April 26, 2011

Pirates Add Outfielder Xavier Paul

The Pirates claimed reserve outfielder Xavier Paul today. He will join the team in the next few days necessitating a corresponding move.

Paul has hit only .233/.280/.329 in 160 major league plate appearances with the Dodgers. However, he dominated AAA pitching with a batting line of .320/.380/.502 for three seasons including .325/.384/.579 in 2010. He is 26 and bats lefthanded.

It looks from here like the odd man out will be another lefthanded hitting outfielder, John Bowker. Bowker is a year older than Paul and has hit .238/.288/.391 in 607 MLB plate appearances, so it seems like there might be a little more upside with Paul.

To me, there's no reason to have a player on the roster who does nothing but pinch hit unless that player is a legitimate power bat. Paul is faster than Bowker and could pinch run once in a while, but he's not likely to start many games. Constant shuffling of marginal players is nothing new in Pittsburgh; the solution is to be in first place and win the World Series so we don't have waiver priority to claim these guys in the future.

April 23, 2011

Series Preview: Washington Nationals

With Major League Baseball's recent takeover of the Dodgers, I am reminded of their takeover of the Expos. MLB took over the team because it supposedly couldn't compete, but then they went 83-79 in 2002 and 2003 despite MLB spending no money on them. One of those years, they were in contention when rosters expanded in September - yet MLB wouldn't let the team bring up any prospects like all 29 other teams do every year. They also imposed a ridiculous travel schedule in which the Expos played a quarter of their "home" games in Puerto Rico. By 2005 the once-proud Expos franchise was in Washington, playing in a crumbling stadium. Having been to RFK I am actually kind of shocked they got a building permit.

Now MLB has taken over the Dodgers, allegedly because their owner Frank McCourt got divorced and can't afford to field a competitive team. In this McCourt era where he supposedly ran the team into the ground, the Dodgers reached the playoffs four times in seven years, making the NLCS in two of the last three years. Under McCourt's ownership, in 2008 there was more excitement surrounding the Dodgers than there had been in 20 years. The '08 and '09 teams were the first Dodger teams to win a playoff series since 1988. I find it hard to believe that with MLB controlling the Dodgers' finances, anything will be much better.

This preview hasn't really said a lot about the Nationals. The real key to this team is Matt Stairs. It always is Matt Stairs. Here's a picture of Miguel Batista hitting on Miss Iowa at a Nationals game.Pirates vs. Washington Nationals
Saturday 7:05, Sunday 1:35, Monday 7:05

Today the Nationals go with the veteran Livan Hernandez (2-1, 2.88) while the Pirates counter with Jeff Karstens (1-0, 4.50). I would have thought that there is nothing else to say about Livan Hernandez by way of previewing this, his 450th major league start. And I would be wrong. Leave it to Clint Hurdle, as per Colin Dunlap of the Post-Gazette:

"He’s like the big guy at the company picnic who drinks all the beer and wins all the trophies."

We all were thinking it but no one was saying it. My pick is the Pirates.

Sunday the Pirates go with ace Kevin Correia (3-1, 2.48) against Jason Marquis (1-0, 3.26). It says something about the state of pitching when Jason Marquis has a winning record in his career and has made an All-Star team in the past two years. Marquis had the distinction in 2006 of winning a World Series ring and signing an $11 million contract in the following off-season despite going 14-16 with a 6.02 ERA, leading the league in home runs allowed (35) and earned runs alowed (130). It's a charmed life. My pick is the Pirates.

By the way, it's really hard to tell if a woman just doesn't want to hang out with you, or if she legitimately doesn't want to go to a Pirates-Nationals game. Pirates-Nationals and Pirates-Astros games aren't good for those who can't handle rejection.

Monday, the Pirates will give the ball to Paul Maholm (0-3, 4.30) against John Lannan (2-1, 3.43). John Lannan wrote a lot of songs about peace but he beat his wife. My pick is the Pirates.

April 22, 2011

J-Rod Era Ends, Wood Claimed

The Josh Rodriguez experiment ended yesterday as the Pirates designated their utility infielder for assignment. You have to wonder what happened here.

The Pirates owned the first pick in the Rule V draft and presumably had plenty of time to decide on who they wanted. I was on board with the choice of Rodriguez since he had hit well in AAA and was capable of playing shortstop. It seemed like a good idea to bring in absolutely anyone to replace Ronny Cedeno.

Rodriguez got into only seven of the 19 games played so far, starting three times. The first time he played a full game was also apparently his final appearance in a Pirates uniform Thursday night. Josh went 1-for-3, drove in a run and also reached base another time via hit by pitch. Then a day after collecting his first major league hit, Rodriguez was gone.

One wonders why Ronny Cedeno deserves to get a shot at a 592nd game playing in the big leagues tonight, a game which will also be his 204th game in a Pirates uniform. After 1,915 major league plate appearances in which Cedeno hit .242/.282/.351 overall, Pirates management is intent on continuing to give him a shot to see if he can turn things around. Yet after 14 plate appearances, Josh Rodriguez is judged not a major league shortstop.

