Those Who Fail to Learn From History Are Doomed to Repeat It

Should the Pirates make a trade before the trade deadline to bolster their chances of winning the Division.  Proponents against making a trade argue that the Pirates shouldn’t mortgage the future for a fleeting chance at playoffs this year.  Proponents for making a trade argue that we should strike while the iron is hot.  This opportunity may not come again for another, oh shall we say, 19 years.

It is my contention that the Pirates should trade, but not to improve their chances this year.  Rather, I believe the Pirates should attempt to trade to get additional prospects to bolster their minor league system.  Call me a spoil sport.  Call me Crazy.  Blind fold  me and stand me up in front of the angry mob that will surely come to lynch Neil Huntington if he attempts to trade away pieces of this team.

I do not come by this opinion easily.  Like most, I am thoroughly enjoying this year’s addition of the Pirates.  But I am a realist.  And this team is not pennant bound.  Even if we should win the Division, can we really expect to beat the Phillies in the playoffs?

I believe a little history is in order as well.  The last time the Pirates were a supposed buyer was 1997.  The 1997 Pirates had the lowest payroll in baseball, and yet found themselves in a pennant race with the Houston Astros in 1997.  Like the current addition of the Pirates, the 1997 Pirates were offensively challenged.  No one on that team hit over 18 homers.  It was their starting pitching that carried them.  The starting rotation was Jason Schmidt, John Lieber, Estaban Loaiza, Francisco Cordova and Steve Cook. 

At the All Star break the Pirates were in first place despite being .500 at the break.  But in late July, as the trade deadline approached, the Pirates made no moves.  On July 17th they were tied for first, but would embark on a 13 game road trip.  They finished the road trip 5 wins and 8 losses.  However, the Astros got hot during this same stretch and opened up a 6 game lead in the standings.

The only move the Pirates would make in 1997 would be to acquire Shawn Dunston off of waivers on August 31.  The Division and a possible winning record was lost in September when the Pirates finished 11 wins and 14 losses in September.

In analyzing the season, could more have been done via trades to enhance the Pirates chances of winning.  Possibly.  But looking back on it now, we can take a look at the then Pirates minor league system and see that the Pirates minor leagues were devoid of any real talent. 

Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane shall we and fondly recall the minor league prospects the Pirates had in 1997 that would supposedly turn the franchise’s fortunes around.  Note that I am only going to name the players who would actually reach and/or sniff the major leagues.

At AAA Calgary, the Pirates had the following prospects:  Jermaine Allensworth, Jimmy Anderson, Doug Boever, Adrian Brown, Wes Chamberlin, Lou Collier, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Granger, Chris Peters, Ramon Morel, Chance Sanford, Jose Silva, Clint Sodowski, Ron Wright and Turner Ward.

At AA Carolina the Pirates had Kris Benson, Jason Christianson, Chad Hermanson and Abraham Nunez.

At Class A Lynchburg the Pirates had Mark Farris, Aramis Ramirez, Tike Redman, Craig Wilson and Bronson Arroyo.

Of this group, arguably only Ramirez and Arroyo would become competent major leaguers.  Turner Ward got called up to Pittsburgh in 1997 and made a significant contribution, batting .353.  But he was near the end of his career, and was not someone you would classify as a “prospect.”

Clearly, in 1997 the Pirates were in need of an infusion of talent in their minor leagues.  But rather than trade, they stood pat.  And by doing so, they solved nothing.  They didn’t get a bat that could put them over the top in the Central Division.  And while they didn’t “mortgage their future” by making a trade, clearly their future with that prospect poll they had in the minors was last place for several years to come.

Today, we are hearing wonderful things about the Pirates minor league system.  On paper, it appears to be in better shape now than it was in 1997.  But most of the Pirates minor league talent is ptiching.  What is missing at every level are impact bats.  The System is devoid of any legitimate sure fire power hitters.  Oh, there are some power hitters in our system, but none can be labeled as sure things to make the majors.

As I write this post, the Pirates have not made a move, just like 1997.  In 1997 standing pat was a mistake.  If history is any indicater, standing pat again in 2011 will be a mistake too.

And for those who argue that the Pirates should make a move, I point also to that 1997 year and say don’t be too anxious.  In 1997 the Seattle Mariners were in need of relief pitching.  So they shipped minor leaguers Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to the Boston RedSox for Heathcliffe Slocomb.  The Mariners and Slocomb  made the playoffs in 1997 but were ousted by the Indians.   And Lowe and Varitek became instrumental in the RedSox championships to come.

So to the Pirates I say go ahead and trade.  But let’s keep the eye on the prize.  Trade for prospects.  Power hitting prospects. Power pitching prospects.  The goal remains to have a pipeline of talent in the minors to feed the major league team.  Real talent though.  Not like 1997.  The minor league system is vastly improved, but it still is a far cry from being the Pipeline of talent that is needed.   Standing pat this year will not get us those impact bats we so despartely need.

