The Bleeding Has Stopped

Posted by @ 08.21.14

You know how in cartoons when someone would run off a cliff, but they wouldn’t fall until they looked down? The last couple of weeks have been like that for the Bucs.

Obviously, it’s bad news when the most apt analogy for the team I can come up with involves comparing them to Wile E. Coyote, who usually looks like this:

Pirates fans, all year

But there’s really no other way to illustrate it: the Bucs played fantastic baseball for a very long time–they held a 96-win pace for half the season. Bad teams do not do that. But they did it in improbable ways. They did it with smoke and mirrors and glue and duct tape and Vance Worley, but they were doing it. The underlying numbers suggested a good team, but those numbers were coming from improbable places. When your team is finding that many diamonds in the rough, it’s hard not to think a few are really cubic zirconia.

So when they inevitably started to fall, it was difficult to know whether or not it was bad luck (a lot of the games were close, and a few you could safely affix the word “blown” to), or just the roadrunners coming home to roost. We played .500 ball for a bit without half our lineup and our best pitcher, which is pretty remarkable. If you combine that with the losing streak, rather than partitioning the two, the cause-and-effect seems a little clearer. We just didn’t look down right away.

Of course, the players themselves are honor-bound not to blame injuries for poor performance. But outside of the kind of competitive bubble that seems to be necessary in dugouts and locker rooms, it’s pretty clear that they do, and that the Pirates have gotten several swift kicks in in the nethers from the ever-fickle Lady Luck. It’s a boring explanation, but it’s probably the right one.

But even after all this, our third order winning percentage is still better than the Cardinals’, and basically identical to the Brewers’. And we’re a couple of games out of a playoff spot with Cutch, Cole, Mercer and Walker back. Pirates fans are down because of sequencing: if we’d been gradually winning more than we lost since our 10-18 start, and being 3 games over .500 was our high water mark, we’d all be thrilled. But because we surged to 9 over and lost it all in one swoop, everybody’s roleplaying as 1929 investment bankers.

This remains a very good team when healthy, a moderately good team when moderately healthy, and a pretty bad team when, like, four of its best five players are missing. The following sentence describes pretty much every contender, by the way.

Most importantly, going forward we shouldn’t have to smash the In-case-of-emergency-break-glass-and-start-Brent-Morel display case too often. In an appropriate and fairly disgusting irony, the bleeding has stopped because we can finally get rid of the scabs.


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Braves, Timothy Carey Doppelganger Defeat Pirates, McCutchen

Posted by @ 08.20.14

The Pittsburgh Pirates – re-equipped with Handsome Andrew McCutchen, Jordy Mercer (The Pittsburgh Kid), Neil Walker (The Other Pittsburgh Kid), and even a guest appearance from Pedro Alvarez, the man without a position – squared off against the Atlanta Braves in the second game of what might be described as an important series of baseball games. As with the night before, the results were equally disastrous. Francisco Liriano, The Laggard, was victimized, greatly, by the ferocity of the Atlanta bats (as most left-handed persons are, apparently). Likewise, the offense could not muster enough offense against Aaron Harang, the once-Cincinatti ace turned journey-person.

I will not communicate anymore of the details from the game. Instead, I will point out that Harang bears what might be described as a sickly resemblance to the late Timothy Carey, a character actor who, perhaps most notably, appeared in a number of Stanley Kubrick films in the 1950′s.

Harang, Tim Carey

Indeed, Pittsburgh, the Ship is sinking and the Jolly Roger is ablaze. While it might be easy to blame poor roster construction or paper-thin depth at key positions, it should also be considered that the Pirates are being the victims of a conspiracy and were victimized by a reincarnation of the not-as-late-as-previously-thought Timothy Carey using the nom de baseball of Aaron Harang. Alternatively, it is possible that, not unlike Nicolas Cage, Carey/Harang is actually a Civil War-era Vampire. The proof, readers, lies in this totally professional ABC News dispatch that can be read here.


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McCutchen-less Pirates Win, Pick Up Game on Everybody

Posted by @ 08.12.14

In the second game of this two home, two away, four game set against the laggardly Detroit Tigers, the Pirates unveiled a new secret weapon – Jordy Mercer: Scourge of Southpaws, Baseball-Murderer, Three-Hole-Hitter.

