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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ollie to the DL

Oliver Perez pulled a Kevin Brown with his foot and a laundry cart in St. Louis, landing him on the 15-day DL with a broken toe. I know it's been a frustrating year for him, but that's the last thing he needs is to start breaking things. On the bright side, this gives us a chance to call up Nate Mclouth, and means that Ian Snell will probably get a chance to start.


Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Welcome Diversion

Here's a welcome diversion from the travesties in New York, Boston, and now St. Louis. This article about Dock Ellis is an EXCELLENT read and I highly recommend it for all Pirates and/or LSD fans out there. Enjoy


Saturday, June 18, 2005

At least there's still somebody in America with a sense of decency

Thank God... this was ridiculous and disgusting from the very beginning.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

As last night was a heartbreaker, the only way to write about it is with awful poetry. The game as a series of Haikus:

Sanchez is the man
A great return for Suppan
We got Gonzo, too.

What a great combination
Double play city.

Mark Redman pitched well
Too bad it won't count for him
Since we messed it up.

A-rod's a sissy
He plays like a little girl
Look out David Ross!

I'd like to point out:
A-rod earned in two at-bats
What we paid for Ross.

The streak's still going
We got our extra-base hits
From Jack and Jason.

Rick White still scares me
I wouldn't want to meet him
In a dark alley.

Jason found his swing
First time since Cincinnati
Worthless. Thanks Mesa.

Sheffield was not safe
Mesa didn't do his job
So long victory.

Why, Lloyd McClendon?
Mesa can't handle pressure
I know you know this.

Screw you, Giambi
I could hit a ball that far
If I were on 'roids.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Why I'm not scared of Kevin Brown

Wall-punching incidents aside, I can't be scared by somebody who's given up 2 HR's to freakin ICHIRO in only 10 ABs. I mean seriously, how many homers does this guy get a year, 7? 8? 10 with a better, but now banned suplement? He's slugging 1.000 against Brown. Ichiro isn't a slugging kind of guy. And yes, I'm sure you could make a case where a big superstar can't hit him at all, but that's not the kind of stat I'm looking for and it's not the kind of stat that I find as humorous. So there.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bob Smizik must have a mental condition

The man never ceases to amaze me. Unlike counterpart Ron Cook, who has managed to turn out a couple of decent articles lately, Smizik continues to flap his head like he knows what he's talking about. Today's issue for Smizik: Why are people worried about the trade deadline when we're winning games? .....He then goes on to write an entire article about our trade situations. Wait, Bob, I thought we WEREN'T supposed to focus on the trade deadline? It's funny, because your article makes no mention of our winning streak, which is allegedly what we WERE supposed to be thinking of. I'm confused.

But wait, there's more. Smizik talks in depth about how we shouldn't trade at the deadline but instead wait until the end of the season. While he may have a point in that some teams will be more likely to be in the market once the offseason hits, the rest of what he's trying to say is the biggest load of crap I've read in a while. His main point: There are no good players available at the deadline, so why try to trade for one? His examples of how there are no good players available? The Aramis Ramirez trade, the Benson trade, and the Suppan trade. Now I'll grant that Suppan wasn't exactly a star, but we did get Freddy Sanchez back for him and that seems to be working out fairly well right now.

Ramirez isn't a star? Ramirez, who's OPS is sitting near .900, who put up 36 HRs and 103 RBIs last year isn't a decent player to pick up mid-year? He's not exactly a superstar or anything, but I wouldn't hesitate to pick up somebody with his bat at the deadline. Also, we got Bobby Hill for him, and Hill has the potential to turn into a solid player if he could ever get some playing time. No, Hill isn't as good as Ramirez, and no, he'll never be a big star. But he's a decent pickup, especially for a team that needs guys who can get hits and get on base. As for the Benson trade, a lot of people were projecting for him to have a great year this year. Again, he's not a superstar, but he's a very solid contributor for teams that are in need of solid starting pitchers.

So what's your point, Bob? There's no talent available at the trade deadline? Maybe you meant to say that we're the source of all the available talent at the deadline? It's not the market's fault that we got players like Ty Wigginton and Matt Peterson, it's Dave Littlefield's. There's plenty of talent available, we just don't know how to go about acquiring it. Right now there's a few teams writing us thank-you notes for giving them gold for pyrite. So maybe the problem isn't the time of year, the problem is our awful front office, ever think about that?