 

Reallignment/DH Solved

In between innings of Tuesday night’s game, a fan was selected to play a Pittsburgh Pirate/baseball oriented version of the Family Feud.  You know, the game show where contestants are asked to guess the most popular answers to survey questions.  Two of the survey questions asked of the contestant were as follows: 

#1.  What is the Number one reason to hate Cleveland?

#2.  Who are the Pirates biggest rivals?

The most popular answer to survey question number one, of course, was “The Browns.”  The number 1 response to question number 2 was “The Brewers.”  The former answer was not the least surprising given the intense football rivalry shared between the Steelers and the Browns.  The latter answer, The Brewers, was more surprising, as when you think of great rivalries in sports, the Brewers/Pirates do not exactly come to mind.  In fact, I would venture to say that if Milwaukee fans were asked to name the Brewers greatest rivals, the answer would not be the Pirates.

But it got me to thinking about the latest news from Major League Baseball that there are discussions going on about realigning the American and National Leagues.  And as I thought of those survey questions, it got me to thinking that, under the current alignment, there are really only a few good rivalries in baseball, as opposed to the NFL where almost every division has very intense rivalries. 

And it got me to thinking that if baseball is going to reallign, they should do so in such a way that not only will  the good rivalries that they already  have continue, but new and equally intense rivalries be created.

And then it hit me.  There is already a blue print for MLB to follow in reallignment.  It’s called the NFL.  MLB should simply come as close as possible to mimicking the NFL divisions.  In other words, the rivalries on the gridiron don’t have to end when football season is over.  Instead, they can begin anew when the baseball season begins.

Since the NFL has 32 teams and Major League Baseball has 30 teams, I would propose that Major League Baseball expand into two new cities.  That way, there can be an even split between leagues, with 16 teams in each League.  Major League Baseball should then use the expansion as a bargaining chip in doing away once and for all with the DH.  The argument goes something like this.  In exchange for the League adding two new teams, which will create 50 new roster spots for the players union, the Union will agree to allow baseball to eliminate the DH forever.  50 new roster spots for the Union.  The DH currently creates only 14 American League roster spots.  Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me for the Union.

So for arguments sake, let’s just say that the two new expansion teams will reside in Charlotte, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee.  And for the sake of what follows, teams will have to put away any allegiances they have to the American League and or National League.  We’re going to reallign here for the good of the game.  So here’s how it would look.

American League East will mirror the AFC East and look like this:

New York Yankees

Boston RedSox

Toronto Blue Jays

Florida (Miami) Marlins

The American League North will mirror the NFC North and look like this:

Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers

Milwaukee Brewers

Chicago WhiteSox

The American League Central will mirror the AFC North and look like this:

Baltimore Orioles

Pittsburgh Pirates

Cincinnati Reds

Cleveland Indians

The American League West will mirror the AFC West and look like this:

San Diego Padres

Oakland A’s

Colorado (Denver) Rockies

Los Angeles Angels

The National League East will mirror the NFC East and look like this:

New York Mets

Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals

Texas (Dallas) Rangers

The National League South will mirror the NFC South and look like this:

Atlanta Braves

Tampa Bay Rays

Carolina Panthers

Houston Astros

The National League Central won’t mirror any NFL division per se, but will look like this

St. Louis Cardinals

Chicago Cubs

Kansas City Royals

Memphis Bombers

The National League West will mirror the NFC West and look like this:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Seattle Mariners

San Francisco Giants

Los Angeles Dodgers

The playoffs will initially involve 8 teams–the winners of each division.  Later, once the Expansion Teams are settled, MLB can expand into a wild card playoff, if they like,  perhaps modeled along the lines of the NFL’s wild card games.

As for scheduling, again they could follow the NFL model.  Teams would play more games within their division and within their League.  But, each year each team in a division would play every team in one division in the other league.  Like the NFL, this would be alternated every year.   Some parity scheduling could also occur like it does in the NFL, with last year’s division winners playing each other while last years last place finishers play each other.

In the short term, it might take some getting used to.  But in long term, as the rivalries sinke in, someday the answer in Pittsburgh to the survey question, What is the Number 1 thing to hate about Cleveland, might be “The Indians.”

 

 

 

 

BRADENTON TAKES GAME 1 OF FSL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

WHO ARE THESE GUYS ANYWAY??????

 

It is said that Superstars bring championships.  And while this may be true,  championships are also littered with role players who seize opportunities in big games to etch their names forever in the lore of their championship teams.

Game 1 of the Southern Division of the Class A Florida State League Playoffs had those moments and more, as the Bradenton Marauders won Game 1 of the series against the Charlotte Stone Crabs in a best of three playoff series.