I'm not saying Rodriguez was the definitive answer, but we'll never know. I am reminded of the time when Brandon Phillips batted .000 in nine plate appearances for the 2005 Indians. The Tribe sent their infielder to Cincinnati for a player to be named later. It was a shortsighted move not because everyone knew what Phillips would become, but because no one knew what Phillips would become.

To be sure, Neil Huntington has had his share of success in the Rule V draft. One All-Star setup man isn't a bad haul in a four year stretch. But with the second and first picks in the draft the past two years, how did we end up with two players who batted a grand total of 25 times in Pittsburgh?

Brandon Wood Claimed
The reason for this claim is that with the #1 waiver priority, the Pirates claimed infielder Brandon Wood from the Angels. I remembered Wood being a top prospect, but it's also true that he's hit .168/.197/.259 in 494 plate appearances in his MLB career. Now OBP isn't everything, but .197 is pretty bad considering National League pitchers compiled a .177 OBP last year. No matter, he isn't Ronny Cedeno so I'd like to see him starting and find out if he can ever learn to hit the curveball. Wood did put up very good numbers for several years in AAA, so maybe he can figure things out in Pittsburgh.

April 19, 2011

Series Preview: Florida Marlins

The second place Pittsburgh Pirates (8-8) start a three game series in Miami tonight against the Florida Marlins (8-6). This is Pittsburgh's only trip to Florida this year. After a few years as a .500 or slightly better team, the Marlins retooled by signing a lot of famous Cleveland sports. Their retooled three-star outfield of Grady Sizemore, Bernie Kosar, and Don King has the Marlins flying high in second place. The fans have really embraced this team as average attendance is up to 21,278. To be fair, a lot of those people are not baseball fans but they just came to see the great tradition and game day experience of venerable Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphins/Land Shark/Sun Life Stadium.

The Pirates are fresh off a 3-1 series win in Cincinnati which propelled them to within a game of the division leading Reds. The top Pirates at the plate have been Jose Tabata, .317/.427/.524 with 14 runs scored and eight steals, and Neil Walker, .290/.380/.516 with 13 runs scored and 12 RBI. The Marlins' lineup has struggled overall but the standouts so far are left fielder Logan Morrison, .327/.429/.654 with four homers and 11 RBI, and first baseman Gaby Sanchez, .340/.419/.472 with nine runs scored. This is a midweek series which will hardly get much airtime on Baseball Tonight, but these are a couple of young teams hoping to prove they're for real - more interesting to me than the Yankees.Pirates vs. Florida Marlins
Tuesday 7:10, Wednesday 7:10, Thursday 7:10

Paul Maholm (0-2, 2.33) gets the ball for the Pirates today. Maholm has pitched brilliantly in two of his three starts but the Pirates lost all of them, getting only five runs on offense total in the three games. This continues to be an important season for Maholm as he needs to prove he's a durable and reliable starter in his contract year. Florida's starter Josh Johnson (2-0, 1.35), on the other hand, has blossomed into a legit ace and a Cy Young candidate. He has a 2.73 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 since 2009 and brings it with a 94 mph fastball, 87 mph changeup, 86 mph slider, and now a slow curveball which he has mixed in a few times a game for the first time this year. My pick is the Pirates.

Tomorrow Charlie Morton (2-0, 1.64) goes for the Pirates against Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 4.05). Morton continues to prove me wrong for saying he shouldn't be in the starting rotation, although at some point he will need to throw more strikes to stay effective. Fangraphs posted an unreasonably detailed article on Morton yesterday. Nolasco has decent stats but looks to me like a candidate for arm trouble - he was injured last year and now his fastball velocity is down and so are his strikeout totals, while his home run totals are up. My pick is the Pirates.

James McDonald (0-1, 7.47) will look for his first win Thursday in a game which closes out this road trip. Despite disappointing results, McDonald's fastball velocity is where it was last year and his curveball still looks great. He and Ryan Doumit need to use that curve as a strikeout pitch; it's his best pitch by far yet he's only throwing it 20% of the time this season. The Marlins counter with Chris Volstad (0-1, 5.59), who is about as average as a pitcher can be - he is 27-27, 4.50 in his career and has no great pitches and no poor ones. My pick is the Pirates.

April 18, 2011

A Relief Ace Emerges

When Joel Hanrahan came over to the Pirates from Washington, he looked like a classic mediocre pitcher. He was 27 and owned a 5.30 ERA in 115 career games. He also had a 7.71 season ERA at the time of the trade in June 2009 and had walked five batters per nine innings in his career.

Hanrahan had an excellent second half in 2009, only not much of anyone was watching. For the Pirates that year he had a 1.72 ERA in 33 games, struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings and allowed zero home runs. Batters hit .204 against him and slugged .265. Those numbers were lost in his season stats since he could only bring his ERA down to 4.78.

Last year, Hanrahan dialed up his fastball velocity from an average of 94 to an average of 96 mph. He hit 99 with regularity. He had a 15.75 ERA on April 22 but the rest of the way it was 2.88. He also struck out a Marmolesque 100 batters in 69.2 innings. Batters managed a line of only .221/.299/.350 off the ace for the season. This performance prompted the Pirates and manager Clint Hurdle to anoint Hanrahan the closer before spring training.