I agree that we should just enjoy winning while we're winning. But what's wrong with looking down the road a bit? Whatever trades we make could significantly impact our season this season, next season, and 5 seasons from now. You can't just ignore trade rumors because we're winning. But at least you can be hypocritical and whine about people who talk about trades, then talk about trades yourself. Listen, Bob. Just because you can talk freely about whatever you please doesn't mean you should. Why don't you try thinking before you speak, or type as the case may be.


Monday, June 13, 2005

McCutcheon signs

The Pirates signed first round pick Andrew McCutcheon today. Story Here. Looks like the kid stuck true to his word that he wants to play and he wants to play now. Let's hope that those calling him the second coming of Marquis Grissom are correct (hey, he wasn't a superstar but he was a very solid player for a long time.)


Ron Cook turns in second consecutive article that isn't total crap

Ron Cook has a writeup today about yesterday's abomination of a game. I suppose it's fairly easy to write an article in which all you have to do is include some stats and some quotes about Lloyd being pissed off. Regardless, I expect far less from Cook than to be able to do that. Mostly this article was pointing out the reasons we lost yesterday, which were numerous. It included a few gems of quotes from Lloyd, such as:
"Quite a few things led to this loss," McClendon said. "I don't have time to go into them all now. That would take into tomorrow's off day."

I can't say that there's anything disturbingly wrong or idiotic in this article, which is probably a first for Cook.

This doesn't mean I like him, though.


Saturday night's game, as witnessed from 330 S 6

A game late, I know, especially given our disgusting loss yesterday. I'll save you the pain of reading a rant about every great moment of the game, because there were too many to write about without making a 20 page post. That said, here's some of what went on:

Oliver Perez was amazing. This is the second time I've seen him pitch since coming back from his hiatus at the beginning of May (the first was against the Rockies a month ago.) Needless to say, he was way better Saturday night than against the Rockies, and he was pretty good against the Rockies. He wasn't doing his praying mantis "I'm about to K your ass" move very much, which was nice because usually when he does it he ends up walking the guy or something. The one time he did do it, Eduardo Perez got kinda pissed off and said something to Cota about it. Ollie then blew one right past him for strike 3. For the record, the walk, last 2 hits, and only run that Ollie gave up all came in the 7th when nobody particularly cared, so I don't hold them against him. Did I mention that he struck out 10 guys?

Obviously the offense was really clicking. I (in addition to most everybody else) was a little nervous about facing Scott Kazmir, but as it turns out he's mortal like everybody else. Just about everybody was piling on, and Cota was the last guy to get a hit (on his fourth AB, which probably came somewhere around the 2nd inning.) With Zach keeping a scorecard, it was pretty easy to follow one ridiculously amazing statistic: We were one batter shy of batting around THREE DIFFERENT TIMES in this game (8 batters in the 1st, 11 in the 5th, and 10 in the 8th.) In the 5th and 6th innings combined, we had 19 batters step into the box. 9 of them scored. It was one of those games where every hit just made it more ridiculous than the last. Definitely something fun to watch.

In the 8th, we met up with Dana (of news-breaking fame from WHYGAVS) and I got to hear the story of how she met Jack Wilson and Daryle Ward in the parking lot after Friday night's game. I was hoping that she possessed some sort of Pirates magnetic force that would bring them back again, but sadly such was not the case. Nice going Dana.

Regardless, it was a fun time. We managed to get in 3 hours of tailgating before the rains came, and the thunderstorm hit just as we entered the stadium. It was entirely too hot, and it was so humid you couldn't across the river very well. Got to see our Bucco's score the most runs they've scored since 1992. Got to see Perez pitch another beauty, and I got to see Doumit play which was nice.

For the record: Sanchez' 2-out RBI in the 5th was his 10th on the year. All 10 have come with two outs.

For what it's worth: Mackowiak hit fairly well against the lefties, and with Sunday's first AB he met the AB qualification for NL AVG. leaders. He's currently 2nd.

Worth mentioning again: Perez didn't walk anybody until the 7th, when it wasn't worth trying to throw strikes.

Also noteworthy: He (Ollie) was hitting 96 on the gun, which didn't seem to be dialed up a few MPH for once.

On the offensive side: Jose Castillo went 3-5 with 5 RBI (including a 3 run HR) after batting .147 over the first 10 days of June.

Back to defense: We turned 3 double plays, and going into Sunday's game we had 12 over our last 5 games. Looks like the defense is back in Pittsburgh.


Friday, June 10, 2005

ESPN Power Rankings

In the lastest power rankings on ESPN.com, we've managed to do something we probably haven't done in years: break into the teens.

