May 31, 2010

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 31, 2010

You might have noticed that this series started before a preview went up. Well, I guess the preview will be that much more goddamn accurate then. Enjoy it.

The Pirates return home after a disastrous 1-6 road trip and have now lost nine of 11. That streak has forced this blog to juxtapose a spelled out single digit number with a two digit ordinal number thus making us look like complete idiots, yet we're using proper Associated Press style there, so I guess you shouldn't have been all critical to start with.

The main culprit for the losing spell is, of course, a lack of scoring. This has been going on all year, for example: Charlie Morton has been rightly blamed for having an awful year, but the Pirates have scored 1, 0, 1, 3, 2, 4, 0, 2, 2 and 2 runs in his starts. Not even Cy Maholm himself would have won most of those games.

Chicago Cubs - Monday 1:35, Tuesday 7:05, Wednesday 7:05
Fun fact about the pictured Cubs fan: She's a radio sports reporter in Chicago. Perhaps her employers didn't realize this when they hired her, but radio is sound with no pictures.

The Cubs come to town 24-27, and need a good series to avoid falling into Devil Rays "Piniella is the star of the team" territory. The front end of their bullpen has been a disaster. Sean Marshall (5-1, 1.82), Carlos Marmol (1.46, 11 saves, 1 million strikeouts), and James Russell (0-1, 2.33) have been Sweet Lou's only reliable relievers. Everyone else in their bullpen who has pitched more than 5 innings has a minimum ERA of 6.12. This is a recipe for a Piniella meltdown of epic proportions, although he usually saves those for the home fans.

Monday's game matches Ross Ohlendorf (0-3, 5.11) and Randy Wells (3-3, 4.79). Wells has been Chicago's least effective starter but still has respectable numbers. Ohlendorf has been pretty bad thus far, but it's about time for him to hit his stride. In holiday day games, Ross is boss. If you're going to PNC Park for the patriotic Pirate hat, I expect intermittent thunderstorms so sit under the roof. My pick is the Pirates.

Tuesday the Pirates go with Jeff Karstens (1-1, 4.78) against Ted Lilly (1-4, 3.63). Karstens takes Charlie Morton's rotation spot as Brad Lincoln is apparently in AAA until he can improve his changeup. "You don't need a good secondary pitch to be a major league pitcher," said Morton when he heard that news. In his last start, Casey Blake got mad at Lilly for pitching in front of the rubber whick Blake said is an unfair advantage, although really if that happens it's the umpire's fault. Anyway, the Pirates are surprisingly good against lefthanded starters, probably because lefties keep Ryan Church and Jeff Clement out of the lineup. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday Carlos Zambrano (1-3, 6.12) makes his triumphant return to the rotation and faces Zach Duke (3-5, 5.09). Zambrano is a 29 year old ace who started 242 games for the Cubs, and Piniella demoted him to the bullpen in April following a start in which he gave up two runs. Now Piniella has declared the Zambrano-in-relief move a failure following five consecutive appearances in which he wasn't scored on. But what would you expect from an organization that rushed a 20-year-old shortstop who can't field to the majors, forcing a pretty good shortstop in Ryan Theriot to move to second base, all for the sake of benching Mike Fontenot. Mike Fontenot is currently having a career year, hitting .337/.386/.500, so I guess it's important to keep his bat out of the lineup. Zach Duke is great in home games, so my pick is the Pirates.

May 29, 2010

McCutchen Should Bat Leadoff

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 29, 2010

This is a minor point, clearly not as important as my last post which concerned composition of the starting rotation. Putting the same players in any order will cause roughly the same results.

That being said, it's time to move Andrew McCutchen back to the leadoff spot.

McCutchen batted leadoff in every one of his 108 starts last year. After the Iwamura trade management said McCutchen would stay in the leadoff spot. Nevertheless, he batted second for most of April, then hit leadoff twice before settling into the #3 hole where he's been since April 28.

The conventional wisdom is to bat your best on base guy first, your best contact guy second, your best overall hitter third, and your best slugger fourth. Using that plan would yield a lineup of McCutchen, McCutchen, McCutchen, McCutchen. Clearly something has to give.

With 31 RBI through 49 games, Garrett Jones has done enough to stay in the cleanup spot. No one expected a repeat of the .567 slugging percentage from 2009, but Jones's slugging percentage has dropped below .400. Yet he's still on a 102 RBI pace, so I see no reason to move him.

I also like Neil Walker at #2. He's had three good games so far out of four starts. I think he should start every day at second base. As I explained earlier, there's no way to build up Iwamura's trade value because he'll have awful stats at the trade deadline even if he starts hitting .300.

That leaves #1 or #3 for McCutchen. Voters in the recently completed blog poll split the decision on where he should bat with leadoff and third each receiving 38 percent of the vote. There's an unconfirmed rumor that John Russell went to a Pitt computer lab and voted from every computer while constantly changing his mind, generating the entire results of that poll.

Other than McCutchen's two starts the Pirates have used a crapfest at leadoff this year led by Iwamura (.273 OBP) and including Delwyn Young (.284 OBP), Lastings Milledge (.326), Bobby Crosby (.333), Andy LaRoche (.331) and Ronny Cedeno (.305). Every one of those on base percentages is below league average. What reason is there to start a game with a player who feels like an automatic out?

After posting a .286/.365/.471 line last year, McCutchen has improved to .314/.380/.459 so far this season. Yet this is wasted at #3 as so many of his plate appearances come with nobody on base.

Cutch has only 13 RBI this season despite having a great hitting year so far, and that is a direct result of hitting behind the above described leadoff men. This is well below even his RBI rate as a leadoff man last year, when he drove in 54 in 108 games. Predictably he's also scored fewer runs, 28 in 48 games compared to 74 in 108 last year.

So we have our best player batting in a position where he's scoring and driving in less runs despite hitting better. And of course he's also batting less often. Nobody wins. Moreover, Cutch is getting few chances to steal. After swiping 10 bags before moving to the 3 hole, he's stolen two in May since. Third is not a basestealing spot with power hitters up.

So there's nobody suited to bat leadoff other than McCutchen. Let him hit there. Let the best hitter get the most plate appearances. He was a sparkplug last year and can continue to be one.

Batting third should be Ryan Doumit. He's at .279/.365/.476 right now, credible numbers for a #3 hitter, and second on the team in both OBP and slugging. Doumit is an offensive catcher who's a defensive liability, so at least get him as many at bats as possible while he's in there. This order would put our best four hitters one through four.

Wouldn't it be better to open a game with McCutchen, Walker, Doumit, Jones rather than our most common lineup of Iwamura, LaRoche, McCutchen, Jones? Of course it would. It's time to make it happen.

