Bucs Get to Hamels: Pirates 9, Rangers 1

05.28.16 Posted by

Maybe I should be surprised that the Pirates scored five runs off of Cole Hamels, but I’m not.

This looked like a weirdly low-scoring affair for the first half of the game, with the Pirates up 1-0 (a Starling Marte homer) through four. Then, the Pirates exploded for five in the fifth, all with no outs: a walk, a throwing error, two singles, and then a three-run opposite field homer for Kang. McCutchen added a solo shot an inning later, and Polanco hit a two-run homer in the 9th.

The talk early this year was about how many runs the Pirates were scoring without the help of the long ball. Turns out, that’s not really a thing: they’re 9th in the NL in homers now, which is just below league average.

More exciting, however, is Jon Niese putting together his third strong outing in a row, and his second against a solid lineup: Colorado was 4th in the NL in runs scored, and Texas was 3rd in the AL. He only struck out two, but he also walked just one, and he got 10 ground ball outs. He gave up a long solo homer to Adrian Beltre (he’s had a knack for giving up bombs this year, for whatever reason), but that was it. Obviously, the offense is what drives this team, but it’s winning games at the rate it is because that offense has been paired with decent-to-good starts from Niese and Locke.

The Bucs have won 10 of 12 and are at almost exactly the same win pace as last year.

Filed under: Cutch, game recaps, Jonathan Niese, Jung Ho Kang

Both Better and Worse: Braves 3, Pirates 1

05.19.16 Posted by

In yesterday’s preview I said this:

So what I’d like to see tonight is not just a win, but a certain kind of win: the kind of win a decent pitching staff should still be able to muster against baseball’s worst offense.

We got the kind of game I wanted, but not the outcome: the Pirates did curtail the <sarcasm>offensive juggernaut</sarcasm> that is the Atlanta Braves, but didn’t score much themselves. Francisco Liriano gave up two runs in seven innings (though the seven hits are higher than you’d have hoped/expected), and Caminero gave up another, and the Bucs didn’t score until the 9th, when Kang hit a solo shot.

Give the game ball to Julio Teherán, who shut down the Pirate offense for seven innings. He only struck out three, but he walked none. He’s the one Braves pitcher you don’t have to feel too bad about getting beat by.

Kang’s HR, by the way, was his fifth in 10 games (and just 32 official PAs). He’s slugging .813. And though he’s hitting .281, his BABIP in the early going is a paltry .182. He’s still taking off every third game, but the way he’s hitting, it might not be long until it’s every fourth, or every fifth.

Filed under: Francisco Liriano, game recaps, Jung Ho Kang

Gerrit. Cole. (Pirates 2, Cubs 1)

05.16.16 Posted by

The first half of yesterday’s game, on the offensive side, was a worst-case scenario come to life. The Pirates had faced the Cubs five times, and here were their run totals: 2, 1, 2, 4, 2. And through six and a third innings, Jon Lester hadn’t given up a single hit to a team that has more per game than anyone else in the league that doesn’t play in impossibly thin air.

Armed with only this knowledge, you’d have expected to look at the other half of the box score and see, I dunno, Miguel Montero with a three-run homer and Kris Bryant with an RBI double and the Cubs with a comfortable, larger-than-necessary lead. Instead, you saw zeroes. One after another. Zeroes on both sides, like bulging eyes that couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

And then, their eye blinked first.

One of the more frustrating things that can happen to a pitcher on your team (your fantasy team, in particular) is when they lose it all in an inning: there goes the perfect game…and then the no-hitter…and then the shutout…and then the game itself. Lester didn’t run the full gamut, but he hit a couple of those marks. Starling Marte broke up the no-hit bid with a single, stole second, and then was doubled home by Jung Ho Kang. Kang came up in the top of the 9th and hit a solo shot off of Hector Rondon (the first he’s allowed this year).

The Pirates filed a claim on that insurance run immediately by pinch hitting for Cole, installing Mark Melancon on the mound, and then sweating out a tumultuous ninth where the Cubs came within a hit of tying the game. Cole was under 100 pitches, and the majority of Pirate fans on Twitter (that I follow, at least) favored keeping him in, and I did, too. I’m not sure how much I believe in momentum or morale (at this level of skill, at least), but if either exist at all, and maybe even if your players think they do, you have to leave him in. You’re down nine games and you’ve lost five straight to this team. You’re playing to change the game as much as win it. You’re playing for moral victories, not actual ones. And leaving him in may have been playing for the actual one, anyway.