That's right, we've ended our slump of being laughed at, in the bottom third of the league. Their comment on us from two weeks ago? "23. Pittsburgh Pirates: General manager Dave Littlefield is "very satisfied" with Lloyd McClendon as manager. Really. He wasn't kidding."

How'd we fair last week, you ask? More Sarcasm: "21. Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates rolled off six straight games from May 18-24, but finished the month losing six of their last seven. At least they had a winning streak."

But this week, we hit number 19. While our review wasn't raving with praise, it was certainly not sarcastic/demeaning: "19. Pittsburgh Pirates: On their current homestand, the Bucs are coming off consecutive series victories against the Marlins, Braves and Orioles. Next up: Tampa Bay."

Power rankings were brought up elsewhere earlier this week, the main focus of the discussion being media-biased rankings of the middle-of-the-pack teams. I'm inclined to agree; teams like the Yankees and Red Sux will eternally be placed ahead of the Pirates until the Pirates are winning games in the playoffs those other teams aren't in. However, we were ranked somewhere around 28 at the beginning of the year (I tried to find the old rankings, but they only archived back to week 6, when we were 23rd) so it's nice to see them giving us some legit upward mobility in the rankings. That said, I still agree with the sentiment that ESPN sucks.


Ron Cook discusses Daryle Ward

For once, I can say that Ron Cook wrote an article that doesn't totally suck. This one's about Daryle Ward and his contributions to the team this year. I will say that it's a bit cheeky, but overall it's not a bad piece of writing. It wasn't an extremely lengthy article, so there's not much sense in summarizing what you could read in 10 extra seconds, but I will highlight two paragraphs that I liked to read:

It helps that Ward is a top-shelf guy. He has been better in the clubhouse than even Virdon predicted. And get this: Ward wanted to stay with the Pirates after last season. How often, in the past quarter century or so, has anyone wanted to be here?
"If a guy like Mesa was willing to stay ..." Ward said.
"We felt good about the Pirates. We both believed we could make a difference on this ball team."

"I grew up with money my whole life," said Ward, the son of Gary Ward, who played 12 seasons in the big leagues. "It's not like I have to be the highest-paid guy on the team."

I almost hate to say it, but this makes me like Ward even more. He knows he could go get a lot more money from another team if he keeps his numbers where they are, but it seems like he wants to stick around. Which is admirable.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Yes, there ARE Pirates fans (and other assorted comments)

It was brought to my attention by Pat from Where Have You Gone Van Slyke that I never made a post discussing my experiences on Saturday night's game (the Redman/Davies beauty of a pitchers duel). As such, allow me to tell you a story.

It was in the low 60's and raining when I left Johnstown. Knowing I'd later regret it, but being to lazy/stubborn to care, I put on jeans anyway. Needless to say, it was an absolutely gorgeous day in Pittsburgh, upper 70's and bright, very hot sun. Between the weather and the fact that it was Craig Wilson bobblehead doll night, I knew we'd get a good number of people. When we first arrived at the stadium, I was disappointed by the crowd - sure were a lot of empty seats. We enjoyed a lovely view of the city from row X of section 330, the first time I've ever sat down the 3rd base line (I had enjoyed my previous games from everywhere else - first base line, behind home, in the outfield, in the bleachers, etc, but never 3rd.) They announced the starting lineups, and of course I was nervous, expecting a typical "so what if these guys are playing well, let's throw them on the bench" lineup from Lloyd. He came through, however, putting out a lineup that's among the better ones he's put out this year. On to the game.