May 27, 2010

Time For Morton To Go To The Minors

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 27, 2010

This is nothing I haven't said before, but it's time to option Charlie Morton to pitch in Indianapolis.

Morton gave up seven runs in two innings tonight - including back-to-back first inning home runs - and will wake up tomorrow morning 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA. This was against a Reds team that was was without its best hitter, Joey Votto, and instead had Miguel Cairo hitting second.

After ten starts, there is no "He pitched well but got unlucky," "He has major league stuff," etc. There's only the performance which is killing this team.

I'm sure Pirates management will point to Morton's recent string of quality starts. But he really struggled in some of those games. In his home start last Saturday Morton used 109 pitches to get through six innings of three run ball, and easily could have easily been chased in the second or third inning if the Braves had capitalized on their opportunities with men on base. Moreover, a six inning/three run game should be an MLB pitcher's average start, not the best he could possibly hope for.

Morton has now allowed 52 runs (45 earned) on 66 hits (12 home runs) in 43.1 innings. Also 16 walks, four hit batsmen and a balk. Being left to pitch terribly in the major leagues does nothing to help a pitcher's development.

Also, this is Morton's age 26 season. He's a year younger than Zach Duke. These aren't like the early 20s struggles that Greinke and others got past. Morton is, or should be, in the prime of his career.

Remember when Ian Snell was sent down last year? Snell had a 5.36 ERA at the time in 80.2 innings. Charlie Morton would have to throw a month of shutout ball even to get to that point. He also has a 6.10 career ERA so it's not clear where there's a baseline level of good performance to go back to.

Look around the league. There's a reason nobody else is starting guys with an 8, 9 or 10 ERA. Maybe it would be conceding defeat in the McLouth deal, but there's no reason to give Charlie Morton another start until he shows that he can dominate AAA hitters.

May 26, 2010

Neil Walker Called Up

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 26, 2010

Neil Walker became the first of the Pirates' Big Four prospects to be called up today. He batted second and played third base as Andy LaRoche missed his fourth straight game due to back problems. Walker hit a key RBI double in the eighth. I missed the game so I can't comment on his defense, but it's hard to imagine any infielder looking worse than Delwyn Young at third base.

Walker was hitting .321/.392/.560 at Indianapolis with 18 doubles in 43 games. At this point there is nothing left for him to prove in AAA, so it's the right move to give him a shot.

The most interesting decision will come when Andy LaRoche is ready to play. LaRoche hasn't been placed on the disabled list, meaning the Pirates apparently think he'll be back at some point this week. One option is to simply make Walker the everyday second baseman. Even after getting hits in the last three games, Akinori Iwamura is hitting .166 and doesn't look worthy of blocking Walker. The other option is to make Walker an everyday utility man, rotating his position among left field, first, second and third base. And of course the worst option is to use Walker off the bench so the likes of Iwamura, Jeff Clement and Ryan Church can get into the starting lineup.

Still at Indianapolis are Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln. My guess is that Lincoln (5-2, 3.77) will be the next player called up to take the rotation spot of either Charlie Morton or Brian Burres.

May 25, 2010

Would the Pirates Draft Bryce Harper?

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 25, 2010

One of the biggest days of the Pirates' season is just two weeks away. By virtue of their terrible finish to the '09 season, Pittsburgh edged out the Orioles, Royals, Indians (and Yankees) to pick second in the June 7 amateur draft. A team in the Pirates' position simply cannot afford to miss out on the chance to get an impact player with this pick.

Catcher Bryce Harper is the consensus #1 talent in the draft, drawing comparisons to LeBron James. After hitting .616 in his first two years of high school, Harper took the unprecedented step of getting his GED and enrolling in junior college at age 17 - all in order to be eligible for the draft a year earlier.

Bryce is hitting .417/.509/.917 in junior college with 71 runs scored, 23 home runs, and 68 RBIs in just 55 games. He hit four home runs in a playoff game over the weekend. Although it's true that junior college pitching leaves much to be desired (the final score of the 4 HR game was 25-11), there's also nothing more he could do.

Harper is expected to be picked first overall by the Washington Nationals - but don't be surprised if the Nationals pass on the pick. Harper is a Scott Boras client and is rumored to be demanding the highest bonus in the history of the draft. Moreover, under Boras's agency, if he pans out he's almost certain to leave whatever team develops him in favor of free agency at the first opportunity. With their MLB team reaching respectability this year, the Nationals might reasonably prefer to spend their money on free agents while drafting a cheaper player - especially when they already spent $15.1 million on a four year contract for Boras client Stephen Strasburg last year.

If the Nats do pass on Harper, the Pirates will be forced into a difficult decision. Boras's representation led to a near-disaster with the Pirates' 2008 #2 pick Pedro Alvarez when the agent claimed Alvarez's contract hadn't been signed by the August 15 deadline. "Regrettably, we are not surprised that Mr. Boras would attempt to raise a meritless legal claim in an effort to compel us to renegotiate Pedro's contract to one more to his liking," Pirates owner Frank Coonelly said at the time in a press release.

It was the culmination of many Coonelly-Boras battles beginning while Coonelly was counsel for the MLB commissioner's office. Boras was widely criticized for putting personal animosity ahead of the best interests of his client. Alvarez's contract was only honored after a protracted legal battle which delayed his development by forcing him to sit out the rest of the '08 minor league season.

The Alvarez battle was fresh in the Pirates' minds when they chose the eminently signable Tony Sanchez with the fourth overall pick in '09. Another year later, could Coonelly forgive and forget? And would it be a good idea? Alvarez, like Strasburg, had proven himself at the highest level of NCAA Divsion I competition. A 17-year-old catcher is quite a bit more risky.

Moreover, while positional scarcity shouldn't normally be a consideration for a first round pick, catcher is about the worst position for the Pirates to draft right now. In fact it's hard to imagine any team having less need for a catcher. Ryan Doumit, signed through 2011, is one of the two or three best hitters in the Pirates' lineup. Jason Jaramillo is one of the better backups in the majors. Their catcher of the future is Sanchez, who is hitting .290/.401/.441 at Bradenton. And out of the four catchers at Indianapolis and Altoona, Kris Watts has the lowest on base percentage at .397.

Taking all that into consideration, I would be shocked to see the Pirates draft Bryce Harper. Not only would Harper money ruin the club's draft strategy of overpaying for hard-to-sign picks later in the draft, but it wouldn't necessarily give them a better player than those already in the system. The safest thing to do with a top draft pick is to take a college pitcher and that's what I expect the Pirates to do.

May 24, 2010

Our Imperfect Catcher

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 24, 2010

In just two games this weekend, we saw a microcosm of Ryan Doumit's career, both the good and the bad.

