July 31, 2011

Finally, A Trade

The Lyle Overbay era is over! The Pirates added veteran first baseman Derrek Lee.tonight for minor leaguer Aaron Baker. Expect Lee to start at first base for the rest of the season. The Orioles were in New York this weekend so Lee should be in Philadelphia for tomorrow's game - one the Pirates really need.

This isn't the move I was hoping for. The 35-year-old Lee is an upgrade over Overbay both at the plate and in the field, but still is hitting only .246/.302/.404 this season. The biggest sign of decline to me is in his plate discipline: Lee averaged 73 walks from 2007-2010 but has just 25 free passes this year against 83 strikeouts.

However, Lee is also a player who is capable of summoning the old magic for a two-month straight run. Last year, he was hitting .251/.335/.416 for the Cubs through 109 games. Traded to the Braves on August 18, he improved to .287/.384/.465 down the stretch to help Atlanta win the NL wild card. He'll also obviously be back in the National League with this deal. Lee struggled early after moving to the American League after 14 years in the NL, and for any player the NL Central certainly is an easier division to play in than the AL East.

Analysis of intangibles is largely bullshit, but for what it's worth, Lee is considered a great guy and a great teammate. He has 324 career home runs, 1,925 hits, four playoff appearances, and a World Series ring with the Marlins in 2003. Rarely does a team win a championship without one or two seasoned veteranhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs like Lee.

Fangraphs predicts Lee will hit .266/.340/.448 for the rest of this season. Those on-base and slugging numbers would put him second on the team to Andrew McCutchen in both categories. I would use the addition of a decent power bat to justify moving McCutchen up to second in the order, giving a lineup for the time being of: Paul, McCutchen, Lee, Walker, Jones, Alvarez, Cedeno, McKenry.

I'm on board with the Lee deal - it's a clear upgrade if only an incremental one. The Pirates gave up a 23-year-old Class A first baseman who was an 11th round pick and didn't make the top 30 prospects prior to the season. Yet it shouldn't be the only deal the Pirates make. With Garrett Jones hitting .230/.317/.404 and Matt Diaz hitting .262/.295/.333, there's a clear need for an outfielder and I want to see one added tomorrow afternoon.

Who will Lee replace on the roster? Well, the obvious move would be to designate Overbay for assignment. Yet on the bench, Overbay would still be the Pirates' best left-handed pinch hitter. I think the Pirates will simply send Pedro Ciriaco back to Indianapolis. We'll see him again in September.

July 18, 2011

2011 Champs Win Another Series

Showing resiliency that will be the key to this year's World Series victories in Games 2 through 5, the Pirates won another must-win game Sunday after blowing Saturday's game in horrific fashion.

Saturday night, the Pirates led 4-3 in the eighth inning when terrible shit ensued. Pirates setup man Jose Veras is being blamed for the loss and he did walk the leadoff man, but Hunter Pence would easily have been caught stealing third easily if Michael McKenry didn't inexplicably fail to make any throw at all on the play. Clint Barmes also reached on a Brandon Wood error. It's a rare situation of the defense letting us down. Anwyay, my expected celebration Natural Lights ended up as consolation Natural Lights as the Pirates' latest stay in first ended in 24 hours.

The Pirates bounced back on Sunday of course, winning yet another series. They're now 17-0 in must win games this season. Unofficially, the Pirates have now won every series for the past 14 years except this year's matchup with the future 2011 AL pennant winners, the Cleveland Indians.

Neil Walker got six hits in the two days to raise his batting line to .273/.336/.410. But Chase d'Arnaud, still batting second, went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts Sunday and now has just a .244 on base percentage. If he's staying in the lineup it should be in the eighth position, but I would just send him back to Indianapolis whenever Ronny Cedeno comes back. Four years ago I would have used the word 'when' so that use of 'whenever' really makes me a true fan.

Joe Beimel made a triumphant return to the bullpen, pitching two-thirds of a scoreless inning. The Root Sports announcers claimed he was mad about giving up a hit. Joe Beimel has never shown any emotion ever, not even after giving up a home run. He's holding off on emotions until the World Series. It's the smart thing to do.

July 16, 2011

Game 92: Pirates (48-43) at Astros

The first place Pirates go with the same lineup today except for replacing Josh Harrison at third base with Brandon Wood. Meanwhile at Indianapolis, Steven Pearce has homered on both days of his rehab assignment. I wonder if Pearce and not Pedro Alvarez should be the player being readied to replace Harrison and Wood at third base.

