Thursday, April 7, 2016

Opening Series Thoughts & Takes

We don't take much from Florida; we like to see what happens during showtime. One series is a minute sample, but a couple of trends are evident after the Redbird set:

  • If Juan Nicasio can take the three spot as this season's AJ Burnett/JA Happ sub and Jon Niese is Charlie Morton's replacement, the Buc rotation has just gotten a lot stronger. There's a long way to go yet to see if Nicasio can keep on keepin' on, but if he's for real, so is the rotation. 
  • The bullpen has been constructed and used a little differently this year. Though still a slave to the save, Clint showed that he has confidence enough in Arquimedes Caminero and Neftali Feliz to match up Tony Watson in the late innings. There are three lefties available for match up opps, and until Jared Hughes returns, three multi-inning guys in Kyle Lobstein, Cory Luebke and Ryan Vogelsong, quite handy commodities if six-inning starts are the norm.
  • Swapping out The Kid and Pedro has really strengthened the right side. Josh has far superior range to Walker, and John Jaso is making the routine plays (tho he did botch a bad throw) while on his maiden cruise. Jordy is always dependable, and David Freese has been handling the hot corner flawlessly. JHV is no slouch there either, so third is in good hands when he returns. Now if they can only get rid of that three 1B setup... 
David Freese solidified the infield (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
  • The lineup is certainly deeper now, and they made the Card pitchers work by grinding out at-bats. The Bucco line against the Cards was .300/.390/.410, compared to last year's .260/.323/.399. So even with Pedro and Neil's 43 HR gone, the slugging percentage is higher, and the BA & OBP are night and day different. Hard to keep those numbers up, but it's easy to see what the Pirates' offensive formula is this campaign - lots of runners to create lots of chances to cash in some runs.
  • Cashing in those runners seems a little more problematic. True, the Bucs put up 15 runs, and five runs per game should win you a few. But 6-for-26 with RISP (.230) isn't that great, and they've stranded 25 while losing nine more on the bases - four by DP, two caught stealing (in two tries), two thrown out on the bases and one botched squeeze. The DPs are probably a result of crowded bases, but geez, can't the FO find a baserunning version of Uncle Ray?
  • Finally, it looks like the national media has jumped off the Bucco bandwagon and onto the Cubbies', judging by the reaction to the Card series, which would have been a big deal in the past couple of seasons. Maybe flying under the radar will end up a good thing.

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