Wednesday, May 30, 2007
This past Friday afternoon, I found a bit of free time and started writing. The Bucs were mired in a five-game losing streak, and I wondered whether Tony Clark's grand slam had effectively ended our season. However, I did not have the time to finish that post. With last night's win, the Pirates have won four of five and moved into second place since I first saved that draft. The offense came alive in Cincinnati and the entire team looked pretty solid last night (aside from the previously mentioned baserunning mistakes).
So maybe the season is not over yet. Maybe I am starting a trend of being completely wrong. If you would like another example, on May 13 I made the statement, "Ian Snell is officially the ace of this staff." Since that comment, Snell has gone 1-2 with a 5.30 ERA in three starts and Tom Gorzelanny is 2-1 with a 1.78 ERA in four starts. After looking at those numbers, I feel compelled to say something: Ronny Paulino will never again be an above average Major League hitter and should be released. Now let us sit back and watch as Paulino sprays line drive after line drive to the gaps.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
If I was going to describe this game (or this season...or the past 15 seasons) to someone else, I would discuss one specific situation. In the top of the 2nd inning, the Pirates led 1-0 and loaded the bases with one out. Their two biggest sluggers, Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche, were coming to the plate. This was the time to break the game open against a struggling pitcher. Both Bay and LaRoche struck out. That gave us one run on six hits and a walk through two innings. The next inning, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright doubled home two runs and the Pirates lost the lead for good. They would lose 9-4.
If that is not a perfect description of the last 14+ years, I don't know what is.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
I walked slowly along the outer concourse of PNC Park. I assume there was a beautiful view of the Allegheny River to my right, but I cannot be sure because I was staring at the tops of my shoes. Rain slowly dripped from my hair, down my forehead and into my eyes. But I did not have the energy necessary to lift my hand to wipe it away. I carried a bobblehead in my right hand, the box slowly decomposing from the rain that had cascaded upon it as it rested unattended next to my seat. I felt as if my soul was decaying along with it. There were hundreds of people around me, walking at the same deliberate pace, in the same general direction. Not one of us knew our destination, not one of us cared. There was no conversation, just a somber silence that engulfed us like a fog. I trudged through a relatively deep puddle, but barely noticed. I had shivered through several innings of cold, wet baseball, but now I felt strangely comfortable. Finally, the silence was broken. My friend, who was walking next to me, softly murmured, “Tony Clark. What the hell?”
I think that about sums it up. Only the Pirates could turn a perfect evening into something so terrible in such a short period.
P.S. Another very appropriate statement came from Rocco DeMaro during his post-game show on 104.7. While Rocco was giving an overview of the game, he suddenly stopped and said, “I feel like I want to swear.” You are not the only one, my friend. Now let’s come back and win this series tomorrow.
The Pirates offense is suddenly potent, with the team's 11-5 win over the Diamondbacks tonight keeping the momentum going. Xavier Nady and Ryan Doumit each had three-run homers, while Adam LaRoche continued his steady improvement by going 2 for 4 with a walk. Jose Bautista and Freddy Sanchez each reached base three times as the Pirates put up double digit runs again. In the last six games, the Pirates have scored 13, 7, 3, 3, 7 and 11 runs. That's an average of over seven runs per game.
With Ian Snell starting tonight, one might have expected about four runs to be enough to produce a Pirate win. Entering the 5th inning, that script was being followed. The Bucs had three runs due to Nady's home run and Snell had been dominant. When the offense broke the game open with four more runs in the 5th, the game seemed over. Snell was quite possibly throwing the his finest game of the season and he now had a seven run lead to work with. But he was roughed up for four runs in the 6th inning and Arizona continued scraping away until the lead was 7-5. The Pirates added an insurance run in the 7th before Jim Tracy remembered who his hottest hitter was. Doumit entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the 8th inning and promptly launched a three-run homer.
- Why is Ryan Doumit not in the lineup every night?
- Adam LaRoche is seeing the ball very well. His plate discipline right now is phenomenal.
