. I am not going to sit here and tell you that they did a great job but they did run for 80 yards on 21 carries for damn near a four yard per carry average. While that is below the standards when you look at the first two games of the season and see the complete incompetence of anyone to do anything you can understand how this might look good. Jonathan Dwyer actually got the most carries of anyone (12) but didn't really do a whole lot with them (39 yards with a long of 25) while Felix Jones was effective with seven carries for 34 yards. The knock here is that Jones fumbled the ball early in the third quarter that I thought was going to put the game out of reach. What that fumble did do was officially make him a Steelers running back because if you want to be one of those you have to put the ball on the turf.

Troy Polamalu was also a bright spot. Every game this season he has been on the field for every defensive snap and for a guy that has had a problem staying on the field over his career that is a good thing. For the first time in a while he looks healthy and while he is not as nimble and agile as he once was he is still all over the field and making some pretty unreal plays. Last night he blocked an extra point and while it didn't mean much since the game was already out of reach it is nice to see that he still has that burst and is healthy.

I mean I really wish there was more I could say about the game. It literally came down to the Bears making two interceptions and recovering three fumbles. They turned those five turnovers into nearly all of their points and the Steelers were not able to create a single turnover. To be honest when you turn the ball over that many times and you still have a chance to win the game late you are pretty damn lucky. For much of the second half it looked as if the Bears were just trying to not lose the game and it nearly cost them. One pick or forced fumble that went the Steelers way changes that game and gives them a much better chance to win. It didm happen.

Now London gets to watch the Vikings and Steelers next week. Both teams are 0-3 and both teams are bad. At this point I think that the Steelers actually have a decent chance of winning this game (I didn't think they did the last two games) so I guess that should give us something to look forward to. Right now the Steelers are in a bad place and when I envision this team winning five games I have a hard time believing myself.

Pirates Game 157 Preview - @ Chicago Cubs

Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs - 8:05 p.m.
Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.35) vs. Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 10-6)
April 1, 2013 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 1
April 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 0
April 4, 2013 - Chicago 3, Pittsburgh 2
May 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 4
May 22, 2013 - Pittsburgh 1, Chicago 0
May 23, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Chicago 2
June 7, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 0
June 8, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2
June 9, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 1
July 5, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 2
July 6, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 1
July 7, 2013 - Chicago 4, Pittsburgh 3
September 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 1
September 13, 2013 - Chicago 5, Pittsburgh 4
September 14, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1
September 15, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Chicago 2


Lineups

Pirates (89-67)
1. Tabata 7
2. Walker 4
3. McCutchen 8
4. Morneau 3
5. Byrd 9
6. Alvarez 5
7. Martin 2
8. Mercer 6
9. Morton 1

Cubs (65-91)
1. Castro 6
2. Valbuena 5
3. Rizzo 3
4. Navarro 2
5. Schierholtz 9
6. Sweeney 8
7. Bogusevic 7
8. Barney 4
9. Samardzija 1

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pirates Game 156 Recap - Reds 11, Pirates 3

Every game that Jeff Locke has pitched since the All-Star break has been pretty bad. I take that back, he had one nice start a few weeks ago when you thought he might have figured out some of his issues but what we are still seeing is that you can't continue to get through the season not throwing strikes and hoping that balls put in play are being turned into out at an unsustainable rate.

Coming into the game Jeff Locke was ranked last among qualified pitchers in walk rate and today it didn't get any better He walked two hitters in the first inning and both scored. He then gave up a monster home run and before he could record his second out (he got Billy Hamilton out on the first pitch of the game) the Pirates were down 5-0. He didn't come back out for the second inning and likely will not make his next start nor will he be on the postseason roster (you have to assume he won't). Things this year for Locke have gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Just a really brutal second half of the season. Fact remains that if he doesn't throw strikes and figure things out he isn't going to be much help for this team going forward.

I know this is going to sound like a hugely hindsight type thought but this was a significantly big game for the Pirates. The difference between being tied for the first wildcard and up two games with six games to go is immense. The Pirates trotted out Locke who has been really bad. There are other guys who could have started this game and I know that a lot of those guys aren't fully stretched out but I can't imagine what the confidence was to throw Locke out there. Just just almost knew bad things were going to happen. It wasn't just Locke today but that start really made it hard for the team.

I could talk about what happened today but instead you can just look at this:



The Pirates used six pitchers that gave up 16 hits to the Reds and 11 runs. Usually solid guys like Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro got roughed up really bad and whatever could go wrong did go wrong. I would say it is one of those games but it seems like these games have been happening a lot lately.

The offense had some chances early. They were getting base runners on at a good rate early and forced Reds starter Bronson Arroyo out after only five innings but they couldn't get that one big hit to get back into the game. They had a number of chances to cut the lead to two or three and just couldn't get that big hit. It was just a microcosm of how things have been going.

Neil Walker was a bright spot going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and a home run but the Pirates managed only five hits on the day. Andrew McCutchen has been struggling in a big way with his last hit coming on Wednesday against the Padres. Every hitter goes through slumps but this was just a brutal time for Cutch to go into one. Hopefully the Cubs can snap him out of it.

The good news is that the Nationals lost today in the first game of the double header. The Pirates magic number is now two. Two more wins and the Pirates are in. There are bigger things than just getting in but man after the last week it would be nice to just know 100% for sure they are in.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pirates Game 155 Recap - Pirates 4, Reds 2

After how bad last night was the Pirates, and we as fans, really needed something good to happen. Well tonight something good happened. A.J. Burnett went out and recorded his 200th strikeout of the season en route to a 12 strikeout night and after a slow start shut down the Reds and the offense did just enough for the Pirates to get back in the win column and back into the top Wild Card spot. Great stuff.

Burnett didn't start the game off very well. After an inning and a half it was 2-0 Reds and Burnett looked like he was a little too amped up for the game. He wasn't hitting spots and he threw a lot of pitches and it just gave you a bad feeling in your stomach. Then something just clicked. He calmed down and just went into beast mode the rest of the game and was striking out Reds hitters left and right and hitters were just looking dumb against his curve. It was really awesome. The Pirates needed a great start tonight and while Burnett hasn't been overly consistent over his career he was pretty great tonight. As I said above he got his 200th strikeout of the season and here is some good info on that:



The Pirates offense got only five hits on the night but when they did get hits they made them count. While the Pirates got behind 2-0 it was about making the Reds pay for mistakes. With two outs (after a double play) Pedro Alvarez reached on an error by Joey Votto and the very next pitch Russell Marin went deep to left field to tie the game.

In the sixth inning the game was still tied and Andrew McCutchen was on first. Homer Bailey tried to pick him off and threw it away and McCutchen got to third. After a Justin Morneau walk Marlon Byrd made the Reds pay for a mistake with a sacrifice fly to right field. The little talked about play there was that it was deep enough for Morneau to tag and move to second base and that was huge. What was that huge? The next batter, Alvarez, singled to left and score Morneau for an insurance run. So one hit and two runs. They made the Reds pay for their mistakes and that is what you have to do in September baseball.

Justin Wilson came in to pitch for the first time in a week and was outstanding. His velocity has been down in his last handful of outings but after some time off he was back up to 98 tonight and got Votto to ground into a double play to end the eighth. Just great to see Wilson back because he is going to need to be in top shape coming down the stretch. Jason Grilli was back in the closers role after not closing a game since his injury and while he still doesn't have his velo back he was able to get a double play ball and another groundout to close the game out. Just great stuff.

The Pirates magic number is three and the Pirates are in a good place right now. This is what September baseball is all about and while last night was the bad part about it tonight was the good part about it. I like the good parts better.