Sunday, September 30, 2012

2013 Contracts, Arbitration, Team Control

Well, enough for 2012. It's time to look ahead at 2013 and the Pirates' contract situation for the upcoming season.

They have Cutch, AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Clint Barmes and Jose Tabata inked to deals. In 2013, AJ and Barmes will be in their final seasons, with Burnett knocking down $16.5M and Barmes $5.5M. Wandy will earn $13.5M and has a player option in 2014 for $13M. McCutch and JT are locked in long term, with Cutch taking home $4.708M and Tabata $1.167M next year. Those five guys are guaranteed $27.875M after the $13.5M chipped in by the Yankees and Astros are subtracted, and all should return to the roster.

The only players with option tears in 2013 are Rod Barajas and Pedro Alvarez. Hot Rod has a $3.5M team option with no buyout. He has already said he'll talk contract if the Bucs, thin at catching, want him back. El Toro doesn't have enough time to opt for arbitration, so he'll return under a $700K team option.

Pirates that will be in free agency next season are Jason Grilli, Kevin Correia, Chad Qualls and Hisanori Takahashi ($4.2M); he'll be set free. Grilli ($1.1M) and Qualls ($1.15M) may get offers from the team, Grilli because of his performance and Qualls because the management has a jones for him. But Jason will be expensive in his walk year after two solid seasons as Hanny's caddy, and he'd be foolhardy not to see what the market has to offer. Qualls would be a depth signing. KC ($4M) will visit the marketplace.

As to be expected from a young team, there are a boatload of arb-eligible guys. Joel Hanrahan ($4.1M) and Jeff Karstens ($3.1M) are in their third and final year of arbitration. We wouldn't be surprised to see both tendered and traded during the off season. Hanny should have good value as a trade piece while JK has worked himself into the doghouse and a possible non-tender situation, although the Pirate rotation is far from set next season. We don't think that has to do so much with salary as trust; the Pirates aren't convinced his body can hold up under a full season of work.

Garrett Jones ($2.25M), a Super Two player, will enter his second year of arb. His versatility and middle of the order punch should guarantee him a return ticket to Pittsburgh. Chris Resop ($850K) may be getting a little pricy as a bridge reliever. So may be the injured Charlie Morton ($2.445M). Our sense is the FO will try to sign all three guys to contracts for role and depth purposes, though Resop and Morton, to a lesser degree, are coin flips.

The first year arb class has some building block players in Neil Walker and James McDonald, and Gaby Sanchez is a guy who the Pirates want to keep. They're all minimum wage earners now, and all should return in 2013.

The biggest question will be how the FO handles The Kid. He's 27, has a balky back, and is a Super Two player, but is one of Pittsburgh's core members, so there are a lot of moving pieces involved with him contractually. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out, as he's said he's open to off season negotiations. Another story line will be what value the brass and J-Mick have in mind. Can they reach a mutual mid-point or will his salary be determined at a hearing?

Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Mike McKenry, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Chris Leroux are all safely under team control, as are all the Indy guys like Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Brock Holt.

(all the data was taken from Cot's Baseball Contracts)

Bucs Unravel In Ninth To Lose 4-3

After a nice ceremony held through a steady drizzle to celebrate the Great One's 3,000th hit, collected on this date in 1972, Wandy Rodriguez went to work to see if he could reverse his first inning mojo.

He got off on a high note, whiffing Brandon Phillips, but Wilson Valdez followed with a knock. The umps stopped the game then, calling for the tarps; two minutes later, they decided to play ball, so the teams suffered through a four minute rain delay, maybe a new record (it wasn't). A Joey Votto roller moved Valdez to second, and Todd Frazier popped out to get Wandy off to a strong start. Johnny Cueto routinely retired the first two Bucs, then lost Cutch on five pitches. Jones went down swinging after fouling off three straight fat offerings, and it was scoreless after a frame.

The second batter again got to Wandy. After a pop out, Miguel Cairo singled to center. An out later, Ryan Hanigan spoiled enough deliveries to earn a nine-pitch walk and turn the order over as Cueto went down swinging. Cueto had a quiet start to the Bucco second. Pedro flew out to left and Travis Snider went down looking without ever offering at a pitch before Clint Barmes beat out an infield knock. In a Ripley's moment, Hot Rod Barajas hustled out an infield single of his own. Wandy fouled out to end the frame.

After catching a call on an 0-2 pitch just off the black, Phillips opened the third with a single. Valdez followed with another knock to put Reds on the corners. Votto added to the woes when he went the opposite way on a 2-2 pitch for a ground rule double that a fan touched. A Todd Frazier ground out to short brought in a second run. Chris Heisey whiffed after a pesky, eight pitch at bat and Cairo flew out, but the Reds were up by a pair.

The Bucs went to work. Alex Presley got to second on a boot by Votto, but was caught trying to go to third a batter later on a Josh Harrison comebacker. Cutch launched one deep to center, but the park held it in for Stubbs. It couldn't hold Jones' fly, as he banged his 26th to right to tie the game, a no-doubter that splashed down in the Allegheny. Pedro followed with a knock, but Snider went down for a second time. After three, it was 2-2.

Wandy put away the bottom of the Cincinnati order in the fourth, as Cueto did with the Bucs 7-8-9 hitters. Rodriguez was dealing now; he got a pair of whiffs and ran his consecutive out streak to nine after five. Presley opened the Buc half with a double, and was bunted to third by J-Hay. He touched home after a Cutch liner dropped in left. Cutch reached second an out later when a pick throw went astray, but died there when Pedro popped out. Still, 3-2 Buccos after five.

Wandy's streak ended at eleven in the sixth when Cairo spanked a two out double to the opposite field. He came back to fan Stubbs. That should be it for Wandy, who went six innings, giving up a pair of runs on six hits with a walk and seven whiffs, tossing 105 pitches. Cueto put the Bucs down quietly.

Tony Watson toed the rubber in the seventh, and punched out two of the three Reds he faced. Cueto batted; Cincy is hoping to get him his twentieth win, and he is at just 88 pitches so far. And looking good; it took him ten pitches to retire the Bucs in their half.

Jason Grilli took the bump, and Starling Marte was sent into left. Valdez went down on three pitches, but Votto banged a single to center. Frazier was punched out, and so was Jay Bruce. It was an emphatic recovery from yesterday's blown hold. The Reds opted to keep Cueto fresh for the playoffs and sent Sam LeCure to the hill. He K'ed Cutch, who never offered a swing. Gaby Sanchez batted for Jones; Sean Marshall was waved in for LeCure. Marshall got Gaby to fly out and Pedro on a bouncer, and just like in the old days, it was Hanny time.

Ugh. Pinch-hitter Xavier Paul caught an elevated 0-2 heater away, leaned out and took it yard to right. After a pair of infield outs, another pinch hitter, Ryan Ludwick, rattled a double to left. What is it about these guys that turn them into mashers once they leave town? Zack Cozart doubled him home before Hanny could get a Valdez bouncer. Now it's the Bucs that are down to their last three swings.

JT led off with a four pitch walk against Aroldis Chapman. Chapman went to first, and threw the ball away, fortunately for him. Tabata easily got to second; he continued on to third, waved on by Nick Leyva, where he was out. To make it worse, Barmes followed with a five pitch walk, and Hot Rod singled him to second. The Fort went down looking, Marte swinging, and the Bucs lost 4-3.

It was kinda a microcosm of the season; try as they may, nothing quite works out at the end. Well, three to go.

Tomorrow night, the Braves' Paul Maholm, who is 1-1 against his old mates, takes on Jeff Locke, looking for his first big league win. As an added incentive, the series will be last regular season appearances for Chipper Jones.

  • BTW, for those of you wondering what Wandy's real first name is, wonder no more - it's Wandy. And he did pitch as advertised. As a Bucco, he was 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.267 WHIP, with 50 K in 75 IP.
  • The Bucs drew a very nice crowd of 32,814. The sun's out now, but at game time it was chilly and rainy. Looks like Clemente and fan appreciation giveaways trumped the clouds.
  • Tom Singer of noted that rookie Kyle McPherson might have earned a new nickname, as "McFear" signs were spotted in the PNC Park seats last night. After all, K-Mac is pretty generic.
  • Oh, and yes - it is now officially 20 consecutive losing seasons.

Lineup, Notes, News on Fan Appreciation Day

RHP Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.83) is on the bump against LHP Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.79) this afternoon. Cueto is looking to add the twentieth notch to his holster in his match against Wandy, whose been steady in the Bucco rotation and hasn't taken a loss since August 24th. A key will be the first frame; Wandy has allowed six of his seven runs in the opening inning in his last two starts. The game begins at 1:35 and will be aired by Root Sports on an afternoon that's better suited for the Great Race than Fan Appreciation Day.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Josh Harrison 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Travis Snider RF, Clint Barmes SS, Rod Barajas C, Wandy Rodriguez P.

Travis Snider gets a start, and J-Hay takes his turn at second base.

  • Today marks the 40th anniversary of Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th career hit collected at TRS. To celebrate the event, the Clemente family will be joined on the field by Roberto’s former teammate Steve Blass for a pregame ceremony and video.
  • With 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases, Cutch is just the fourth player in team history to reach those totals in one season. Dave Parker (30 HR/20 SB) did it in 1978, Barry Bonds did it in three straight seasons (33 HR/52 SB in 1990, 35 HR/43 SB in 1991 and 34 HR/39 SB in 1992) and Jason Bay (32 HR/21 SB) was the last Bucco to do it, in 2005. McCutch and Ryan Braun are the only players in the Major Leagues this season with at least 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
  • No one's safe. While being interviewed after the game, Cutch got cream-pied and a gatorade bath.
  • As a team, the Bucs have K'ed 1,316 times this year to set a new club record, breaking last season's old mark of 1,308 whiffs.
  • They're going to the wire in the junior circuit. With four days to go in the season, not a single team has clinched a playoff spot, with eight clubs still in the running for the post season.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cutch Happens; Bucs Walk Off With 2-1 Win

What on paper looked like hitter's delight turned out to be another pitcher's duel at PNC. Kyle McPherson and Mike Leake went six innings each, twirling four-hit shutout ball, taking over from the classic shootout yesterday between Homer Bailey and AJ Burnett.

K-Mac K'ed five, and after giving up back-to-back ground ball singles to open the game was impressive, at one point retiring nine in a row. Leake was only in one jam, working out of a bases loaded, two out situation in the second on a nifty stop by Joey Votto on an Alex Presley ball aimed toward the second base hole.

In the seventh, Jared Hughes put the Reds down without a run. The Bucs took the lead when Alex Presley doubled to The Notch off Jose Arredondo to plate Chase d'Arnaud, who was running for Clint Barmes.  The lead brought on an armada of changes - Jason Grilli took the hill while Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer and Jose Tabata took the field. It wasn't quite enough.

Ryan Ludwick opened the eighth with a double, turning on a heater and lining it to left. His pinch runner, Dennis Phipps, was on third with two down when Scott Rolen blooped a 3-2 heater into short left to tie the game. The Bucs threatened to regain the lead in their half off Logan Ondrusek. Gaby Sanchez lined out short of the wall in left and Pedro blasted one to the track in right center to open the inning. The two loud outs were followed by a pair of walks and an infield single to load the bases for Marte, who popped a slider to first base to end the frame.