- After Ian Snell had worked five shutout innings while throwing only 65 pitches, Lanny wondered on the radio broadcast if Snell had a chance at a complete game. Afterwards, he immediately allowed four runs.
- Tom Gorzelanny faces Micah Owings tomorrow night at 7:05. I hope to be attending this game.
Friday, May 18, 2007
In Wednesday's Post-Gazette Q&A, Dejan Kovacevic called out Pirate fans. He could not understand why the attendance for Monday's game was only around 12,000, citing a "really fine pitching matchup" and "an absolutely spectacular night for baseball." In today's Q&A, fans that did not attend that game explained their reasons and Dejan responded. Reading these pieces got me thinking a bit.
Before I start, I think I should make a disclaimer. I totally understand why fans are upset with the Pirates’ ownership and management. This franchise has made absolutely no progress in the past 14 years. Those in charge either can not or will not do what is necessary to field a competitive team. That is very disheartening and frustrating as hell.
But what is the true cause of poor attendance at PNC Park? Many people would say that Pittsburgh is not a baseball town. Others claim that there are passionate fans in the shadows, just waiting for something positive to rally behind. The individuals that support the latter idea often refer to June 2005. The Pirates were on a roll and managed to reach .500 with a route over the Devil Rays. Enthusiasm was rampant, and the atmosphere at PNC Park was electric. Members of the media rationalized that it was the team’s poor performance that was holding back attendance. I believe that there is another reason. Pittsburgh residents often claim that they live in a great sports town. But is this true?
Let us start with the Pirates. I think we can all agree that the number of die-hard Bucco fans has dwindled throughout the years of ineptitude. In today’s Q & A, Dejan discusses the fact that the largest crowds at PNC Park are for promotions, such as bobbleheads and fireworks. These casual fans have been made the target audience by Pirates’ ownership. The pierogi race, the giveaways, Skyblast and other gimmicks are being promoted. It is all about the experience, not the game.
So maybe this just is not a baseball town. The Penguins were selling out the Mellon Arena all season and their future looks bright. But the enthusiasm was not there last year, despite a young franchise that was making progress. It was late in 2006 before “Penguins Fever” began spreading, and suddenly it was “cool” to spend an evening at the Igloo.
That brings us to the Steelers. Pittsburgh is known to be a football town, with a large following throughout the United States as well as the rest of the world. Of course, it is easy to be a Steeler fan. They are consistently one of the most competitive teams in the NFL and their five Super Bowl victories are tied for the most in history. But is “Steeler Nation” really full of die-hard fans? When the team loses, such as in 2006, interest wanes. Not a “14 straight losing season” amount, but it still fades. I was amazed at how quickly the excitement of a Super Bowl victory disappeared last season. My typical Monday conversation starter stayed the same all season, “How about that game?” By week 4, the typical response was, “Oh, I didn’t even watch it.” When the team is eliminated from playoff contention, there are thousands of empty seats at Heinz Field and Three Rivers Stadium before that.
So what is my point? Well part of the point of this post is that the majority of Pittsburgh sports fans are casual fans. They will quickly lose interest unless the team is in a playoff race or has a surplus of exciting young talent. After 14 years of being a laughingstock, these casual fans will need a reason to attend a game, one that is not baseball. My other reason for posting is out of frustration. This frustration comes from watching the PNC Park seats empty as the 8th inning begins. It makes me sick.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I understand that fans are upset with all the losing. Sometimes I start to feel physically ill while watching Pirates baseball. I am aware of the pain that the past 1½ decades has caused. However, I will leave you with an example that speaks volumes about Pirate fans. In 1991, the Pirates had a regular season record of 98-64, tops in Major League Baseball. It was the second consecutive season that the Bucs won the NL East. In Game 6 of the NLCS, the Pirates lost a heartbreaker to the Atlanta Braves, 1-0. Steve Avery tossed eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits. The attendance for this game was 54,508. The loss set up a Game 7 showdown, one of the most exciting occurrences in sports. The attendance for Game 7 was 46,932, well below capacity. The city of Pittsburgh gave up on the Pirates after that demoralizing loss. That is why I sometimes get a bit irritated when people blame the losing for their lack of interest. I understand the point. But will anything change when/if the team starts winning? Do they give out bobbleheads at postseason games? I honestly cannot remember.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
This was an almost perfect game to attend. Gorzelanny allowed only five singles in his seven innings, and was particularly hard on Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera struck out twice against Gorzelanny and took out his frustration on his equipment after adding another K against Matt Capps in the 8th inning. Dontrelle Willis struggled with his command early, but the Bucs were only able to push across two runs against him. The second scored on Ronny Paulino's solo home run in the 6th, a blast that was very significant when it happened. Paulino also walked three times in the game. The game was put out of reach in the bottom of the 8th inning, as the Pirates added five more runs.
