Hey, it's the halfway mark of the season as we head to the All-Star break. And what's in store for these star-crossed Buccos?
Well, we think you'll see a big improvement in the attack. No, not 1927 Yankee stuff, but better than 2 or 3 runs a game, just because JR finally has a fairly set lineup to work with.
Tabata, Walker, McCutch, Jones, Pedro, Doumit (we were tempted to drop Pedro to sixth to break up the lefty tandem, but the way Dewey hits RHP...well), Milledge/Church (and why the love for Church is beyond us, unless the chance for a homer or a bit of pre-deadline showcasing is the reasoning) and Cedeno/Crosby should only improve.
Perfect it's not. First, we'll see the pitching adjustments - hitting readjustments common to all young lineups, and the valleys that game produces. PNC Field or not, the team needs a RH bopper for balance. And shortstop is a black hole with no help in sight; we'd love to see Nutting chase the moths out of his purse and get a free agent to hold the fort there.
Ultimately, we'd prefer a Pearce/Clements platoon at first and Jones becoming the everyday RF'er, because McCutch and Tabata are fixtures, and both are 10-15 HR guys. You need at least one muscleman in the OF, and Milledge, for as much as his game has picked up, isn't that guy.
And when and if they find that SS, if he could bat in the two hole and free up Walker for the six spot, where he could drive in some runs, that would be ideal.
While we're at it, send Jaramillo down and let him hit every day. Catching the fragile Dewey as often as they have shows very little confidence in JJ's bat, which played well when he got regular time, but not so well as a once-a-week sub. Eric Kratz should be able to fill the need to give Doumit an occasional blow.
The pitching? Well, the pen looks to be fine. Even if they move Dotel and/or Lopez, they have some arms left to play with. If Dotel goes, Hanrahan, Meek, and Donnelly get bumped up an inning, and Steve Jackson at Indy fills the hole; he can replace Carrasco, too. If Lopez gets a phone call, Wil Ledzema is throwing All-Star caliber ball in AAA, and he and Thomas can keep a seat warm for Danny Moskos.
The starters are an entirely different story. When Hart and Morton fizzled, they lost what the suits thought was going to be the 1-2 punch for the next five years. So much for player evaluation, hey?
Ohlendorf should heat up over the second half of the season, and Lincoln will be feeling his way around the league; better now than later. Maholm has been inconsistent, Duke is just bad so far, and Karstens fills the role of a five man without much more upside.
And again, everyone near MLB ready has been accounted for; there's no cavalry to come to the rescue. Hart and Veal went under the knife, D-McCutch has been up and down in the show, and the top guy at Indy now may be Hayden Penn, who's throwing some strikes recently. Jose Ascanio, who we liked as a potential starter, has been on the DL his whole brief Pirate career, or so it seems.
The young wave is at Altoona, where Bryan Morris is pitching decently, Tim Alderson terribly, and lefty Justin Wilson is moving up on the charts with a strong showing in AA. Still, between Indy and the Curve, it doesn't look like there's any help that will show up until at best a year from now, and more likely 2012, unless Morton finds his mojo. He best find it; he's out of options after this season.
So for the short-term we see a steady lineup with some speed at the top and a decent middle of the order presence, though still with a couple of holes, that should be capable of producing some runs. It'll be interesting to see if those holes get filled during the off season. The time for stockpiling talent is over, and the time to address the major league team is at hand.
The pitcher's challenge will be to pump out quality starts - and 3 runs in 6 innings isn't that high a bar - and get the late innings covered by the pen. If they can do that, there's some hope that the second half won't be a repeat of the first.