The Pirates got a chance with the All-Star break to realign their rotation, adn Paul Maholm is the #2 guy after Jeff Karstens. Maholm is ninth in the National League in ERA (2.96). Astros starter Bud Norris is a tough opponent who has more than a strikeout an inning for his career. He has already faced the Pirates three times this year, allowing only six runs total.

Despite all the people saying the Pirates are playing over their heads, by run differential Pittsburgh has won only one more game than would be expected. The Pirates have scored 358 runs and allowed 346 for an expected record of 47-44. Defending champion Cincinnati (+33) actually leads the division in this category, suggesting it might be a bit early to root for the Cardinals.



Presley lf (.357/.422/.554)
d'Arnaud ss (.233/.253/.315)
Walker 2b (.263/.327/.395)
McCutchen cf (.290/.390/.508)
Jones rf (.245/.333/.428)
Overbay 1b (.238/.310/.353)
Wood 3b (.211/.276/.331)
McKenry c (.236/.273/.319)
Maholm p (6-9, 2.96)

Bourn cf (.287/.350/.393)
Sanchez 3b (.256/.309/.317)
Keppinger 2b (.300/.314/.387)
Pence rf (.323/.364/.494)
Lee 1b (.269/.316/.424)
Michaels lf (.208/.348/.313)
Barmes ss (.247/.320/.374)
Quintero c (.231/.266/.299)
Norris p (5-6, 3.46)

Game time is 7:05.

Karstens Shutout Puts Bucs In First

Jeff Karstens turned in the season's best pitching performance last night, shutting out the Astros 4-0 on just 83 pitches. He allowed only five singles and no walks and threw only 19 balls the whole game.

This game felt over in the third inning when Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run triple to make the score 3-0. When was the last time the Pirates had a pitcher who could give you that feeling so early on? Karstens (8-4, 2.34) now ranks third in the NL in ERA behind only Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87) and Cole Hamels (11-4, 2.32). While sabermetric sites claim Karstens' ERA is "lucky", inducing weak contact is more than just luck. This game provides the perfect illustration. Astros starter Brett Myers struck out 11 but was gone after six innings, three runs and 111 pitchers. Meanwhile, Karstens struck out just two but seemed like he could have pitched 12 innigns easily.

McCutchen drove in his 55th and 56th runs and also reached base on a walk. Alex Presley scored twice, stole his third base, and now has 11 runs scored in 14 games. Chase d'Arnaud, 2-for-5 with a run scored, was the only other player to reach base twice.

Before the Pirates game was over, the Reds' Brandon Phillips hit a walkoff two-run homer to beat the Cardinals, 6-5. This put the Pirates fractions of a percentage point ahead of St. Louis, while they remain three games ahead of Cincinnati. If you think first place in July isn't significant, Tony La Russa used four players from his bench and all seven of his relief pitchers in the losing effort. When the Brewers went down 4-0 to the Rockies an hour later - despite the return of Ryan Braun to the lineup - the Pirates sat on top of the division for the first time this year.The only bad news of the night occurred in Bradenton, where Jose Tabata was scratched from his rehab assignment due to tightness in the same quadricep muscle that landed him on the disabled list one month ago. The Pirates downplayed the significance of the setback but already have said he won't play tonight either, making me think it could be a bigger deal than they're letting on.

July 15, 2011

Game 91: Pirates (47-43) at Astros

I've managed to post one series preview in the past two months, so clearly I'll be able to handle doing a preview for every game from now on. Joe Beimel is back on the roster, Daniel Moskos is in Indianapolis, and the Pirates are in Houston this weekend to play baseball's worst team in a series sure to spark terrible trade speculation. Last time we played the Astros, someone called The Fan to suggest trading Ronny Cedeno straight up for Hunter Pence. it's a great move, and Neil Huntington will pull that one off on the same day he trades wives with Gavin Rossdale.One sports question I've always wondered is what a team's reaction is to making these decisions. Is it "I think we'll go with Brett Myers to start the first game after the break."? Or is it "Goddamn it, we've somehow fucked this up to a point where we have to start Brett Motherfucking Myers."



