The Pirates are off today, getting ready to take on the Milwaukee Brewers tomorrow night. It's a big homestand for them as the Central division is beginning to split into two tiers, with Chicago, St. Louis and Houston bunched together and Pittsburgh, the Brew Crew and the Reds lagging behind.
The Bucs host the Cubs next, visit Cincy and the Cards, and then spend the majority of June at home. They have a tough interleague schedule looming, meeting the O's, White Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays.
The next five weeks will tell the tale on the season, with 16 straight games with Central division rivals leading into interleague play with the Nats and D-Backs in between. And the Pirate's starting pitching will be the story.
The Bucs have outscored their opponents in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings by a 68-40 margin according to the Tribune Review's Rob Biertempfel. Is it any wonder why starting pitching is so key to this club? If the Pirates are close or ahead going into the seventh inning, they've been closing the deal.
The team ERA of 5.34 is easily the NL's worst. Too many times, good bullpen work hasn't been enough to make up for a starter getting shelled after four or five innings. It's time for them to turn it around, or the fire sale will begin sooner instead of later in Pittsburgh.
On the Jack Splat front: Jack Wilson will suit up for Altoona in Akron tomorrow to continue his rehab, and should play with the Curve for a couple or three days, or maybe a bit longer. Wilson got four games under his belt while at Indy and is still looking to find his legs and stamina. He received treatment for his bum calf and worked out at PNC Park this morning.
On the minor league front: Brad Lincoln, pitching for the first time in over a year after TJ surgery, gave 1 run on 4 hits while whiffing 3 in five innings for A Hickory as he defeated Rome. A promising beginning for the Buc's top pick in 2006.
On the ex-Pirate front: Cub bench player Daryle Ward was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a bulging disc in his back. Ward hit 27 homers for the Bucs in 2004-2005.
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, free agent Kenny Lofton "is still waiting and hoping for a chance to play." Why can't the 41 year-old outfielder find a job? With an .818 OPS last year, he still has a knack with the bat. Is Lofton sitting at home for lack of interest, or is he asking for too much in terms of money or playing time?
He'd be a nice piece for the right team - maybe the A's, Cubs, or Braves could take a chance on him. Lofton did a nice job for Pittsburgh in 2003, hitting .277 with 18 stolen sacks in 84 games before he was sent to the Cubs with A-Ram for Bobby Hill.