Kyle Davies is a pitching machine, especially against a team that can't seem to score runners once they're on base. Mark Redman, of course, is pitching an absolute gem. He hasn't struck out many (3 in 8 IP) but he's also only walked one. The crowd isn't exactly on their feet at every out, but they're pretty into it. The nearby sections are starting our own cheers and chants, and it seems to be spreading. At one point, we do one of the popular PNC cheers, and then they play that same one over the broadcast system. Coincidence? Maybe, but it kept everybody pretty happy. We squander a few chances to score some runs, but the way Redman's pitching we know that we just need one or two good hits and we'll be golden. Then we get into the 8th inning. Davies has been slowing a bit. He walks Lawton, the crowd cheers loudly. He walks Bay, the crowd goes nuts. He's replaced by John Foster. Foster walks Mackowiak, the crowd is on their feet. They know what's going on, and they know how good of an opportunity this is. And, for once, they actually feel like we can take advantage of it. There was no "well, at least we got the bases loaded" feeling, it was nothing but hope, which has been missing for a long time in Pittsburgh. Ward comes up to the plate. Ward, who at any time can take a ball out of the park. We had just seen a Mackowiak grand slam a few nights before, would Daryle hit one? The crowd grows so loud that I can't even hear myself think. The last time I remember hearing a crowd like this was at a concert, and before that was the Pitt/VT game 2 years ago. Daryle swings and....grounds into a double play. Noise level down a few thousand levels. We're still not losing, we're still in the game and can win it in the next inning instead. Then there was the fielding mishap that eventually scored a run for the Braves. In the bottom of the ninth, with us down one, the crowd was still hopeful, but it was more pleading than cheering. Quick out, quick out, quick out, ballgame. One of the best I've ever seen, probably the best I've ever been to in terms of quality of play, though certainly not in terms of outcome.

The point, you ask? Baseball is back in Pittsburgh. That game had roughly 34,000 fans, and they were legitimately expecting a win. A win against the Braves, the best team in the NL East that has given us fits over the last dozen years. This wasn't a crowd that was disappointed that their team was bad, we were disappointed that we didn't play as well as we should have. Things are looking up, way up. Watching the game on TV last night, I could hear that same energy in the stands.

On to a few other notes:
1) Matt Lawton has gotten on base 14 times in his last 4 games. Slump? What slump? Now if only he could quit screwing up on the basepaths and in the field, I might even like the guy.
2) Welcome, Ryan Doumit. I'm not sure how we're going to handle having 3 catchers or how we're going to get this kid playing time, but he has a lot of promise and I'm excited to see what he can do.
3) Watching Jack Wilson play baseball is the most fun I can have right now. I mentioned this in the comments section of WHYGAVS and others seem to agree. The guy plays with such heart and emotion that it's almost impossible to not like him. After he hit that homer last night, he was like a little-leaguer who just won the game running around the bases. He was jumping up and down and smiling and yelling and cheering and carrying on. He really loves baseball, playing baseball, and making other people enjoy watching baseball. You can tell that he's playing to play, not for the money, and I hope he never goes anywhere. There were some nasty trade rumors about him early in the year. If this team trades Jack away, our owners, GM, manager, and all other members of the front office will be run out of town so fast it's not even funny.
4) As mentioned in the comments section of Honest Wagner, Daryle Ward has been destroying the ball lately. Unfortunately, he's always about 2 feet short of a homer. He's lined at least 4 balls off the wall in the last few days, most of which ended up being 320' singles. There's got to be somebody who keeps track of distance the ball travels per number of bases accumulated, and Daryle's gotta have one of the funniest ratios. Regardless, last night we all knew it was time for him to get that extra lift, and he sure did - 420 feet of pure, game-tying goodness.
5) Dave Williams needs his chops back. Ollie grew his and he's doing better, Dave got rid of his and he's doing worse. I don't see this as a coincidence, I see this as karma telling Dave to not get rid of his chops. In fact, I think Kip would look pretty mean with a set, as would Fogg and Redman.
6) Speaking of hair, was anybody else at the game Saturday? During one of the inning breaks, they took one of the Craig bobblehead dolls and put a fake beard on it, then put it up on the scoreboard. Only the highest of comedy. However, I was greatly disappointed with the Pierogi race, as the Parrot merely waved them on. No drop kicks or flying elbows or anything...where's the fun in that?!

I need to start making these things shorter.


Monday, June 06, 2005

The stat of the week in Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, which allegedly focuses on football, makes me feel good. Too bad he had to be a dick and say "lowly Pittsburgh Pirates." This is the same guy who predicated Jake Plummer for MVP and was amazed at Vince Carter's "miraculous" midseason turnaround, completely missing the fact that Carter dogged it in Toronto to force a trade then started actually trying once he was on a team he liked. So as the stat of the week shows, the Yankees suck. Unfortunately Peter King had to go and be a dick about it.

Luckily he redeems himself with his "10 Things I think" section. Even a bandwagon-jumping Red Sux fan can realize that PNC is the best place on earth.


A few comments on our lineup

After seeing what kind of issues we're having at the plate over the weekend, I've decided it's time to discuss our lineup. For the record, this discussion will have no talk about Ryan Doumit for several reasons, which include but are not limited to: I have no idea what kind of hitter he is other than to look at his on-paper numbers; I have no idea where Lloyd will be playing him; I could do another post on him.