Saturday, Doumit came on as a pinch hitter and caught just one inning. During that innning he mishandled a two-out third strike with the bases loaded, allowing the Braves to score a key insurance run in their 4-2 victory. Then yesterday he redeemed himself with a walk-off home run in the 10th off of Takashi Saito, capping a 3-for-5 day.

Ryan is now hitting .286/.371/.459 on the season and appears to be on track to repeat his 2008 career year, when he hit .318/.357/.501 with 71 runs scored, 15 home runs and 69 RBI. His biggest pre-2010 offensive shortcoming was plate discipline, but he's managed a career-best 9.3% walk rate.

He's also showed a flair for the dramatic with each of his four home runs. In addition to Sunday's walk-off he hit a majestic three run shot in front of the sellout Opening Day crowd, a game-winning grand slam in the top of the ninth April 27 against Trevor Hoffman, and a pinch-hit, game-tying solo shot in the ninth inning the very next day.

Unfortunately, while Doumit has been one of the top hitting catchers in the league, he's been one of its worst defensively. He's thrown out only three of 37 opposing baserunners (8%). He's also struggled noticeably on balls in the dirt, allowing 15 wild pitches and leading the league with four passed balls.

With a better hitting club, the Pirates might be able to go with Jason Jaramillo behind the plate more often. Jaramillo is clearly the better receiver of the two but hits more like a typical backup catcher (.251/.306/.364 career). However, Doumit is an asset to this team as currently constructed. He and Andrew McCutchen are the only two hitters providing above average offense for their positions. Considering the number of good outfielders in the league, if Doumit keeps hitting he has a better than 50/50 chance to be the Pirates' All-Star representative - even if he's removed for a defensive replacement before he can catch the World Series clinching pitch.

May 22, 2010

5th Starter Battle Tonight

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 22, 2010

Tonight's games could lead to a shakeup in the Pirates starting rotation.

Management continues to insist that Charlie Morton, 1-7 with a 9.68 ERA, has been throwing well, is the victim of bad luck and is in the rotation for the foreseeable future. The results say otherwise. There's no chance any team would keep a starter in the rotation all year with Morton's current level of performance.

Regardless of what anyone says, my belief is that Morton has to be pitching for his starting job to some extent. He throws hard enough to pitch in the major leagues but he doesn't have enough movement on his fastball. He's also looked as comfortable with men on base as he looked in this dress for Braves rookie hazing in 2008.

It's not time to give up on Morton but it would be appropriate to send him to AAA, the bullpen or even the disabled list. There's no reason for him to have a longer rope than, for instance, what the Red Sox gave Josh Beckett this year.

Top starting pitching prospect Brad Lincoln, 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA, starts in Indianapolis tonight against the Braves' AAA team. With their starts and rest falling concurrently he would be the obvious candidate to trade places with Morton. Brad got hit around in two of his April starts but has pitched very well in May - a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings with 15 hits allowed, 3 walks and 21 strikeouts.

He also turns 25 this week and there's not much point in keeping him in the minors for much longer. If Lincoln continues to pitch well, it's hard to imagine the Pirates not giving him a shot at the MLB level. Even though Brad was a Dave Littlefield draftee, no one wants to use a former #4 overall pick as an organizational filler guy at AAA. He has an above average MLB fastball right now and has apparently improved his secondary pitches this year as well.

Should Morton get things together, Brian Burres (2-1, 4.91) is the other candidate to be dropped from the rotation. Burres has done a decent job for the Pirates, showing that he's a legitimate #5 starter. But he doesn't have anything approaching Lincoln's upside, so it wouldn't be prudent to let him block Lincoln's development.

UPDATE: Lincoln went eight innings for the win, giving up three runs on five hits and no walks. He continues to look MLB ready. Morton saved his rotation spot for now, giving up three runs (two earned) over six innings although allowing two home runs.

May 21, 2010

Series Preview: Atlanta Braves

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 21, 2010

Finally a real opponent. Forgive me, but it's downright tiring facing these NL Central foes. Apart from St. Louis they all seem like tests (Do you want to go to the Pirates-Astros game?) for how much a girl really likes you. The Braves come to town at 21-20 and are hoping to return to their former role as a perennial annoying playoff team.

Say what you want about the Braves but they are a true regional team. Back in the day when aquatic life roamed the Gulf of Mexico and I lived in Wilmington N.C., Braves fandom used to be a pretty reliable litmus test for real Southern status. Talking about Jarrod Saltalamacchia's call-up on a morning Castle Hayne-bound bus? True Southerner. Watching the Yankee game while ordering Jim Beam in a Southern accent? Sorry, just racist.

Nate McLouth (.208/.329/.350) makes his triumphant return and hasn't been hitting at all. Nate could still have a big series at PNC. Fellow 2009 Pirate Jesse Chavez (0-0, 7.23) is making the Braves decision to trade Rafael Soriano for him look awful.

The Braves have an average offense led by presumptive Rookie of Jason Heyward (.276/.392/.553). Hall of Famer Chipper Jones (.225/.383/.360) still bats third for old times' sake. Brian McCann and Troy Glaus are solid. Melky "Shouldn't have traded for me" Cabrera (.200/.287/.235) is the only hole in the lineup thus far.

Atlanta Braves: Friday 7:05, Saturday 7:05, Sunday 1:35
Friday, Tim Hudson (4-1, 2.41) faces Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 3.00). This is like the Super Bowl of pitch-to-contact pitchers. Ohlendorf is the modern-day Hudson, except that Hudson still pitches in the modern day. Hudson has pitched to a 2.82 ERA against the Pirates which is pretty solid. Ohlendorf has fully recovered from his injury and might be the ace of this Pirates staff. This game features Nate McLouth's triumphant return to Pittsburgh, but the Braves have set up a team that's perfectly constructed to be mystified by Ross's Ivy League stuff. My pick is the Pirates.

Saturday, on Garrett Jones Ceramic Figurine Day, the Braves go with Derek Lowe (5-4, 5.47) against Charlie Morton (1-7, 9.68). How pure a feeling we Pittsburghers must feel when playing the only intraleague games of the weekend. Bonus points if you can identify the difference between intraleague and interleague. Morton should be a reliever but he knows his former teammates well enough to keep the Bucs in the game. Derek Lowe is still in the rotation mainly because of his salary. My pick is the Pirates.

Sunday features the most intriguing matchup of the series. Kris Medlen (1-1, 2.45) is really overcoming having a girl's name, while Zach Duke (3-4, 5.08) will have to overcome the fact that he can't face Roy Halladay on this day. Medlen is due for a correction. My pick is the Pirates.