Let me be clear: Cole wasn’t dancing through the rain drops or working his way out of jams. He gave up three hits and zero walks in eight innings. He struck out seven. I assumed he put up his highest Game Score of the year (and probably a good chunk of last year), but when I checked, I found this was the highest Game Score of his entire career. And it came against what might be the best baseball team in a generation.

After the game, Cole ruffled a few feathers (wait, crap, Cubs don’t have feathers. I wonder if chasing the Cardinals got me overly comfortable with that clichĂ©…) by saying the Cubs were not the best team in baseball. As far as I know, professional athletes are constantly insisting nobody’s better than them no matter how obviously wrong they may be, so this really shouldn’t shock anyone, though it led to at least one defensive, salty editorial trying to rebuff with logic and numbers a statement that was clearly based in something else entirely. Read that link and marvel at how ridiculously fast the Cubs have gone from lovable underdogs to the Yankees of the Senior Circuit, by the way.

If this recap weren’t already getting long, I’d probably wax poetic about Kang for a couple hundred words, because he and Cole won this game almost entirely by themselves. I think we were all ready to grant him a few weeks of flailing at the plate given a) the severity of the injury, b) the huge amounts of time off it led to, and c) his slow start last year. Instead, he’s picked up exactly where he left off, and it was particularly satisfying to see him knock the crap out of the ball against the same team that took him out and then joked about it (were there any catty Chicago Tribune editorials about that?). There are few things that would please me more than the ghost of Jung Ho’s leg haunting the Cubs for the next few years.

This was a big game from a big pitcher. It was, if there are such things, a statement game. That statement probably isn’t “we can win the Central.” But maybe it’s “we’re not going to be your whipping boy all year.” And maybe it’s not even that. We won’t find out for another month. But it’s a start; the best start of Gerrit Cole’s young, impressive career.

Filed under: game recaps, Gerrit Cole, Jung Ho Kang

Heated: Pirates 5, Reds 4

05.12.16 Posted by

I’m not going to talk too much about the silly bean ball war stuff (six batters were hit in this game, though maybe half that many were hit intentionally), except to point out that it led to me updating two counters on this site: Starling Marte’s HBP counter (he was hit on the hands, which is always terrifying), and Clint Hurdle’s Ejection counter, which was at zero until now. It was kind of nice to hear Brown and Wehner on the radio talking about containing this stuff, and the virtue of getting it over with, not trying to hit someone in the hands or head, et cetera. That may not sound like much, but announcers and former players tend to be highly sympathetic to the Protect Our Guys stuff, so hearing them talk about how to police this stuff in a way that doesn’t take over games was a step in the right direction.

On to, ya’ know, the actual game: the Bucs hit four home runs, but all of them were solo shots. After a homerless hit barrage to open the season, they’ve flashed some significant power lately (especially with Kang back; he homered again last night). It’s just a weird sequencing quirk, unfortunately, that a team that gets on base this often is somehow hitting so many solo shots. All in all, I’ll take it.

The other three home runners (that’s a phrase, right?) were Cutch, Freese, and Harrison(!). The fifth run came in the top of the 9th when Kang reached on an infield single, advanced to second when the throw to first went out of play, was sacrificed to third, and then singled home (on a well-placed popup, it must be said) by Jordy Mercer. And that was that.

The Bucs trailed this game 1-0, 3-1, and 4-2 at various points, but scored a run each in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. They were decent against Simon and kept chipping away at the bullpen, and the power surge offset the fact that they had just six hits.

Nicasio, meanwhile, is about what we’ve come to expect from him: six innings, four runs. When the bullpen is good (and it was very good last night), that’ll do just fine.

There’ll be no series winner, as yesterday’s rain out is going to be made up at some later today, so the Bucs split two with Cincy. They’re 18-15, get a day off today, and get another crack at the Cubs (who lost both games of a double-header yesterday!) tomorrow.