While it is true that the aforementioned Mr. Mercer has been hitting quite well since the calendar turned to June (all the way back on June 1st), it is still quite a sight to see him batting in Andrew McCutchen’s spot in the order.

Still, the Pirates were able to strike early against Robbie Ray, The Asset, and Mr. Mercer did indeed contribute. After Edinson Volquez ceded a run in the top of the 1st, the Pirates struck for a pair via a triplet of double(t)s in the bottom of the 2nd. Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, and the now-intriguing Travis Snider struck the blows. A Harrison double, steal, and Mercer single gave the Pirates a 3rd run an inning later. With that, Easy E was able to cruise along through the 6th, going on adventures, solving mysteries, and finding love. The bat-less Alex Avila was less bat-less in the 4th when he homered, otherwise Volquez cruised, adventured, solved, and loved, as I said previously.

The bullpen provided relief and Ike Davis + Starling Marte provided a bit of insurance. The Jolly Roger was raised.

Checking the scoreboard, it is, of course, worth mentioning that the Reds, Cardinals, Braves, and Brewers were all felled tonight – giving the Pirates +1 game on all of them. As of this writing, the San Francisco Giants find themselves trailing Adam Dunn and the White Sox. A loss for the Giants would be likewise pleasing, so hope for that.


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Bucs Stand Pat at (Non-Waiver) Trade Deadline

Posted by @ 07.31.14

For the second straight season, it was an anti-climactic trade deadline for the Pirates with Jon Lester heading to Oakland and David Price heading to Detroit. Still, this should not be considered a disappointment for a number of reasons:

-Last season, the Pirates acquired Byrd and Morneau AFTER the July 31st deadline.

-Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, Alen Hanson, Jameson Taillon, Austin Meadows, Nick Kingham, and Reese McGuire are all still in the Pirate system.

-It is likely that the Cards will win the Central whether we have Price or not and the top wild card spot likely belongs to Atlanta. The two teams that the Pirates will be vying against for the 2nd WC – the Giants and Brewers – were largely inactive today, with the Brewers acquiring a modest defensive upgrade in the OF, Gerardo Parra.


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Pirates Have Sweep in Grasp, Throw It Away, LITERALLY

Posted by @ 07.31.14

This was a silly baseball game and I hated it. Hopefully these two stills properly encapsulate the late-inning comedy of errors that cost the Pirates the sweep in San Fran. I’d explain the situations, but you probably already know or don’t need the extra anxiety mid-workday.

TOOTBLAN
That colossal gaffe was brought to you by Kay Jewelers. Every kiss begins with Kay.

And then this hilarity to surrender the lead:

Stewart Throws It Away
The Bucs have gone 7-5 out of the break and won a series against the stupid, hapless, sinking Giants. Still, the sweep was a big deal. The Pirates head to Arizona to play four against Kevin Tower’s career’s suicide note. 


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Pirates, Liriano Follow Last Night’s Script, Defeat Hapless Giants

Posted by @ 07.30.14

Francisco Liriano and the offense used Monday’s template – get an early lead, dominate the opposing batters* – to defeat the Giants for the second straight night. Josh Harrison led off the game with a home run, his 8th of the season, and Travis Snider added a 2-run shot in the 2nd  to build an early 3-0 lead for Liriano. Francisco gave a run back to San Francisco via a Michael Morse barely-HR, but mowed them down the rest of the night. All told, Liriano struck out 11 Giants – 5 with his changeup and 6 via the slider. He struck out 4 lefties, all with his slider. Slider. Slider. Slider. His slider looked good last night and that’s very important.

Charlie Morton faces Tim Lincecum this afternoon with a sweep on the line. In the meantime, #LesterWatch is on.

*This is literally every team’s game plan every night


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Tim and Chris Hastily Make Trade Deadline Predictions

Posted by @ 07.29.14

With the MLB non-waiver trade deadline looming (4 pm ET, July 31st) and the Pirates in thick of contention again (2 GB in the Central, 0.5 GB for the 2nd wild card), it is very likely that the Pirates will, once again, be buyers at the deadline. With this, comes the two weeks that I’m constantly refreshing the page at MLB Trade Rumors. Anybody familiar with these sorts of sites knows that 95% of the content is speculation, predictions, or dead end trade talks that were leaked and very little of the “rumors” ever come to fruition. In fact, there is no shortage of baseball writers ready to make bold predictions regarding the (non-waiver) trade deadline; Chris and I are no different. So without further ado . . .