The game pitted the Stone Crabs, Matthew Moore vs. the Marauders Aaron Pribanic.  In Moore, the Stone Crabs had a fireballer who led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts in 2010.  For the season, he struck out 210 batters in just 140 innings of work.  Pribanic, by contrast, is a sinker ball pitcher.  He was a throw-in in the Jack Wilson trade.  A 24 year old right handed sinker baller who before the second half of this year had not distinguished himself in any way.  Until the second half of this season.

In the midst of a pennant race, Pribanic in his last ten games had a 1.72 e.r.a. and a .190 opponents batting average.  His success was attributable to his sinker.  He struck out only 23 batters in those last 10 games.  But his sinker has become major league caliber–a sinker that some scouts are calling the best in the Pirates organization.  Even better than Rudy Owen’s sinker.

And thus was the openning playoff game set up.  The fireballer vs. the sinkerballer.  For 6 1/2 innings the pitchers dueled.  Moore struck out 10 Marauders over his 6 1/3 innings of work.  And gave up only one hit.  Pribanic pitched seven scoreless innings scattering six hits.

Moore’s undoing came in the bottom of the seventh.  Although he had 10 strikeouts, he had been wild all game.  And that wildness finally caught up to him in the 7th.  Quincy Latimore led off with a walk, the 5th walk of the game that was given up by Moore.  A wild pitch then moved Latimore to second.  Adam Davis attempted and failed to bunt the runner over to third, and eventually became Mr. Moore’s 10th and final strikeout victim. 

The next batter, Jordan Newton worked a 3-0 count against Moore.  And with first base open, he was given an intentional ball 4.  That also brought a pitching change.  Moore was out, and in to replace him was another fireballer, Marquis Flemming.  Flemming during the regular season had struck out 96 batters in only 42 innings of relief work for the Stone Crabs.  The opposition was batting only .179 against him.

And so with the game on the line, up strode the Marauders number 9 hitter, Gregory Picart.  Picart was an undrafted free agent signed by the Pirates in 2004.  He was 19 at the time of the signing and six years later, here he was playing for the Marauders and playing only because starting All Star shortstop Brock Holt sustained a season ending injury.  Picart during the regular season batted .245 with 0 homeruns.  

But Picart delivers a single to right field, which scores pinch runner Chourio with the first run of the game. 

Next up came Shelby Ford.  In 2008 Shelby Ford was considered the Pirates 6th best prospect.  In 2008 he had done well in Spring training for the Pirates, and looked like he had the tools to make the big club some day.  After a somewhat successful stint with AA Altoona, he was promoted to AAA Indianapolis.  But a .188 batting average in AAA earned him a demotion to Altoona, and he has never been able to advance any higher since.  He started this year in Altoona, where he mostly DH’d and played some infield.  He was not considered a regular in Altoona.  And when Bradenton lost both Brock Holt and Jeremy Farrell  to injuries, Ford was asked to take a demotion to help fill the infield shortage at Bradenton.  With Bradenton, Ford did nothing to distinguish himself. He batted .244 with 2 homeruns.

But in this playoff game, with the game still in doubt, and runners on the corner,  Ford struck the first pitch he saw from Flemming into the gap for a bases clearing two run double.   He would then score on Starling Marte’s double and that as they say was the ball game. 

Game #2 and Game #3 are in Charlotte on Wednesday and Thursday.   

 

 

 

 

THE STREAK BEGINS: THE 1993 PITTSBURGH PIRATES

THE STREAK BEGINS: THE 1993 PITTSBURGH PIRATES

 

There were not high hopes for the defending 1992 Eastern Division Champions going into the 1993 season. In the off season the Pirates traded or lost to free agency 10 players from their 1992 roster. The two biggest losses were Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek. But also gone were Jose Lind, Roger Mason, Cecil Espy, Steve Buechele, Gary Redus, Alex Cole, Danny Jackson, Bob Patterson, and Gary Varsho. And on April 11, 1993 the Pirates released Mike LaValliere.

The Pirates attempted to put a positive spin on matters. Kevin Young, Al Martin, and Carlos Garcia were first year players who were portrayed as rising stars. Kevin Young, in particular, was predicted to be an impact player who would spend many years knocking balls over the Three Rivers Stadium outfield walls. In Jeff King, the Pirates had potentially another slugger capable of filling the void created by Barry Bonds departure. And, of course, with Jay Bell and Andy Van Slyke returning, and Don Slaught as the starting catcher, the Pirates would be strong defensively up the middle. In the off season the Pirates had signed Lonnie Smith to bolster the bench.

The starting pitching was going to be the question mark. Much hope was placed on the shoulders of young Tim Wakefield, who had pitched wonderfully in 1992 and won two playoff games against the Braves in the NLCS. He was going to be the ace of the staff. He would be joined in the starting rotation by Bob Walk, Zane Smith, Randy Tomlin and Steve Cooke. The bullpen was to be anchored by Stan Belinda, Denny Neagle, Blas Minor, Joel Johnston, and Paul Wagner. And in the off season the Pirates resigned John Candelaria, who was going to be the designated get the lefty out reliever.