Hanny came on in the ninth, and with his usual flair for the dramatic, walked two Reds but escaped unscathed. Jonathan Broxton came on for Cincinnati. He got J-Hay on a liner to center, then worked the count to 2-2 against Cutch, pitching him away. He fired a heater over the outside half again, and McCutch took it over the wall in right center for his third career walk-off homer and a 2-1 Bucco win.

It was sweet vindication for Cutch, who was mired in an 0-for-16 streak despite spanking a couple of balls prior to his game winning blast. It broke a seven game losing streak for the club at PNC and could give them a chance to end a frustrating year with a couple of wins to build on against teams headed for the post season.

Johnny Cueto goes for his twentieth win in the rubber match tomorrow afternoon against Wandy Rodriguez.

  • Both teams snapped 15-inning scoreless streaks during the game.
  • The Pirates had lost 9 of their last 10 one-run decisions before tonight.
  • Tonight's 77th win is the most by a Pirate team since 1999. 
  • 38,623 fans were at PNC Park tonight for the Bucs 17th sellout of the season. The crowd put the year's attendance at over 2,000,000 for the first time since the yard's opening season.

Lineup, Notes, News; K-Mac Looking For First Win

The Reds RHP Mike Leake (8-9, 4.73) gets it on this afternoon against RHP Kyle McPherson (0-2, 3.54). Leake, the Reds fifth starter, is 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA against the Bucs in four starts this year, so Pittsburgh has had some success against him. But he should be pitching with a chip on his shoulder as he's fighting for a roster spot come playoff time. K-Mac is looking for MLB win #1. It could be tough. The Pirates have yet to score a run when McPherson was in the game during his first two starts. The game starts at 7:05 and will be aired on Root Sports, though you gotta be there to catch the post-game fireworks and Lifehouse show.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Josh Harrison 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Clint Barmes SS, Kyle McPherson P.

It's J-Hay's turn at second tonight, and Gaby Sanchez is getting a start against a righty, keeping Travis Snider on the pine as GI moves to right field. The Reds will keep the pedal to the metal; they're tied with the Nats for the best record in the NL. And it won't get any easier tomorrow afternoon when Johnny Cueto goes for his 20th win.

  • Neil Walker told Tom Singer of regarding contract talks: " focus is on the arbitration process. I'm open to talks this offseason. When the season starts, my focus is on that, but if they want to talk in Spring Training or after the season, I'm open to that." Walker, 27, is a Super Two player and starting next season has four arb years ahead of him, giving him some added leverage for the long term.
  • Tonight the Pirates will go over the two million mark in home attendance for the fourth time in team history and for the first time since the club drew a record 2,436,139 fans during the first season of play at PNC Park in 2001. The Bucs also drew over two million fans in 1991 (2,065,302) and 1990 (2,049,908).
  • Pittsburgh has lost seven straight home games, but has posted a 42-34 record at home this season.
  • Until last night, the Pirates had at least one hit in each of its previous 6,541 games.

No Hitter No Big Thing - Losing Big Is

OK, everyone is outraged because the Bucs got no-hit. Don't be. There are lots of reasons to go postal over this club and its swoon, but last night's no-no wasn't one of them. After all, it is the seventh of the year, tying the MLB mark set back in 1990.

Homer Bailey wasn't overpowering but tossed a nice game, painting the edges all evening. He gave up three hard hit balls all night by our count, which is the Pirate MO of late. You need a little luck, too, starting with no bloops, bleeders or seeing eye rollers dinked to spoil the fun.

He got his horseshoe kissed when Scott Rolen's backhand try for Clint Barmes' ball skipped off his mitt and was ruled an error rather than a knock, once more when Pedro's liner was hit into the teeth of a shift, again when Garrett Jones' drive landed on the track instead of in the seats and Travis Snider's rope to right was an at 'em ball, and finally when Cutch was nailed trying to steal third. He might not be on the mound in the ninth if it was a 1-1 game.

Remember that Justin Verlander and Matt Cain were both one batter away from their own no hitters against the Pirates this season; their rabbit's foot was just one rub shy. Verlander gave up a ninth inning knock to Josh Harrison while Cain's bid was spoiled by a James McDonald single.

The last Pirate nine to be no hit was the 1971 squad, the team that won the World Series. They were the feared Lumber Company of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Al Oliver and the boys, who had a .274 team BA that season. So it happens to the best of them.

But outrage focused at the last two months of play is understandable, heck, demanded if you care about the team. The club was 11-17 in August and 6-19 so far this month. The math works out to a 32% winning pace, or 52 wins over the season. That's sad.

Some mark the nosedive from when Cutch got clocked in Cincy, or the 19 inning win at St. Louis. We say it started at the deadline. Before that, the team was in a comfort zone, and everyone - the starters, the bench, the rotation and the bullpen - all had their roles well defined and were filling them capably.

Since then, the rotation picked up Wandy Rodriguez and lost Eric Bedard. James McDonald imploded, then Jeff Karstens went down and has been pretty much in the doghouse (and bullpen) ever since. So KC is back, along with Indy's Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson, who are 0-5. That has been the root of many of the team's problems. Wandy added some stability with AJ, but without JK and J-Mick performing, the club found itself climbing out of a hole game after game.

The bullpen lost Brad Lincoln, and no one was ever brought in to take his swingman seventh inning/multi inning role, even though Chris Leroux and Bryan Morris were ready at Indy. Then they jettisoned Juan Cruz, another bridge arm. They added castaways Chad Qualls (6.75 ERA) and Hisanori Takahashi (9.82 ERA) and made Kevin Correia the long guy. They called up all of Indy's starters in September and used them from the pen before Leroux or Morris.

And since August, the lineup has been a jumble. The bottom of the order was and remained an abyss, hitting .224 in the 7-9 spots without the pitchers included; it's .197 with their at-bats in the mix. The top of the order was barely better; the 1-2 spots have hit a combined .247 with an OBP of .298. That's hardly setting the table.

Clint Hurdle was also tasked with finding playing time for Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata on Cutch's flanks. Losing Neil Walker put a gaping hole in the order. Brock Holt replaced The Kid's OBP, but not his gap power, lineup flexibility, or glove. Gaby Sanchez was the only position player added that fit in with the pre-August scheme, slipping into Casey McGehee's platoon spot.

The bench? Well, now that the ol' skipper has so many toys, the eighth and ninth innings are a scorekeeper's nightmare, with an army of pinch hitters parading to the plate, along with double switches enough to make a test pilot dizzy.

As far as a comfort zone goes, fuhget about it. Half the team realizes its on audition for 2013, so discipline and little things like hitting behind the runner or working the count are out the window; they all want to prove they're the next Cutch. And don't think it doesn't carry over to the big guys like McCutch and GI, who are carrying the weight of an underperforming club squarely on their backs. We don't think they're physically spent, but mentally worn down.

So to us, the reasons for the slide are pretty simple. In August, the FO tinkered with a team that was successful, but had obvious holes. And while they strengthened a couple of spots - Wandy and Gaby are upgrades - they created a couple of bullpen gaps, didn't do anything to bolster the top or bottom end of the order, and couldn't find a long-term difference maker at a price and fit they felt they could afford. Strike one.

Then in September, they called up half of Indy - they're carrying 36 players now - and adopted a "throw 'em against the wall and see what sticks" plan for playing time. That sent absolutely the wrong message, loud and clear, to the guys who were in the clubhouse all year - we're worried about 2013 and beyond, not about contending this season. Strike two.

The final straw wasn't anything the FO could be particularly faulted for - injuries happen, and who could have foreseen McDonald and Karstens falling off the face of the earth - but exposed the much ballyhooed system's lack of MLB-ready depth. Strike three.

That lack of depth and the failure to craft a blueprint to finish out this season, with a dose of the baseball god's fickleness, should be the source of your outrage, not Homer Bailey.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bucs No-Hit, Lose 81st Game 1-0

Not a great start for AJ. Brandon Phillips started off with a single, went to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a Zack Cozart single. Joey Votto walked to juice the sacks with no outs and Todd Frazier lifted a full count sac fly to right to make 1-0. But Jay Bruce couldn't keep it going, pounding a first pitch grounder to Jordy Mercer at second, who started a 4-6-3 DP to end the frame without any additional damage. Alex Presley opened with a bouncer to second. Mercer went down swinging at a Homer Bailey slider that was down and away. Cutch grounded out to third, and it was 1-0 Reds after a frame.

The Reds' second didn't begin much better, as Scott Rolen singled to start it off. AJ collected his first punchout, getting Drew Stubbs swinging at a slurve.  Burnett got the grounder to second on time this inning, getting Ryan Hanigan to finish the frame on a 4-6-3 note. The Bucs went down in order again.

Cozart singled on a 2-2 curve with two down in the third. AJ worked Votto in and out, and got him on a grounder to short. Barmes became the first Bucco runner when he knocked a curve to third and Rolen booted it. His brother Killer B's didn't help - Rod Barajas popped out and Burnett K'ed on three straight foul bunts. Presley flew out to end the Pirate half, leaving the score at 1-0 Cincinnati.

Again, the first two Reds went down before Rolen tapped an infield knock. He didn't last long; he was nailed stealing - with AJ and Hot Rod as the battery! The Bucs went down in order with a pair of whiffs. Bailey has been really sharp, carving the edges and leaving nothing in the hitting zone through four. AJ's been dealing himself since the rocky first; he put away the bottom of the Reds order in the fifth. Bailey kept on rolling, too, picking up another pair of K to bring his total to seven after five.

Votto singled with two down in the sixth, and stayed put as Frazier bounced out. For the Bucs, it was three up, three grounders, three down. AJ's working on a gem, too - he punched out a pair while setting the Reds down in order in the seventh. Bailey climbed the ladder on Mercer, whiffing him on three pitches to open the Buc half. He was careful to Cutch, and lost him on four pitches, all down and away, and he swiped second on the next pitch. McCutch tried for third, too, and that was one base too many as he was nailed. Good thought; Jones flew out, only the second Bucco ball to the outfield, but it ended the inning instead of tying the game.

With two down in the eighth, Phillips legged out an infield knock to the right side. Cozart lined out, and the Buccos were down to six hitters to take a crack at Bailey. After Travis Snider flew out, Pedro hit the first ball on the screws tonight, but it was a liner right at Rolen. Jeff Clement went down swinging.

AJ did his part. The veteran righty went eight, giving up a run on seven hits and a walk with five K, tossing 107 pitches. Tony Watson took the hill, and Chase d' Arnaud went to second. Watson retired the heart of the Red order routinely. Bailey fed Brock Holt high heat and got him swinging on four pitches. The Fort put up an eight pitch battle before flying out to left. Presley popped out, and Homer Bailey had his no hitter.

Give Bailey his props; he never gave in and never tossed a ball down the middle, and Bucs hit just a couple of balls hard all game. Maybe there should be an asterisk in the record books, though; this team is such a mess at the dish. Anyway, that guarantees another non-winning season; the next loss will assure a twentieth losing straight losing year.

Tomorrow night matches up Mike Leake with Kyle McPherson.