Bourn cf (.287/.351/.395)
Downs 3b (.270/.368/.540)
Keppinger 2b (.301/.316/.390)
Pence rf (.323/.364/.496)
Lee lf (.268/.316/.425)
Wallace 1b (.285/.364/.406)
Barmes ss (.250/.324/.379)
Quintero c (.235/.270/.304)
Myers p (3-9, 4.88)

Presley lf (.365/.424/.577)
d'Arnaud ss (.221/.243/.309)
Walker 2b (.264/.329/.398)
McCutchen cf (.291/.390/.505)
Jones rf (.248/.335/.434)
Overbay 1b (.240/.310/.357)
Harrison 3b (.274/.282/.321)
McKenry c (.246/.274/.333)
Karstens p (7-4, 2.55)

By coming up at the same time as Alex Presley, Chase d'Arnaud has gotten a reputation for getting off to a good start at the top of the lineup. It's understandable - I got a reputation for being a degenerate by living across the street from a halfway house - but it's also undeserved when he hasn't been hitting, has five errors, and generally looks like a guy who should still be in the minor leagues. With no news on Ronny Cedeno's return, it's fine to leave d'Arnaud in there but he should be moved down in the lineup if he doesn't hit this weekend.

Game time is at 8:05, sweethearts.

The Romantic Trade Market

Film officially died with the release of "Tooth Fairy," but life is long and there's not much to do so I still watch Movies on Demand. Amid the typical disappointments - the main character in "Hendrix" dies at age 27! - once in a while I am still able to take some inspiration from a true piece of art. My recent viewing of "She's out of My League" is a perfect example. It inspired me to win the World Series.

The main character spends most of the movie pursuing a woman with great success, despite his friends' claims that he'll never get anywhere with someone so attractive. This culminates in what should have been a sex scene. The couple is making out, clothes are coming off, music is playing, the characters have wanted this for a long time. But what does our hero do? He blows it by stopping all this to give an explanation of the fact that she's too good looking to possibly have sex with him.

Of course, this is Hollywood so the two end up reconciling. Rest assured that this move will not lead to success if tried in real life.

It's fitting that this movie was filmed in Pittsburgh, because the plot could have been lifted from the Pirates' 2011 season. This spring, fans hoped for 74 wins, a fifth place finish, and continued improvement from the young core - basically our awful ex back complete with a couple of promises to change. It seemed like a joke that the Pirates listed the opportunity to buy playoff tickets as one of my season ticket holder benefits. The Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers were out of our league and we were as likely to finish ahead of all three as we were to meet a natural blonde on East Carson Street. Yet we pursued them nonetheless. There was a goal we wanted. We got enough positive feedback that we didn't give up - and now here we are, 60% of the way through the movie, a game behind the Cardinals and half a game behind the Brewers. First place wants us, first place has put on sexy music to seduce us, first place's top is on the floor next to our bed. And Pittsburgh wants to tell first place that we're not good enough.

I've been listening to more sports radio than anyone should, and the overwhelming sense I get is that Pirates fans don't want to go all in this year. Don't "mortgage the future." This year is just a step ahead in building for 2012, or 2013, or 2014. A new player could mess with the team chemistry. The pitching can't hold up long enough to stay in the race. The Pirates would just lose to the Phillies even if they won the division. Getting our injured players back is just as good as trading for a star player. Winning even 75, or 82, games would be a big improvement. Basically, Pirates fans don't think we're good enough for first place. And it's not just fans - Neil Huntington has already said that the Pirates won't trade a major prospect. God forbid, indeed.

In fact, there are more people who want to trade away Paul Maholm for prospects than who want to add a big bat to this year's team. Many of these same fans were against dismantling a 67 win team by trading Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, and Xavier Nady. Yet it's fine to trade a pitcher who leads the team in innings and is #9 in the league in ERA.

Speaking of World Series titles, the 2006 Cardinals had just 83 wins, four poor hitters in their starting lineup, and only two starters with under a 5.00 ERA. The 2010 Giants fielded an everyday lineup of guys who were last good five years ago, finishing 17th in baseball in runs scored. Unless you're in a four team league, a World Series title is a longshot for every team, every year. It's still the goal.

I would absolutely trade a major prospect for a big bat. Life happens in the present tense. What future are we building for, if not the future where the Pirates are a game out of first place in mid-July? A pennant race is something this town hasn't seen in 19 years. Nobody calls in sick to their first day of work.