The Pirates started the year out well going 7 wins and 2 losses in their first 9 games. But a five game losing streak would follow and the Pirates would finish April at 11 wins and 11 losses. They would continue to play .500 ball until June 29. On that date the Pirates began a stretch that saw them lose 7 of 8 games that put them 6 games under .500. They would never recover from that. In all, they finished the season at 75 wins and 87 losses.

In analyzing what went wrong, the blame could squarely be placed on the starting pitchers. The Pirates starting pitchers were a combined 36 wins and 50 losses. Not one pitcher had a winning record. The best performance in the win/loss column were turned in by Steve Cooke at 10 wins and 10 losses and Paul Wagner at 8 wins and 8 losses. Only Steve Cooke would finish with an e.r.a. below 4 (3.89). Walk and Wakefield had e.r.a.’s above 5 and Tomlin and Smith were not much better at 4.85 and 4.55 respectively.

Tim Wakefield had perhaps the most disappointing season. He finished the year at 6 wins and 11 losses. Three of those victories came in April and two of the victories came in late September games. In between April and September, Wakefield was 1 win and 9 losses. He would be so ineffective that he would be sent to AAA Buffalo in an attempt to regain his 1992 form.

Also, disappointing, was John Candelaria, who would be released before the year was out. When he was released he was 0 wins 3 losses and an e.r.a. of 8.24.

Hitting wise, the Pirates were for the most part solid but not spectacular. Kevin Young was the biggest disappointment as he batted only .236 in 141 games. He had 6 homeruns and 47 ribi’s. Apologists for this performance would point to the batting average and remind everyone that Barry Bonds also batted poorly his first year in the majors.

Also having a bad year at the plate was Tom Prince. To make room for Prince, the Pirates had cut Mike LaValliere. In 66 games, Prince batted .196 with 2 homeruns and 24 rbi’s.

Lloyd McClendon would also contribute to the downfall of the Club. In his prior years in the majors, McClendon had gained a reputation of being a solid bench player who, while questionable in the field, had a solid bat and was a superb pinch hitter. But alas, in 1993, McClendon did not live up to that reputation. He played in 88 games and batted .221 with 2 homeruns and 19 rbi’s. Thus as a hitter did McClendon contribute to that first year of the losing streak. Little did anyone know then the larger role he was destined to play in this streak.

And then there was the cast of others. The call-ups from the minors who played little and contributed little. They included: Scott Bullett, Jeff Goff, Andy Tomberlin, John Wehner, Midre Cummings, Will Pennyfeather, Rich Aude, and Ben Shelton.

For the pitchers, the cast of others included: Dave Otto, Jeff Ballard, John Hope, Mark Petkovsek, Freddie Tolivar, Tony Menendez, Dennis Moeller, Paul Miller, Rich Robertson and Brian Shouse.

In detemining the Most Valuable Underperformer for the 1993 team, I must sadly look to a fan favorite, Tim Wakefield. As documented above, others also contributed to this first year of the losing streak, but Wakefield’s 1 win and 9 losses in the heart of the season pretty much doomed a club that was relying on him to be the Ace. In many respects this was very unfair to Wakefield, but his performance simply did not live up to expectations. In most of his losses, Wakefield was chased early, which in turn, put a strain on the bullpen. Had Wakefield simply been average, the Pirates win/loss record may have come close to .500. While Wakefield gets the 1993 award for the most valuable underperformer, he will not make the All Losing Streak Team.

 

Tomorrow: Losing Season #2. The 1994 Pittsburgh Pirates.

JUNE 11. GAME # LET US CELEBRATE MEDIOCRITY

LET US CELEBRATE MEDIOCRITY

The Pirates are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1960 World Series Team. Last year the Pirates celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1979 World Series Team. And I suspect next year the Pirates will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1971 World Series Team.

As faithful readers of my blog know, I am somewhat superstitious when it comes to baseball. Despite the 17 years of losing, the Pirates are a proud franchise. And the 1960, 1971 and 1979 World Series Teams get celebrated at every five year interval of their respective achievements.

But I believe it is time to take on this losing streak head on. If there is a curse on this franchise, then I believe the way to break the curse is to acknowledge it and celebrate it. During the past 17 years, no one has wanted to own up to all this losing. Very few of the players involved have returned to Pittsburgh and no one in the Marketing Department has had the foresight to try to bring some of these players back. Instead, those associated with the Pirates publicly state that they are tired of talking about it and want to change it. In short, the Pirates organization would like nothing better than to sweep the past 17 years under the rug and pretend it never happened.