This year, Hanrahan has managed an average fastball of 97.3 mph and has been perfect in five save chances. Also, under new management, Hanrahan has adopted an entirely new pitch selection. Last year he threw 69% fastballs and 31% sliders. This year he has thrown his fastball a full 90% of the time.

A side benefit of throwing mostly fastballs is the ability to go more than one inning. When Hanrahan retired four straight batters to close the April 4 game in St. Louis, incredibly he earned the Pirates' first save of more than one inning since 2007. He did it again with a five out save Sunday, rescuing Evan Meek - who incidentally looks injured from this view - and hitting 101 mph on the FSN radar gun while pitching to his seventh batter.

While more famous veterans have lost their closing jobs or are in danger of doing so, Joel Hanrahan has quietly become one of baseball's best closers. The nation will no doubt see this in the World Series.

April 15, 2011

Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

The Pirates (5-7) will try to make up ground on the division leading Reds (8-4) in four game series in Cincinnati. It's my favorite type of series - the four game wraparound.

I've been wanting to go see the new Reds stadium because it's sort of stupid that I've been to 20 stadiums including Oakland, Tampa Bay, etc., but not this nearby division rival. Unfortunately I only have one friend in Cincinnati who likes me enough that I could spend the weekend at their house, and I took her up on that offer in 2005 resulting in the number of friends of that description decreasing to zero and me watching this series on TV.

Like many of us the Pirates are in a poor situation with no justifiable reason to have a tremendous amount of hope, yet like many of us they have 150 more games scheduled and will try their best to right the ship. I've been to all six home games and I see a team that is reinvigorated, talented, and just hasn't gotten everything together yet. Crosby and Malkin aren't playing, but it's still worth watching this bunch.

On the other side, the Reds have really done a beautiful job of constructing a team. All their regulars are in the prime of their careers except the veteran leader Scott Rolen and the up-and-coming star Jay Bruce. Their bench is a mix of useful and versatile veterans and young players who would be able to step in if anything went wrong. Their rotation, the reliable veteran Bronson Arroyo along with some young, high-strikeout guys. A lights out bullpen. The Pirates have zero starting shortstops; the Reds have two.

Except for the high likelihood of violent crime in most of their city neighborhoods, it really is a charmed life in Cincinnati. Also, everyone knows all the babes in Ohio root for the Indians so I am forced to use a picture of Buckeyes babes.Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds
Friday 7:10, Saturday 1:10, Sunday 1:10, Monday 7:10

Pittsburgh goes with Charlie Morton (1-0, 2.08) against Arroyo (2-0, 2.08). I was the first person to criticize keeping Morton in the rotation. I'm not sold yet but it looks like the right decision so far. In particular, his recent home start really impressed me - it looked like a classic Charlie Morton implosion in the first inning but he didn't let it get to him and let his stuff power him to what ended up as a strong seven inning start. I have a lot of experience in admitting when I'm wrong and I'm quite good at it. My pick is the Pirates.

Tomorrow it's a day game and James McDonald (0-0, 5.56) faces Edinson Volquez (2-0, 5.82). Volquez has upped his average fastball velocity to 94 this season and it's still only his third-best pitch. In a battle of strikeout hitters against strikeout pitchers, I'm officially scared. My pick is still the Pirates.

The Reds are going with Mike Leake (1-0, 6.75) Sunday and the Pirates haven't yet announced a starter. I'm going to announce it for them - it's Jeff Karstens (1-0, 0.00). He had a brilliant outing in relief of the injured Ross Ohlendorf and absolutely deserves the open rotation spot at this point. I also hate Mike Leake. You know those people who got out of college, immediately got a great job and never will realize life is hard? That happened to Mike Leake. My pick is the Pirates.

Kevin Correia (2-1, 2.70) starts Monday night and the Reds haven't yet named a starter. Clearly they are intimidated. My pick is the Pirates.

April 13, 2011

Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

The Pirates play only six home games against the Brewers this year - a huge decrease from the 45 last year. For a team that made a lot of offseason improvements, Weeks-Gomez-Braun-Fielder-McGehee-Kotsay-Betancourt-Lucroy sure looks like a bullshit lineup to me. That looks to me like a lineup of four guys who would start on any team and four who should be platoon or bench players. Pittsburgh knows nothing about that.Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Wednesday 7:05, Thursday 7:05

Tonight, Pirates ace Kevin Correia (2-0, 1.29) faces the Brewers' Shaun Marcum (1-1, 4.22). Marcum pitched his whole career for the Blue Jays so this is the first time the Pirates will face him even though he's been around since 2006. Despite being righthanded he's a classic junkballer. He throws two different fastballs which combine for only 33% of pitches this season. Marcum also mixes in a slider, cutter, curveball, and changeup, and has had sucess with a 3.73 ERA and 7.3 K/9 since 2007. Those numbers are compiled in the AL East. For the Bucs, Correia looked like a true ace in his first two starts, then was shortsightedly used in relief. I hope there are no negative effects. My pick is the Pirates.