I hear our #2 prospect Starling Marte is untouchable. I would absolutely trade Starling Marte for a legitimate power hitter. I hear he's great defensively, but his career high in walks is 16 and he's never hit double digit home runs. He's the same age as Jose Tabata and both are getting on base at the same rate, except that Marte is doing it in Altoona and Tabata is doing it in the big leagues. Carlos Pena has 19 major league home runs this year and 163 since 2007. Who's a better bet to succeed, Pena right now or Marte in 2014? Which team is guaranteed to be in a pennant race, this one or the one in 2014?

Our #2 prospect, Tony Sanchez, certainly won't be moved. He's hitting .239 and slugging .307 for Altoona right now. He's a 23-year old catcher who has allowed 80% of opposing baserunners to steal successfully since 2010. I wouldn't sell low on him, but I don't see why he's off limits. Carlos Beltran has 28 doubles, 13 home runs, and 47 walks this year.

In real life, there's no last chance right before the credits roll. A team that's a game out of first place is a player away from winning the division, and July is the time to get one. Whether their fans know it or not, the Pirates owe it to the city to add a true impact bat this month.

July 13, 2011

First Half Grades - Hitters

This is a really boring post topic and who really cares, but in a pennant race it's important to backdate some posts so it looks like I have a decent amount of recent updates to my blog.

Andrew McCutchen: A+
88 G, .291/.390/.505, 54 Runs, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 15 SB
McCutchen is the National League's first half MVP. In all of baseball, no player means as much to a contending team as McCutchen. He's a cornerstone of this franchise and it's past time to sign him to a long-term contract.

Alex Presley: A+
13 G, .365/.424/.577, 9 Runs, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB
Presley has been nothing short of a revelation atop the lineup. Of course he won't keep up this pace, but you have to keep putting him atop the lineup at this point even when Jose Tabata and others return.

Chris Snyder: A-
34 G, .271/.376/.396, 13 Runs, 3 HR, 17 RBI
Before getting injured, Snyder played his usual solid defense and surprisingly was one of the NL's best offensive catchers. He is certainly missed but after undergoing back surgery, I have my doubts that he'll be back this season.

Ryan Doumit: B+
34 G, .269/.333/.441, 7 Runs, 4 HR, 15 RBI
Doumit earned a B+ at Memorial Day and still hasn't played since. I'm expecting him back in early August. If he continues his strong hitting, he'll be a welcome addition to the lineup.

Neil Walker: B
88 G, .264/.329/.398, 47 Runs, 8 HR, 59 RBI, 5 SB
Walker's offense has decreased in his second season but he has still amassed great counting stats by virtue of his lineup position. Miscast as a middle of the order power hitter, Walker nevertheless has established himself as one of the National League's better second basemen.

Garrett Jones: B
81 G, .248/.335/.434, 27 Runs, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 4 SB
Jones has quietly been the Pirates' second best hitter in the past month, yet has unfairly been criticized from fans and the media. He's putting up the same ratios as trade candidates like Ryan Ludwick and Josh Willingham. If the Pirates do add a right fielder I would play Jones at first over Lyle Overbay.

José Tabata: B
71 G, .265/.351/.354, 39 Runs, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 14 SB
Tabata's stats don't look impressive at first glance but in the decreased offensive environment this year, he was actually one of the best leadoff hitters in the National League. So far he's failed to develop any power but has improved in the field by getting better jumps on balls. Hopefully upon his return, his left quad injury won't affect the speed which is a major part of his game.

Steven Pearce: B
28 G, .291/.339/.382, 6 Runs, 1 HR, 10 RBI
Pearce hasn't played since Memorial Day so his grade remains at a B. If he continues this production he'll be a valuable bench bat down the stretch. He's been the Pirates' only acceptable hitter who can play third base.

Michael McKenry: B-
22 G, .246/.274/.333, 8 Runs, 1 HR, 6 RBI
McKenry provided the highlight of the first half with his home run Friday night off Carlos Marmol. Apart from that, he performed about as well on offense as you would expect of an AAA catcher. McKenry has done a great job defensively, particularly with framing pitches and handling balls in the dirt.