But, of course, it did happen. And rather than trying to hide it, I think its about time we celebrate how truly special this achievement is. The Cubs have developed a very loyal fan base by being portrayed as lovable losers. The New York Mets built their initial fan base in the 1960’s by being lovable losers. The 1962 Mets are still the standard for baseball futility. But none of these franchises have actually gone 17 years without a winning record like the Pirates. The Pirates refuse to go down that road of being lovable losers. They are too proud for that. And in a city that celebrates Stanley Cup and Super Bowl victories, a lovable loser image is probably not going to cut it.

But I believe it is time for the Pirates Organization to recognize the achievement and to start celebrating the players and teams who have made the 17 straight years of losing possible.

Next year for instance we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1971 World Series Team. Been there done that. But how about the 50th anniversary of the 1961 team? That team defended its World Series by winning only 75 games and losing 79. Or better yet, we can celebrate the 10th anniversary of the last Pirates team to lose 100 games, the 2001 Pittsburgh Pirates. And while we’re at it, we can also celebrate the 15th anniversary of the 1996 team that won 73 games and lost 89 games. If Pirates Management acts quickly, there is still time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Pirates, which lost 104 games.

So, since Pirates management won’t do it. As a courtesy to my many readers (all 12 of them), I will take a walk down memory lane in the next several days and celebrate year by year our 17 years of baseball futility. Each year I will choose the team’s MVU (Most Valuable Underperformer). The Player who did the most to insure that the Pirates streak of losing would continue unimpeded. The series will then culminate with my choosing of the All Losing Streak Team.

Tomorrow: How the Streak Got Started. The 1993 Pittsburgh Pirates.

JUNE 10. GAME #60. ROAD KILL AGAIN

“We’re meer cats.  Loved by All.  Feared by None.  We’re what’s for Dinner Tonight.”  Quote from a Meer Cat in Lion King 1 1/2.  Substitute Pirates for Meer Cats and you have a new marketing slogan for the Pirates. 

The Pirates marketing department might have a problem.  3 of the big 4 prospects are now playing for the major league team, but the Pirates keep losing.  They lose again tonight 4 to 2.  They again score all of their runs in one inning, making it now 21 games out of 60 in which they have been either shut out or scored in only 1 inning.

The lineup included Crosby (.232), LaRoche (.240), and Jaramillo (.196). 

The only hope for this team offensively, and I mean only hope, is for Pearce to get better quickly and hit the way he did before he was injured, and for Pedro Alvarez to arrive soon.  Very soon. 

I don’t know how much more of this the fans will be able to take.  The 3,000 souls that attended the Monday afternoon game against the Cubs should generate alarms within the Pirates front office.  Neil Huntington may be realistically concerned about bringing up the prospects before they are ready.  But that may get trumped by Owner Bob Nutting’s concern that people aren’t going to pay to see Bobbie Crosby, Jason Jaramillo and Andy LaRoche pretend they are major league players any more. 

If you want to find a silver lining in all of this losing, well, it’s nice to see the Pirates are not losing by touchdowns anymore.  So, even though a Pirates starting pitcher hasn’t won a game since Mid May when Zach Duke out dueled Roy Halladay, at least there’s no further talk of the Pirates breaking the all time run differential record.   

The loss brings the Pirates record to 23 wins and 37 losses.  The Astros have passed the Pirates in the standings.  And now only the Baltimore Orioles stand in the way of the Pirates having the first pick in next years draft.

JUNE 9. GAME #59. WELCOME TO THE MAJOR LEAGUES. LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MINOR LEAGUES

Neil Huntington has been fond of saying that our top prospects in the minor leagues will let him know through their performance when they are ready to be promoted to the major leagues.  That’s all well and good.  But, unfortunately, what the fans have been hearing from some of the current Pirates, through their performance, is that they (the poor performing players) don’t belong here.  In fact, the fans are hearing this message loud and clear and yet Neil Huntington, from the fan’s perspective, was either ignoring this message or seemingly not wanting to do anything about it.  The cries to promote Alvarez, Tabata, Walker and Lincoln have been met by various excuses by Huntington as to why he didn’t think they should be promoted.  There have been many such pronouncements by Huntington throughout the year as to why the promotions couldn’t take place, and desparate fans like me, who were sick of seeing the futility of Iwamura and others, just tuned all those Huntington excuses out. 

Well, today, the Pirates finally called up two of their prized prospects, Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata. 

Lincoln acquited himself Ok.  He was no Strasburg.  But with some better glove work, he may have walked away with a victory today instead of a no decision. 

But as I watched Lincoln, some of Huntington’s objections for not promoting him earlier–objections that I tuned out completely with each Charlie Morton failure– began to rear their ugly head.  I recall Huntington mentioning something about Lincoln needing to get a better command of an off speed pitch.  And I recall him saying something about Lincoln has to do a better job of getting lefties out.  Blah, Blah, Blah.  But of course I wasn’t listening to Huntington then.  Instead, like every other Pirates fan, I was yelling:  “Just promote the guy already will you!  If I have to watch another Charlie Morton implosion, I think I’ll die!  Get Lincoln up here!”