Filed under: game recaps, Josh Harrison, Juan Nicasio, Jung Ho Kang

Pirates at Cardinals: Cole for the Series Win

05.08.16 Posted by

Cole vs. Wacha, 2:15 PM

Two out of three against any team is a good outcome, even a bad one. And though the Cards probably aren’t National League powerhouses this year, they’re still a pretty good team. Their run differential suggests they might actually still be a very good one. So a win today, despite yesterday’s game being winnable, will do just fine.

I’ll stop short of saying Gerrit Cole is the guy you most want on the mound in any given game (at the moment I’m inclined to give the nod to Liriano), but he had three good starts in a row before Chicago kicked him around a bit, and any start against the Cubs should probably come with an asterisk in the game log. The main thing about Cole isn’t that he’s looked bad, but that he’s rarely looked great. One of the nice things about Cole is that he manages to put up decent numbers even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, but I’d like to see another start where we has his best stuff, and uses it well. Hopefully, a game against the Cardinals (but not against a Cardinals team we need to beat) is the right mix of “get Gerrit Cole pumped” without veering over the edge into “get Gerrit Cole too pumped to throw the ball correctly.”

Cole goes up against Michael Wacha. Wacha’s ERA looks a little lower, but all his underlying numbers are virtually identical to last season. He remains Pretty Good, so methinks this game largely turns on which Cole we get.

No lineup card yet, but after playing two games, I would expect Kang to take a breather.

First pitch is at 2:15 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Gerrit Cole, Jung Ho Kang

Right Where He Left Off: Pirates 4, Cards 2

05.07.16 Posted by

Like the rest of Pirate Nation, I was giddy with excitement at Kang’s return. It made me smile to see him back out at third base, and I eagerly awaited his first at bat. He swung at the first pitch (hey, it’s been eight months) and grounded into a double play. Obviously, one at bat means nothing, but it also reminded me of how many times he looked overmatched in his first at bat last year, only to come back and rip a double or home run the next time up. Kang doesn’t mean flailing at a bad pitch or looking bad in a given at bat; it always seems to lead to an adjustment. It’s almost as if he thinks of the games as the discrete events, and not each at-bat.

Whatever the rationale, the pendulum swung hard halfway through the game. After grounding into that double play, he popped up with the bases loaded. Combined, they were basically the two worst things he could have done in his first two at-bats. They were followed by him doing the two best things you can possibly do: first, a two-run opposite-field homer, and then a ridiculous upper deck shot on what looked like a half swing on an inside pitch. The kind of thing you can only do if you’re impossibly strong. The important part of all this is that Kang had three RBIs in a game the Pirates won by two runs. One game back, one WAR.

This tremendous return is the only thing that stopped me from leading with Francisco Liriano, who had his second strong start in a row. He shut the Cards out for six innings, before slowing and giving up two runs in the 7th. He finished with 10 Ks, his second time this season hitting double digits, both times against St. Louis. I’m happy to see him dominate anyone, but dominating a decent team we’re going to play another dozen-plus times is particularly encouraging. If the Cards’ lineup can’t figure out Liriano after two tries, that bodes well for those remaining games.

Just as importantly, Liriano followed up the zero walks he issued last start with just two in this one. And he was unusually efficient, needing just 98 pitches to get through those seven innings.

Liriano looks like himself. Jared Hughes is back. And Jung Ho has picked up right where he left off, and is in the middle of what’s probably the best Pirate lineup in a generation. Intellectually, I know this probably isn’t enough to flip the dynamic in the NL Central this year, but his return does make it just a little bit more likely. If something special happens, he’s probably going to be a big part of it.

Filed under: everybody freak out, Francisco Liriano, game recaps, Jung Ho Kang

Kang Returns Tonight

05.06.16 Posted by

Filed under: Jung Ho Kang, Terrible Photoshops

Pirates Lose Kang, Third in a Row

09.18.15 Posted by

Had to skip a day or two recently, so I’ll just lump all the terrible news into one post: the Pirates hung in there with Jake Arietta and forced extra innings, then lost anyway because they burned through the bench, the bullpen, and Joe Blanton, trying to win the game in regulation. Then they lost a slugfest yesterday in which Jung Ho Kang was injured. He will not only be out for the rest of the season, but there’s a chance he’ll miss the start of next season, too. It hurts our (increasingly minuscule) changes of taking the Central, it hurts our chances of winning the Wild Card game, and it hurts our chances of advancing to the LCS if we win the Wild Card game. And for Kang, I’m sure it just plain hurts.