The quick two-game series closes tomorrow with Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm (0-1, 2.19) against Randy Wolf (0-2, 7.20). Age catches up to all men and this could be Randy Wolf's year. The Brewers got a new manager, Ron Roenicke, so don't expect him to go with Wolf too long if he gets hit hard. My pick is the Pirates.

April 11, 2011

Home Game 4: Nothing To Say

Sunday, April 10
Rockies 6, Pirates 5
Kids' Day
Record: 5-5

Day games after night games are always hard and it doesn't make things easier when it's a day game after a night game followed by a friend's birthday party. But the sun blessed the city of Pittsburgh with its rare presence and the teams were scheduled to play at 1:35.

My associate Matt had a hard time procuring a six pack of Budweiser but for the low price of 12.84 I was able to do same. Three beers each later, we were in PNC Park to see a couple of hard throwing young pitchers face off, James McDonald and Jhoulys Chacin. I can't overemphasize how nice this day was. I make fun of Pittsburgh a lot but this was a beautiful day in the best baseball stadium in the world in one of the more photogenic towns in America.

Maggie and Lucas were there of course and we were ready to watch this pitchers' duel. Only it didn't materialize. Colorado picked up four runs in a first inning disaster which was capped by a three-run home run courtesy of Jose Lopez. I would have picked a different day for Jose Lopez to get his career together.

The home team got one back on a Ronny Cedeno sacrifice fly. They got the rest back in the third inning. Jose Tabata was hit by a pitch, Neil Walker singled, McCutchen singled scoring Tabata, and then Lyle Overbay rocketed a double to deep center field to clear the bases. It was 4-4 and we settled in.

My associates Brittany, Chelsea, and Amanda were also attending and were hoping to sit in 318 with us. They bought tickets one section over and the usher actually checked their tickets despite the park being less than half full... Being resourceful girls they were able to hang out for an inning before being forced into slightly better seats. You have to hate the unofficial Major League Baseball "No Fun" policy. Matt and I could blow it with girls without the help of a major corporation.

No more scoring took place until the seventh when McDonald came out of the game with two outs and a runner (Dexter Fowler) on first. With Evan Meek apparently still injured, the choice out of the bullpen was Mike Crotta. And it was a disaster. Fowler stole second, Jonathan Herrera walked, then Jason Giambi singled scoring Fowler to tie the game. We were looking for the hook but Crotta remained. Troy Tulowitzki walked. Some asshole pinch ran for Giambi at second. And then Crotta walked in the winning run. Life in Pittsburgh is not always perfect.

Loss or no loss, we were 5-5 and there was no reason to get mad. It was one of America's great days in one of America's great cities and we ended up drinking in the Hall of Fame Club with some of America's great babes. For a loss, it was a good win.

April 10, 2011

Home Game 3: Stop The Music

Saturday, April 9
Rockies 6, Pirates 4
Fireworks Night, Free Poster
Record: 5-4

Everyone thinks that my love of Rihanna's music is ironic. Of course I've been to shows like godspeed you black emperor! at the Beachland, TV on the Radio in Tennessee, Brian Wilson with the Philadelphia Symphony at the Mann...I guess I have enough credibility to pretend that I'm a fan of music. But home game 3 really proves that my unironic love of Rihanna's "Don't Stop The Music" is justified.

During Friday's epic win, the Pirates played "Don't Stop The Music" in the sixth inning. It was the earliest recorded playing of Rihanna at PNC Park and it spurred the Pirates on to victory eight innings later. The Rockies cooperated by having a mound conference as the song was playing, allowing us to hear a few more bars. It was awesome.

I had a great crew of associates for Saturday's game which included fellow season ticket holders Lucas and Maggie along with special guests Bhargav, John, Tim, Christina, and Maggie's mother. It's conclusive proof that I still know seven people who talk to me. And we all wanted to hear Rihanna.

Fast forward to the ninth inning. Pittsburgh trailed 6-4, but Colorado's lights out closer Huston Street was unavailable. Matt Lindstrom came in to close it out in his stead. This was a good thing for the Pirates. Matt Lindstrom of the 1.65 WHIP for the past two consecutive seasons. Matt Lindstrom who batters tagged for a .306 average last season. I was ready for an epic comeback.

Ronny Cedeno flied out to start the inning, but Matt Diaz and Jason Jaramillo got consecutive singles. Jaramillo at first was the tying run and the batter, pinch hitter Steven Pearce, was the winning run. Lindstrom was pitching on no rest, coming off an outing the previous day in which he allowed three of the four batters he faced to reach base. The Rockies were reeling.

If you know anything about PNC Park, you know that no matter what the score, if it's the eighth inning or later, they play a Rihanna song as soon as two men are on base. I was pumped to hear my favorite song and I was pumped to see a Pirates victory.

They didn't play Rihanna and we lost. This one is on whatever cretin decided not to play Rihanna.