So, what happens.  In the first inning, Adam Dunn, a left handed batter, deposits a Lincoln fastball into the outfield seats for a 2 run homer and a 2 to nothing Nationals lead.  Could have used that off speed pitch, wouldn’t you say.  The next lefty he faces, belts a double into the right field corner off another fastball.  Again, an off speed pitch might have come in handy in that particular situation. 

When Lincoln is done, his line is 6 innings, 5 runs on 7 hits. 

But, oh, let’s talk about those other 3 runs shall we.  Poor Brad Lincoln.  He probably thought that being in the major leagues would mean that he would have better gloves behind him than he did in Indianapolis.  Not the case.  In one inning the Nationals got a hit off LaRoche’s shoulder at third.  A second hit was a line drive fly ball that should have been the second out of the inning,  but Lastings Milledge managed to misplay it into a double.  And finally the third run of the inning was brought home by a slow infield ground ball that Ronnie Cedeno was unable to handle because it took a weird bounce.  Three hits that should have been outs.  That’s the Pirates for you.  And that might be one of the unstated reasons that Huntington was slow to promote these prospects.  He didn’t want to subject his prized prospects to this level of play.  What must Lincoln have been thinking after that fiasco.  Probably something along the lines of, “Gee, the defense in the minor leagues seems to be a bit better than it seems to be with these Pirates.” 

The Pirates did manage to score 5 runs today.  But one would have thought with 12 hits and 5 walks and four stolen bases, the Pirates might have been able to score a few more. But this is the Pirates.  We set em up, and then don’t knock em in.   The Pirates were 4 for 16 with runners in scoring position. Almost every Pirate hitter in the lineup left runners stranded on base.  But Andy LaRoche and Jason Jaramillo were the biggest goats of all.  LaRoche and Jaramillo were collectively 0 for 7.  LaRoche’s collar was particularly painful as he was batting in the #5 hole in the batting order.  To add insult to injury, in Indianapolis, Pedro Alvarez, LaRoche’s likely replacement was leading the Indians to victory by going 3 for 4 with a homerun, triple and double.” 

Huntington says Alvarez needs to hit lefties better and to cut down on the strikeouts and to dominate AAA for a longer period before he can be promoted.  He’s close, but not quite ready, Huntington says.   La,la,la,la,la,la.  I’m not listening.  Just promote him already will you!  If I have to watch Andy LaRoche strike out one more time with a runner in scoring position I think I’ll die.  Get Alvarez up here!” 

The Pirates are now 23 wins and 36 losses.  And they are now comfortably back in last place.  Did you miss us?

  

JUNE 8. GAME #58. THE STRASBURG GAME. WAS THERE A DRAFT TODAY?

Some kid named Strasburg pitched for the Nationals today.  Perhaps you have heard of him.  There was a wee bit of hype leading up to the game.  Something about his being a #1 draft pick and being able to throw a fastball at 100 miles per hour.  And I suppose he did Ok.  He struck out 14 and limited the Pirates to four hits over seven innings.  But hey what pitcher doesn’t shut down the Pirates these days.  Especially when Ryan Doumit is not in the lineup. Johnny Cueto held the Pirates to one hit this year.  So, this Strasburg kid has some improvements to make.  And someday he’s going to have to explain to his grandkids how some bench player named Delwyn Young hit a homerun off him in his first game.

Frankly, I don’t have anything to add to the Strasburg story that unfolded today.  The National Media has covered this story ad nauseum both pre and post game.  And there’s nothing I can add here that would be new or novel to the story.

The Pirates lose 5 to 2.  They strike out 17 times.  The starting lineup for the Pirates includes seven players who are batting below .260.  Six of those players were actually batting below .250.  Talk about serving it up for the home team.  I’m surprised John Russell didn’t have Aki Iwamura and Jeff Clement in there as well.  Jeff Karsten got the start.  Charlie Morton, I guess, wasn’t available.  He was in Indianapolis rehabbing his injured shoulder (wink, wink).  That didn’t go so well for Morton.  He pitched today and was chased in the fifth inning, having given up five runs.   

But hey there was some good news.  The Nationals didn’t steal a base today.  And the Pirates were on national television for the first time in probably 17 years. And Matt Capps looked good in relief.  Oh wait.  He doesn’t play for the Pirates anymore.

And there was the mlb draft today.  Let’s take a look at this:

 

THE 2010 PIRATES DRAFT.  PITCHING PITCHING PITCHING.  AND YOU GONNA LIKE IT.