  • The Bucs were last no hit on 8/14/1971 by Bob Gibson at Three Rivers Stadium; the score of that one was 11-0. Before that, they were no-no'ed in 1955 when the Cubs' Sad Sam Jones pulled it off at Wrigley Field, winning 4-0.
  • Homer Bailey has three complete games in his career; all three have come against the Pirates at PNC Park.
  • Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated wrote a piece on the Buc's collapse: "Pirates Fade To Black" focusing on the deadline moves NH engineered.
  • Cutch is in an 0-for-12 funk, his longest hitless streak of the year.
  • Pedro Alvarez has whiffed 175 times this season. He has the single year record now, having broken Craig Wilson's 2004 mark of 169 sometime during the Mets series.
  • Even with the 1-0 loss, AJ Burnett is the only pitcher with three wins against the Reds this season.
  • A lot of people will be able to honestly say they saw this little bit of dark Bucco history. There were 34,796 in the house tonight; the attendance should go over 2,000,000 tomorrow.

Lineup, Notes, News; Walker Done

RHP Homer Bailey (12-10, 3.92 ERA) takes the bump against RHP A.J. Burnett (16-8, 3.53 ERA). Bailey has been strong away from Great American this year, going 7-2/2.75 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP. AJ is 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA in four starts against the Reds this year, three of which came at Great American Ball park against Homer Bailey. He's also one win away from tying Zach Duke's Pirate mark of most PNC Park victories in a year at nine. One last note: AJ has lost his last three home starts and Bailey has never lost in Pittsburgh. The game starts at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup:Alex Presley LF, Jordy Mercer 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Jose Tabata RF, Pedro Alvarez RF, Clint Barmes SS, Rod Barajas C, AJ Burnett P.

Whew - Cutch is back, and Jordy Mercer, after a two-hit game, is at second. The Kid (see below) is done for the season.

The series means something to Cincy; they're a game behind the Nats for home field, so Pittsburgh will be playing the A Team. Oh, and it's the last chance to stick one in Brandon Phillips' ear for both Cutch's and Hughes' sake.

  • Neil Walker's back diagnosis is a herniated disc.  The bad news is he's done for the year; the good news is no surgery is needed. The question, of course, is why the Pirates let him play with the injury.
  • Jeff Karstens won't get another start this year, sez Clint Hirdle.
  • Linda Olson of Fan House: "Cutch Is Living The Dream."
  • The Bucs finished 34-47 (.420) on the road this season.
  • Washington's third base coach, Bo Porter, was hired as the new Astro manager. He'll take over after the Nat's post-season concludes. Also, the Indians canned Manny Acta, although they may have been better off firing the team instead.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

KC Clocked 6-5

Another day, another loss. The Bucs made this one interesting, scoring twice in the ninth to put a little fear of the Lord into the Mets before bowing 6-5. The first inning was a breeze for both RA Dickey and Kevin Correia.

In the second, Garrett Jones led off with a double to left and went to third an out later on a bloop knock to left by Travis Snider. Rod Barajas followed with a ground rule double, plating GI and putting Bucs at second and third. Jordy Mercer gently rolled a ball 60' up the third base line and Wright couldn't finish the tough play to make it 2-0 Bucs.

The lead was cut in half quickly when Correia served up a leadoff homer to Ike Davis on a 3-2 slider to start the second. An out later, Mike Baxter was served an 0-2 meatball heater that he drove to right center, causing KC to hang his head, sure he had been touched for another long ball. But Snider climbed the fence, and extending maybe three feet over the rail, he sno-coned the ball to take the homer away, hanging on as he came down to earth. That'll be on Sports Center tonite.

The third went quietly. Hot Rod hit a solo home run in the fourth off an 0-2 dancer. KC had retired six straight before giving up a single to Daniel Murphy to open the frame, followed by a David Wright grounder that went off Josh Harrison's couldn't corral for a single to put runners on the corners. An out later, Jerry Hairston lined an RBI single to right field to make it 3-2.

Dickey struck out the side in the fifth, sandwiched around a walk to Jones. It was the last frame for Kevin Correia.

Andres Torres walked on five pitches to lead off the NY half. With one out, Ruben Tejada blooped a single and Daniel Murphy banged one up the middle to score Torres. Hairston singled in another run. Wright, who owns KC in his career, clocked a 2-1 fastball into the bullpen in right-center to give the Mets a 6-3 lead. That was it for KC. He went 4-1/3 frames, giving up six runs on seven hits and a walk with two K while throwing 80 pitches. It was the second straight game that he exited after a three-run homer. Hisanori Takahashi closed out the frame.

Neither team did a whole heckuva lot after that until the ninth. Takashasi, Chris Resop and Tony Watson put up goose eggs. The only compelling moment was  in the seventh when Cutch dove for Murphy's bloop in center, trapped it but still got a force at second. Nice play, and we hope it doesn't cost him. He left the field between Hurdle and the trainer but under his own power with a left knee contusion. He said after the game that he would be good to go, but we'll hold our breath until the docs check him out in Pittsburgh tomorrow.

Meanwhile, RA Dickey struck out 13 , tying a career high. The knuckleballer retired eight straight batters during one stretch with a run of five straight strikeouts. He left after a two-out walk in the eighth to Snider, and Jon Rauch got the last out.

The Bucs tried to climb the hill in the ninth. Mercer battled for 11 pitches and drew a leadoff walk. An out later, Alex Presley's 10th homer off a 1-2 fastball, cut the lead to one. Bobby Parnell got the call, and retired the next two batters routinely to earn his fifth save of the season and ice Dickey's twentieth victory.

The Bucs come home for a season-ending six game homestand. AJ Burnett will take on the Reds' Homer Bailey tomorrow night.

  • Cutch went 0-for-4 to finish the day at .332; he's now behind Buster Posey in the BA race.
  • In his first start since the Gettysburg Address, Jordy Mercer went 2-for-3 with a walk. Hot Rod Barajas and Garrett Jones also had a pair of knocks.
  • The Pirates whiffed 14 times, led by Starling Marte and Pedro with three apiece.
  • The next Bucco loss ends any hope for a winning season. It looks like the streak lives on.
  • Neil Walker will see a back doc tomorrow in Pittsburgh to diagnose his progress. The visit was previously scheduled, and is just a maintenance exam.

Travis Snider catch:

Lineup, Notes, News - Dickey Looking For #20

RHP Kevin Correia (11-10, 4.11 ERA) will have his work cut out today against the Mets RHP R.A. Dickey (19-6, 2.66 ERA). KC is going for his 12th win, and has been throwing some nice ball in September, with a 2.59 ERA, but will have his hands full this afternoon. The Mets juggled Dickey's schedule so that he faced Pittsburgh today rather than Atlanta tomorrow, both because the Pirates are easier pickings and to try to get #20 at home. The knuckleballer can become the first Mets pitcher to win 20 games since Frank Viola in 1990, has a shot at the pitching Triple Crown (wins, Ks, ERA) and is on the short list for the Cy Young. The game starts at 1:10 and will be aired by Root Sports.

One guy to watch today is David Wright. He's hitting .339 in his last 15 games against the Pirates, with five hits (one homer) and four RBIs so far in this series. Even worse, he's 11 for 14 (.786) with three doubles and two homers off Kevin Correia.

The lineup: Starling Marte LF, Josh Harrison 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Travis Snider RF, Rod Barajas C, Jordy Mercer SS, Kevein Correia P.

The Kid is down; hopefully he'll be put on ice now that the playoff race has officially ended. And my goodness, a Jordy Mercer sighting!

  • Pedro Alvarez had his seventh four+ RBI game of the year in Tuesday's 10-6 victory. That's tied with Texas' Josh Hamilton for the most in MLB.
  • One place the Pirates didn't improve: The Buccos have gone 34-46 away from PNC Park this season after posting a 36-45 road record last year. Today's their last road game of the season.
  • Starling Marte has swiped 10 bases since being called up on July 26. It’s the fourth straight season a Pirates rookie has stolen at least 10 bags in a season. Chase d’Arnaud pilfered 12 last season, Jose Tabata had 19 steals in 2010 and Andrew McCutchen committed larceny 22 times in 2009.
  • Pittsburgh is 13-32 (.288) over their last 45 games.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pirates Embarrrassed 6-0

Well, Jeremy Hefner looked like a young man on a mission in the first; he whiffed Starling Marte and Alex Presley, then retired Cutch on a fly to center. In the Met half, Jeff Locke got ahead of Ruben Tejada 0-2, came inside with a heater, and he fought it off to single to right. Locke came back to fan Daniel Murphy on four pitches and got David Wright to fly out to Marte short of the track in left on a 3-2 fastball. Scott Hairston bounced out to a diving Pedro, who recovered to toss a bullet to first, and it was a scoreless opening frame.

Pedro singled after a GI Jones whiff. The Fort fought a nine pitch battle, eventually popping out. Josh Harrison flew out, and it's been a no sweat start for Hefner. Locke lost Ike Davis on five pitches to open the NY half. Kelly Shoppach whiffed, swinging through a heater, and Lucas Duda did the same, missing a slider in the dirt. Andres Torres lifted a pitch away to Marte, and Davis stayed anchored at first.

The Pirates went down without a peep in the third. After whiffing Hefner, Tejada yanked a 3-2 heater to left for a knock and he second a heartbeat later when he was picked off on an early break but Jones throw to second glanced off his helmet. It hurt a couple of pitches later when Murphy banged a 1-2 heater into center for an RBI single, helped by Cutch slipping as he fielded the ball; not much help for Locke so far this frame.

The defensive lapses continued. Wright dribbled one up the left side and Pedro airmailed the toss for a single and error; Murphy scored and Wright went to second. Hairston doubled to left, and it was 3-0. Davis flew out to center for the second out with Wright tagging to third. He came in when Shoppach slapped a 1-2 curve into center. Duda went down swinging, but two misfires by the Buc infield gifted the Mets with four runs when Locke couldn't pick up his scatter-armed defenders.

Pittsburgh went down in order in the fourth. Hefner, who was yanked from his last start when he allowed the first seven batters to reach without getting an out, is tossing a one-hitter with five K. Torres opened the fourth with an infield knock to short, the third straight lead off hitter to reach. He was bunted to second and stole third. Tejada brought him in with a single off Pedro's mitt with the infield playing in. He wanted second, too, but Locke picked him off as he broke and this time Jones' throw got through for the out. Good thing; Murphy banged a single to center.

That hit stuck the fork in Locke; Chris Leroux was waved in. Locke went 3-2/3, giving up five runs on nine hits with a walk and five whiffs after 70 pitches. Nine of the twelve balls the Mets put in play against him ended up hits. David Wright kept it going, greeting Leroux with a single. Hairston banged another knock to left, but Marte's arm stopped the merry-go-round as Murphy was chopped down at home.

Pedro at least has Hefner figured out as he led off the fifth with his second knock, a single to center. Two outs later, Clint Barmes walked on five pitches. Jeff Clement hit for Leroux, though the result would have been the same as he whiffed, missing a curve in the dirt. Jeff Karstens got the call and tossed a clean frame.

Marte opened the sixth with a knock, and was erased stealing a pitch later. He may have been in, but still...behind 5-0 and stealing? No diff; he wasn't going anywhere anyhow after a pop and fly out. Torres opened with a knock against JK. Hefner bunted him to second and he came in on Tejada's fourth hit, a single to center. That knock made it 6-0 after six.