April 9, 2011

Home Game 2: Ice Cream Is Cold

Friday, April 8
Pirates 4, Rockies 3, 14 innings
Buc Night, Free T-shirt, Free Poster
Record: 5-3

Despite the heartbreaking loss a day before, the score was 0-0 when a new game started the next night. Ross Ohlendorf spent the entire offseason getting ready to rebound from a year in which he pitched well, had a 4.07 ERA, yet only won one game and was cursed with injury. But baseball can be a heartless bitch. Ohlendorf hurt his arm in the third inning and headed to the trainer's room with what was obviously a major injury. Pittsburgh trailed 3-0.

With Jorge de la Rosa pitching though, that meant the Pirates had about ten hours to come back. Jorge de la Rosa would take an hour to make Hot Pockets. The Pirates scored one on three walks and a groundout in the fourth, another on Jose Tabata's solo homer over the center field fence in the fifth, another on Jason Jaramillo's single in the sixth, and it was 3-3. Jeff Karstens was shutting the Rockies down. It was really cold.

With the game tied, the wind blowing, and the temperature 43 degrees and dropping, my associate John and I decided to spur the team on to victory by getting a couple of ice cream cones. It was a really funny order which freaked out a lot of people, and it also was an order which made us really, really cold. We might have gone to the next stand for hot chocolate if we planned on seeing another three hours of baseball.

John Bowker led off the seventh with a pinch hit single. I announced to the group that Tabata was clearly bunting. Not only did he bunt, he showed bunt before the pitch. The Rockies countered by charging from first and third with the other two infielders running to cover first and second base.

When you have a guy who is a .300 hitter all the time, what do you think is his batting average if you take the bunt off and let him swing away with all four infielders out of position? Particularly a right handed batter with no one playing on the right side of the infield? We won't know. Clint Hurdle not only kept the bunt on, but called for a bunt and run on consecutive pitches. Rockies reliever Matt Lindstrom threw a pitch Jose Tabata couldn't bunt at, Bowker was a dead duck at second, and I couldn't be mad because I like our manager, predictable/stupid bunts and all.

In the top of the tenth, Pedro Alvarez made the best play I've ever seen live by a third baseman. The bases were loaded with two outs when Seth Smith lined a double down the third base line. Alvarez dove to his right to keep it in the infield, which already was a great play. I didn't even expect a throw, but Alvarez threw a rocket from his knees. The play on Smith wasn't even that close as he was gunned down at first. Third basemen don't throw out runners from their knees.

In the thirteenth inning, a bunch of guys above us tried to start the wave with 300 people left. They also made fun of a dad and his four-year-old girl for leaving after ten innings.

Of course, the Pirates won it in the fourteenth on a Jose Tabata double scoring Josh Rodriguez with two outs. It was the perfect storm of coldness. We drank zero beers, it was cold, we got ice cream, and the game lasted five and a half hours. No one mentioned the possibility of leaving. Great work by my associates John, Lucas, and Maggie. All of us would be back the next night.

April 8, 2011

Home Game 1: Sunburn and Hot Dogs

Thursday, April 7
Rockies 7, Pirates 1
Home Opener
Record: 4-3

I'm not actually sure why, but in the months leading up to this home opener there was definitely a heightened level of excitement in town for this 2011 Pirates season. Perhaps Pittsburgh is realizing that this team has a great core of young players and deciding to get on board now. I personally am excited because this is my first season as an 81 game season ticket holder for any team, and having tickets to 81 baseball games means I get to go to a lot of baseball games.

It had basically been winter for weeks, but as always the sun shone high the morning of Opening Day. Ten thousand faithful fans and 28,000 who won't go to another game this season gathered on the North Shore to stand around drinking in parking lots, getting sunburned with marginal acquaintances. Sunburned because we are really white. In related news, one PBR and one Four Loko already is enough to constitute a bad idea before a day game.

My associate Lucas had successfully driven in from Washington, D.C., for the series, despite some midweek vandalism to his car which was no doubt perpetrated by some Colorado Springs natives who were still bitter that the East Coast media elites think Larry Walker's stats were park-inflated. In the left field elevator we were asked if we were partial season ticket holders. We hate partial season ticket holders.

Our seats are directly in the middle of a long row. The people on our left were quite annoyed that we chose to get there by walking down the aisle to the seats. People five and six rows up were making comments about our audacity in atttempting to sit in our seats. Luckily these were Opening Day fans so they would be gone in four innings, no doubt dealing on the way home with the revelation that they still don't like baseball.

There's not much to say about the game. Colorado got two runs in the top of the first, and that's all they would need to win on this day. Their potent lineup didn't let up though, chasing Paul Maholm early, and the game was basically over in the fifth inning. We began to drown our sorrows in hot dogs. Our associates Maggie and Laura, Maggie a full season ticket holder like ourselves and Laura attending her first ever game, were gifted with many unrequested and possibly unwanted hot dogs. But we are Pirates fans and so we ate mediocre hot dogs in already stale buns on a beautiful day while our team lost 7-1. I left my free schedule magnet, immediately remembered and went back for it, yet it was gone. Nobody wins 162.