You Can Wear Your Alvarez Jersey Eventually

Since the 2010 season dawned, much of Pirate fans' time has been devoted to waiting for Pedro Alvarez to get called up. The wait may be longer than expected.

After being picked second overall in 2008, Alvarez hit .247/.342/.486 at Lynchburg last year. Good, but not great. The hype really began after he raked at Altoona in the second half of the year, hitting .333/.419/.590 in 60 games. Those numbers, even translated to the majors, would have made Pedro the second or third best hitter on the big league club in the late summer and fall of '09.

He earned a spring training invite and hit .296/.345/.519, doing nothing to dispel the hype. Of course those stats were compiled against the same caliber of minor league pitchers he had dominated the previous fall.

By April Pedro was viewed by most fans as this season's McCutchen: a guy who would play at Indianapolis for two months and then be called up as the franchise's saviour. Among other things, this very blog included Pedro in the World Series MVP poll where he earned 10% of the vote.

By keeping a player in AAA until June a team allows a player to play the partial major league season and three more full seasons before becoming eligible for salary arbitration and a big raise. The flip side of this is that for payroll purposes, there's really no difference between calling a star prospect up in June and calling him up the following Opening Day.

The Pirates likely began the year with those designs, but their star prospect simply hasn't hit at a level that demands a June call-up. Counting last night's suspended game, Alvarez is now hitting .250/.343/.493 with 9 home runs in 41 AAA games. That's great for a player in his second year of professional baseball. But especially for a power hitter, those aren't numbers that translate into immediate major league success.

Remember, McCutchen was drafted out of high school, signed quickly and basically had four full minor league seasons before his Pittsburgh call up. Attending college is a great choice but playing college ball does delay a player's development in terms of the age when he reaches the majors. Alvarez has only seen professional pitching for less than a year and a half.

With a league average third baseman in Andy LaRoche, the Pirates have no reason to push Alvarez until he dominates at Indianapolis. That could be at the All-Star break or it could be later. It could be in 2011.

For those fans looking west to Indianapolis for help, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker are both getting on base at a near .400 clip making them far more likely to benefit the major league team this season. Alvarez should be a great one, but it just won't happen this June.

May 20, 2010

Notes: McCutchen Is A Legit Superstar

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 20, 2010

Gene Collier's Post-Gazette column today is skating out there like a Marc Savard, just waiting for a cheap shot. While concluding that John Russell deserves a contract extension, Collier does so mainly by way of criticizing JR. It's not completely clear that Collier doesn't mean his conclusion ironically. But Jonathan Swift he isn't, so I'll shoot away, cheaply, at his first point:

Does John Russell have the teeth to do what Florida Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez did this week, upbraid his loafing superstar in public and then bench him pending an apology?

I know, what superstar?

Russell ain't got no superstar and might never encounter such a scenario...

Andrew McCutchen has been up for almost a year now and the results are:

.297/.370/.477, 101 runs, 36 doubles, 9 triples, 17 home runs, 67 RBI, 67 BB, 110 K, 34/43 stolen bases

Hanley Ramirez's stats in that same time period:

.330/.401/.522, 90 runs, 32 doubles, 1 triple, 23 home runs, 102 RBI, 60 BB, 87 K, 22/28 stolen bases

So basically Cutch is performing only slightly worse than Hanley right now. Ramirez is driving in more runs but scoring and stealing less often than Cutch, mainly because of their batting order positions.

McCutchen is also three years younger than Hanley and has never had his effort questioned. At this point in Hanley's career he had the same stats McCutchen has now. Would you trade them straight up? I wouldn't.

The tendency in this town is to believe every player on the Pirates is bad while every player on the Steelers and Penguins is the opposite. Don't believe the hype.

Taschner Disabled / Donnelly Recalled
In order to clear room for Brendan Donnelly, Jack Taschner was sent to the 15-day disabled list. According to Neil Huntington, "Jack has had some soreness and tightness, and we felt it best to give him more than ample time to get back to full health, while not leaving ourselves a pitcher short during this long stretch of games. It is our expectation he will be ready to come off the DL as soon as he is eligible."

In other words, Taschner is more hittable than hurt. Disabled list manipulation is nothing new; witness Donnie Veal last year. Jack Taschner has no real role in this bullpen - at this point he's a second lefty who only comes in in blowouts. Jack is a veteran who worked hard to get better for this season but it just hasn't happened. The bullpen is stronger without him.

Macha's Last Game?
According to every source including this WFC Blog, Brewers manager Ken Macha is on the hot seat. If he goes with the grey Brewers shirt again today it might be that he just didn't expect to be with the team long enough to pack a change of clothes for this road trip.

Macha did nothing to help himself last night, leaving an obviously exhausted Randy Wolf in the game to give up the tying and winning runs in the seventh inning. It's also worth noting Ryan Braun's selfish attempt at stealing second, down two runs in the ninth inning. Braun's certainly a player who's out for individual stats, but his actions in the ninth inning are the type of thing usually only done by a guy who expects to be around longer than his boss.

At best a manager is only as good as his players, and the Brewers' poor start isn't because of managing. But a Brewer loss today would make nine in a row, and something has to give.

The Pirates' Lights Out Bullpen

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 20, 2010

The problems with the '09 Pirates were legendary, chief among them being a lack of good baseball players. But really, the bullpen was the worst part of that team. Statistically the '09 relief corps was below replacement level, meaning that picking up any random guys would be better.

Calling that bullshit claim's bluff, Neil Huntington addressed the problem by picking up any random guys. Results have been great. The Pirates have quietly featured a lights out back end of the bullpen this season. Check it out:

Evan Meek - 26 innings, 7 BB, 27 K
Joel Hanrahan - 16 innings, 6 BB, 24 K
Octavio Dotel - 17.1 innings, 9 BB, 24 K, 1 sweet video

I worked for a year for a light switch company, so I know lights out when I see it.

Can you remember the last time the Pirates featured a bullpen with two set-up men and a closer who all struck out more than a batter an inning? You can't because it never happened. I say this with confidence despite having checked zero sources to verify that claim.

The Pirates clearly favor a pitch to contact approach for their starters but prefer relievers with swing and miss stuff. That's exactly right, as strikeouts are key to get through one inning and walks can be worked around. A Hanrahan type just doesn't work as well as a starter because unless the guy is totally unhittable, the pitch counts are just too high to get through six innings. Rich Harden, meet Yovani Gallardo.

Of course Meek can't and shouldn't keep up his 100+ inning pace, so a nice step for the rest of 2010 will be to add or develop a fourth back end guy. There are too many close games to use the same guys in all of them.