The Pirates went down without a fight again in the seventh. Bryan Morris marched up the hill and tucked away NY, fanning a pair. Jeurys Familia took over in the eighth for Hefner, who tossed 102 pitches, and threw a 1-2-3 frame. Chad Qualls faced the Mets. After an out, Torres ripped a fastball to center for a double. Chad got a pair of grounders to end the frame, the last one ending Tejada's bid for a five hit evening.

Marte led of the ninth with a walk; Presley rolled one to second for a 4-6-3 DP. Cutch ended an 0-for-4 night with a fly out, and the Bucs were dropped by a 6-0 tally. One batter reached second; no one touched third. Lotta wounds to lick after tonight's performance.

Kevin Correia closes out the series against RA Dickey, who is going for his twentieth win, tomorrow afternoon.

  • polled a panel of experts to create an All-Time Latino Team, and Roberto Clemente got more #1 votes than any other player named to the squad.
  • Jeff Locke now has the Pirates second longest streak for a starter looking for his first win at nine outings.
  • The Bucs were eliminated from wild card contention tonight.

Lineup, News, Notes - Top Management Safe

LHP Jeff Locke (0-2, 5.47 ERA) toes the rubber versus the Mets RHP Jeremy Hefner (2-7, 5.79 ERA). Locke is looking for his first MLB win and has surrendered five homers in his past 15 innings. Hefner hasn't made it out the third inning two times this month and in his last start against Philadelphia didn't retire a batter. In other words, it's your usual September rookie matchup. The game begins at 7:10 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The lineup: Starling Marte LF, Alex Presley RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Josh Harrison 2B, Clint Barmes SS, Jeff Locke P.

The Kid is out for a second day, as is Travis Snider. Clint Hurdle told the media that they are considering just shutting Walker down for the season, which sounds like a pretty good plan right about now.

  • From club president Frank Coonelly: "...we will not be making personnel changes at the very top of our baseball operations department. Neal (Huntington), Kyle (Stark), Greg (Smith) and Clint (Hurdle) are dedicated and intelligent baseball men in whom I have great confidence."
  • Andrew McCutchen has 93 RBI coming into tonight, the most by a Pirate since Nate McLouth plated 94 in 2008. The last Pirate with more RBI in a season was Jason Bay with 109 in 2006.
  • A little inside baseball: Yesterday, Clint Hurdle credited Wandy Rodriguez's comeback after being bombed for two homers to switching from a moving two seam fastball, which was coming back over the plate, to a straight four seamer that stayed on the corners. 
  • The next Pirate loss or Cardinal win eliminates Pittsburgh from the playoffs.
  • Even with the frustration of the September swoon, the Pirates have improved; their 76 wins are eight games ahead of where they were at this time last year (68-86; they ended with 72 wins) and already the most victories of the PNC Park era. Next on the list are the 1999 Bucs with 78 wins, then the 1997 Pirates, who won 79 games.
  • The Bucs had claimed tonight's pitcher, Jeremy Hefner, briefly during the past off season. He was DFA'ed after some more waiver wire wheeling and dealing and the Mets reclaimed him.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bucs Start Fast, End Fast For 10-6 Win

Collin McHugh started the game by getting Alex Presley to roll out. But J-Hay spoiled his start early with a knock to center, and Cutch followed by ripping a slider to left for a two-bagger, with Harrison stopping at third. Garrett Jones walked on four pitches to juice the sacks for Gaby. He blooped a single to center on a 1-2 pitch to plate J-Hay; ooops, change that to a fielders's choice - Jones got a bad read waiting to see if the ball would be caught and was forced at second. But Pedro made it all better by bombing a 3-1 heater in his wheelhouse over the wall in left center, and the Bucs had an early four-spot.

Ruben Tejada greeted Wandy with a single to right. Justin Turner waged a nine pitch battle with Rodriguez and won hands down when he clocked a fastball down Broadway over the fence in left. Two pitches later, David Wright knocked a changeup over the centerfield stockade. Sheesh. It was the first time this year that the Mets have banged back-to-back homers. With an out (at last), Ike Davis walked on a 3-2 heater that missed the mark down and away. Kelly Shoppach went down hacking at a curve, and Andres Torres popped out. Not only is it 4-3, but Wandy has served up 38 pitches; it was a 32 minute inning that took 65 pitches to complete.

Hot Rod opened the second with a full count walk as a slow hook stayed outside. Wandy tried to bunt him over, but Barajas was forced at second. Presley yanked a 2-1 heater to right for a double, with Wandy moving to third. The botched bunt didn't hurt as J-Hay ripped a fastball served on a tee to center for a stand up triple. With first open, Cutch not too surprisingly drew a five pitch walk. Justin Hampson took the ball from the rookie. He got Jones to bounce to second; Turner booted it as Josh scored. Gaby grounded one up the third base line; Wright grabbed it, stepped on third and threw across for the DP. But it's 7-3 Buccos after Wandy worked a clean frame.

Pedro opened the third with a full count walk, taking a fastball down and away. Barmes hit the next pitch to short for a 6-4-3 DP; three batters, two DPs. Hot Rod flew out to close the Bucco half. Turner again worked Wandy for eight pitches. This time he bopped a ball to J-Hay and he muffed the throw. It worked out OK; Turner was caught when Clint Hurdle talked the umps into reversing a safe call; Hot Rod had tagged him on the back-up after Turner had made a turn toward second. Wandy got the next two guys on a liner and K.

Wandy opened the fourth with a single on a 3-1 pitch, followed by a Presley force out. J-Hay flew out and The King was caught stealing; the Bucs aren't exactly putting on a base running clinic today. Davis ripped a Wandy heater to deep center, but Cutch ran the ball down. With two down, Torres walked, but a grounder cleaned up the frame. That brought on Elvin Ramirez for the Mets in the fifth.

He walked Cutch on five pitches and GI singled him to second. The bases were juiced with no outs for Pedro after Gaby watched a 3-2 heater stay outside. E-Ram walked El Toro on four pitches to force a run home; guess he wanted to face Barmes. Good idea; he fouled out to first on a 2-1 fastball. Hot Rod whiffed looking at a heater pretty much poured down the middle; sure not very strong at bats from the 7-8 holes. Wandy fanned, and the Bucs lost a great opp to pile up a couple of more runs.

With an out in the Met half, Tejada worked a nine pitch at bat into an infield single, colliding with Rodriguez at first. Wandy stayed in and got the next two guys to fly out, with Jones making a tumbling grab to finish the frame, to get his five innings in the book.

The Bucs went down in order in the sixth, and Wandy came out for another round. He put Houston away quietly; Wandy's been a rock since Wright's homer with nobody away in the first, giving up just an infield single the rest of the way. He surrendered three runs on four hits and two walks with three K in six innings, tossing 106 balls.

Robert Carson took the bump in the seventh and tucked the Bucs in; that's nine in row gone since Pedro's walk in the fifth. Chris Resop got the call from the pen. Torres greeted him with a double. After an out, Jordany Valdespin singled to right off a slider that caught the middle of the plate, and Torres scored when Jones mishandled the ball. The Mets have put together several long at bats tonight, and Tejada added another, plenty long enough for Valdespin to swipe second. Tejada eventually walked after a dozen pitches. After that battle, Jared Hughes was summoned from the bullpen. Daniel Murphy grounded out to third, advancing the runners a station when Pedro opted for a tag and missed it instead of going around the horn. It cost big time when Wright got a 3-2 heater and spanked it into right to bring home a pair and make it 8-6. A grounder ended the frame, but now it's a ballgame.

Bobby Parnell took the ball in the eighth and didn't break a sweat in a 1-2-3 inning. Jason Grilli toed the rubber for Pittsburgh and put away the Mets just as easily. Jon Rauch climbed the hill in the ninth for NY. The King opened with a single. After two outs, GI smacked a first pitch fastball on the outside half over the left center fence to give the Bucs a four run pad. It's good news when both he and Pedro go the opposite way.

Hanny answered the phone for the ninth, and was greeted with another long at bat by Fred Lewis. This one worked out well, as he K'ed after eight pitches. It only took five pitches and a nasty slider to fan Valdespin. Tejada was a spoilsport, grounding out on a full count. It wasn't a save, but it was a win, and those have been hard to come by in September.

The Bucs scored a lot; they left a lot on the bases, too - a pair of DP, caught stealing, a force out on an outfield single, not scoring with the bases jammed and no outs...It wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy, but it was a win.

Jeff Locke goes against Jeremy Hafner tomorrow.

  • The whiff of Scott Hairston by Wandy in the third was the Pirates’ 1,124th K of the season, tying 1969 club’s total for most in franchise history. Jason Grilli's strikeout of Ike Davis, swinging through high heat in the eighth inning, set the new mark of 1,125. The '69 team was led by Bob Veale, who had 203 K, Dock Ellis with 173 and Bob Moose with 165.
  • For the second time in team history, the Pirates have three players with at least 25 HR in a year (Cutch-30, Pedro-30, GI-25), joining 1966's gang of Captain Willie (33), the Great One (29) and Donn Clendenon (28).
  • Pedro became the first Bucco third sacker to hit 30 bombs since Aramis Ramirez hit 34 in 2001. Frank Thomas is the only other 3B to do it for the Bucs, with 30 in 1953 and 35 in 1958.
  • The Pirates now have 2 players (Cutch and Pedro) with 30 HR for the 1st time since 2001 (Brian Giles and Aramis Ramirez - 37 & 34). The only other Pirate 30 HR duo was Barry Bonds and Bobby Bo in 1990 (33 & 32).
  • The Braves clinched a playoff spot tonight, so both they and the Reds are guaranteed to be in the post season before they visit Pittsburgh to close the season.

Lineup, Notes, News

LHP Wandy Rodriguez (11-13, 3.76 ERA) will take on the Mets RHP Collin McHugh (0-2, 3.86 ERA). Wandy has been Mr. Dependable lately for a beleaguered staff. McHugh has had two nice starts of the three he's made, and throws a 90-ish heater, slow curve, change and slider. He's susceptible to the long ball, having given up four in 18-2/3 IP, and will be out for his first MLB win tonight. The game starts at 7:10 and will be aired by Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Josh Harrison 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Rod Barajas C, Wandy Rodriguez P.

Barmes in, Walker out as Harrison switches sides on the infield, and Hot Rod caddies for Wandy.
  • There's no question that LHP Jeff Locke and RHP Kyle McPherson are getting auditions for next season. That's OK; the Pirates have been out of playoff mode for a while now. But that does beg the question: why isn't Starling Marte starting every day? He was called up late, and hasn't been a regular since his oblique injury. Hey, if you're playing for 2013, Marte is going to be a big piece of the puzzle; get him all the at bats you can.
  • Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reported that RHP Victor Black, 24, will be heading to the Arizona Fall League to join the Scottsdale Scorpions. He was 2-3-13 for Altoona with a 1.65 ERA and 85 K in 60 IP. Black throws in the upper nineties and his major issue, like many power pitchers, is control; he walked 4.7 batters per nine.
  • Four Buc youngsters made the GCL Top 20 prospect list of Baseball America: They are C Wyatt Mathisen, C Jin-De Jhang, RHP Tyler Glasnow and IF Dilson Herrera.
  • Jack Wilson retired today. Too bad his legs weren't as strong as his spirit.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Davis Hot; Bats Cold In 6-2 Loss

Jenrry Mejia got Alex Presley to bounce out to open the first, but wasn't quite as lucky with J-Hay, who legged out an infield knock. He blew 96 MPH cheese past Cutch on a 3-2 pitch as Harrison stole second and later scampered to third on a wild pitch, but Garrett Jones went down swinging, too.