April 4, 2011

Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Normally the year starts slowly, but this year's World Champion Pirates start the season with ten straight home games. And so it is that the heavily favored Pirates, they of the .667 winning percentage, head to St. Louis to meet the lovable losers - the Cardinals, who have mustered only a .333 winning percentage. I normally have a rule that I never post the same preview babes more than once, but there are babes who it's worth breaking rules for and these are two of them.It was barely April before this year's Cardinals season started to look doomed. Ace pitcher Adam Wainwright, who won 39 games in the past two years while finishing in the top 3 in Cy Young voting both times, was already out for the season after right elbow surgery. Ryan Theriot was signed to lead off and play shortstop because, you know, I guess every team in the division needs a shortstop who fields poorly and hits poorly. And now five-tool slugger Matt Holliday has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with an appendectomy. Yesterday they went with a lineup of Theriot-Jay-Pujols-Berkman-Rasmus-Molina-Schumaker-Garcia-Descalso. That's not good. I don't know who Daniel Descalso is and I'm not looking it up.

Pirates vs. Cardinals
Monday 8:15, Tuesday 8:15, Wednesday 1:45

In a matchup that causes one to ask "Who the hell could possibly be these teams' fifth starters?" the Pirates go with Charlie Morton (2-12, 7.57 in 2010) against the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse (4-8, 6.55). Enough has already been said about Charlie Morton; I'm rooting for him just like you are. As far as Kyle Lohse, well, when your peak is going six innings every start and giving up three runs, the results aren't pretty after two years of steep decline. My pick is the Pirates.

Tomorrow night it's James McDonald (4-6, 4.02) against Kyle McClellan (1-4, 2.27). This is as interesting as fifth starter matchups get. McDonald of course was the Pirates' ace last year, but he's pushed back to this start because of lingering injury problems. The Pirates say he will be limited to 85-90 pitches. Let's hope he's actually ready to make this start, and not just making it for no reason. For what it's worth, I'm not entirely sure the actual starter won't be Jeff Karstens (3-10, 4.92). It's not like Karstens will be required out of the long relief role for Morton's start tonight...

McClellan moves to the rotation this year after quietly becoming the best reliever in the STL in 2010. He throws a 91 mph fastball with movement and a sharp-breaking curve. As a starter he will have to mix in his cutter changeup more often. If anyone can convert relievers to starters, it's Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. Nobody knows what his secret is but I'm going to reveal it. It's standing around chewing tobacco. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday, both club's aces face off as Kevin Correia (1-0, 3.00) takes on Chris Carpenter (0-0, 2.57). For obvious reasons, my pick is the Pirates.

April 3, 2011

Series Victory! 108-Win Pace!

All signs still point to the 2011 Pirates being a new team. After winning only 17 games and one series on the road last year, this year's edition of the Buccos took two of three games in Wrigley Field to open the season. The team also showed resiliency in following up a tough loss with a thrilling, comeback win in the ninth inning off the league's best closer.

Friday: Pirates 6, Cubs 3
The season dawned cold and rainy in Chicago, but we were warm and only a little hung over inside WFC Blog headquarters in Friendship. The Cubs pushed across two early runs - one unearned courtesy of a Pedro Alvarez error - but Ryan Doumit caught a runner stealing and Kevin Correia battled through a few jams despite clearly not having his best stuff.

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster cruised through the first four innings but started to visibly tire in the fifth. The Pirates loaded the bases on a hit and two walks to bring Neil Walker to the plate. We had no choice but to bump "Black and Yellow" throughout the at bat - and what an at bat it was. Walker worked a 3-2 count like a ten year veteran, then fouled one off, then parked a straight 92 mph fastball in the right field stands. The Pirates led 4-2 and never looked back.

Assists go to Andrew McCutchen for his two-run homer, Correia for a great Opening Day start, and the Cubs fans for leaving in the fifth inning. It was a great day for Pittsburgh. One win means more than everything negative that had been said in the offseason.

Saturday: Cubs 5, Pirates 3
The story for most of this game was starter Paul Maholm, who tossed 6.2 scoreless innings and scattered five hits and two walks. It was Maholm at his best; the Cubs could hit nearly all his offerings but those hits seemingly inevitably ended in outs. Leading 3-0 on a couple of early runs and a seventh inning Garrett Jones solo shot, the Pirates appeared to have this one wrapped up when Evan Meek entered in the eighth.

Everything came unraveled quickly. The inning started with a leadoff walk, a wild pitch, a double, and an ugly error on Lyle Overbay. Two outs and a couple of singles later, it was 3-3 and it was clearly time to go get Meek. No worries going forward, but Evan just had one of those days where he didn't have it.

With two runners on in a tie game in the eighth, the game was clearly on the line. Choosing slavish devotion to the save rule over the best chance to win, Clint Hurdle went not to his ace Joel Hanrahan but to Chris Resop - who promptly lost the game on a walk and a two-run double. Carlos Marmol struck out three Pirates in the ninth; the game was in the books less than 30 minutes after we were thinking of our ironic Facebook statuses.