 

“You want to build with pitching first.  If you look at the teams that have won recently, the common denominator is a good, deep pitching staff.  You look at the Marlins, they built from wihin with guys like Josh Beckett….Long term, your best option is producing your own.”

The above quote sounds like something that Neil Huntington would say.  But the quote was actually from David Littlefied, circa 2005. 

I remember when Dave Littlefield was hired, his stated desire was to load up on pitching and then leverage the pitchers to obtain hitters in trades or free agency.  Littlefield came from the Marlins and this is the formula the Marlins used to win their world series and to constantly rebuild.  Draft pitching then trade pitching for hitting prospects.   The plan, as executed by Littlefield, is laughable now.  But isn’t it funny how Huntington is essentially executing the same strategy.  There is one huge difference though.  Huntington has no interest in soft toss pitchers.  He is interested in pitchers that are tall and throw heat.  If he’s going to err, like Charlie Morton, he’s going to err on the side of the guy who can throw it 95 mph vs. the parade of 88 to 90 mph soft toss pitchers the Pirates have paraded through their minor league system the past 17 years.  

So, over the course of the Draft, the Pirates drafted 33 pitchers out of 50 players drafted.  The top two picks, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, are high school pitchers.  Despite being in high school though they were rated the hardest throwers of all available pitchers.  Taillon is said to be able to hit 98 miles per hour.  Allie was supposed to be a first round draft pick.  But when the second round came up, there he was, available at pick #51, for the Pirates taking.  No one is going to accuse the Pirates this year of not taking the best available player.

Unfortunately, although they may have drafted the best available players, it remains to be seen as to whether they will be able to actually sign these players. 

There were a lot of good lines in the media about the draft picks.  On top choice, Taillon, someone wrote, “let’s set up the appointment with Dr. James Andrews now so we can get the Tommy John surgery out of the way early.”   

Another wrote that the Pirates choosing Tallion over Miami shortstop, Muchada, insures that Muchada will turn out to be the next A-rod. 

And given that the Pirates, after Pedro Alvarez, do not have any impact hitters in their minor league system, the draft is curious to say the least.  But the reviews from the MLB Scouts on the Pirates draft is very positive.  One source remarked that if the Pirates are able to sign both Allie and Taillon, the Pirates, on paper, will have had the best draft of any of the major league teams. 

That is something that no one would have offered following a David Littlefield draft.

The loss today brings the Pirates record to 23 wins and 35 losses.  Only a 1/2 game separates them from their customary last place position in the standings.

 

 

 

 

JUNE 7. GAME #57. THE NEEDS OF THE FEW OUTWEIGH THE NEEDS OF THE MANY

The Pirates lose again.  This time to Carlos Silva of the Cubs.  Silva is now 8 wins and 0 losses.  Just two years ago he was 4 wins and 15 losses for the Seatle Mariners.  He is proof that it just may be too early to give up on Charlie Morton. 

Rather than rag about the Pirates lack of hitting yet again (they go 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position), I prefer to blog about a few other matters that aren’t getting proper attention and won’t likely get any attention in the very near future, what with the baseball draft today, the Strassburg debut against the Pirates tomorrow, and the Brad Lincoln debut with the Pirates on Wednesday (as I write it’s not official yet, but all signs are pointing to Lincoln being called up to start Wednesday’s game against the Nationals).

The matters I wish to blog about aren’t earth shattering, but I believe deserve some attention.

First and foremost.  What the heck has gotten into Altoona Curve’s catcher, Hector Gimenez.  In April he played 13 games and batted .246 with one homerun. Pretty mediocre stuff.  And at 27 years old and still in AA, he doesn’t exactly scream:  Prospect.   And then all hell broke loose in May.  He bats .397 and starts hitting for power.  And then in the last ten games, all hell really breaks loose.  Six homeruns in his last 10 games.  He has played in only 34 games and thus doesn’t qualify for the Eastern League batting leader categories.  But if he did, he would be first in on base percentage, first in slugging and first in ops.  He is 5 foot 10 inches and weighs 225 pounds.  Is he a prospect?  I don’t know.  Last year’s first round draft choice Tony Sanchez is typically mentioned as the Pirates top catching prospect.  But this guy, Gimenez, is very quietly having the best year of any batter in the Pirates organization.  Is this just a hot streak, or is he going to club his way to the major league team? 

Secondly.  Poor Indianapolis.  They defeat the first place Columbus Clippers in 3 out of 4 games this weekend to move within 4 1/2 games of first place. They are four games over .500.  This year they have lost two of their best hitters, Pearce and Walker.  They have lost two starting pitchers to injury–Veal and Hart–and are now about to lose their best pitcher, Lincoln, to a promotion to the major leagues.  Before the season is out, two more players, Tabata and Alvarez, will also be promoted. It is probably the most talent the Pirates have had at AAA in some time.  Had the team stayed cobbled together the whole year, it would have certainly competed for first place and a possible championship.  But with promotions looming, the chances of the Indians seriously challenging for the International League crown look fleeting. 