- Freddy Sanchez is hitting like it is 2006. There might not be a more beautiful sight than that of a Freddy Sanchez double just inside the right field line.
- It must be May, because Jose Castillo looks like he wants to be on the field. He stayed with a rundown long enough for Cabrera to make a mistake in the 8th inning and he hit the ball hard towards center three times throughout the game. After his two-run double broke the game open in that 8th inning, Castillo uncharacteristically displayed his emotion. It seems like he wants to take advantage of this opportunity.
- Another 1-2-3 inning from Matt Capps. Ho hum.
- Another scoreless inning for Salomon Torres. Ho hum.
The Pirates and Marlins are currently tied 1-1 through five innings in game 2 of this series. (UPDATE 11:45 PM): Marlins win 9-3. How quickly the wheels can fall off.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Link via Mondesi's House
Sunday, May 13, 2007
The Pirates' offense played Jekyll and Hyde this weekend against the Braves. On Saturday they produced one run on seven hits, and Chuck James had a no-hitter going in the 7th inning. Today they banged out 18 hits while winning by a score of 13-2. Granted, this was not Glavine, Smoltz or Maddux. But the ability of the opposing pitcher has not been a factor in our offensive struggles of 2007. This was just a fun game to watch.
The Pirates seemed to be reaching base almost at will today, but do not discount the effect of the Braves defense. They played like it was a Sunday afternoon softball game. Only one error was officially credited and all 13 runs were earned, but they were throwing the ball all over the place. It was nice to benefit from some sloppy play by an opponent.
Ian Snell was lights out as usual. He finished with a line of 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K, and threw 73 of his 103 pitches for strikes. The win makes him 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA in 2007. Before the season, many people made the claim that this team had several back of the rotation type starters, but no clear-cut ace. That is no longer the case. Ian Snell is officially the ace of this staff. It makes articles such as this one seem so much more ridiculous. Maybe Jim Tracy took my advice and used this magazine to motivate Ian Snell. Maybe that is why he is pitching like he wants an All-Star appearance in July. (Note: The whole article is ridiculous, but I am speaking mostly of the last paragraph.)
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Last night's game showed us exactly what the Pirates are lacking. In an attempt to produce some offense, Jim Tracy started Xavier Nady in center, which allowed Ryan Doumit to play right. With two outs in the 6th inning, Chipper Jones drove a ball to deep center field. Nady made an excellent effort at a tough catch, but the ball popped out of his glove when he slammed into the wall. A catch there could have ended the inning. Instead, the Braves scored four runs and went on to win 4-1. Now I am not faulting Nady for being unable to make this play. As I stated before, this was a difficult catch. But when you compare it to the catch made by Andruw Jones earlier in the game, it is clear why the Pirates are 15-19 and the Braves are 23-12. This was just one example of a play that was not quite made by a Pirate. Over the course of a season (or 14 seasons), those plays add up to equal losing baseball.