Item number one: Matt Lawton. After a bit of a May slump (as discussed briefly here) he seems to be back on track a bit. His BA dropped as low as .246, but is now back up to .267 after two solid games against the Braves. It's impressive that he has 25 RBI, given that he hasn't had people on base when he's come to the plate in something like 200 years. Might only have been 6 ABs, but we're not going to have him getting any RBI to increase his trade value - er, value to the team, if he comes up alone every time. Regardless, he's finally getting back into the swing of things (bad pun, I know.) Except on the base paths. He makes a little leaguer look like a genius when it comes to "paying attention" and "trying" when he's on base. He also sucks in the field...looking at what Arthur Rhodes has done this year, maybe it wasn't the best move to make on our part, but he's still getting the job done I suppose.

Item number two: The #2 slot in our order. Looks like it's been filled by Freddy Sanchez. I was happy about that at first, but then I looked at his numbers: .150/.171/.225/.396. Yes, that's right, an OBP of .396. I love this guy, his defense has been spectacular and he's provided a big spark to our team with his energy. But he's not hitting the ball right now. Here's an interesting fact though: all 9 of his RBI have come with 2 outs. So he's a good guy to have up at the end of innings, but not really the beginning of the order. A possible solution: how about Jose Castillo? He hits better with the bases empty than with somebody on (all numbers are higher in all catagories except OBP with bases loaded, in which its .391-.400, which is minimal.) That would also free up a spot closer to the bottom of the order, where Sanchez generally does much better. Sanchez's best numbers have come out of the 8 spot (.545/.615/.909/1.524) but his numbers from the 6 aren't bad either (.444/.500/.889/1.389). Given that Jack has been doing well in the 8, maybe we should put Sanchez into the 6.

Item number three: The aforementioned Jack Wilson hitting in the 8 spot. It's working out fantastically. While he's been struggling to hit anything from the other spots, his numbers from 8th: .367/.406/.550/.956. He's walked more than he's struck out from this spot (4 BB/2 K) and he's scored 70% as many runs in the 8th spot as he did from the 2nd spot, only he's done that in fewer than half as many ABs (126/60.) Having him 8th also gets a speedy guy on base so that we're less likely to ground into a DP (last night doesn't count, everybody thought that ball was going to drop.)

Item number four: The middle of our lineup needs to be shuffled. Saturday night was a killer watching Ward strand a few hundred guys on base because he bounced one right into the dirt. If Davies walked Ward to face Mackowiak, who is almost a guarantee to not GIDP, we have a much better chance to score at least one run and possibly win the game. PNC Park was going absolutely NUTS during that rally, and then Ward killed it and the crowd went dead for the rest of the game. That's not to say that Mack wouldn't have gotten out anyway, but the chances to at least keep the rally alive would have been better. I'd propose the middle of the order to be something like 4-Ward, 5-Mackowiak, 6-Sanchez. Especially given Sanchez's propensity to thrive with two outs.

Taking this all into account, here's what I'd like to see on the field every night:
Lawton, RF
Castillo, 2B
Bay, LF
Ward, 1B
Mackowiak, CF
Sanchez, 3B
Cota, C
Wilson, SS

Things are looking bright in Pittsburgh. The fans actually care about baseball again, which is something I haven't seen in years. Our attendance is up nicely, and not without good reason: this team is fun to watch. Our pitching has dominated two of the best teams in the NL, as well as just about everybody else of late. We're scoring some runs, although we're still stranding too many baserunners. But we're winning. If we can pull off a .500 run through the rest of the month, we'll have a good shot at making .500 for the all-star break.

My predictions for our upcoming series:
2-1 over the Orioles
2-1 over the Devil Rays
2-1 over the Yankees
1-2 against the Red Sox

Not because I think the Red Sox are that good, but I just feel like we're going to get real tired by the end of this run. We've been playing extremely good baseball against extremely good opposition and we've been winning, so there's no reason to expect us to really slow down anytime soon.


Saturday, June 04, 2005

Bob Smizik abuses his right to free speech...again

Bob Smizik. He's nowhere bad as Ron Cook's worthless drivel, but he has occasionally put out a real stinker of an article. Today's story, however, wasn't 100% bad. Not exactly cutting-edge reporting, as a majority of it is stuff we all already know: The Pirates are playing well, we're hovering dangerously close to .500, the Braves are a good team, etc. He also lists his concerns, which include the obvious problems of Mesa not pitching well and Lawton not hitting nearly as well as he was earlier in the season (.311 in April, down to .246 now while in the midst of a .217 streak.)