After an out, Kyle McPherson was touched up for a Daniel Murphy single to right. K-Mac caught a break when David Wright's blast to center ended up in Cutch's mitt instead of the seats. He put down Ike Davis looking. Murphy was on the move during the strikeout pitch; no one covered second, and apparently not by plan. Clint Barmes stepped up and had a chat with J-Hay about that play in the dugout.

Neil Walker opened the second with a knock up the middle on the eighth pitch of his at bat. Gaby went down looking, the third K in six batters for Mejia. Pedro bounced into a 6-4 force, and went to third when The Fort singled. At least he turned the order over as K-Mac was punched out. Two innings, two runners left on third. With two down in the Met half, Ruben Tejeda drew a walk. McPherson left one down the middle and Josh Thole gave it a ride to deep left, but The King settled under it to keep it scoreless after two frames.

With an out in the third, Harrison was issued a four pitch walk; it may be his first of the season. He went to second on a passed ball, and Cutch joined him on the base paths after drawing a nine pitch walk; Mejia is up to 70 pitches. Jones banged a ball to third; Wright tossed to second for the force, and J-Hay took a tumble rounding third; the return throw behind him resulted in a run down to end the frame. McPherson served up a clean inning.

The Bucs went down quietly in the fourth, grounding out to the right side three times. Wright opened with a full-count walk for NY. It cost; Davis hammered a 3-1 heater to left center and out of the yard. A couple of outs later, Tejeda finished an eight pitch at bat with a bloop knock to center, but was erased trying to steal second. The Fort has been picking it up lately; he now has a 19% throw-out rate. But it's 2-0 NY after four.

With two down in the fifth, Presley singled to center, but didn't stay there long as Harrison flew out on the next pitch. Thole started the Mets off with a five pitch walk. An out later, Fred Lewis singled to put Mets at first and second.

That was it for K-Mac, who went 4-1/3 innings giving up four runs on four hits and three walks with three K, tossing 83 pitches. He had trouble with a fairly tight strike zone and the Mets' patience tonight. Hisanori Takahashi came on to get a lefty matchup, and escaped a long fly out by Murphy. Jeff Karstens came on to face Wright. That move didn't work as well; JK fell behind 2-0 and gave up a run scoring knock to left center on a change, sending Lewis to third. It got even worse when lefty Davis pounded another changeup into the right center bullpen to make it 6-0.

Manny Acosta came on for the Mets in the sixth. With two outs, he lost The Kid, but Sanchez bounced out to end the frame; the Bucs haven't visited the OF with many balls tonight. JK put away the Mets, fanning a pair, though the cows are out of the barn by now.

Justin Hampson toed the rubber in the seventh. He surrendered a two out, four pitch walk to Starling Marte. That brought on Jeurys Familia to face Presley; September is the mother of all long games with its expanded rosters. Clint Hurdle answered with Jose Tabata. Marte swiped second, and was left there as JT flew out to right. Justin Wilson climbed the hill and struck out a pair, though working ahead in the count doesn't appear to be in his DNA.

Cutch banged a triple of Familia with one down in the eighth, and that brought on Robert Carson to face Jones. We half expected Clint Barmes to grab a bat, but GI stepped to the dish. It took eight pitches, but after a battle Jones found one he liked and singled McCutch home. The Kid followed with another knock, and that brought in Bobby Parnell for the Mets. Good pick; Sanchez grounded to up the line to first; Davis stepped on the bag and threw to second for a run down out on Walker. Chris Leroux got the call from the Bucco pen and tossed a clean inning, getting three fly outs.

Ramon Ramirez took the ball in the ninth. He walked The Fort with an out, and McKenry strolled to second on defensive indifference. It helped when JT singled him home with two away. J-Hay bounced out and the Mets took the lid lifter 6-2.

Tough to score when you can't get the ball out of the infield; 24 of the Bucco outs came on grounders or whiffs. Wandy Rodriguez takes on Collin McHugh tomorrow night.

  • Maybe Neil Walker is getting back into shape; his two hits led the team and he's 6-for-16 in his last four starts. The bad news is that he hasn't had an extra base knock since August 21st.
  • You can go home again: Pedro's dad, from the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, was at tonight's game.
  • Ike Davis become the first Met to hit 30 homers since the team moved to Citi Field.
  • Jenrry Mejia will remember tonight; it was his first MLB win.
  • One suggestion we like for the expanded rosters in September is one to call up the same number of players, but to activate just 25 per game. That gives you plenty of leeway to look at players, especially when you can knock four starting pitchers off the game roster every night.

Lineup, Notes, News - Bad History; Good Cutch

RHP Kyle McPherson (0-1, 2.25) takes the bump against RHP Jenrry Mejia (0-1, 9.00). K-Mac has been steady since his call up, showing some swing-and-miss ability with 13 K in 16 IP. Mejia, a power arm who works in the mid-nineties, was roughed up in his start against the Brewers, hurting himself with five walks in three innings of work. It will be the second 2012 start for both guys (Mejia had three starts last year, but was mostly a reliever), and both are looking for their first MLB win. The game starts at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Josh Harrison SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Neil Walker 2B, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Kyle McPherson P.

Clint Barmes gets a blow as Clint Hurdle sticks with J-Hay's hot stick; Presley is the lefty in the OF as Travis Snider tales a seat.

New York has been up and down. They just swept three home games from Miami over the weekend, but entered that series on a five-game losing streak.

Well, if the Bucs want to crack that .500 mark, they're running out of time; it has to begin with the four game set against the Mets. Afterward, they come home to face the Reds and Braves. Those two clubs may be resting some people for the playoffs when the Bucs face them, but Pittsburgh still has an uphill struggle, needing to take 7-of-10 to get to 82 wins.

  • Jason Stark of ESPN posted in his blog that Pittsburgh can make the wrong kind of history: no team 16 games over .500 after 108 games has ever finished with a losing record.
  • No, it's not Cutch's fault: McCutch has hit .304/.397/.488 since the All-Star break with 10 homers and 33 RBI. Overall this season, his line is .336/.406/.564 with 30 HR, 93 RBI, 103 RS, 19 SB and an OPS of +167 with a WAR of 6.8. He leads the NL in average, hits, runs, OBP and WAR. He did have what for him was a mundane August (.252/.347/.346), but after posting otherworldy numbers in June and July, he was bound to regress sometime. 
  • The last Pirate to win the batting title and hit at least 30 home runs was Dave Parker in 1978, who hit .334 with 30 bombs; Cutch is on track to become next. 
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America tweeted  "Lost in recent criticism of Pirates' development program: They probably have four top 50 prospects, maybe five Top 100, plus Starling Marte." He added that there were "Some notable whiffs ID-ing talent in the US in general, but it's a very good system."
  • Bucs pitchers have recorded 12 Ks in each of their last three games. games. It’s the first time Pittsburgh has done that in the modern era, beginning in 1900. The staff enters today with 1,114 strikeouts this season, just 10 shy of tying the club record of 1,124 set in 1969.
  • The 25 greatest baseball movies of all time, as rated by H. Fooksman of Gunaxin, in case you're looking for something to pass the time between the end of the season and the hot stove league.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bucs Put It Together In 8-1 Win

Well, it's the last time the Bucs and 'Stros will face one another as NL foes. And the way Houston has treated Pittsburgh the last two games, we say about time (though we will kinda miss the rainbow unis that the Astros are sporting today).

Jordan Lyles got Alex Presley on a liner to the box to open the game, then for safety's sake he fanned Josh Harrison. Cutch singled, but Garrett Jones rolled over on the next pitch that was down and away to ground out to short. AJ got the first hitter when Jose Altuve lined out to right, but had no such luck with Scott Moore, who drilled an outside corner heater and doubled the opposite way. Brett Wallace whiffed fishing for a full count curve, Fernando Martinez bounced to Jones, and it was a scoreless first frame.

Pedro fanned to open the second, chasing a couple of pitches out of the zone, and Snider did the same thing. There's not been much reason for Lyle to toss a strike so far. Barmes flew out to bring up the 'Stros. Burnett tossed a clean inning, picking up a couple of K.

Hot Rod reached on an error by SS Tyler Greene to start the third and was bunted to second. After a Presley fly out, Josh legged out an infield knock. Cutch jumped on the first pitch and lined it to center where  Barnes made a run-saving diving grab. After a whiff and comebacker by the Astros, AJ walked Altuve on five pitches, and after a couple of pick-off tosses, stole second. Moore was credited with an infield single when Harrison couldn't come up cleanly with his grounder, but it worked out as Altuve tried to sneak home and was nailed.

Jones lined a 2-1 heater to center for a knock to begin the fourth. Pedro went down swinging at a shoe-top hook and Snider flew out the opposite way. Barmes singled to put Pirates at first and second. Hot Rod hit a bouncer that the Astros couldn't convert into an out when they muffed the force, leaving the sacks jammed for AJ. He at least put it into play, bouncing to the shortstop hole and trotting to first (he'd have been out even at a dead sprint) for another Bucco goose egg. Burnett is pitching full speed, though, icing Houston with another pair of whiffs.

The King was up 3-0 in the count in the fifth, got the green light and singled to right, the third straight leadoff hitter to reach against Lyles. In an at bat that saw as many throws to first as pitches, Harrison banged a heater to left on a hit-and-run to put Bucs at the corners. Lyles battled Cutch, working nothing but the edges, and finally losing him after nine pitches. That was it for Lyles, who has a history of fith inning meltdowns, and Wesley Wright took the ball. Jones handed the bat to Gaby Sanchez as the managerial wheels spun.

Score one for Clint Hurdle; Gaby took a pitch (on the foot) for the team, earning a painful RBI. Pedro is having one of those days; after battling Wright, he looked at strike three on a borderline call, but too close to take. JT hit for Snider, and Mike Storey came in for the match up. Tabata watched four balls miss the dish and took an easy RBI. Barmes pulled an 0-2 slider softly over shortstop, singling in another run. Hot Rod blooped a pitch to left, plating another Pirate. AJ whiffed and Presley tapped back to the hill, but now AJ had a 4-0 lead to work with. And he did what a vet does after going ahead, putting Houston down in order.

Josh started off the sixth with his third single of the day. Cutch has been square on the ball today; he took a 2-2 slider off the wall in left to bring Harrison home, missing a dinger by a foot or so. Chuckie Fick got the call from the pen, getting Gaby on a roller that moved McCutch to the hot corner and then issuing Pedro an intentional walk. JT whiffed after nine pitches, looking at a heater that caught the outside black. Barmes went down swinging at a slider, and even with stranding another guy at third, it was 5-0 Bucs. After AJ put away the first two Astros, Moore clocked a heater down the middle and lost it in the right field seats to make it 5-1, his third knock today. Burnett came back to whiff Wallace, his ninth K of the game.