Ronny Cedeno: C+
79 G, .252/.311/.346, 30 Runs, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB
Baseball IQ will always be an issue for Ronny but he's the Pirates' best option right now to play shortstop. His offense and defense have both improved noticeably since March. None of his numbers are great but he's performed as well as anyone who might be available in a trade. He's hit and fielded much better than Chase d'Arnaud but I wouldn't be surprised if d'Arnaud still pushes him for playing time once Cedeno returns from a concussion. Since April 29 Cedeno has hit .279/.347/.391.

Matt Diaz: C+
67 G, .283/.313/.358, 11 Runs, 0 HR, 15 RBI, 24 SB
Diaz doesn't walk and seems to have lost all of his power, making him a questionable choice for anything but a bench role. All of his hits seem to be solid line drives but he's not reaching on any of the lucky hits that would boost his stats to more acceptable levels. Still, he's hit .321/.351/.413 since May 3 and is undeserving of the level of criticism he has received.

Xavier Paul: C
60 G, .263/.292/.360, 16 Runs, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 9 SB
Although he hasn't been nearly as useful as his manager or fans seem to think, Paul has proved to be a decent reserve outfielder. It looks like Paul's speed and defense will keep him on the roster all year. He'll never be more than a fifth outfielder unless he learns plate discipline.

Josh Harrison: C-
36 G, .274/.282/.321, 10 Runs, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB
Harrison has done as well as could be expected given his minor league record. However, a player with no home runs can't get away with having one walk. He probably belongs in the minors but sadly has still been the Pirates' best third baseman this year.

Lyle Overbay: D
87 G, .240/.310/.357, 34 Runs, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB
For the most part, Overbay has given the Pirates nothing this year. His numbers are unacceptable for a first baseman, especially one who is third on the team with 333 plate appearances. He brought a good defensive reputation to Pittsburgh but hasn't done much to live up to it as he's struggled to catch throws both in the dirt and over his head. I can't imagine Overbay keeps the job much longer.

Brandon Wood: D
52 G, .211/.276/.331, 14 Runs, 4 HR, 16 RBI
Wood has improved his performance from embarrassing to merely below average, but all of his skills still appear to be replacement level. The Pirates need to make some move so that the likes of Wood and Harrison aren't playing regularly down the stretch.

Pedro Alvarez: D
36 G, .208/.283/.304, 12 Runs, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB
2011 still looks like a lost season for Alvarez. The Pirates can't afford to let Alvarez find his stroke at the plate in the middle of a pennant race. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't come back to the majors until September.

Chase d'Arnaud: D
16 G, .221/.243/.309, 9 Runs, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 5 SB
d'Arnaud has only one major league skill at this point, his blazing speed. It's early still but he hasn't hit or fielded well enough so far to justify his spot on the roster, much less his lineup position.

July 3, 2011

McCutchen All-Star Reaction

As I'm sure you've read, Andrew McCutchen was not selected for the All-Star game today. Obviously this is a terrible decision, but it's not one I didn't expect. Entering today Baseball Reference judged him as the second most valuable position player in the National League after Matt Kemp, with McCutchen generating five additional wins for the Pirates to Kemp's 5.2 for the Dodgers. Deducting at least ten wins for Kemp's decision to cheat on Rihanna - I'm not a great man but I could be faithful to her of all people - McCutchen is statistically the best player in the league. He's the fourth best offensive player in the NL and second best on defense. Yet he will be at home for the All-Star break, because God forbid anyone would bother checking how each player in the league is doing before picking the best players in the league.

Let's start with the fan voting: the NL's starting outfield is a joke. Kemp, Braun, and Berkman would be a great outfield in an NFL-style league where completely different players would take the field. Then look at the reserves. I'll give you Holliday, Pence, and Upton, but Jay Bruce and Carlos Beltran are a couple of players who could never and no longer can field, respectively, yet are no more effective than Cutch on offense. To make things quite real, McCutchen wasn't even one of five players in the "Final Vote." It's a definite sign of disrespect, but it's actually one that helps the Pirates.

Let's look at the actual effect of this decision. McCutchen was promoted in June 2009. Since then, the Pirates have played 356 games with McCutchen starting 340 of them. He plays all out at all times and has suffered at least ten injuries that I can think of in that time, but he almost always is in the lineup the next day. What he's missing out on is traveling to Arizona, being interviewed by pretty much no one since the national media don't care about the Pirates, maybe pinch-hitting once, and then flying back. If we were 20 games back as usual it would actually suck to miss that - yet the Pirates are in the thick of a pennant race in a division that could easily be won. Wouldn't it be better for our start player to go back to his bullshit hometown in Florida and get four days of rest?