Brendan Donnelly comes off the disabled list today but has walked more than a batter an inning so far. D.J. Carrasco looks like a long reliever to me. Jack Taschner looks like an Indianapolis reliever. Javier Lopez now has a 2.25 ERA but is much more effective against lefthanded hitters.

I suggest that Charlie Morton can do the job. He has a fastball that's made for the late innings and he's not helping anyone by putting up a 9.68 ERA in the rotation. He wouldn't be the first guy that's great in relief, terrible starting. In fact Hanrahan and Dotel are failed starters themselves.

Even if Morton in relief doesn't materialize, Dotel/Hanrahan/Meek are a treat to watch.

May 19, 2010

Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 19, 2010

Ah, a midweek series against the Milwaukee Brewers. This one provides a little more drama than most as the 15-24 Brewers come to town broke, busted, disgusted, and considering firing their untrusted agent Ken Macha. Eight losses in a row will do that. With the Twins coming up, you know they're looking at the Pirates thinking this is an opportunity to win two.

After yesterday's ugly blown save, Trevor Hoffman has a 13.15 ERA. He's a great closer, maybe the best ever, but it's hard to imagine he still has the job. The rest of the Milwaukee bullpen is pretty awful as well. There's no way to manage five relievers with 5+ ERAs into some great result. Remember the 2009 Pirates? Of course not.

Of course, the Brewers' offense is second in the league in scoring runs. Casey McGehee (.322/.393/.559) has driven in 35 runs already and is among the league leaders in that category. Corey Hart (.276/.353/.543) still doesn't realize he's terrible. Braun is having another MVP-caliber year, Weeks isn't hurt yet and Prince Fielder is starting to hit as well. Overall, the Brewers are the team I least want to see play. The team I most want to see is the Hartford Whalers.

Milwaukee Brewers - Wednesday 7:05, Thursday 7:05
Wednesday's game matches Randy Wolf (3-3, 4.66) and Brian Burres (2-1, 5.00). Surprisingly, Wolf has been non-Cy Young worthy in his starts that aren't against the Pirates. He's been good for five or six innings and four runs against most average offenses. Boy would it be nice to have Most Average Offenses. Former Phillies pitchers are tough on the Bucs. Robin Roberts is pitching Thursday. Burres is lights out at home. My pick is the Pirates.

Thursday, the Brewers go with Chris Narveson (3-1, 5.29) against Paul Maholm (3-3, 4.40). It must be nice to give the ball to Chris Narveson with your job on the line. Has Ken Macha ever heard of Chris Narveson? This Brewers losing streak has generated an all time record number of highlights consisting solely of Macha standing in the dugout looking stoic. Maholm is the better pitcher. My pick is the Pirates.

Pirates Preparing To Replace Iwamura

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 19, 2010

I was one of many who liked the Pirates' offseason trade of Jesse Chavez for Akinori Iwamura. Nobody expected a spectacular year from the new second baseman, but Iwamura is just 31 and had a solid career line of .281/.354/.393 - above average production for the position.

Now 39 games into the season, Iwamura is in the worst slump of his career. Since May 2 he has one hit. It's still not Memorial Day but he's now hitting .156 in 128 at bats. This is "worst player in baseball" territory.

Fangraphs recently ran a piece suggesting that Iwamura's start was the product of bad luck, considering his low batting average on balls in play. That's easy to say when you don't watch the team, but Iwamura simply hasn't been getting unlucky on his hits. The majority of his outs are on weak grounders, with some weak pop-ups sprinkled in.

Even if his hitting does rebound, there's still the matter of Iwamura's subpar range and difficulties in turning the double play. His defense doesn't look good behind the Pirates' pitch-to-contact staff. He had the reputation of an average or slightly above average defender but I'm not seeing it.

Iwamura is here on a one-year, $4.25 million contract. The Pirates would clearly love for him to put together good enough numbers to be worth trading. Yet it's hard to imagine an MLB team taking on his contract, much less giving up value in return.

Consider that Freddy Sanchez, an excellent defender who was batting .296 at the time he was traded, netted only an AA pitching prospect who doesn't strike anyone out. Iwamura, if he hits .300 from here on out, will not even be hitting .250 by the trade deadline.

While outwardly expressing confidence in their second baseman - including pinch-hitting him against Roy Halladay last night - the Pirates have been quietly preparing to replace him. The switch-hitting Neil Walker, ostensibly training to become a utility man, has recently been starting at second base every day in Indianapolis. Batting second in the lineup, Neil has raked his way to a .329/.402/.584 start. At 24 he looks major league ready now. He has good power, can steal bases, and has a good walk rate. Iwamura has only the last of those three.

We learned in 2009 that Delwyn Young isn't an everyday second baseman. Bobby Crosby, if he does play every day, should be doing it at shortstop. By the All-Star break, Neil Walker will be starting at second base every day in Pittsburgh.

May 17, 2010

Bucco Fans Classing It Up In 2010

Perhaps it's a bit premature to say this, but this is an accomplishment that you - loyal Pirate fans, loyal readers - should not have to wait another day to begin feeling great about.

An Inglorious History
This first part I say not to criticize, but only to provide perspective. The 2009 Pirates were the worst team I have ever seen at VTBCA. I attended 17 games during which I witnessed Visible Thong And/Or Butt Crack in approximately 141 of 153 innings. That's a Charlie Mortonesque 8.29 VTBCA.

This stat only looks worse when adjusting for era and park effects. For example, as observed by yours truly, the 2002 Indians allowed about a 4.50 VTBCRA. That looks high until you realize that the league as a whole was averaging a VTBCRA north (north is south!) of 6. Yet the rest of the league by 2009 was averaging a VTBCRA under 2.00. VTBC shutouts became the norm in such classy locales as Denver and Phoenix.

Broken down further, leaguewide VTRA was under 1.00 as T increasingly went out of style. Yet the middle half of Pittsburgh was hanging out last year as if it was the middle of the decade.

Even the 2007 UNC-Wilmington Seahawks, with crowds consisting of upwards of 30% mostly naked college girls, only mustered a VTBCRA of 3.75.

8.29, Pittsburgh. Ignominy.

Without further ado, let me reveal the 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates' VTBCRA: Three point fucking two.

I've attended eight games so far. I have seen four of those games, in their entirety, witnessing nary a thong AND nary a butt crack. Four doesn't sound like a lot until you count 'em: One, two, three, four.

Also there has only been one game in which the Pirates allowed a VTBC in every inning. Again, Pretty! Good!

Is this a function of better relief pitching? Bad weather? Pittsburgh women reading in Cosmo that the thong is dead? Who knows, but consider me impressed and consider my butt covered.

3.2! Cincinnati is still over 4. 2010 Pirates, y'all!