With two away in the seventh, The King yanked a slider down and away to right for a triple; Nick Leyva almost had to tackle him to keep him from charging home. Harrison flew out to leave another runner stranded; maybe Nick should have waved Presley on. AJ kept dealing; three Astros, three bounce outs.

Enerio Del Rosario toed the rubber for Houston in the eighth. He got Cutch looking; the Bucs aren't doing a great job of umpiring today. Sanchez got ahead 3-1 and ripped a fastball to left for a double. Pedro singled him in, going to second on the throw. JT plated him with a knock to center. After a Barmes pop out, Hot Rod singled Tabata to third. AJ even joined the party, lining a knock to right to score JT. That brought Rhiner Cruz to the mound, who got Presley to roll out. Good thing it's September as the Astros have gone through twenty pitchers during the series so far. After a K, his tenth, AJ gave up a knock to Bruce Laird and plunked Brian Bogusevich. He whiffed Jimmy Paredes and finally retired Moore on a fly to left to strand the pair.

Harrison opened the ninth with his fourth single, smacking a 3-2 fastball that almost hit him to left. Cutch bounced into a force, followed by a single to left by Sanchez. Pedro earned another Golden Sombrero by K'ing for the fourth time and JT bounced out. AJ left after going eight innings, giving up a run on four hits and a walk, fanning 11 on 109 pitches; 110 is his season high. Chad Qualls came on tie the bow, with Starling Marte taking over in center. He tossed a clean frame, and the Bucs had their fifth win of the month.

AJ was on; too bad the bats couldn't have brought a couple of those runs home yesterday. The game took almost 3-1/2 hours and the Bucs stranded 16 runners, but hey, we'll take it. The Bucs start their final road series of the year against the Mets tomorrow night with Kyle McPherson going against Jenrry Mejia.

  • AJ is the first 16 game winner for Pittsburgh since 1991 when John Smiley went 20-8 and Zane Smith 16-10. He also set his season high in strikeouts today with 11. He had 10 Ks twice this season.
  • Josh Harrison had a season-high four hits today, all singles.

Lineup, News, Notes - Walker Sitting Again

The Bucs send RHP A.J. Burnett (15-8, 3.64 ERA) out against RHP Jordan Lyles (4-11, 5.40 ERA). In 10 lifetime starts against Houston, AJ is 3-5 with a 5.01 earned run average in 59-1/3 innings versus Houston. Lyles is 0-3 with a 7.97 ERA in 20-1/3 innings, allowing 27 hits, in four starts against the Bucs. Doesn't look like much of a pitching duel on paper. The game starts at 2:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Josh Harrison 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Travis Snider RF, Clint Barmes SS, Rod Barajas C, AJ Burnett P.

A little shakeup at the top of the order; Marte's out and so's The Kid. We're wondering why he's even playing if his back is that bad. 

  • The Pirates have lost five in a row and 17-of-21 to drop three games under .500.
  • AJ is the first Pirates first 15-game winner since Todd Ritchie in 1999.
  • Jeff Locke has made eight starts in the bigs without a win. Since 1960, Tommie Sisk is the only Pirate pitcher to have a longer winless streak as a starter looking for his first win at 11 from 1962-65. John Hope (1993-96) and Elmer Dessens (1996-98) also had eight-game dry spells to open their careers.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Can't Hit, Can't Field, Can't Win - Bucs Fall 4-1

The Astros started the festivities by honoring some forty old timers. Not sure if the Pirates would have a better chance against them (heck, most of them are in their fifties and sixties) or the current team. Guess we'll find out soon enough.

Dallas Keuchel gave up a single to Starling Marte to open the contest, and The Kid followed with a bunt single. Cutch threw some cold water on the start by banging one to third for a 5-4-3 DP, and Garrett Jones provided the ice bath by going down swinging. Can't say that's a very promising start.

Jose Altuve started off against Kevin Correia by reaching on an infield knock. Then, praise the Lord, he was gunned stealing on the next pitch. He shoulda been more patient; Scott Moore then doubled to left two tosses later and went to third on a wild pitch. Brett Wallace had a rip at a 3-1 pitch and knocked it to center to score Moore. KC whiffed the next pair of 'Stros, but the Bucs are starting in a familiar hole 1-0.

Gaby Sanchez took care of that quickly enough. He took Keuchel's first pitch of the second down the middle for a strike, and mashed a center-cut changeup yard to left. Pedro flew out, and The Fort grounded out to first. It was an odd play; the first base ump called The Fort safe, then they had a conference and decided he was out. That set off Clint Hurdle, and he was given the heave-ho; the replay showed that the first base ump's call that the pitcher was off the bag was right, but Keuchel may have tagged him. Barmes bounced out, and it was 1-1.

After collecting his third straight whiff, KC was touched for another infield single, this one by Matt Dominguez. No prob; he retired the 8-9 batters to keep the score knotted. The Bucs went down quietly in the third, as did Houston.

GI Jones walked with one away in the fourth. After a Gaby force out, Pedro reached on an infield single; did someone water the Minute Maid infield? The Fort bounced out as none of the Bucs can square up on Keuchel's changeup-fastball repertoire. KC mowed down the Astros, and has gotten his pitch count well under control in the past couple of innings with 54 servings even with 6 K.

Pittsburgh went down in order in the fifth. After knocking down nine straight Astros, KC gave up a one out single to Jason Castro. Keuchel swung away, and his weak roller to second moved Castro up a station. Altuve drew a 3-2 walk after being in a 1-2 hole. KC ran the count full on Moore, and with the runners going, got him swinging at a changeup in the dirt to keep the game at ones.

The Pirates were chopped down in order again in the sixth, with Cutch and Jones going down swinging. Keuchel is doing a good job of keeping the ball down, but he's been in the middle of the plate and the Bucs just can't barrel up. KC fanned another pair during his 1-2-3 frame. He's also keeping the ball down, but doing a nice job of moving it around and changing pitches. Like the Bucs, the Astros can't do anything with balls in the hitting zone.

The Bucs went down without a peep again in the seventh; Gaby has the only hard hit ball of the game, and that was in the second inning. Lowrie opened the Houston half with a knock to center, and Tyler Greene came in to run for him. Dominguez banged a DP ball to short; Barmes booted it. Castro tried to bunt and fouled it off. With a 2-1 count, he swung away and yanked a changeup barely into the right field stands; Jones almost pulled it back in.

That was it for KC, who shouldn't have had any runners on when he faced Castro. He went 6 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits with a walk and nine Ks, tossing 97 pitches. Tony Watson took over and walked Brian Bogusevich, who went to second on a wild pickoff toss. Altuve bunted him over. Watson K'ed Bradon Barnes and got Wallace on a long fly to left. The Astros have four runs; the Pirates have four hits.

Hector Ambriz climbed the hill for Houston in the eighth. Barmes struck out swinging at a pitch so bad that he reached first on a wild pitch. Alex Presley got ahead 3-0, watched two strikes, and then bounced into a 4-6-3 DP. Marte grounded out. Hanny got the call for the Astro half; there probably won't be many save opportunities for him for over the next 11 games. Greene singled with two outs, stole second and went to third when McKenry's throw missed the mark. Hanny decided to take matters in his own hands and whiffed Dominguez.

Wilton Lopez looked for another save, and had it three batters later.

Four hits. Three errors. Any wonder that their September record is 4-16? AJ Burnett takes on Jordan Lyle tomorrow afternoon.

  • The Holy Grail quest: The Pirates need to finish 8-3 to get to 82 wins.
  • Kevin Correia tied his career high with nine strikeouts. It was his third career nine-strikeout performance, and the first since July 18th, 2010 against San Diego.
  • Scott McMurty noted that "James McDonald has exact same ERA (4.21) in exact same number of innings (171.0) this year as he did in 2011. Can't make this stuff up."
  • Root Sports won the Mid Atlantic Region Emmy for live coverage of a sporting event for their telecast of the McKenry HR game July 8th, 2011 when he hit a three run dinger with two outs in the eighth for a 7-4 win over the Cubs and Carlos Marmol at PNC Park.
  • The Reds clinched the Central Division with a 6-0 win over LA.

Lineup, Notes, News - KC (Correia) vs Dallas (Keuchel)

RHP Kevin Correia (11-9, 4.09) takes on LHP Dallas Keuchel (2-7, 4.97). Correia held the Astros to one run on four hits in six innings in his most recent outing against them on September 5th, and went seven shutout innings against the Cubs in his last start. Keuchel is a sinkerball guy that pitches to contact, usually down and away in the zone. If the Bucs go the opposite way, they should have some success, but getting hitters to roll over and weakly ground out is Keuchel's game, and the Pirates are quite capable of that kind of performance, too. The game starts at 7:05 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The lineup: Starling Marte LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Gaby Samchez 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Clint Barmes SS, Kevin Correia P.

The Kid is back in the lineup, and The Fort gets his second consecutive start behind the dish as the Bucs try to snap a four game losing streak.

  • A win tonight by KC (11-9) would give the Pirates three pitchers (A.J. Burnett, 15-8, and James McDonald, 12-8) with at least 12 wins in a season for the first time since 1991 when John Smiley went 20-8, Zane Smith was 16-10 and Doug Drabek went 15-14.
  • Starling Marte has back-to-back two-hit games and has knocks in six of his last eight contests.
  • Jeff Karstens is still in the pen doghouse. The Pirate rotation against the Mets beginning Monday will be Kyle McPherson, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke and Kevin Correia. Sounds like the white flag is up and they're auditioning pitchers for next season.
  • Kevin McClatchy came out of the closet to Frank Bruni of the NY Times. He said “There’s no way I want to go into the rest of my existence and ever have to hide my personal life again.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bucs Brutal September Coninues With 7-1 Beatdown

The roof was open, the Astros were rockin' their old Colt .45 uniforms, and it was time to try to win a ballgame.

Edgar Gonzalez put the Bucs down quietly in the first. After striking out Jose Altuve, Jeff Locke gave up a knock to Brandon Barnes on a 1-2 slider. Matt Dominguez flied out on an 0-2 pitch, but his control left him with Justin Maxwell up, and he was walked on four pitches. Locke fell behind Jed Lowrie 2-1, left a heater up above the belt, and it was 3-0 after the ball cleared the short Crawford boxes in left, the Bucs bane at Minute Maid. It's also Locke's bug-a-boo - Lowrie's homer was the sixth he's allowed in just over 20 IP.

Pedro got the Bucs first knock with two down in the second after spoiling a few offerings. The Fort got a steady diet of curves away and walked on a full count. Gonzalez was given the hook at that point by skipper Tony DeFrancesco (he strained his hammy) and replaced by Fernando Rodriguez. Brock Holt legged out an infield knock to bring up Locke, who K'ed. He made up by tossing a clean frame against the bottom of the 'Stro order.

Starling Marte opened the third with a knock to center. He took off for second, but Clint Barmes bunted a ball off his own back and was rung up for interference. Down 3-0 and bunting the two hitter? With Cutch up, Marte was caught stealing on a pitchout; so much for advancing him. McCutch got ahead 2-0, fouled a high heater and watched another pair sail by him on the inside black; it was about as inept an inning as the Bucs have put together at the dish.