Duffy probably makes this catch because of his superior speed. He could have been to the warning track just a split second earlier than Nady, which means he would not have needed to slam into the wall as hard while attempting a catch. But Duffy was on the bench, as the Pirates desperately looked for ways to produce some runs. His .299 OBP at the top of the order was not helping the team. So what do you do? Do you sacrifice offense for defense? Or do you force your best hitters into the lineup, regardless of the impact on the defense? It's a lose-lose situation for the Pirates right now.
By the way, the offense came back to earth after its "monstrous" six-run output on Thursday afternoon. Kyle Davies, who came into the game with an ERA over 6 and a WHIP of 1.69, held the Bucs to one run on seven hits over seven innings. I think I've heard this story before, the one where the struggling pitcher has an easy night against the Pirates' punchless lineup.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Jim Tracy apparently did some reading after Wednesday's game, trying to find some ideas on how to fix his offense. He discovered the novel idea entitled, "Bat Your Best Offensive Players at the Top of the Lineup So They Get the Most Plate Appearances." After staying up all night thinking about this concept, Tracy finally had his solution. He sent the following lineup card to the umpires: Sanchez, Bautista, Bay, Doumit, Nady, LaRoche, Paulino, Wilson, Maholm. And what happened? The Pirates offense "exploded" for six runs. Five batters in and the Bucs had a 3-0 lead over Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs. Paul Maholm threw well despite a late home run by Michael Barrett and the road trip concluded with a 6-4 victory. After getting beat up in Milwaukee over the weekend, the Pirates responded and took two of three from the red-hot Cubs.
Tonight the Pirates welcome Mike Gonzalez, Craig Wilson and the rest of the Atlanta Braves into town to start a ten-game homestand. Judging from the starting lineups, it seems Tracy was paying attention in Chicago.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
The Bucs lost 1-0 tonight, as they were completely shut down by Jason Marquis. It was the top of the 6th before the Pirates could muster so much as a baserunner. Marquis finished with a line of 9 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 5 K, and 0 BB. That is a pretty pathetic showing by the Pirates' offense. Another good start was wasted, as Tom Gorzelanny went 7 innings and allowed only 1 run. I don't think even the most extreme pessimist expected the Pirates to have this bad of a lineup 32 games into the season.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
This was a weird game, with all sorts of unusual happenings. I'm not sure I can even remember them all. I will attempt a somewhat chronological account of these events:
- Soriano held at third when he should have scored on a sacrifice fly in the 1st inning.
- The Cubs defense was terrible. Ramirez misplayed a double play ball, allowing the Pirates to score first in the 2nd inning. Routine pop-ups to shallow center were automatically an adventure, with one being dropped. More on that later.
- The umpiring was terrible, which was not surprising with Tony Randazzo behind the plate. You may remember him as the person who ruined the Pirates 2005 season. Sort of. Anyway, his strike zone was inconsistent all night. There was no better example than the top of the 9th inning. With one out, Nate McLouth walked on a very close 3-2 pitch that missed low.This was a pitch that could have gone either way. Ryan Doumit followed and took a 1-0 pitch for a strike. This pitch was identical to the one that McLouth walked on, except it was about 3-6 inches lower. Ridiculous. Randazzo also blew the call at the plate when Soriano scored the Cubs' first run. This one was a tough call, one that required a slow-motion replay before one could be sure. I will let it slide. But the call on Castillo at first base in the 12th was horrible. It should not have mattered, as Bautista should not have been tagged in the first place. But it still cost us what could have been the winning run. There were also some bad calls that went the Pirates' way, but I did not log them into my memory because I am a biased fan. (EDIT: I forgot that there was also the play at second that got Jim Tracy tossed. Another blown call.)
- Jack Wilson made one very fine play, nearly made two or three spectacular plays, and misplayed a couple routine grounders. It was a weird game for him defensively, as well as at the plate. He finished 0 for 6, but drove in the tying run in the 9th and the winning run in the 15th with sacrifice flies.