This analysis has thus far ignored another triumph...In another great development, I've seen only one "Pregnant Wife Wearing Tights As Pants Accompanying Husband In Lawrence Taylor jersey" at PNC Park since LT's statutory rape charges became public.


Fight on!

May 14, 2010

On The One Run Series

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 14, 2010

The city of Pittsburgh awoke today with a strangely bright star shining in the sky. The areas under trees or buildings were cooler and more poorly lit, while open spaces were brighter and warmer. I'm told this is called "The Sun" although it seems odd to name this phenomenon after a supermarket tabloid.

By now, thankfully that strange phenomenon is over. With an afternoon tilt scheduled at Wrigley Field there's hope that the Pirates' recent "not hitting" streak is just a similar aberration.

Think of it this way. Last night was trash night, but the garbage men failed to remove my trash. I just can't be disappointed in that. They take the trash 55% of the time. That's an 89-73 record, a playoff trash team in more seasons than not. The trash season is a long season, lasting 52 weeks a year, and there's just no way to expect these guys - every Thursday morning - to consider the possibility that there could be trash in the trash cans in front of my house. They'll get it next week, of that I have no doubt. If not, the week after. By the end of the year, they'll have gotten it more times than not. The breaks even out.

Baseball is like that too. 83 times, the 2006 Cardinals went home as losers. Think about that - 83 days of failure is a lot of failure. I screwed up my job at the rubber factory in Strongsville, Ohio, eleven days in a row and that was it for me. Yet that Cardinals squad screwed up 72 more times than that and ended the year as World Champions.

So yes, the Pirates scored only one run in a series. Yes, that was a home series against the Reds. Yes, they got one-hit Tuesday, and rebounded the following day by being shut out on 90 pitches by someone named Homer.

Well, you don't go 94-68 without losing 68 games. That's a well known fact, but less apparent is that a team that goes 103-59 actually must lose 59 games. Even at 14-20, we have a lot of losses to go and a lot more wins. The championship dream endures.

May 10, 2010

Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 10, 2010

It is unbelievably hard to find pictures of women in Reds gear online. If I didn't know better I would think there was a greater market for pictures of women in lingerie than in NL Central team apparel.

The 16-15 Reds have recovered from their PNC Park sweep and return to town in second place. Meanwhile the Buccos lost two of three to the Cardinals and dropped to 14-17, although they're still 4-2 on the current homestand. Win two against the Reds and they can enjoy Thursday's day off.

On a personal note, the only way this series could be more ruined for me by the Federal Rules of Evidence is if I were actually in jail. With the most important exam in law school Wednesday, there's a possibility that I'll have to miss all three games. This would really be getting me down if not for my upcoming 100 days off.

Cincinnati Reds - Monday 7:05, Tuesday 7:05, Wednesday 12:35
Monday's game features the long awaited return of Ross Ohlendorf (0-0, 3.60). He threw four scoreless innings at AAA in his rehab start so I'd think that he's ready to be the same guy he was last year. Brian Bass and his 12.79 ERA should be the odd man out here since all the other marginal guys are pitching well.

Facing Ohlendorf, not surprisingly, is a lineup that Dusty Baker has no idea how to construct. Orlando Cabrera (.270/.299/.374), never a leadoff hitter in his prime, is somehow leading off now. And Scott Rolen (.250/.321/.479) hasn't been a legitimate cleanup hitter since depression was still cool. Can't-steal-first Drew Stubbs (.181/.269/.286) is somehow still in the lineup. It's hard to believe this is the second best team the Central has to offer.

The Reds give the ball to Bronson Arroyo (1-2, 6.14). Arroyo will keep the Reds in the game and Ohlendorf probably will only throw 90 pitches. But the back end of the Pirate bullpen is unstoppable. My pick is the Pirates.

Tuesday night's game matches up Johnny Cueto (1-1, 5.18) against Charlie Morton (1-5, 10.30). Morton had a good game last time out but honestly sounded like a wreck mentally during his postgame interview. Hopefully he can build on that success and have a three-digit ERA in '10. My pick is the Pirates.

I hate to miss a weekday day game, but I'll be doing just that on Wednesday. The Reds are going with Homer Bailey (0-2, 7.24). I looked up Homer Bailey's real name. David. I think that's a solid name. If I had that name and I wanted a nickname, I would go with Dave. Especially if my job was pitcher for a baseball team.

The Pirates' Brian Burres (2-1, 4.09) hasn't given up a run since April 25. Train kept a-rollin'. My pick is the Pirates.

May 9, 2010

Dreams of a Romulo Bobblehead Still Alive

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 9, 2010

Never give up.

As all my readers no doubt remember, it's been more than a year since the Vote For Romulo campaign failed. Paul Maholm won the fan vote for the final bobblehead of 2009. Romulo Sanchez was traded to the Yankees for Eric Hacker in the most low-profile trade of all time.

Before the giveaway, the 20 most powerful nations in the world decided to meet in Pittsburgh in a conspiracy designed to shut down transportation preventing me from even getting the Maholm bobblehead. I bought it on eBay. Me 1, oppressive major international organizations 0. But the Romulo bobblehead dream seemed to be over, without ever reaching the promised land.

Unbeknownst to even the most intrepid of bloggers, one man stood alone, refusing to give up on the Romulo bobblehead dream. That man was Romulo Sanchez. After posting a stellar record of 0-2, 6.48 this year for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre "Only Team With A Slash And A Hyphen" Yankees, there was nothing left for Romulo to prove. The vaunted organization of Ruth, Dimaggio and Swisher summoned Romulo Sanchez to the big leagues for this weekend's series against the Red Sox.

Blowout wins Friday and Saturday allowed manager Joe Girardi to save Romulo's Yankees debut for the Sunday national TV game. Then came what was surely Sunday's finest pitching performance in all of baseball.

In the fifth inning, the $82.5 million man A.J. Burnett was in trouble. Burnett trudged off the mound, defeated, as Girardi turned the ball over to the Yankees' new hope. Romulo Sanchez.

The rest is history. The Red Sox were helpless. Sanchez threw 3.2 innings allowing just one hit and one walk. He struck out three.

For some perspective, Mariano Rivera in his Yankees debut pitched 3.1 innings and gave up 5 runs. Ruth pitched 4 innings allowing 4 runs.

If any organization can afford to manufacture a Romulo Sanchez bobblehead, it is the Yankees. It still can happen. Go Bucs.

May 7, 2010

Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 7, 2010

The suddenly streaking Pirates entertain the division leading St. Louis Cardinals this weekend, with both teams' top pitchers scheduled. The weather is beautiful, what baseball was designed for. Translated for Pittsburgh natives, that's Pens-Capitals with extra mayonnaise.