Sunday: Pirates 5, Cubs 4
Baseball allows us to do that which we can hardly ever do in life - live each day as a completely new day. No matter how hard we may fall one day, a new game is scheduled 24 hours later. And it looked like the Pirates were going to lose this one too.

With the Pirates trailing 4-3, Carlos Marmol entered to close it out for the second straight day. Entering today, Pirates hitters were hitting .131 off Marmol in his career as he had a cool 15.1 K/9 against Pittsburgh. This cause was lost if one ever was. But Jones worked a walk and Walker followed with a bloop single. Overbay bunted the runners to second and third - a strange move with your cleanup hitter, but Clint Hurdle loves the bunt. And then this happened.

Alvarez hit a weak grounder, so weak that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro clearly wasn't going to have time to get the out at first. Rather than eat the ball and keep it at 4-4, Castro made an ill-advised throw to first. And Walker didn't stop running. He scored in an Enos Slaugheresque dash, it was 5-4, Hanrahan shut down the Cubs, and the Pirates left town with a winning record.

Series MVP: Neil Walker. Walker went 4-for-13 with a walk, three runs scored, two doubles, and six RBI including the Opening Day grand slam. He also provided flawless defense including a outs on a couple of balls that, dare I say, Freddy Sanchez wouldn't have touched. Honorable mention goes to Jose Tabata, debuting in the leadoff spot by reaching base seven times and scored five runs over the weekend.

Series Goat: Cubs fans. I'm all for making a baseball game an event, but Cubs fans seriously don't want to win. Fans are positively joyful when an opposing player hits a home run into the left field bleachers - because they'll get a chance to throw the ball back, of course. When Correia was pulled after an obvious great start, a Cubs fan above the dugout was in his face as if he had just gotten rocked. Some guy dumped a full beer on Garrett Jones as he tried to play a ball off the wall. Seems like Lee Elia was right.

Also, your ivy is pretty clearly dead.

April 2, 2011

Who The Hell Are These Guys? Pirates Relief Pitching, Part II

I've already covered the relief pitchers you've heard of. However, If you watched the seventh inning yesterday, you might have noticed that the Pirates have some relief pitchers that you've never heard of. I also don't know anything about them but I'm going to do some research as I write this post and write in that authoritative tone that makes some people think this is a legitimate site.

Guy You've Never Heard Of: Garrett Olson
With Joe Beimel hurt, Garrett Olson opens the season as the only lefthander in the Pirates bullpen. So you'll see him quite a bit in the early season. Olson throws a 90 mph fastball, 81 mph curveball, and an 82 mph changeup. Olson is not too terrible, but he is kind of terrible. His main problem is the straight fastball with no movement.

Olsen was a supplemental first round pick in 2005 but flamed out as a starter with the Orioles and Mariners. The Mariners converted him to relief in mid-2009 and he's had quasi-respectable numbers since: a 3.90 ERA out of the bullpen in 2009 and a 4.54 in 2010. He might be pretty decent in a lefthanded specialist role - last year he held lefties to a .245/.322/.377 batting line. Righthanders are able to drive the ball more - .284/.339/.490 in 2010 - but he's not completely helpless.

2008: 133 IP, 9-10, 6.65, 1.73 WHIP, 5.6 K/9
2009: 80 IP, 3-5, 5.60, 1.41 WHIP, 5.3 K/9
2010: 38 IP, 0-3, 4.54, 1.51 WHIP, 7.4 K/9

Overall, Olsen should be the second-best lefty out of any bullpen or AAA depth who pitches half the season in the majors as he did for Seattle last year. He's our lefty specialist now, deal with it.

Guy You've Never Heard Of: Jose Veras
Veras probably is the closest thing the Pirates have to a seventh inning setup man. This is his age 29 season and Veras is already a fairly established guy with 177 games of major league experience.

2008: 58 IP, 5-3, 3.59, 1.41 WHIP, 9.8 K/9
2009: 50 IP, 4-3, 5.19, 1.39 WHIP, 7.2 K/9
2010: 48 IP, 3-3, 3.75, 1.27 WHIP, 10.1 K/9

Veras has enough stuff to be an elite reliever. He relies mainly on a 95 mph fastball and an 80 mph curveball, mixing in an 85 mph splitfingered fastball. All those are plus pitches, but Veras struggles with command and has walked five batters per nine innings throughout his career. He also has struggled at times with the long ball, which is largely an issue of missing over the plate with his fastball. His curveball is his best pitch and is a strikeout pitch. His 10.1 K/9 total last year is enough to merit a spot in the late innings for this year's Pirates.

Guy You've Never Heard Of: Michael Crotta
I have to be honest, I didn't even know this guy was on the team until I checked the roster this morning. Based on the fact that he's had bad statistics throughout his career, I'm going to guess it's because he's a bad pitcher. He went 5-10 with a 4.93 ERA last year in Indianapolis; I really didn't even view him as a serious candidate to make the team. But if someone likes you, I'm all for giving them a shot even if you know that person is terrible.