Then he gets to his point that our offense (or lack thereof) is putting too much pressure on the pitchers. I wouldn't say that lately. In April, yes, absolutely. In April our offense was so inept that I was wondering when they were going to start calling for public tryouts for somebody who could hit. Lately though, we've been much better. Over our last 15 games, we've averaged 5 runs. In our first 15 games, we managed only 2.87 RPG. Not coincidentally, we were 4-11 in those first 15 games and 8-7 in our most recent 15. These aren't amazing numbers or anything, but I'd say our offense has been keeping us in games of late. Especially given that some of those games have come against very good pitching (Prior, Hudson, the Marlins (Leiter notwithstanding, he sucks), and the Cardinals' staff who dominates us despite not being top-tier pitchers.)

In fact, the Pirates were 6th in the NL in runs scored in May. Given that we actually lead the league in slugging, homers, and total bases, as well as second in OPS. I know we should have been higher than 6th in runs in light of this information, but our offense has not been the problem of late. In fact, if anything I'd say our usually stellar defense has been more to blame for some recent losses than anything. Our pitching has been fine, as mentioned by Gene Collier in an article yesterday. It's not that our pitching has HAD to be this good, it's highly likely that they ARE this good. It's not like they're up there throwing CG's every night and mowing down every batter they face, they're just pitching well and keeping us in games. Last time I checked, that was a pitchers' job - to keep the other team from scoring.


Friday, June 03, 2005

Notes on Tim Hudson

Having pitched his entire career in Oakland, Hudson has never faced a large number of the Pirates. The only current Pirate with any significant number of ABs against him is Matt Lawton, due to his time with Cleveland in the AL. In his career, Lawton is 9-32 (.281) with 2 doubles, 4 walks, and 7 strikeouts. It all equates to an OPS of .687, which is nothing spectacular but its just one guy and a fairly limited sample size, so it's hard to tell what that means other than that he's not totally awful against the guy. Mackowiak is 3-5 with 2 doubles and a walk, giving him an OPS of 1.167. He should play tonight, especially since Hudson is a righty. Yeah, I know, limited sample size and all that other junk, I just like Mackowiak and think he should play.

Hudson is in no way having a bad year, at 6-3 with an ERA of 3.00. That said, his numbers are all down slightly from his career averages. His walks, WHIP, and opp. BA are all higher than in the past, his K's are down. The key to beating him is to get to him early, as his early innings are typically his worst. The later into a game he pitches, the better he generally becomes. We'll need to have a solid top of the order tonight to get some pressure on him. Especially with Kip taking the mound, and even moreso because of his poor outing in his last start against the Reds. If we can build an early lead and let Kip get on cruise control, it'll make everyone breathe a little bit easier.


That said, I do have some thoughts....

I was halfway through typing out a rant in the comments section of Rowdy's blog when I decided that I should just make my own here. You know, since this technically is where I'm supposed to do such things.

Lloyd has been impressive of late, in terms of not totally ruining games for us. The lineups he had on the field at the beginning of the week were fantastic. I always get a little nervous when they go around the lineup, just waiting for them to include such curse words as "Tike Redman," "Ty Wigginton," and "Michael Restovich." All of these players are capable of having a good game, but they're more capable of ruining an otherwise perfectly fine lineup. These last few lineups (last night notwithstanding, as it unfathomably included all three of the aforementioned curses) have been lineups I was happy with, almost proud of. I thought, "Now THIS is a lineup we can win with." And what do you know, we did.

But then Lloyd decided that we're not allowed to have "winning streaks" and "series sweeps" and the like. He decided that no matter how bad Ty Wigginton is, Rob Mackowiak should sit on the bench because he doesn't hit as well against lefties as he does against righties. You'll note that he still hits better against lefties than Ty does against anybody, but that's another story for another day. Inexplicably, however, with Sanchez at third and Wigginton at first, Lloyd decides that Tike Redman is the solution to our mostly solid defense lately. Can't have error-free games now, can we? Of course Tike has to go and have a productive game, including a stand-up triple. This does nothing but solidify Lloyd's idea that he's a suitable platoon man with Mackowiak in center. An idea that frequently benches the man who was statistically the best hitter in the league in the month of May.