St. Louis Cardinals - Friday 7:05, Saturday 7:05, Sunday 1:3f5
As everybody expected, the Lou is in first place with an 18-11 record, five games in front of the Pirates. But this is hardly a mismatch with Pittsburgh now owning an 8-4 home record. Both aces go tonight with Chris Carpenter (4-0, 2.84) against Zach Duke (2-3, 6.09). That's a dream matchup of a legitimate Cy Young candidate against a legitimate Cy Duke candidate.

Carpenter is due for a correction while Duke always pitches better at home. I'm going to chalk up the last few games to psychological issues rooted in the Pirates' failure to issue Zach an all-star bobblehead. Just like with Paul Maholm Tuesday, I feel a great game from Duke.

He'll have to do it against a very good Cardinal lineup that features, in addition to Pujols and Holliday, a couple of young players who are off to great starts. If rookie third baseman David Freese (.348/.408/.522) and second year outfielder Colby Rasmus (.301/.427/.627) keep this up the Cardinals are the best team in baseball. Nevertheless, I can't pick against Duke at home. My pick is the Pirates.

What if there were fireworks the night of a Pens game? We'll find out Saturday as early Rookie of the Year candidate Jaime Garcia (3-1, 1.12) goes against Jeff Karstens (0-1, 6.17).

With the pending return of Ross Ohlendorf, this is probably Jeff's last start for a while. I'd like to see him stick around in the long relief role, sending Brian Bass back to Indy.

Garcia is a 23-year-old who returned from Tommy John surgery at the end of last year. He has a hard late-breaking sinker of the type that normally causes the Pirate offense to suck. Nevertheless, I have to favor the Karstens side. He's a threat to pitch a no-hitter every time out. My pick again is the Pirates.

Finally Sunday is Adam Wainwright (4-1, 1.96) against Paul Maholm (2-2, 4.06). Despite my picks, it would be a lie if I said I wasn't worried about the Pirates getting shut out for this entire series. Couldn't Kyle Lohse start this one on short rest? My pick is the Pirates.

May 6, 2010

Sports Illustrated's Indefensible Pirates Hatchet Job

An unfortunate consequence of being a columnist is the recurring deadline. If you have a 750 word piece due Thursday, you damn well better write 750 words whether you have something to say or not. Everyone is guilty it - I once wrote an editorial for seven newspapers taking the position that it was almost winter, it was about to get cold and that was going to suck. At least that position was defensible, unlike Paul Daugherty's piece for Sports Illustrated online, advocating breaking up the Pirates.

I wasn't even going to respond to this editorial since I don't think it was really intended to be serious. Unfortunately it has generated continuing talk on Pittsburgh sports radio. As the old maxim goes, if it's being discussed on Pittsburgh radio, it must be compelling. Basically Daugherty's argument is that Pittsburgh doesn't deserve to have a team and its players should be distributed to other teams. The stated reasons are that the Pirates are bad, their payroll is low, and they only draw fans by having promotions.

First of all it's hard to take someone's views on the Pirates seriously when he can't correctly spell their best player's name. McCutcheon, really? Setting that aside...

Eliminating one team is unrealistic.
The reason why Daugherty doesn't say how his proposal would work logistically is that it wouldn't. Major League Baseball cannot unilaterally change a collectively bargained labor agreement by getting rid of one team, thus cutting 25 jobs. There are also contracts with television networks, Minor League Baseball, apparel manufacturers, and others which depend on the existence of 30 teams. All those companies would rightfully sue if Major League Baseball contracted a team.

Even if all those disagreements can be settled, what would the schedule look like with 29 teams? Except on Monday and Thursday, all 30 teams are in action every day throughout the season. With an odd number of teams at least one team would have to be off every day. But with a schedule consisting primarily of three-game series, teams would have to take turns having three days off in a row. Imagine a team in a pennant race, finishing their season on the final Thursday and then sitting around for three days to see what happens with the rest of their dvision. It wouldn't happen.

Pittsburgh is a Major League market.
It is typical of mid-tier markets like Pittsburgh that fans will attend games of teams who win. That's why four years ago you could buy Penguins tickets on the street for $10 and now you can't even get in the building. Pitt football is a more recent example. With so many losing seasons in a row, it's understandable that sports fans would choose to spend their money on the Steelers, Penguins and Pitt Panthers. Only in large cities like Chicago and New York can a team get away with losing and still sell out games. The Pirates aren't helped by an alignment that gives them no natural rivals in their division.

The Cleveland Indians, one of the Pirates' closest parallels in baseball, provide a good example. They're last in attendance this year. Yet when the Tribe was an offensive juggernaut from 1994-2001, they sold out a then-record 455 consecutive games. This despite playing in a city that has one of the worst economies in the country and has cold weather for about a third of the home games in any given year.

Even after 17 losing seasons it only takes a few wins in a row to generate buzz in the city. Certainly if the Pirates had a playoff team or even a contender, PNC Park would be full every night. Pirates fandom stretches from Erie down to West Virginia and western Maryland, and from eastern Ohio all the way to the Susquehanna River. These far-flung fans are willing to come to town to see a competitive team.

The Florida teams would be well ahead of the Pirates in line for elimination.
Fans pack Wrigley Field, win or lose, 81 games a year. The two Florida teams are the opposite. Check out their results:

Tampa Bay Rays
2008 - #3 record (97-65) / #26 in attendance (22,259)
2009 - #15 record (84-78) / #23 in attendance (23,147)
2010 - #1 record (20-7) / #20 in attendance (23,064)

Florida Marlins
2008 - #14 record (84-77) / #30 in attendance (16,688)
2009 - #10 record (87-75) / #29 in attendance (18,770)
2010 - #17 record (13-14) / #26 in attendance (17,727)

The Florida Marlins consistently post winning records, play in a market nearly twice the size of Pittsburgh, and are near the bottom in attendance every year. Tampa Bay - also a larger market than Pittsburgh - has the best record in baseball, is 18 months removed from a World Series appearance, has a large number of marquee home games against the Yankees and Red Sox, and nevertheless plays in a half empty stadium.

In 2008 the Rays drew a whopping 35,041 fans to the first playoff game in the history of their franchise. That's 4,000 more than came to the Pirates-Dodgers game this year on a Wednesday night in April. Seats were covered with tarps because the Rays knew they couldn't sell out a playoff game. Would any of that happen in Pittsburgh?

Daugherty misstates the economics of baseball.
The article points out that the Pirates spend less on their major league payroll than they receive in revenue sharing.and TV money. Daugherty then uses that to make the claim that Pirates ownership is getting rich at the expense of other teams.