What is your boldest trade deadline prediction for the Pirates? 

Tim: The Pirates send a handful of prospects – including Josh Bell or Jameson Taillon plus some lower-ranked guys – to the Phils for a package of AJ Burnett, Marlon Byrd, and Jonathan Papelbon. Burnett is only a modest upgrade in the rotation and Byrd’s value would come primarily as insurance for Marte being injured/ineffective down the stretch. Papelbon fills the most obvious need here – right-handed relief. The caliber of prospects sent back would likely be determined by how much of the trio’s salaries were picked up by the Phils. This is a pretty goofy trade proposal.

Chris: As I was answering this, a rumor about Jon Lester and Josh Bell snuck onto the Interwebs. If something bold happens, I think it’d be that. The rumors have the whiff of truth–you can see why both teams would do it, and why it would sting. And it’s specific.

I’d still bet against it, but it wouldn’t shock me, and frankly, it wouldn’t upset me either. But the more I think about the state of the team, the more I think our needs are bigger elsewhere. Maybe I’m naive for trusting some combination of Locke/Worley/Volquez to fill two rotation spots, but I think they can, so I’d rather hang onto Bell and get help around the margins in the bullpen and on the bench.

What do you think the Pirates will actually do at the deadline?

Tim: The Pirates will most likely continue their tradition of making small one or two small splashes in the market rather than one gigantic cannonball. The most obvious move is to acquire a RH reliever and there are several to be had. Joaquin Benoit is the most obvious guy (maybe the Pirates could put together a package for him and Ian Kennedy), but there’s also a number of other good righties on bad teams – Dale Thayer, the probably unpalatable Chad Qualls Reunion Tour, Casey Fien, The Vic Black Reunion Tour, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Equine Adams, Brad Boxberger, and Shawn Tolleson. It’s unclear if they’re all available, but you’ll probably hear these names over the next few days. Otherwise, I think the Pirates will stand pat. The starters are too expensive and I don’t think the Pirates will find a cheap bat that would represent a real upgrade over what they already have.

Chris: I think the most likely outcome is what happened last year: we don’t do much, and maybe we grab a decent piece after the waiver deadline. And I think a reliever or a bench hitter/platoon guy is a lot more likely than a starter at this point.


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On the Shoulders of Giants, Bespectacled Worley Fells Enemies

Posted by @ 07.29.14

I started this post in the 5th inning of the game. The Pirates were staked to a 5-0 lead following a very successful top of the 1st inning. In the end and to my surprise, the real story tonight was Vance Worley, who pitched an absolute gem. He shut out the Giants on 4 hits, a walk, and struck out three and came within one pitch (one pitch!) of throwing a Maddux! Still, a complete game shutout of a team ahead of you in the standings ain’t bad.

In truth, this was kind of a boring game. Part of it was due to Worley’s dominance and the other part was because the Pirates battered Bumgarner in the first two innings. Hurdle stacked the lineup with the most fearsome lefty-killers that he had – Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Gaby Sanchez – and it worked. Eight Pirates came to the plate in the first inning and four runs scored. The first two outs recorded were by way of Sanchez and Polanco sac flies, but Walker and Martin each threw in RBI singles. Josh Harrison, for good measure, homered in the 2nd. Bumgarner was dismayed, utterly.

Bummedgarner

Madison Bummedgarner. Get it?!

Not much else happened, as it turns out. Following the top of the 2nd, there were only 5 more hits in the whole game. The only real drama arose in the 9th when Pence tripled with 2 outs, challenging the CG shutout bid. The mysterious 2-hole hitter, Joe Panik, grounded out to snuff out the threat, game.

Winning tonight and beating Bumgarner makes this series infinitely less daunting. Liriano, coming off of his best outing of 2014, faces Timothy Hudson.

The playoff race is coming down to seven teams vying for five playoff spots; the Pirates and Giants are two of those teams.


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Pirates Drop Series in Colorado

Posted by @ 07.28.14

The Pirates’ fourth game against the Colorado Rockies was not unlike their first three, at least in the early-going. With the Pirates falling behind early and nothing going against the not-very-good Brett Anderson, it appeared as if the offense would have to come late.

