Monday, May 11, 2009

Let It Rain

Hey, it's thundering out out and the gray skies are weeping, and the Buc season looks just as dismal. But it hasn't been all sturm und drang for the Pirates.

Looking for a few bright spots? How about the work of the rotation so far? It hasn't translated into wins, but the starting five for Pittsburgh have gone six weeks into the season and look like a pretty solid bunch of arms.

Zach Duke has led the pack, with a 3-3 slate and 2.79 ERA. The rest of the guys have had their ups and downs, but pretty well kept the club in the games into the seventh inning or so. Paul Maholm is 3-1 with a 4.06 ERA, Ross Ohlendorf is 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA, Ian Snell is 1-5 with a 4.50 ERA, and Jeff Karstens is 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA.

That's an 11-13 record and 4.04 ERA, not exactly Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale numbers, but hey - it was 5.10 last year. The NL norm is 4.62, so that end of the deal has held up fine.

And the bullpen's young 'uns have come up roses - Jesse Chavez (0-1, 2.19), Evan Meek (0-0, 2.79), and Sean Burnett (0-1, 3.14) have been very nice set-up guys, and are earning a little more JR trust when the game gets to crunch time.

Even the sick sticks have had a couple of bright spots. Nyjer Morgan is hitting .301/.376 OBP, and has 21 runs scored, 13 RBI and 9 stolen bases. Steady Freddy is eyeballing the dish like days of old, batting .317/.352 OBP, with 13 doubles, 3 HR's, 19 runs, 11 RBI and even has 3 stolen sacks.

Nate McLouth is following his breakout All-Star season in style, hitting .292/.378 OBP/.490 slugging %, with 5 HR, 22 RBI, and 16 runs scored.

The two-headed catching tandem of Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz have combined to hit .322/.347, with nine 2B's, a homer, and nine RBI, making Ryan Doumit's absence a bit more bearable.

Delwyn Young has only a small body of work so far, but he's been patient at the plate and centering the ball, and he's versatile.

Hey, even Andy LaRouche is picking it up some, hitting .255 after a miserable .166 debut in 2008. Now if he could find that longball stroke the suits were so in love with again...

Don't obsess quite so much on Adam LaRoche - he's been hitting the ball, at least, even if it's not dropping - Matt Capps, and John Grabow. They all have track records to fall back on, and should be fine as the summer heats up, if Capp's arm stays in one piece.

Now Brandon Moss, Tyler Yates, Brian Bixler, and Jack Wilson may end up different stories. Moss is in a slump of Biblical proportions and shows little sign of snapping out of it. Yates has a lifetime ERA of 5.15, and has been over it more often in his career than under.

Bix has been given two shots at short, and hasn't cut it at the plate or in the field. And Jack Splat? He's the Bucs' only MLB-caliber shortstop, but he has to show some durability; his body has just been breaking down too much lately.

As we said before, it's a season to evaluate. And in the balance of things, they're moving in the right direction. More worrisome is the slow starts so many of the prospects have had out of the gate in the farm; their slow development will throw a wrench in the team's progress more than the guys in the PNC clubhouse in the long run.

It's a long summer. Don't write it off quite yet. It's funny how a four or five game winning streak can revive a club - and its fans.

-- BTW, there's quite an impressive lineup of Pirate alumni playing for the indie Atlantic League Newark Bears. They include Bobby Hill, Shawn Chacon, Rob Mackowiak, and Abraham Nunez. And Daryle Ward signed with them briefly before the White Sox picked him up as AAA insurance. Old ballplayers never die...

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