- More strange plays in that 15th inning. On Jose Bautista's bunt attempt, Lee hit Paulino in the head with his throw to second. When Paulino broke for third, Barrett's throw was deflected by Aramis Ramirez, who was charging for the bunt. This had to remind you of the Manny Ramirez cutoff play from a few years ago. It is amazing that the Pirates only scored four times in 15 innings with the way the Cubs' defense played.
It is always fun to win a marathon game like this. We can give this entire win to the bullpen (Fangraphs.com actually credits the bullpen with 135% of the win). The relievers were absolutely fantastic. But the Pirates' offensive woes continued. Ryan Doumit has stepped up. Some other guys need to as well. I enjoyed this quote from Freddy Sanchez:
That is the attitude that every player needs to take to the plate.
We're going to have to battle, and I think it all starts with me. I put a lot of responsibility on myself. I'm not getting on base enough. I'm not doing the things that I know I'm capable of doing.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
- Adam LaRoche was out of the lineup on Thursday, using that time to work with coaches and take extra batting practice. He was back on Friday, and lined the first pitch he saw right back into center field for a base hit. LaRoche made a slight change to his stance during his day off, opening up his front foot a bit more than it had been early in the season. The goal was to allow him to see the pitch better, as well as to keep him from opening his hips too quickly while swinging. Whatever he did, it seemed to work. LaRoche went just 1 for 3 in that first game, but ended up 5 for 11 with a double and two RBI's in the series. That might not sound all that extraordinary, but LaRoche no longer seems lost at the plate. Look for him to finally break out of his season-long slump.
- Ryan Doumit keeps on hitting. He now has a line of .441/.500/.765 with 5 doubles and 2 home runs in 34 at-bats since being recalled from AAA. He has been the bat that the Pirates have so desperately been seeking all season. Hopefully he will continue this production (or anything close to it) when the LaRoches, Bays, and Sanchezes start to come around.
- Freddy Sanchez was 5 for 17 in the series, giving him a .346 average through six games in May. Freddy's struggles in April can likely be attributed to his knee injury in spring training, as he was allowed a very limited number of plate appearances before being inserted into the every day lineup. He finally seems to be getting into a bit of a rhythm offensively, which the Pirates will desperately need if they are going to compete. He did not, however, have a strong series defensively.
I was desperate for some bright spots after this series. But I think we can be encouraged by the performances of some of the big "guns" in the Pirates' lineup. The Bucs are in Chicago tonight to begin a three-game set with the Cubs. We could really use a series win.
Friday, May 04, 2007
The Pirates' offense is bad.
That is all I have tonight.
UPDATE (05/05/2007, 8:20 AM): That is a final score and we are done with this very ugly game. I guess I shouldn't have said, "Maybe we'll get shut out tonight." My apologies. Let's get them tonight.
It was just another day in Piratesville. Brewers pitcher Dave Bush, entering the game with an ERA over 6, had limited the Pirates to zero runs on two hits through six innings. The Brewers led 2-0. Their first run scored when a chopper barely eluded a diving Pirate infielder. Their second scored on a wild pitch. As a bonus, the Bucs had wasted a lead off double in the 4th inning, as the 3-4-5 hitters were retired in order. Tom Gorzelanny had been sharp, but his offense was letting him down. We were well on our way to a typical Pirate game.
But something was different about this game. The Pirates defense had been superb, throwing out two Brewers at home thus far. This kept the game within reach, even for the anemic Pirate offense. If the hitters could only figure out Dave Bush...
Freddy Sanchez led off the 7th inning with a double. After seeing Jack Wilson left stranded after leading off the 4th with a two-bagger, Pirate fans kept all enthusiasm under control. Jason Bay followed with a pop fly to right, but it found an open area and Bay ended up at second with an RBI double. Two outs later, he was still standing there, as Jose Bautista came to the plate. The Pirates desperately needed something to jump-start their offense. With a 1-1 count, Bautista jumped on Bush's offering. It was gone as soon as it struck Bautista's bat. Kevin Mench was helpless in left field, and could only watch as the baseball sailed well over the fence. Suddenly, the Pirates had taken a 3-2 lead. Bautista's blast invigorated Ronny Paulino, who launched the second pitch he saw towards right-center. It also carried over the outfield wall, giving the Bucs a 4-2 lead. Gorzelanny and the bullpen made that score hold up through the 9th inning, and the Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers.