I'll admit, when we signed Restovich I was a little hesitant but I felt good about it. We were picking up a guy with proven power numbers, and with Craig on the DL, power was definitely something we needed. I figured he could surely prove wrong the 3 teams that had already cut him this year by showing up and crushing the ball into the river a few times. Needless to say, the only thing he's crushed up to this point is a rally, grounding into double plays several times. Last night he killed a major rally by popping up on the first pitch after Willis was showing signs of serious control issues (walked 2 in a row, including walking in a run.) But "fie on your 'patience,'" said Restovich. "I'd rather just get it over with now." (Note: that may or may not be an actual quote.)

*Out with the bad, in with the good*

Welcome back, Jack Wilson. Well, other than that error last night...does anybody know if that was his fault of Wigginton's? I'd guess Wigginton, but Jack has made an errant throw or two of late. However, the big picture is Jack's BA rising so far above the Mendoza line (now at .234) that I'm not even afraid he'll drop under it again. After batting only .163 in April, Jack responded with a .260 May. My only real concern with his game is the amount of walks he's drawing. Through his 192 ABs, he's walked only 9 times. Granted, pitchers aren't exactly pitching around him. Especially when he bats second and has Bay right behind him. However, as the guy who's allegedly our #2 hitter, he should be finding other ways to get on base than just getting hits. Did I mention that Jack's been playing pretty solid defense lately? His spirit and energy have been rivaled only by Freddy Sanchez's of late, and that's been a big boost to this team.

Welcome back, Soloman Torres (scroll down a bit.) After having some neck/back problems at the beginning of the year that limited his innings, Torres came back Wednesday night to pitch three strong innings. This team has a number of solid relievers, but Torres has been one of our better multi-inning relievers lately, so I'm glad to see him come back good and strong. The last thing I want to do is trust Brian Meadows to pitch 2 innings in a close game...yikes.

Congratulations, you made it the whole way to the end.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

Craig Wilson's Pending Return

So finally a bit of sanity comes to the Pirates. As Dejan mentions, Freddy Sanchez has become the everyday third basemen. In addition to removing the useless Wigginton, it now moves the team's hottest hitter, Mackowiak, into center to replace the equally useless Tike Redman. Spectacular. Sanchez's potential was long-known and many of us wondered why Lloyd was so loath to play Sanchez and Hill. Part of the problem is that Lloyd has always favored players who had the same style he did--tough, scrappy players. Sadly, these are not the most successful players. Ty "Full Contact" Wigginton won over McClendon with his propensity for running over catchers really for no apparent reason. For Freddy and Bobby to crack the lineup, they had to prove that they were equally scrappy and tough. After Sanchez got nine stiches in his hand by trying to save a game despite a shard of bat flying at him as well, he suddenly becomes the starter. Has Sanchez done anything differently than he has all season as of late? No. Has Wigginton's performance dropped. No, in fact he's collected many garbage-time homers. It took such an injury to Sanchez to finally catch Lloyds eye and enter the starting lineup. Lets hope Tike doesn't run into any catchers otherwise he may continue to suck at-bats away from Mack in center.

Assuming Wigginton and Tike stay on the bench where they belong (or better, the waiver wire) the Pirates will have a nice problem when Craig Wilson gets back. Who sits? Does Craig push Bay to center and Mack to 3B and Freddy to the bench? Does Daryle get the bench or some goofy platoon with Craig? Honestly, I don't see this problem coming to fruition. Craig won't be even swinging a bat for weeks. He'll still need a minor league rehab stint. By the time he comes back, it could be mid-July, which is, of course, right before the trading deadline. I would not be surprised if Craig's return coincides with the trade of our most expendable and marketable piece--Matt Lawton. Craig could slide into right with Bay in left and Mack in center and Restovich as the 4th outfielder. Lawton is making around $7.75 million this year, however some of that is covered by the Indians. After this year Lawton is a free agent, so the Pirates will surely ship him off to the highest bidder, likely for nothing more than an AAA or AA prospect. Lawton has been a solid player for us this season (if a bit clueless on the basepaths and in the outfield), but he is nothing that a revitalized, non-slumping Craig Wilson can't cover.

Other possible trade prospects include Jose Mesa who has a $4.5million option for next season that the Pirates can buy out for considerably less. He'll likely be shipped for anything the Pirates can get. Holding him until the end of the season would not be awful either, because his contract is fairly low. The club should only trade him if the return is anything meaningful. Its a given he won't be back next year, so I don't see any problem with dealing him for whatever A or AA spare part we can find and then using the rest of the season to groom Gonzo as closer. If he won't be around next year, why not pick up whatever we can get at the deadline rather than nothing at the end of the year.