What is the point of taking one expense of a business and comparing it to two of their three major revenue sources (the other being ticket sales)? That's like saying you earned more in salary and benefits than you paid in rent, so you must be rich. Daugherty fails to account for draft spending (the Pirates spend more than any MLB team), minor league spending (largely a fixed cost), Caribbean spending (the Pirates are near the top) and many other expenses. Additionally the Pirates at $24 million take in less ticket revenue than any team in baseball, and overall take in less revenue than every team other than the Marlins. It stands to reason that their MLB payroll would be near the bottom. No one would attempt to operate a business by spending more money but taking in less money than other companies in their industry.

Even after accounting for revenue sharing the Yankees take in $300 million a year more than the Pirates. The division rival Cubs take in $100 million more. But to find that out one would have to research what he was writing. Someone who actually did research found out that the teams whose payroll lags their revenues are actually Washington, Oakland, San Diego, Houston, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

All baseball teams have promotions.
The Pirates are "buying [fans] off with fireworks and bobbleheads," sniffs Daugherty. They "sell their product with fireworks - eight big shows this year! - and giveaways." What a revelation. Teams have been giving away stuff for 100 years. Daugherty's hometown Reds are giving away a tote bag, a team photo and a scarf this weekend; next weekend they have fireworks and two jersey giveaways. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, only a real curmudgeon would criticize a team for giving free stuff to fans. Not only that, but if the Pirates did give more away than other teams as Daugherty seems to think, wouldn't that undermine his argument about their owners not wanting to spend money?

One week does not a season make.
The impetus for this piece, of course, was the Pirates' miserable week which included a 20-0 loss. One would think that a seasoned baseball journalist would know this, but the baseball season is impossibly long. There's an ebb and flow to it. It breaks teams down and builds other teams up. It's a war of attrition. It requires constant roster moves and rest decisions. The '79 Pirates started 4-10 and won the World Series. No greater conclusions can be made from one game or one week. Getting rid of a 125 year old team based on one week of results is about the most absurd overreaction anyone could have.

Oh, but Daugherty knows this! Direct quote from his column in the Cincinnati paper: " 'Panicky' and 'April baseball'’ do not belong in the same language. They are ketchup and peanut butter. Panicky is for overwrought fans and overheated media." I guess writing panicky pieces for a national audience sets up a nice straw man to criticize in your local column? "The hardest part of following a baseball team – or playing for one - is taking the long view." It's apparently also the hardest part of writing about one. "Baseball is about patience." We get it.

Daugherty's claim of being a Pirates fan is irrelevant.
To support his ridiculous argument Daugherty points out that he loves his Buccos: "I ask this as a Pirates fan, old enough to have watched the Great One, Roberto Clemente, at Forbes Field and to have shed actual tears after World Series Game 7s in 1971 and 1979." This is like when people say they have black friends so that makes it OK to make racist comments. Congratulations, but you're still wrong.

May 5, 2010

Monday Night Dream

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 5, 2010

At this time I would like to publish a full and complete recap of my dream Monday night.

This dream was set in Pittsburgh where I was sitting on my couch. It was an off day for the Pirates. So with not even a radio broadcast to keep me occupied, of course I opened up the Gamecast of the Indianapolis Indians game.

Imagine my shock and awe when Jose Tabata was not listed at the top of the I-Tribe lineup. I pulled up Dejan Kovacevic's PBC Blog which informed me that Brian Bass had been optioned back to Indy, and Tabata had been called up to the big leagues.

At that point the dream fast forwarded to the following night. I was listening to the Pirates broadcast the following day. Tabata was listed as the leadoff batter in center field. Andrew McCutchen was moved to right. Garrett Jones was playing first. The pitcher's spot was still in eighth with Ronny Cedeno batting ninth.

Mind-blowing? Strangely prescient? Too much like my real life to justify being a dream?

Maybe all of those. Although of course my wakeful self had mainly been paying attention to Pedro Alvarez, Tabata is now hitting .340/.404/.456 and making a great campaign for an actual call-up.

They can't all be sex dreams.

May 4, 2010

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 4, 2010

Apologies to my three loyal readers. Law school exams have temporarily taken my attention away from this site. With only 4 exams left each of which determine 100% of my grade, I should have more time now to devote to the Pirates.

Yinz Buccos come back to town after a brutal 3-7 road trip from Pittsburgh to Houston to Milwaukee to Los Angeles and back to Pittsburgh, with no off days. That should never happen to any team; among other things it's absurd to fly to the West Coast for just one series.

Chicago Cubs - Tuesday 7:05, Wednesday 7:05, Thursday 7:05
In Chicago every bar is 100% have-to-shove-people-to-get-to-the-bathroom packed. It's nearly impossible if you don't have boobs to get a beer in under 15 minutes. So needless to say the move is to order four beers at a time.

So late one Windy City bar night, I went to the bar as usual for four Budweisers. I pay my 16 dollars, tip two (it's like you're at a stadium all the time!) and get my four longnecks. No sooner do I step away from the bar than the fucking goddamn lights come on. It was 2 a.m. and my friends had drinks they had to finish too, giving me 5 minutes to personally drink an 18 dollar round of four beers. Yeah, Chicago can be a tough town to play in. It took me seven minutes to finish.

I relate that story to illustrate the seasons that old friends Aramis Ramirez (.155/.215/.278) and John Grabow (0-2, 8.38) are having for the South Siders. Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano also had disappointing Aprils. The ever stalwart Cubs have relied on hot starts by middling veterans (Carlos Silva, Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Theriot) to muster a 13-13 mark.

Tuesday's game matches up Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78) against Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83). Despite Dempster's ERA he's nothing but a middling starter this point in his careeer. The Pirates have always killed him and as a team have hit .300/.376/.444 against Dempster. Maholm hasn't had good stuff all season but has kept the team in every game he started, more than most Bucs starters can say. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday matches up Ted Lilly (1-1, 4.91) against Charlie Morton (0-5, 12.57). True fact: Ted Lilly is the most likely current MLB pitcher to balk. This is the type of knowledge that is useful in nearly any situation. Morton is unbelievably still in the rotation after allowing six more runs in his last start, although only three were earned. He has to have a good game some time and I think it'll happen Wednesday. My pick is the Pirates.

Thursday, a free T-shirt day. I ripped this design but I have since been told by an attractive female reader that this T-shirt is fine. Yes, they exist. Clearly the woman is right, and you need the shirt. Even if I argued against it any good woman would still feel that she is right, so I was wrong and I'm sorry.

The Cubs' Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45) will face a "to be announced starter" who is clearly Brian Burres (1-1, 6.00). Burres actually has done quite well since his disastrous first start in San Francisco. He threw 5.1 scoreless his last time out and since his name isn't Morton, will need to keep performing well to stay on the team when Ross Ohlendorf comes back next week.