Not so. Charlie Morton and his electric stuff were TKO’d in the 7th inning. “Relief” came by way of the enigmatic Ernesto Frieri, who put out the fire with gasoline. The Pirates trailed 1-0 before the inning started and 8-0 when it was all over. A Jordy Mercer sac fly in the 9th was the only tally that the Pirates could record. In Colorado. Against a horrid pitching staff.

The Pirates were felled by the same score the following night, 8-1, in spite of facing an equally-inept Colorado starter, Tyler Matzek. Jeff Locke was battered for 6 runs and it could have been a lot worse. In just under seven innings, Locke surrendered 10 hits – including a double and three home runs – and three walks. Jeanmar Gomez showed up and made things worse, ceding a pair of runs over the final four outs. This time, it was Ike Davis who scored the lone run for the Pirates, homering in the 9th off of a mop-up reliever.

Facing the sweep, Josh Harrison put the team on his back and willed the Pirates to victory. Avenging the faltering bullpen and rotation, Harrison collected four hits – including a double and homer – and stole a pair of bases on one play by way of his now trademark run-down duplicity. Regard:

It is worth mentioning that Wilin Rosario, the catcher, is horrible. Still. Harrison stole 2nd, recovered from over-sliding only to find himself on 3rd base with nobody out, and scored the go-ahead run. The Rockies tied the game in the bottom of the 7th off of Tony Watson, The Adonis. It was all for naught, as the next Pirate batter, Josh Harrison, hit the first pitch of the 8th inning into the dumb foliage in right field off of the failed left-handed person, Rex Brothers.  Polanco followed-suit and made it 7-5, the winning score. Melancon pitched an uneventful bottom of the 9th that I will not bother to recount.

I don’t believe that the Pirates play up or down to particular opponents. That isn’t something that I think happens much in baseball. However, the six games that the Pirates played against the Colorado Rockies over the last 10 days provide an interesting counterpoint. Still, The Pirates took 4 of the 6 against Colorado and have won 6 of 9 coming out of the break.

Starting late tonight, the Pirates head to San Fran to face the flailing Giants. Worley, Liriano, and Morton will oppose Bumgarner, Hudson, and Lincecum. These games are important.


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Why Do the Pirates Strand So Many Baserunners?

Posted by @ 07.21.14

The Pirates strand a lot of baserunners, no? That’s certainly true according to the eye test – it’s something that is discussed following every loss and some of the wins – but what do the numbers say? TeamNumbers shows that the Pirates lead all of baseballs in stranded runners with 7.68 left on base per game.

Okay, so we’ve established that it’s true, but why is it true? One argument might be the erroneous notion that the Pirates aren’t clutch hitters and bat far worse with runners in scoring position. In all situations, the Pirates are triple-slashing .257/.333/.389; with runners in scoring position, the line is .250/.329/.391. So, it’s not that; they’re actually eerily close to being the same hitters with guys on base. Worth noting, the Pirates hit .251/.313/.381. If anything, you could argue that the Pirates are poorer hitters when nobody is on (or at least less interested in getting walked).

So that’s not it. Let’s go back to the triple-slash, this time with MLB ranks following each value: .257 (8th)/.333 (1st)/.389 (12th). OPS: .722 (10th)

You read that correctly, the Pirates lead all of baseball in on-base percentage and are in the top third in average and top half in slugging. The Pirate offense is quite effective this season, indisputably so. Therein lies the answer, though. The Pirates get the most guys on base in the league, but have a middling amount of power (12th in slugging). For most of the season, they’ve also had a bottom third of the order that has featured Jordy Mercer and his awful first two months of the year, Chris Stewart, Clint Barmes on some nights, and the pitcher. That Anti-Murderer’s Row hearkens back to 2012, when the Pirates had the Barmes/Barajas/pitcher black hole almost every day.

Given that the Pirates get a lot of guys on base, but don’t have a ton of power and have played a lot of the season with a horrible third of their order, then it’s not surprising that they strand a lot of guys. With Jordy Mercer turning the corner and Pedro inexplicably batting 7th, the Pirates should score more runs in the 2nd half. Probably.

Even if not, it is important to remember that stranded runners are often the symptom of a good offense, not a bad one. In case you’re wondering, the Padres have stranded the fewest runners per game (5.92/game) by far. They’re on pace to score 13 more runs than the 1968 White Sox, which will be good for the second fewest runs scored by a team in a season, all-time.


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