One person who I can almost guarantee won't be traded is Mark Redman. He's still under contract for next year at the same $4.5million that he's making this year. This is, realistically, a bargain for a veteran who has proven to be a solid, anchor-type pitcher. Next year the Pirates will have Kip and Fogg entering their second arbitration years, making them expendable if the trade could net a solid bat for the middle of the lineup. Although next year will see Duke, Snell, (possibly) Gorzellany and Bullington ready for the rotation as well as the returns of Burnett and VanB (who may never be the same again after labrum surgery) competition will be high for rotation spots. Torres will be in his second year of arbitration and Meadows in his third, making the return of one, if not both, unlikely. With Ollie, Redman, and DWilliams virtually guaranteed to return, the glut of pitching arriving next year likely spells the end for Torres and/or Meadows as a non-tender as well as one of Wells or Fogg in a trade. Such a trade could even occur this year at the deadline with Duke and Snell both having superb AAA seasons thus far.

Lawton and Wells for a solid hitter like a Victor Diaz, David Wright, etc? I see something like this happening.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Individual accolades for our Buccos

Just figured I'd take some time out from the normal griping to give credit where credit is due.

Freddy Sanchez: Best. kept. secret. from. Lloyd. ever. How he didn't see what everybody else saw months ago (or even last year, for those who watched carefully(this doesn't really include myself, I'll admit)) is beyond me, but he's playing him now. And Sanchez is making sure everybody knows it, with his passion and energy unmatched by anybody else on a baseball field right now. With his gutsy defense, clutch hitting, and being a big motivator in the dugout, you'd think he was a seasoned veteran or a big star. I can't credit him alone for our wins lately, but I feel like he's been a big help.

Jason Bay: I know, he's always been good. But as recently as last week, I was griping about his performance dropping off. He's picked it back up over the last 10 games, getting at least one hit in 8 of them. His average had dropped to .277, but now is back up to .292. Thanks in part to 3 walks on Monday night, his OBP is up to .368, its highest point in almost 2 weeks. His OPS is .927, which is 12th in the NL and 6th among #3 hitters. He's on pace to hit 36 HRs this year, which would be mighty fine by me.

Daryle Ward: Also has a hit in 8 of his last 10 games, including one in each of his last 5. Last night's homer was huge. Not just because it won the game, but also because of its importance to the team and the morale of the team and the fans. I won't bore you with a rant on our need to win close games, but we've won two consecutive 1-run games, both at home. Both of those are the types of games in which we've struggled of late, and Ward smacking the come-from-behind game-winner was a big lift.

Rob Mackowiak: Guy is awesome. Hits a lot. Screws up minimally. Has been discussed in great detail in just about all of the links over there <--- so I'll leave it at this: the guy needs to play. A lot.

Lloyd McClendon: Yes, I know what you're thinking. I like him personally, dislike him as a manager, but lately he's made a few good decisions. One of them is playing Sanchez a lot. Another is playing Mackowiak a lot. Even more than that, he's NOT been playing Tike "ground into DP" Redman and Ty "haha you got screwed in that trade" Wigginton. Other than those two games against Cincy where he decided that Ty should try first base when he doesn't even have his own first base glove, he's done some OK thinking lately.

Pirates fans: Have been going to games. And enjoying them. Yes, some of them are rather aloof when it comes to knowing whats going on and not doing the wave. But if the stands are full, it'll just push this team to try even harder. And with a team where one or two hits per game changes the outcome drastically, that extra push might be the difference between 23-27 and 27-23. Let's keep it coming, give them something (and someone) to play for.

Oliver Perez: Yeah, he's given up a lot of homers since his return. 5, to be exact, in 16.1 innings. But that's ALL he's given up. He's struck out 22 in those 16.1 innings. Last night he showed outstanding command of his location, at least relative to the strike zone. He didn't always hit his exact spot, but he didn't walk a single batter and threw 60 of his 85 pitches for strikes. He also managed to throw only 85 pitches in 6 innings, so he was efficient enough that he could have gone a little deeper had we needed/wanted him to.

Yeah, I'm excited about this team right now. We have a rough schedule coming up, but as we've shown in the last few days, we're able to rise to the occasion when need be. I just hope that we can keep up this level of excitement. I can't help but to smile when I watch the video of Jack scoring Monday night's winning run then chasing Sanchez down to give him a big hug. Good times in Pittsburgh.