Altuve doubled in the Astro half on Locke's first pitch and eventually swiped third. Barnes whiffed on a changeup and Dominguez popped out. Locke walked Maxwell again with two outs, but this time he escaped damage. After falling behind Lowrie 3-0, he picked up a couple of strikes on the outside corner and got him swinging after a foul.

Pittsburgh went down without a peep in the fourth. So did the Astros, whiffing twice; Locke has seven K and fanned three of the last four batters. The Bucs went down in order in the fifth; that's eight in a row. With two down in the Houston half, Barnes drew a five pitch walk and was left on first as Locke is settling in.

Marte opened the sixth with a knock against Jose Valdez, and was forced at second on a sweet play by Altuve on Barmes. Cutch singled Barmes to second. Lefty Xavier Cedeno came on and got Garrett Jones on a fly out, then walked Gaby Sanchez to load the sacks. Pedro went down swinging on three curves, only one of which was a strike, and the Bucs left the sacks juiced for the second time tonight. It would prove to be their last hurrah.

Locke called it a night, going five innings and giving up three runs on three hits and three walks with eight whiffs, tossing 83 pitches. He was more aggressive throwing strikes tonight, and probably earned himself another start. James McDonald made his first appearance out of the pen as a Pirate. Maxwell greeted him with a homer, and Lowrie was plunked. Brett Wallace tripled, and the game was over but for the shouting. Brian Bogusevich walked on a 3-2 pitch. J-Mick left for Bryan Morris; McDonald lasted 15 pitches and four batters without getting an out, even worse than Chad Quall's outing yesterday.

Morris started off well, whiffing Snyder. Scott Moore pinch hit for Cedeno while Bogusevich stole second. He walked to load the bases and bring up the top of the order. Morris hit Altuve to bring in a run, then fanned Barnes on a slider. Dominguez bounced out, but it was 6-0 and the Fat Lady was gargling.

Mickey Storey was called in as the Astros fifth pitcher. After McKenry whiffed, Holt reached on a error by the pitcher. JT went down, swinging at a hook at the ankles. Marte went down swinging and the Buc batters were rung up for their ninth K of the night. Hisanori Takahashi got a rare call to work the Houston half. He got the first pair of batters, then watched Wallace club the 'Stros third long ball off a 1-2 slider to make it 7-0. Bogusevich lined out to end the frame.

Rhiner Cruz toed the rubber in the eighth. After fanning the first two Bucs, he fell behind Jones 3-0, who took a strike and then launched the next delivery, a heater on the inside corner, over the fence in right center. Justin Wilson took the ball from Takahashi, and lost Snyder on five pitches. He pumped some gas past Matt Downs for the first out, and got the second when Altuve fished for a curve in the dirt that allowed Snyder to get to second. Wilson then walked Barnes on a 3-2 heater. Dominguez flied out, and the Bucs were three outs from another loss.

Wilton Lopez came on to administer the last rites. He K'ed Pedro, then after an eleven pitch duel, gave up a single to The Fort. Holt banged into a DP, and the burial ceremony was complete.

The slide continues; they're two games under .500 and sinking faster than the Titanic. Geez, it just seemed like yesterday that they were collecting playoff ticket money. The team has to win 8-of-12 the rest of the way to finish with a winning record now.

Kevin Correia takes on Dallas Keuchel tomorrow night.

  • Houston is 9-10 in September. The Pirates are 4-15.
  • Why aren't the Bucs putting Jeff Karstens back in the rotation? Dejan Kovacevic of the Tribune Review has some thoughts on that matter.

Lineup, Notes, News @ Houston

The Pirates send LHP Jeff Locke (0-1, 5.49 ERA) for another start against Houston RHP Edgar Gonzalez (2-1, 4.40). Locke is still trying to find his way, looking for his first win in his eighth MLB start. Gonzalez is a journeyman in his ninth MLB season and fourth team with just 44 starts under his belt. He held the Bucs to a run on five hits in his first Astro outing in early September, beating Locke 5-1. The first pitch is scheduled for 8:05 at Minute Maid Park and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Starling Marte LF, Clint Barmes SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Brock Holt 2B, Jeff Locke P.

Barmes moves up to the two hole with The Kid being a late scratch after a three hour plane ride, and we like it. He's been raking the past couple of months, and young Brock has cooled down, so he deserves the shot at the top of the lineup.

  • The batting title will be a fair race again; Melky Cabrera reached an agreement that MLB and the Player's Association signed off on to forego this year's BA chase after his PED suspension. Right now, Cutch is four points ahead of Buster Posey.
  • The Pirates have gone 11-3 against the Astros this season.
  • Joel Hanrahan has the third-longest active save streak in MLB, converting 16 consecutive save opportunities since July 4th.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that Neal Huntington's job isn't safe.
  • Alex Remington of Fangraphs has a post on "Why The Pirates Always Limp To The Finish." His take is that it's a combination of deadline sell-offs and lack of minor league depth, which takes it toll in the dog days as players wear down.
  • Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reminds us in his article that it's the pitching, stupid.
  • If you're counting, the Bucs are 5-1/2 games out of a wildcard spot; the bigger question is what side of the .500 line they'll finish on.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bucs Snatch Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory 9-7

OK, even during what's turning into a depressing season, this one was a real bummer. The Bucs fell behind 4-0, rallied to take a 7-4 lead going into the eighth, and then Chad Qualls, Chris Resop and Chris Leroux teamed up to surrender up seven hits and five runs in two frames while Hanny never left the pen, an implosion that led to a 9-7 whipping.

Wandy wasn't wonderful today. He gave up a three spot in the opening frame on a Ryan Braun bouncer and a two-run bomb by Aramis Ramirez. Rodriguez was lucky to escape that lightly; he left the bases loaded.

Another tally was added during the third when A-Ram scored on a sac fly. Starling Marte fired a strike home as Hot Rod blocked the plate and tagged Ramirez as he jogged by, but lost the call. Replays showed that A-Ram never touched the dish, but that's the way it's gone for Pittsburgh.

The Bucs bounced back when Cutch launched his 30th into the batter's eye greenery with Marte and Travis Snider aboard in the third, and Jones just missed drilling back-to-back blasts on a drive that curved just foul. The Pirates tied it in the fourth, but it may have been the inning that ultimately lost the game.

With the bases loaded and no outs, Alex Presley hit into a RBI fielder's choice, and went to second on a wild pitch to put Pirates at second and third with an out. Marte, with the infield back and basically needing a routine roller to drive in a run, whiffed. A grounder by Snider killed the golden goose, and the Bucs left a couple of guys in scoring position with one out, a too common team theme, though they did tie the game.The inning begged for a crooked number on the scoreboard.

They took the lead in the sixth when Clint Barmes went yard, lining a drive just inside the left field foul pole. The Pirates added two more on a Marte seeing-eye knock and Snider sac fly to go up 7-4. Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Jason Grilli kept the Brew Crew off the board. Grilli came on an inning early to face Ricky Weeks, Braun and Ramirez, leaving the bottom of the Brew Crew order to whoever Clint Hurdle pulled out of his hat for the eighth, leaving the ninth to Hanny.

Nice plan on paper, but the execution didn't cut it. Qualls got an out while giving up three hits, and left with the score 7-6 and Norichika Aoki at second after a two-run double that was just beyond Snider's leaping effort. Resop came in and gave up a Weeks triple and A-Ram single to hand Milwaukee an 8-7 lead. Leroux was touched for a single, bunt, single to allow an insurance run for the Brewers in the ninth. John Axford struck out the side to close out the game, allowing a runner to reach on an error.

Oh, it was probably inevitable that Milwaukee exploded. Prior to the eighth, they were 0-for-10 with RISP (they finished 4-for-18), and were 4-for-4 in the stolen base department. And you can't blame Clint Hurdle for having guys like Qualls and Hisanori Takahashi as his options. At any rate, it should be a quiet plane ride to Houston judging by the post-game locker room. The Bucs are below .500 for the first time since May 28th, and that 20th year of losing ball is staring them hard in the eye.

Jeff Locke takes on Edgar Gonzalez tomorrow night.

  • Andrew McCutchen is the first Bucco to hit 30 homers in a season since Jason Bay banged 35 in his All-Star 2006 campaign. McCutch's 92 RBI are also a personal high.
  • Lies, dang lies, and stats: Chad Qualls gave up hits to three of the four batters he face, and was credited with a hold.
  • 14,697 showed up for the game; after the eighth, just the 97 were left in the stands, more or less.

Lineup, Notes, News

The Brewers send RHP Mike Fiers (9-8, 3.23 ERA) against LHP Wandy Rodriguez (11-13, 3.65) as the Brew Crew try to broom the Bucs this afternoon. Fiers has been a man of two seasons. Through his first 12 outings, he went 6-4 with 1.82 ERA, but in his last seven starts, he's been 3-4 with a 6.55 ERA. Wandy is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his last four starts, and has fared pretty well against Milwaukee this year (1-1, 2.25). The get-away game begins at 4:05 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The lineup: Starling Marte LF, Travis Snider RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Rod Barajas C, Wandy Rodriguez P.

The Kid is back in and Snider is starting back-to-back games for the first time since early September.

  • Dave Schoenfield of "The Sweet Spot": "I think the Pirates are done. Great story. We rooted for them."
  • Jon Heyman on CBS Sport's "Baseball Insider" writes "Manager Clint Hurdle, who's established a positive mindset, is safe. But there have been some rumblings that GM Neal Huntington could be in trouble."
  • The Pirates are 7-20 after their 19 inning endurance test against St. Louis, the same record they ran up after 2011's 19 inning match at Atlanta. As Yogi would say, it's deja vu all over again.
  • Hudson Belinsky's has a story on West Virginia prospects Alen Hanson & Gregory Polanco for Baseball Prospectus. It's for subscribers, so you get all of Hansen and a line on Polanco.
  • More don't cry over spilt milk news: after the Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Angels in a move widely interpreted as waving the white flag, they went on a 32-18 tear. And Jean Segura, the key player in the return package, has taken over as their starting SS. So if you're still obsessing over deadline deals made and not made, let it go.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bat Bucs Missing In 3-1 Loss

Well, not the greatest start for K-Mac; Norichika Aoki, the first batter he faced as a Pirate starter, took him deep the opposite way on the second pitch, a heater down the middle. Two outs later, Aramis Ramirez reached on an infield single and Jonathan Lucroy got on thanks to a Pedro boot, but McPherson whiffed Taylor Green to finish the frame. It wasn't a pretty start, but he got through it down just a run. Marco Estrada got the first two Buccos before Cutch singled to left and swiped second. He was left there as Garrett Jones lifted a fly the opposite way.

Carlos Gomez opened the second with a knock to center, and stole second on the second pitch; twos are wild. Jean Segura bounced out to short, freezing Gomez. He wanted third, but couldn't have it - The Fort gunned him down trying to steal it on a bang-bang play. Estrada K'ed and it was the Bucs turn. After Pedro whiffed on a not very patient at bat, Mike McKenry doubled on an 0-2 pitch, the ball barely eluding Gomez's mitt after a nice defensive try. Travis Snider whiffed looking; the Bucs so far tonight are letting a lot of 90 MPH heaters right there sail past them. Clint Barmes swung through a 3-2 heater, and it was still 1-0 after two.

