Ah, the Bucs ease back into Central division play against the reeling Cubbies, losers of 6 of the last 7 games and home of Milton Bradley driven discord. Rich Harden, with a 4.95 ERA and without a victory since May 12th, was on the hill against Pirate ace Zach Duke. Time to make hay, hey?
Nah. Duke was OK, giving up three runs in seven innings and none after the fourth, but the Bucs couldn't get the clutch hit and dropped a 3-1 decision to Chicago.
The Pirates banged out eight hits between the fifth and seventh innings, and scored just one run. Seven of the knocks were singles, and no hit advanced a runner more than station-to-station. They left the bases juiced in the fifth, wasted back-to-back hits in the sixth, and ended the seventh with a DP.
After two more against the Cubs and a make-up against the Mets, the Pirates take to the road for nine games before the All-Star break. These next two weeks could prove crucial to their hopes in 2009. If they get through that stretch and late July within sight of the Central leader board, Pittsburgh will be home for 35 games in the friendly confines of PNC.
If not, plan on buying a scorecard. The team will surely look a whole lot different for those last two months of the season. If they hang around, there will still be a house cleaning, but more likely during the off-season (even the Pirate suits should know better than to blow up a team while it's still got a pulse.)
Whether they stay in the race or not will depend on the pitching. Pittsburgh is 28-15 when yielding four runs or less, but 7-26 when giving up five or more. There's not much wiggle room when the staff has a bad night.
-- Ryan Doumit's estimated return date is July 17th, after the All-Star break. His estimated trade date, July 30th. Just jokin'...maybe.
-- Don't be surprised if Donnie Veal isn't completely "rehabbed" by July 8th and spends some more time on the DL. The Rule 5 claim needs to spend 90 days on the roster to stick with the organization; since he went on the DL June 1st, he has 55 days under his belt.
JR looks quite comfortable with the bullpen's current configuration, and seems to have confidence in all the staff now that Steve Jackson and Jeff Karstens have joined the mix. The Pirates may not want to disrupt his comfort zone. And if they DL Veal until the September call-up, they only have to carry him for a week in 2010 to complete their claim.
He can join other out-of-option pitchers Phil Dumatrait, Tyler Yates, and Craig Hansen on the see ya in September list.
If they can't poke and prod an extended injury out of him, look for Evan Meek or perhaps Jackson to spend a few weeks in Indy.
-- We're still scratching our heads over the Steve Pearce call-up. Unless Adam LaRoche is about to be moved, he's the odd man out both in right and first base. Wouldn't the time have been better spent at Indy, playing ball instead of watching?
-- We're also a little curious why the Buc suits are badmouthing Ian Snell, calling his contract a mistake and admitting that they've been trying to move him for months. Doesn't exactly sound like the way to plump up a guy's value to us. Then again, they're probably just verbalizing what the rest of MLB already knows.
The biggest block in moving Snell is that he's locked into a contract that pays him starter wages when the rest of the league sees him as a reliever. At any rate, judging by the roaring inferno of burning bridges, it's unlikely that Snell will ever pull on a Pirate jersey again, seventeen strikeouts or not.
-- Pedro Alvarez's knee injury is tendinitis; he's expected to miss a couple more days. He's looking more and more like a first base candidate.
-- Think the Pirates have issues with their minor league pitching? The Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres) and the High Desert Mavericks (Mariners) slugged it out to the tune of 51 runs in Lake Elsinore's 33-18 victory in the Class A California League. Hey, we know the west coast leagues are hitter's paradises, but geez...score eighteen runs and still lose by fifteen?