Tapped Out: Cubs 10, Pirates 5

06.20.16 Posted by

The Cubs have swept the Pirates. The Pirates are three games under .500. Their schedule from now until the All-Star Break is still difficult. It’s going to take another strong second half merely to get back to that infuriating Wild Card game.

I’ve been writing recaps and previews of virtually every game (with a couple post facto or smashed together over travel concerns and random softball scheduling stuff), but at this point, there’s very little to say about this team on a game-to-game basis. The problems are clear. The Pirates have obvious strengths and obvious weaknesses, and they’re quite obviously somewhere from “Above Average” to “Good,” and they’re not going to get beyond that range until those obvious weaknesses are dealt with.

For now, we can enjoy the development of Gregory Polanco and hope Jameson Taillon figures things out quickly. Beyond that, the Bucs have to survive this stretch, play better in the second half, and hope to win that one game that has eluded them the last two seasons. And at that point, anything can happen. Hopefully the Pirate team that has to confront those challenges will be better than the one we have today.

Filed under: game recaps, Jameson Taillon

Pirates at Cubs: Taillon For the Save

06.19.16 Posted by

Taillon vs. Hendricks, 8:05 PM

I doubt I’m alone in saying this game, in and of itself, has little meaning for me. We can’t beat the Cubs, the division deficit is massive, and at this point we’re playing for another Wild Card game. The Wild Card game started the year (and last year, for that matter) as the frustrating fallback to our failure to win a division, and suddenly it’s something we have to aspire to again.

What today’s game does do, though, is give us a little look at what things might be like next year. At this point it seems fairly likely Jameson Taillon will stick in the majors, at least for a bit. And it’s easy to envision a 2017 where Cole and Taillon start tag-teaming opponents the way Arietta and Lester have this year. Throw in a little normal pitching regression, another year of maturity for Gregory Polanco, and it should be a different story. But that’s next year. This year, and today, we’re reduced to simply caring about how this young pitcher does, because we’ve already reached an unfortunate point in the season where the development of individual players (especially this one) matters more than the outcome of the game. It is a familiar feeling for any long-time Pirate fan.

Taillon draws Kyle Hendricks, the black sheep of the Cub rotation which his bloated 3.05 ERA. Like every Cubs starter he’s outpitching his peripherals. It’d be nice to get those numbers back in line, and for Taillon to do to the Cubs what Cole did to them the last time we finished a three-game set.

First pitch is at 8:15 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Jameson Taillon

The Start of Something Great: Pirates 4, Mets 0

06.15.16 Posted by

Okay, so it wasn’t Jameson Taillon’s first start. And it came against a struggling Mets offense. But it’s hard not to look at last night’s dominant performance (six no-hit innings, and just two hits in eight shutout innings) and think about the future. Pirates fans are already pretty forward-looking, not just because they had 20 years of practice, but because everything about this season suggests it’s an uphill climb for the team. But as frustrating as 2016 has been, that’s how bright things look in 2017, and Taillon is a big part of that.

Part of me actually dislikes this particular forward-looking feeling, because it’s pretty much the only thing that kept me watching the team for many years. In the middle of that epic losing streak, as often as not my eyes would scan the box score for individual players’ lines, barely noticing the score. Why bother? The score didn’t matter. The development of individual players did. It’s bittersweet to be back in that habit, though at least now it’s the exception, rather than the rule.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long, productive career for Taillon. And, short-term, hopefully it’s the start of a nice hot streak, though given the quality of our upcoming opponents, that’s a pretty tall order.

All four Pirate runs came via the homer (a two-run laser from Kang, and a two-run bomb from Marte, and I’m just now noticing how many slang home run terms are just references to weapons).

As I mentioned the other day, Taillon’s start would’ve been more exciting if it were alongside Cole in the rotation, rather than replacing him, but if he throws well enough that they don’t really lose much for the time he’s gone, that’s still a pretty good recovery from what might have been the single worst player the Pirates could have lost to injury, given their rotation struggles.

Filed under: game recaps, Jameson Taillon

Pirates at Mets: Back Into the Gauntlet

06.14.16 Posted by

TBD vs. deGrom, 7:10 PM

Yesterday, the Pirates finally got a day off. It’ll be their last day off, barring a postponement, over the next 16 days. That isn’t too bad, except that a) the Pirates are pretty banged up and b) their opponents over that time period (and beyond) are pretty brutal.

Regarding point a), we still don’t know how hurt Gerrit Cole is, and thus, we still don’t have a starter announced for tonight’s game. Rumblings are it could be Taillon, and while that’s sort of exciting, the excitement of seeing Taillon this year was at least partially based in the idea that he’d replace Locke or Nicasio. If he’s replacing Gerrit Cole, that’s somewhat less exciting.

Whoever throws, they go up against Jacob deGrom. deGrom’s topline numbers are ace-esque, but his peripherals suggest he’s been Good But Not Great. We faced him in the last Mets’ series and scored three runs in six innings, though he racked up nine strikeouts, didn’t walk anyone, and didn’t allow a home run.