Aoki battled K-Mac for eight pitches before lining out on a nice running grab by Snider in the third. Ricky Weeks singled past Barmes on a bad hop. But it cleaned up nicely; Ryan Braun lined softly to Barmes, who barely caught Weeks off first for a DP. McPherson bounced out for the Bucs, followed by a Brock Holt walk. He didn't last long. Marte spanked one to third to start an around-the-horn DP to cap the third.

K-Mac lost A-Ram on seven pitches to start the fourth, and Lucroy singled him to second. Green flied out on a 2-0 pitch; McPherson may want to try to get ahead of a batter. No diff now; Gomez hit the first pitch to third, and Pedro stepped on the bag and tossed to first for the DP. With two outs for Pittsburgh, one a long fly to deep center by Jones, Pedro singled. The Fort popped up and the 1-0 score held up after four frames.

Segura opened the fifth with a first pitch double and was balked to third. Estrada helped his own cause by singling to right to plate Segura, so the 8-9 hitters did their job against the Pirate rookie. He got Aoki to foul out to left field, and Clint Hurdle waved Chris Resop in. K-Mac went 4-1/3, giving up two runs on seven hits and a walk with two whiffs, tossing 71 pitches before the quick hook; he was on a short pitch count leash after working out of the pen the past three weeks.

Weeks greeted Resop with a knock, and Braun knocked a single to right to juice the sacks. A-Ram battled Resop, spoiling a handful of pitches, but Chris won when he got a comebacker to start the Bucs third DP of the game, going 1-2-3. The bottom of the Buc order went down 1-2-3 too.

Jeff Karstens took over the hurling duties and pitched a clean sixth, surviving a shot to center by Lucroy that landed in Cutch's glove. The top of the Buc order was up and down just as quickly.

Segura opened the Brewer seventh with a triple that got under Cutch's shoestring stab. Segura had a double and triple all year coming into tonight; he's just doubled that output in his last pair of at bats. He came in when Holt booted Estrada's roller on a tough play. Aoki kept it rolling with a single. But there's one thing the Bucs have done well tonight, and they did it again when Weeks grounded into a 6-4-3 DP. Braun whiffed, but it was 3-0. The middle of the Pirate lineup couldn't get a ball out of the infield in their swings, and that made 10 Pirates down consecutively..

JK tossed a clean eighth. Jim Henderson came on, and Snider welcomed him with a single. JT grabbed a stick and waved it, going down swinging. Jeff Clement watched two strikes down the middle and swung and missed the third. Henderson has tossed seven pitches, six of them meatballs, and the Buc pinch hitters couldn't even foul one. The Kid drew a walk, stepping in for Holt, and Jordy Mercer ran for him. But the dish stayed clean as Marte went down swinging on three pitches, all right there. Well, at least he fouled one off.

Chris Leroux climbed the hill and put the Brew Crew away without sweating. John Axford came out looking for the save. Cutch had some fight left; he knocked a 1-2 pitch the opposite way over the wall. Jones got ahead 3-0, worked the count full, and popped out. Pedro singled the opposite way to keep the Bucs alive and bring the tying run to the plate. The Fort went down looking, something that can't happen in that situation. Pedro jogged into second on defensive interference, and died there as Snider bounced out.

Well, mathematically they're still in the wildcard race. But the club is at .500 now (74-74) for the first time since June 2nd when they were 26-26. They visit Houston and the Mets after tomorrow's game, then entertain Cincinnati and Atlanta to close the season. 82 wins will be a real challenge now.

Mike Fiers takes on Wandy Rodriguez tomorrow afternoon.

  • Cutch's homer was his 29th, breaking the Pirate CF record of 28 previously held by Brian Giles.
  • The Pirates had gone 23 innings without a run before scoring in the ninth. The have just 14 hits in the last three games, covering 27 innings.
  • Tonight's attendance was 15,337.
  • The Bucs were mathematically eliminated from the Central Division title tonight.

Lineup, Notes, News

The Brewers RHP Marco Estrada (3-6, 3.77 ERA) toes the rubber agaisnt Pirate rookie RHP Kyle McPherson (0-0, 1.54 ERA), who is making his first MLB start. Estrada is a fastball/changeup pitcher whose major problem has been the longball. McPherson, the Pirates’ 2011 minor league pitcher of the year, is a power guy with a fastball/curve/change repertoire who has whiffed 11 batters in 11-2/3 IP. The game starts at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Brock Holt 2B, Starling Marte LF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Travis Snider RF, Clint Barmes SS, Kyle McPherson P.

Snider is back in the lineup; Walker is out and is being handled as if he's day-to-day with his back.  Big game on a couple of levels; lose tonight and the team is no longer above .500.

  • Neil Walker is available off the bench; his back isn't 100% and the Pirates aren't rushing it. In fact, Clint Hurdle said he may not play than two straight days for the rest of the season.
  • Dejan Kovacevic of the Trib hit a home run today in his column covering the major Pirate shortcomings - draft results, player development, and free agents.
  • Kyle McPherson will become the tenth different pitcher to start a game for the Pirates this season. The Pirates started nine pitchers last season.
  • We know AJ is slow to the plate. Who do you think started the last time the Bucs gave up seven stolen bases? It was Bob Walk on May 23, 1990 in the Astrodome.
  • Why's it tough to stop the Brewers? How 'bout because they lead the NL in both HR and SB.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Brewers Run Wild In 6-0 Win

What is it with the Brewers? AJ started the game by plunking Norichika Aoki with a soft slider, and he quickly stole second, beating a weak throw by Rod Barajas on a pitch down and away. After a Ricky Weeks whiff, Aoki went to third on a wild pitch. Ryan Braun joined him on the basepaths, drawing a 3-2 walk on a hitter that was high and tight, and he stole second. Aramis Ramirez got ahead 3-0, but ended up popping out to Garrett Jones at first and Jonathan Lucroy went down fishing. It took 27 pitches, but AJ escaped. Yovani Gallardo whiffed Starling Marte, but lost JT. Cutch cleaned it up for him, though, bouncing into a 4-6-3 DP to finish a scoreless first frame.

Travis Ishikawa opened the second hit by a pitch on a 3-2 count, with AJ working him hard inside the whole at bat. Carlos Gomez took a slurve to left center for a knock, putting Brewers at first and second. Jean Segura looked at five fastballs and trotted to first; AJ and the plate aren't on talking terms yet. Gallardo K'ed, bringing up the top of the order. Aoki took a first pitch curve to left to plate Ishikawa. AJ pumped three heaters past Weeks, and Braun banged the next pitch to short. It's 1-0 Milwaukee, and could be a whole lot worse, though Burnett is already at 51 pitches.

With two down in the Bucco half, Pedro watched a slider sail by to work a 3-2 free pass and Clint Barmes banged the next pitch into center for a knock. Gallado walked Barajas, too, to bring up AJ. He put the ball in play, grounding out to Weeks; he might have even made it close if he hustled down the line.

AJ would have got the first batter for a change if Pedro's throw to first would have been on line. But it wasn't, and A-Ram was aboard. But he got Lucroy to roll one to short, and the 6-4-3 DP cleared the sacks. Another grounder ended the Brew Crew third and took Burnett's pitch count to a more manageable 60. The Bucs went down in order without getting a ball past the infield.

The bottom of the Brewer order went down quietly in the fourth. So did the middle of the Pirate lineup. Aoki opened the fifth with a single. After two tosses to first, Weeks rolled the first pitch to short for a 6-4-3 DP. Good thing; Braun knocked a 3-2 hook into center for a knock, and it took him two pitches to swipe second. A-Ram left him there, flying out to right. The bottom of the Pittsburgh order went down 1-2-3.

Lucroy began the sixth knocking a change up into center, the fifth leadoff guy to reach in six innings. With one away, Gomez dropped a bunt up the first base line to get aboard; he caught a break veering far out of the baseline to avoid the tag, as the replay showed. Segura smashed a heater to center, bringing home Lucroy with Gomez hitting the brakes at second.  Gallardo swung away, and bopped into the Brewers third 6-4-3 DP. Gallardo was on cruise control; the top of the Bucco lineup went down without a peep for 13 put away in a row.

Tony Watson came on in the seventh. AJ went six, giving up two runs on seven hits and two walks with four whiffs, tossing 94 offerings. With one down, Weeks battled and banged a single to left. Chad Qualls came on to match up with Braun; Weeks swiped second on the first pitch. Braun got a 3-2 heater a little down and in and whacked it to center to bring in Weeks. It took Braun two pitches to take second. A Ram belted a fly to deep center; Cutch ran it down, and Braun tagged to third. Lucroy was served a slider down the middle and bounced it through the left side to make it 4-0. He stole second on the second pitch; they don't even wait to catch their breath. Ishikawa couldn't cash him in, flying out to Marte, who made a nice grab to stop the bleeding.

With one away in the seventh, The Kid ended Gallardi's streak at 14 outs by banging a single to center.  Pedro beat out an infield grounder; Walker was safe too when the neighborhood play wasn't called for the force try, earning Segura an error. Jeff Clement grabbed a stick for Barmes. He got a fastball down Broadway on a 3-2 pitch, but was late and flew out to left. Gaby Sanchez stepped in the box for Hot Rod and walked on five pitches to juice the sacks. The Fort was sent in for Qualls to face Jim Henderson (Gallardo was at 106 pitches) and Jordy Mercer ran for Sanchez. All that went for naught for Pittsburgh; McKenry popped out on a 3-2 pitch.

Bryan Morris took the hill in the eighth. Gomez welcomed him with a single. After two pitches, he was on second; that's 7-for-7 tonight. Segura singled him home and went to second on the throw to the plate. Nyjer Morgan bounced out, moving the runner to third. Marte ran down a hit bid by Aoki, but the runner came home on the tag. Weeks walked on five pitches and didn't steal second - he reached there on a wild pitch. Braun grounded out, but the Fat Lady is tuning up at 6-0. Kameron Loe took over for Henderson, and pitched a clean frame against the top of the order; they're 0-for-11 tonight.

Rick Vandenhurk worked the ninth. After an out, Lucroy singled. With two down, he hit Gomez with a 3-2 pitch, but came back to K Segura, who swung at a couple of pitches that almost hit him. Jose Veras came on to close out. The Kid spoiled his party by singling with an out. A pop and a whiff later, it was in the books.

The Bucs did some good stuff. The Kid had a couple of hits, Clint Barmes started three DPs and AJ hung tough. But the bullpen melted down yet again, those stolen bases, and the curious decision by Clint Hurdle to bat for Clint bBrmes. He's done that a lot lately; maybe he should check his data bank, the one that shows he's hitting .273 in August and September. And for Jeff Clement yet, who's banging the ball at a .118 clip.

Tomorrow night could be the last gasp for Pittsburgh. Marco Estrada goes against Kyle McPherson, making his first MLB start. No pressure.

  • The Pirates haven't won the opening game in nine straight series and dropped the lid lifter in the last 13-of-15 sets.
  • The last time the Bucs beat a team that wasn't the Cubs or Astros was August 29th against the Cards.
  • The seven stolen bases against the Bucs were one short of matching the team record.
  • The Brew Crew had 13 hits; all were singles. Of course, if you count the stolen bases, there were a lot of de facto doubles.