As currently configured the Pirates have a potential championship team at AA with the Altoona Curve.  The Curve own one of the best records in all of baseball.  But the liklihood of that team staying in tact is not good, either, since the replacements for Alvarez and Tabata are likely to come from Altoona.  In the Eastern League there are some that are probably saying, “Break up the Curve.”  Well, that’s probably what the Pirates are going to do.  And when they do so, the Eastern League championship may be lost. 

As currently configured, the Pirates also have a potential championship team at High A Bradenton.  But that team has already lost its two best pitchers to promotions, and like Altoona, will likely lose a few more to promotions. 

And so as I have blogged in an earlier piece (Would You Believe There is Method to This Madness), the needs of the Pirates selfishly outweigh the needs of their minor league affilliates.  Potential minor league championships may be lost because Aki Iwamura and Jeff Clement couldn’t hit above the Mendoza line and Lastings Milledge can’t hit homeruns.  Selfish, selfish, selfish.

The Selfish Pirates are now 11 games under .500 at 23 wins and 34 losses.  Is this the start of the implosion?  

   

JUNE 6. GAME #56. LONG BALL USUALLY BEATS SMALL BALL, EXCEPT WHEN THE PIRATES ARE INVOLVED

The Pirates have allowed 53 stolen bases this year.  They have caught 8.  That’s the worst percentage in baseball.  Ryan Doumit, the starting catcher, will get tagged for most of the blame as 47 of those stolen bases have come against him.  He has thrown out only 4.  Of course, experts will tell you that a baserunner steals against the pitcher and not the catcher.  But whether it’s the catcher or the Pirates pitchers or both, the Pirates have a problem trying to stop baserunners from stealing.

This base stealing problem showed up in a big way in yesterday’s game.  San Francisco stole five bases against Doumit.  In addition they advanced runners twice via wild pitches.  They then cashed four runs home via sacrifice flies.  Small ball at its finest.

The Pirates on the other hand were up to their old tricks of failing to hit with runners in scoring position.  For the day, they were 1 for 11.  Jeff Clement got a start at first base and was inserted in the number six spot in the batting order.  He went 0 for 5 and stranded five runners.  Twice he came up with a runner on third and less than 2 outs and failed to get the run home.  In his final at bat, there were runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs, and he struck out to end the game.  His day included two strikeouts, a pop out to the pitcher and two weak grounders to 2nd base.  Andy LaRoche, batting behind him, did no better as he also failed to deliver any clutch hits to pick up his teammate. 

The usually reliable bullpen also failed.  Most notably, Javier Lopez gave up two runs in the 9th.  He contributed to his own downfall with a fielding error, a walk and a wild pitch.  Lastings Milledge also contributed to the 9th inning debacle by taking a poor route to a line drive to left field and then dropping said line drive as he dove to try to catch it. 

But back to this stealing base problem.  The Pirates beat writers were reporting that Doumit has been working at first base to possibly provide another first base option for the Pirates.  Manager John Russell explained that this was a potential way to keep Doumit’s bat in the lineup on days that he would otherwise sit out.  A lot could be read into this.  Is Jeff Clement going to be demoted when Pearce comes off the disabled list? 

I believe the latter may happen.  But I also believe that the Pirates are trying to enhance Ryan Doumit’s trade value.  As catchers go, he is a very good hitter.  But, as catchers go, he is a defensive liability.  Thus, the Pirates may be trying to up his value by showing he can also be a good DH or a potential first baseman.

I would hate to see Doumit go.  I think John Russell has finally found the right spot in the batting order for him–that being the number 3 batter.  Doumit is a great fast ball hitter, and with McCutchen and Walker batting ahead of him, he is likely to see more fastballs, especially if McCutchen is on first base when he is up.

But I’m not sure that having Doumit play first base solves anything.  Yes, you keep his bat in the lineup, but that still leaves Jason Jaramillo’s bat in the lineup too.  And Jaramillo + Cedeno + LaRoche + Milledge still leaves you with an unproductive batting order.

As readers of this blog know, I am a fan of Steve Pearce’s.  I believe he needs to get some serious playing time so the Pirates can see what they have in him.  Were it not for his injury, we were probably on our way to seeing this.  When he comes off the DL, the Pirates need to send Clement down.  What was that Neil Huntington quote about Neil Walker before the season began.  Something about not earning his way onto the roster.  Hadn’t yet dominated at AAA.  Doesn’t that fit Jeff Clement every bit as much as it fit Neil Walker.  Send Clement to AAA and make him earn his way back to the majors the way that Walker and Pearce did. 

The loss now brings the Pirates record to 23 wins and 33 losses.  With a road trip looming this could get a lot worse before it gets better.