Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pirates' bats again pave way to victory

Xavier Nady and friends celebrate another victory - AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Pirates are simply playing good baseball right now. It does not happen all that often, and I have no idea how long it will last. But it has been fun to watch them play the past week. The Bucs won their fourth in a row tonight, stopping the streaking Cubs right in their tracks. Chicago had won 11 of 13 entering tonight's game, and had to be viewing this series as their chance to make a move in the standings. What they likely did not expect to encounter was a Pirates' offense that looks nothing like the one we saw earlier this season. The Bucs put up eight runs on 12 hits tonight, with seven of those hits going for extra bases. That power outburst helped lead the team to an 8-4 victory to begin the series.

Paul Maholm started the scoring with a two out, bases loaded single in the second inning. That hit was huge, as the Pirates were in danger of wasting back-to-back singles to start the inning. The Cubs tied it in the third, but the Bucco bats came alive in the bottom of that inning. Freddy Sanchez led off with a home run into the first row of the leftfield seats. One out later, Xavier Nady took on the deepest part of the park. He launched one over the 410 sign in left-center, and the Pirates led 4-2. The Pirates kept pouring it on after that. Run-scoring doubles by Ryan Doumit, Jose Bautista, Nady and Sanchez capped the scoring.

Maholm was very effective again, cruising through seven innings with only two runs allowed. He ran into a bit of trouble in the eighth, and was charged with two more runs after being relieved by Shawn Chacon. But it was another encouraging start for the left-hander, who is quickly becoming the Pirates' number three starter behind Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. He truly deserves better numbers than he has right now, as he has been let down many times by poor defense and low run-support this season.

Xavier Nady continues to hit. He came a triple short of the cycle tonight, and on the season he is now hitting .292/.343/.509 with a team-high 14 home runs. Most encouraging, his OPS against right-handed pitching is at a very respectable .795. You can count me among the many who felt (before the season, of course) that he would be best utilized as a platoon player. I am not completely convinced I was wrong yet, but I am almost there. There is one thing I do know for sure. Without Nady in the lineup this season, the Pirates would be in much worse shape than they currently are. He held the offense together for most of the first half.

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