Moreover, one key to the Pirates' success is the fact that teams take them lightly. Maybe we would have won two of three from both the Red Sox and Phillies anyway, but don't think it didn't help that these juggernaut teams viewed the Pirates as a break in the schedule, a series where they wouldn't have to play their best ball. The lack of All-Stars only helps that perception. Evan Meek last year had an ERA below 1.00 when he was selected and the national media still demeaned the pick. We want this to happen. We want Joel Hanrahan to not even pitch in the game - as he surely will not - even though he is the best closer in baseball. The last thing we need now is other teams realizing our players are good.

An All-Star snub is fine. Pittsburgh Pirates players will get recognition from managers, players, fans, and the national media - after we win the World Series.

July 1, 2011

Series Preview: Washington Nationals

At press time Joe Paterno is arguably still alive, so the Washington Nationals continue to ignore a great rivalry by refusing to play the Washington Wild Things every year like they should. The best we get is this series between the Pirates and Nationals. The two clubs play four games in the next 48 hours and despite a 7-3 run, at least two wins feel like a necessity to me.If the Pirates can become a legit contender as if nothing ever happened, then I can preview series as if I didn't skip two months of posts. Washington is the most similar team in baseball to this year's Pirates, a perennial last place team which has emerged with somewhat of a breakout season thanks to pitching. The Nationals rank 11th in the National League with 3.88 runs per game; the Pirates rank 13th with 3.80. The Pirates are allowing 3.90 runs per game, sixth best in the league; Washington's 3.83 runs allowed rank fifth. The Pirates are 41-39, the Nationals are 40-41. The difference is that the Nationals play in the NL East and are threatening to fall out of contention as they trail the Phillies by 9.5 games and the Braves by 5.5. Also important, this babe to your right may look scantily clad but that's actually the most clothing any babe has worn out in D.C. after 11 p.m.

Unlike the Pirates, the Nationals spent a lot of money to try and succeed this year. But after signing a seven year, $126 million contract, Jayson Werth has hit only .223/.326/.390 and is currently day to day with a sore left knee. Another free agent, Adam LaRoche, hit only .172/.288/.258 and is now injured for the season. A couple of stars have emerged, however: first baseman Michael Morse, hitting .300/.350/.550 including 15 home runs and 46 RBI, and second baseman Danny Espinosa, .238/.323/.465 with 15 homers and 48 RBI. Ryan Zimmerman, .241/.321/.404, was injured for most of the year but is starting to get his bat going.

Washington Nationals: Friday 7:05, Saturday 3:30 (2), Sunday 1:35
Tonight, Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.77) makes his triumphant return to the rotation. The Pirates claimed Morton was fatigued but make no mistake, his start was skipped due to recent performance. The Nationals are a good lineup to get Morton back to his earlier form. The Nationals go with our old friend Tom Gorzellany (2-6, 4.18). Was there ever a pitcher who seemed more likely to drop off the face of the earth after the Pirates traded him? My pick is the Pirates.

Saturday, the Pirates give the ball to James McDonald (5-4, 4.52) against John Lannan (5-5, 3.48). I picked up John Lannan in fantasy baseball for his two start week so obviously he has no chance to win either game. My pick is the Pirates. But is that the only game? No. The Pirates are dicked into playing a doubleheader. I have visited Washington probably 30 times and the only truly nice day I ever experienced there was Tuesday, May 17, when the scheduled game was postponed on an 80 degree sunny day. It was a complete bush league move, and one that ironically results in a bush league pitcher going for the Pirates tomorrow night as Brad Lincoln (6-7, 4.14 at Altoona) will be called up to face Livan Hernandez (5-8, 3.81). Look for Xavier Paul to be placed on the disabled list to make room for Lincoln; the Pirates are already down to three bench bats with Paul and Walker unable to go and certainly can't go with just two.

I have heard multiple radio callers say that Paul Maholm should be traded because Lincoln can adequately fill in. Lincoln is giving up more than a hit an inning in AA and flamed out in Pittsburgh last year when none of these people were watching. These were no doubt the same people who thought Brent Johnson could win the Vezina and Charlie Batch would be better than Marino if only they could start every game. Yet I've lived in Pittsburgh for three years and it's very rare that anything happens to stop annoying and ignorant sports radio calls; thus my pick is the Pirates.