MLB 11 The Show Game #2 Summary - PIT v CHC

Solid Pitching, Tabata's Speed Lift Pirates Over Cubs

Chicago - Paul Maholm started his 2011 campaign in a big way this afternoon in Chicago as he went 8 innings allowing 1 run in the Pirates 4-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. Marlon Byrd, a thorn to the side of the Pirates so far this season, was the only blemish on Maholm's outing, as he crushed a 2-1 count to left field and out of Wrigley Field.

The Pirates scoring started early and with some regularity through the first half of the game. Jose Tabata singled on what should have been a routine out; if not for former Pirate Aramis Ramirez bobbling the ball at third. With Neil Walker striking out, Tabata was able to steal second base without much difficulity. Tabata's speed allowed him to score from second base following a Lyle Overbay single to left field.

Fastforward to the third inning, and this game was starting to look like the Jose Tabata Show as he had a lead-off triple in the third inning. Andrew McCutchen proved why is was ranked number 1 in the Top 10 Now list on MLB Network as he smartly laid down a sacrafic bunt, allowing Tabata to score from third and open up a nice lead for Maholm. In the fifth inning, the Jose Tabata Show entered what you could call it's third season. With two outs, Tabata singles to center. Once again, he steals second base, this time in a close call. Neil Walker hits a double to left, scoring Tabata and putting the Pirates up 3-0. Incase you weren't keeping score, thats three runs for Tabata and a RBI for three different Pirates, showing why the work that manager Clint Hurdle focused on this spring was so vital. The Pirates would threaten to score runs several more times throughout the game, but they simply could not come up with the big hit until the top of the ninth inning when Ryan Doumit hit a ball to left center off of Cubs reliever Sean Marshall that made it about 5 rows deep.

All in all, a solid bounce back following yesterday's loss to Ryan Dempster. Tomorrow's match up features Ross "The Rocket Scientist" Ohlendorf vs. Matt Garza. Join us tomorrow on the Pirates WFC Blog for the rubber match predictions.

Box Score

Prediction v Real World 0-2

Eron McMillen is a contributing writer to the PiratesWFC blog. He can be followed on twitter (@eronmcmillen).

MLB The Show Game #1 Summary - PIT v CHC

For those of you who were looking forward to my Opening Day 2011 MLB 11 The Show prediction, I apologize for not getting around to having the time to write the blog post. I was able to post a game recap on my Twitter feed (@eronmcmillen), so if there is ever a game in which I cannot post to the blog a full recap, check out the tweets for a quick 140 word summary.

In my opening prediction, I was able to call a few things correct. I did foresee a grand slam and a decent start by Kevin Correia. However, in the game prediction, the grand slam came via Marlon Byrd of the Cubs, and unlike the real life game, the Cubbies won 5-1 over the Pirates. Correia (0-1 6.43) pitched 7 innings; giving up 5 runs, all earned, 1 walk and 1 strike out. Jose Veras came in to pitch in relief for 1 inning and sat his batters down in order. Correia's counterpart, Ryan Dempster (1-0 1.00) pitched a complete game giving up 8 hits, 1 run, while striking out 8 and walking no one.

Box score

Prediction v Real World 0-1

Eron is a contributing writer to the PiratesWFC blog. He can be followed on twitter (@eronmcmillen).

April 1, 2011

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs

It's 42 degrees in Chicago, windy, and there's a 70 percent chance of showers this afternoon. This might not be the best day for checking out babes on the WGN telecast. Luckily, this is the day of rebirth, hope, an 0-0 record for all of us, and generally the reason we make a halfhearted attempt at living through each winter. For those of you who need things explained, it is Opening Day.Weird things can happen in Chicago. The last time I was in Chicago I hung out with a group that included a David Crosby-looking guy, an Elvis Costello-looking guy, and a hot chick. Either that or it was the real David Crosby, the real Elvis Costello, and Natalie Imbruglia got a pretty damn good backing band.

Pirates vs. Cubs
Friday 2:20, Saturday 1:05, Sunday 2:20

Chicago's lineup is actually hilarious. A good sign that you're losing the war is that your archrival has a 2-3-4-5 of Colby Rasmus, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman - and in those same spots you are going with Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Pena, and Aramis Ramirez. It's like every time Somalia attacks Ethiopia. Our Ronny Cedeno at least bats at the bottom of the lineup.

The Cubs' move to end a 103-year-old curse is to use Ryan Dempster (15-12, 3.85 in 2010) as their Opening Day starter. Apparently Kevin Correia (10-10, 5.40) was starting for some other team. Oh shit, that team is us. My pick is still the Pirates.

Tomorrow it's Paul Maholm (9-15, 5.10) for the good and Carlos Zambrano (11-6, 3.33) for the bad. Zambrano may be the only ace pitcher in history to lose his starting job, lose his relieving job, get suspended, still have the best season of any pitcher on his team, and still not get the Opening Day start the next year. My pick is the Pirates.

Sunday, Ross Ohlendorf (1-11, 4.07) takes the ball for Love as Hate counters with Matt Garza (15-10, 3.91). In the game of love, one win is a good season. Not only that, but only one guy has ever graduated from Princeton without being a total dick, it is Ross Ohlendorf, Ohlendorf is the clear winner here, and my pick is the Pirates.