It’s been hard judging this team’s potential all year, and it’s even harder now with Cervelli out and Cole possibly following him shortly on the DL. If that happens, the Pirate offense is going to have to hit a new level to keep the ship afloat.

First pitch is at 7:10 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Jameson Taillon

Taillon Solid, Bullpen Not: Mets 6, Pirates 5

06.09.16 Posted by

I’ve been saying for awhile that whether Jameson Taillon was particularly good or not, whoever he ended up taking starts from probably wouldn’t have been any better. Taillon’s major league debut was a fine example of that: he threw the minimum required for a Quality Start: six innings, three earned runs. He only struck out three, and he walked two, allowing six hits (one a home run). It was perfectly average, but given how common it is to struggle when adjusting to the highest level, that’s a pretty encouraging beginning.

Also encouraging is that the Pirates fared reasonably well against Syndergaard, scoring three runs (two earned) in six innings, and feeling like they could’ve gotten more: they banged out seven hits and drew two walks against him in those innings, and only struck out five times.

But the Bucs blew leads of 2-0, 3-2, and 5-3 (in the 8th inning, no less). In all, four relievers threw four innings, allowing three runs, and that’s why they lost in 10 innings. Yesterday’s doubleheader came back to bite them, with Feliz presumably unavailable in the aforementioned 8th (or only available in desperate circumstances) after throwing an inning in each of yesterday’s games. The only reliever not to allow a run, Watson, struck out the side.

Offensively, it was a good game: of the 10 Pirate hits, six of them were doubles, and three of those were from Gregory Polanco. Polanco leads the league in doubles, and at this point I think the thing most likely to stop him from continuing to do so is the possibility that they start landing on the other side of the fence more often. One of last night’s doubles came shortly after a towering fly ball down the right field line that was just foul, but if fair (and if it hadn’t hit a sign) would’ve end up waterlogged.

What more can you say? When you ask players on this kind of run what they attribute it to, they love to say something like “I’m seeing the ball real good right now,” which is ballplayer for “I’m straight up murdering the baseball and then tracking down its family while its still in the air.”

Yesterday’s twin wins eases the frustration with this loss, but otherwise it’s a pretty bad one: three different leads blown, and its pretty easy to chalk this up as a loss that wouldn’t have happened if the Bucs were playing a relatively normal schedule. But they aren’t, so here we are. Still, a very good series win against a good Mets team. The Bucs played well enough to win all three, and get credit for two. This is the kind of skill they’ll need to show throughout June to come out of the other side still vying for a playoff spot, and it’s the kind of skill they hadn’t shown much in the handful of games beforehand. It’s a good start.

Filed under: game recaps, Gregory Polanco, Jameson Taillon

Pirates vs. Mets: Taillon Debuts

06.08.16 Posted by

Taillon vs. Syndergaard, 7:05 PM

It was three years and three days ago that Gerrit Cole made his major league debut. I was lucky enough to be at that game, and that morning I collected a bunch of comments from around the Internet about the man. At the time, I said this:

What’s particularly exciting about this is that Cole isn’t being asked to play the role of Bucco savior, the way Andrew McCutchen was when he came up. Cole’s joining a team that’s already ostensibly contending and might just be a piece or two away from being genuinely dangerous. He could be that piece.

The same is true of Taillon: he’s not being asked to save the team from futility, or even mediocrity. It’s already a pretty good team. He’s just being asked to round it out. Granted, he’s joining a much shakier pitching staff than Cole was, but that only means he doesn’t need to do nearly as much to contribute.

Taillon has missed two years with injury, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his numbers: his K rate in AAA is still just about a batter per inning, and his walk rate is microscopic: 0.88 per nine innings. That’s really good. To my mind, pinpoint control is to starters what base running and defense are to young outfielders: it’s the kind of thing that should translate pretty well, and should make them marginally useful even if little else is working. We saw this with Polanco last year, where even his so-so offensive production was enough to produce a 2.5 WAR. Similarly, if Taillon can throw strikes, the odds that he’s at least useful as a starter, even if not dominant, are probably pretty high.

The Bucs are moderate underdogs tonight, though, in large part because Taillon’s first mound opponent is a formidable one: Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard does it all: he strikes out a ton of guys and induces a lot of ground balls, and he’s not really walking anyone, either. He misses bats and pitches to contact effectively. He doesn’t have a single bad start this year, and he’s only given up three runs once (in 6.2 innings). If you were wondering why the Mets are good after seeing their lineup during yesterday’s doubleheader, this is why: they have some really, really good pitchers.

The odds say Taillon will be a moderately useful guy. Maybe a strong #3 starter for years to come. That’d be a fine outcome. But there’s a chance he’s another Gerrit Cole. There’s a chance this is the beginning of a one-two punch that goes on to lead the Pirates to the promised land. The talent is there, and now, that talent is married to opportunity.

That opportunity starts tonight, at 7:05 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Jameson Taillon