In Sunday's, finale, Pittsburgh will go with Kevin Correia (10-6, 3.79) against Jason Marquis (7-2, 3.62). I am also using Marquis in fantasy this week. Using these Nationals pitchers is reminiscent of when I would go to Michigan football games and bet on the opposing team so that if they lost, I wouldn't have to pay for the trip. It sounded like a good idea, but Rich Rodriguez wasn't the coach so really the only result was losing a lot of bets. My pick,fs of course, is the Pirates.

Time To Trade For A Catcher

Most trade discussion in Pittsburgh has centered around the possibility of getting a power bat, with names like Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick, and Mike Cuddyer floated as options. While any of those players would undoubtedly improve the Pirates' lineup, adding another catcher is a much more obvious need at this point.

For the first two months of the season, the Pirates fielded one of baseball's best catching tandems with Chris Snyder (.271/.376/.396) and Ryan Doumit (.269/.333/.441) both providing positive offensive contributions. The position is now a black hole in the lineup: since Snyder's injury on June 8, Pirates catchers have gone 9-for-69 with four runs scored, two doubles, a walk, 19 strikeouts, and no RBI for a hideous .130/.143/.159 batting line.

Neil Huntington recently said that the Pirates preferred to wait for their injured players to return rather than overpay for a catcher in trade. Really? Snyder is probably out for the season after back surgery. Doumit is a month away from returning. Jason Jaramillo will start rehabbing his injured wrist in a week or two, but this is the same guy who hit .149/.227/.207 last year. Without a trade, the best case scenario is that the Pirates get zero offense from the position for another month and then rely for the rest of the season on the health of a player who has been on the disabled list eight different times since 2006 and is coming back from a broken ankle.

The terrible production from the catcher spot creates the best opportunity for an upgrade. The difference in production between McKenry and an average MLB catcher is 132 points of OBP and 137 points of slugging percentage. Regardless of who the Pirates trade or how much they spend, unless Honus Wagner is available there's no way to upgrade any other position by that much.

With half the season left and considering the frequency of catcher injuries, it's unlikely that a contender would trade even a backup catcher. But there are 11 teams already out of the race that would likely give up their backup for a marginal prospect. Here are a few players who could be available:

Ivan Rodriguez, Nationals - Pudge's formerly potent bat has declined to typical backup catcher territory, as he's only hitting .215/.276/.336 this year in his age 39 season. But his arm is still strong - he's thrown out 48% of base stealers - and he was durable enough to start 103 games in 2010. He has a World Series ring and would presumably enjoy being in a pennant race in what is probably his final season. At 40-41 the Nationals aren't having a bad season, but they realistically have no shot at overtaking Atlanta or Philadelphia. A series win this weekend would quickly turn the Nats into sellers.

José Molina, Blue Jays - José inexplicably is having his best offensive season at age 36, hitting .301/.381/.441 on the year. His career batting line of .240/.286/.342 is more indicative of his true skills. With J.P. Arencibia establishing himself as a starter, Molina clearly isn't part of the Jays future. We also witnessed with Wednesday's pickoff of Garrett Jones that José has lost nothing off of his arm.

Matt Treanor, Royals - The Royals have actually given Treanor a majority of the playing time, but it's hard to imagine this 35-year-old career backup being part of the next winning Royals team. He's never been able to hit for average but is walking at a career best rate, resulting in a respectable .216/.354/.304 batting line. Matt also has thrown out 30% of base stealers.

Koyie Hill, Cubs - The switch-hitter is not even close to Doumit's class but has a respectable .224/.287/.353 batting line. He's only thrown out 17% of base stealers this year, but has caught 27% for his career. The Cubs should be in full rebuild mode at this point and although Hill at 32 is the youngest player on this list, with Geovany Soto on board they would really have no reason not to jettison Hill for even a marginal prospect.

Obviously none of these names would excite the Pirates fan base - but all would represent major upgrades. Remember, the Pirates got a much better catcher last year for D.J. Carrasco, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby. The Pirates so far are contending by accident in 2011. For a general manager who seems reluctant to swing a big deal at this point, a low-profile addition of a legitimate major league catcher would at least represent a start towards a real attempt to win this division.