- The Pirates' defense was excellent in this game. They retired three Brewers on the bases, and Gorzelanny's play on Tony Gwynn's bunt attempt in the 7th was absolutely fantastic. The Bucs must play defense like this more consistently if they want to win in 2007.
- What the heck were the Brewers doing on the bases in this game?? Pulling the double steal with Bill Hall at the plate in the 3rd was ludicrous. I was totally shocked at the stupidity of that play. And the Dave Bush "sacrifice bunt/hit-and-run/let Graffanino wander around the bases" play in the 5th did not work well either.
- That was a huge home run by Bautista. It was the type of hit that could give the Pirates' offense some confidence and suddenly get them going. Or maybe we'll get shut out tonight. What do I know?
- Ryan Doumit is on fire. Literally.
- Hopefully the day out of the lineup gets Adam LaRoche on track.
- Well, Jim Tracy made a good decision when he kept Gorzelanny in the rotation coming out of spring training. That kid has been tremendous this season.
- Look at Matt Capps' 2007 stats. Here's a few for you to chew on: ERA is 0.59; OPS against is .392; WHIP is 0.717. And his own OPS+ is currently 435. He has been amazing.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
The Pirates were cruising along with a 5-2 lead in the 7th inning, and everything seemed fine as Tony Armas left the game after putting up a quality start. However, it took approximately 37 seconds for the Pirates' bullpen to turn that lead into a deficit. As rains swirled around the park, the Cubs' bats came alive, scoring four quick runs.
The game is starting back up. Find a radio and have a listen.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The Pirates defeated the Cubs 3-2 last night at PNC Park. Zach Duke settled down after a rocky start to throw 6.2 innings, allowing only 2 runs. Jason Bay provided the big blow with a tie-breaking homerun in the 8th, and Adam LaRoche and Ronny Paulino added RBI hits. Matt Capps and Jonah Bayliss pitched superbly in relief and Salomon Torres retired Derrek Lee to finish the game. The Pirates finished the month of April with a 12-12 record. My thoughts on this game:
- Jonah Bayliss has been excellent this season. He entered this game with the bases loaded in the top of the 7th, two outs, a 2-1 Cubs lead and Aramis Ramirez at the plate. Ramirez was 2 for 3 to that point, and the game was hanging in the balance. But Bayliss calmly induced a fly ball to left and the inning was over. Bayliss has now stranded every runner he has inherited this season. And of course, Capps had his usual easy 8th inning.
- After the Cubs scored their second run to take a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning, a man sitting a few seats from me screamed for the bullpen. I could only shake my head at such idiocy. It brought me great satisfaction to see Duke gather himself and hold the Cubs scoreless the rest of the way. Of course, this man had left his seat for good in the 4th. I hope he was far from the park when the final out of this win was recorded.
- As Jason Bay stepped to the plate in the 8th inning, a friend of mine with whom I was sitting remarked, "Jason Bay always bats cleanup, but there's never anybody on base for him." I started to agree with my friend, who is nine years old by the way, and explain that for some reason Jim Tracy does not believe in high on-base percentage players at the top of the lineup. I never got the words out though, as Bay deposited the next pitch into the first row of the right-center field seats. But it was still an excellent observation. (EDIT: This is not a knock on Wilson or Duffy, as each has done a decent job of reaching base this season. It is Tracy's philosophy that I am criticizing.)
- It was nice to see Bay hit a homerun to right field. He has good power that way, and should attempt to utilize it more. That might help cut down on some of the K's on outside breaking stuff.
- I did not have a perfect view from section 103, but Rich Hill's curveball must have been breaking about eight feet. Pirate left-handers did not have a chance when he threw it.