Almost as depressing as all that is that we won’t really get to see what Kang can do with a full, post-cultural-and-baseball-adjustment season, which is something I was really looking forward to. He’ll probably still be quite valuable next year, but this is a guy who looked like he might hit 30 homers given a full season and a lot more practice/preparation. Now, we won’t find out until 2017, where he’ll be 30. This is quite a blow.

And just like that, the Cards are five games up again. It’s annoyingly difficult to rule the division out since we still have three games against them in a couple of weeks, but we’re already at the point where we almost definitely need a sweep, and that’s assuming we make up a game before the series starts.

This team has a lot of depth, and it still has a lot of potential. But it has a lot less of both than it did yesterday.

Filed under: game recaps, Jung Ho Kang

Pirates 5, Reds 4; Cardinals 4, Cubs 3

09.10.15 Posted by

This game was annoying even before it started. Not because of anything the Pirates or Reds did, or would do. But simply because the Cubs, on the verge of sweeping St. Louis, trotted out two mediocre relievers in the 8th inning, and they promptly gave up three runs, flipping a 3-1 lead and a likely win into 4-3 deficit and an eventual loss.

To make matters worse, they sent the likes of Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson to bat in the 9th, with Kris Bryant on the bench, even though any baserunner would’ve brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate. What’s more, they were starting a player in center field who who literally could not throw the ball. But somehow it all worked out, because it’s the Cardinals. The loss would’ve been the Cards’ fourth in a row, which has only happened once this year. And silliness like this is why it’s only happened once this year.

So instead of playing for a chance to pull within 3.5 games again (which is just about the point where I’d start to let myself believe the division is in reach again), they had to play to stay 4.5 games back. They did manage that much, however, thanks to another fantastic start from J.A. Happ, and a grand slam from the aforepictured Jung-Ho Kang. It was one of those games where everyone you’ve been pleasantly surprised by continued to pleasantly surprise you.

That’s all well and good, but time is running awfully low, and the math isn’t great: the Cardinals only have to go 12-11 to win 100 games. If they do, the Bucs have to go 17-7 to match them. You’d bet against either of these things happening if given straight odds, so the odds of both happening are pretty low. And they seem even lower when you consider that the Cardinals have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, while the Bucs are slated to face a slew of top starting pitchers down the stretch.

The tiny glimmer of hope here is that the Cardinals’ offense looks anemic, and their starting pitcher—which has been outperforming peripherals and common sense all season&mash;is finally showing a few signs of regression, and there’s reason to believe it’s here to stay, given the workload a couple of their young arms have (no pun intended) shouldered. It would surprise me zero if they stumbled down the stretch, but even stumbling might be enough to go 13-10, and even if they do, the Pirates would have to keep playing at a very high level.

Filed under: game recaps, J.A. Happ, Jung Ho Kang

Pirates 7, Reds 3; Cubs 8, Cardinals 5

09.09.15 Posted by

Pretty much every time I say I’m giving up (psychologically) on the division, the Pirates and Cardinals conspire to immediately make me eat my words.

Last night, the Pirates unloaded on the Reds, scoring seven runs and hitting two homers, each impressive in their own way. The first was a 3-run bomb from Cutch that gave the Bucs a 5-0 lead and pretty much instantly put the game on cruise control. The other was a solo shot from Jung-Ho Kang in the 8th that didn’t matter much, but was absolutely destroyed. In fact, it was the 19th-farthest ball hit this year, and the farthest by any Pirate.

Francisco Liriano was dominant, striking out 10 over six shutout innings. This is a nice start for him, because he’d been below-average for the last month or so, and it’s particularly good that he only walked one batter. Coupled with Cole’s gem against St. Louis, J.A. Happ’s performance, and Burnett’s return tomorrow, and it appears plausible the Pirates may have survived the worst of the rotation issues.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals lost their second straight game to the Cubs (both at home!), their third straight overall, and five of their last six (the Jaime Garcia start about the Pirates being the only win in that stretch). Their NL Central lead is down to 4.5 games. If that’s under 4.0 by the time the Pirates play them in PNC Park at the end of the month…

Filed under: Cutch, Francisco Liriano, game recaps, Jung Ho Kang