Thursday, April 29, 2010

Evan Meek's First Save - April 30

The Pirates are starting to play like they need to play to win ball games and compete for the division with the lone exception of Garret Jones, who is at least showing some minor signs of life.

Their carrier, Andrew McCutchen is doing just that, carrying the team. He is hovering around .300 and stealing bases (an 0-4 night dropped him to .290 tonight).

Their RBI guy, Ryan Doumit is doing just that, knocking in RBIs. He had two big homeruns in the last games of the Brewers series, and tonight a triple got him two more RBIs. On a night when the Pirates only got 5 hits, they needed to get the hit when runners were on base, and Doumit did just that.

Their streaky hitter, Milledge, is doing just that hitting in fits. His overall average is a little low. You would like to see him have a few more hot streaks, but he did have a nice one that helped pull the sweep against the Reds off earlier this year. He had a hit and a walk tonight in a the leadoff spot. Not a good spot for him, but whatever. We won.

Jones, their long ball threat, is the one not doing his job. Jones is only hitting a sparse .211, but even that is up. Jones had an RBI hit to win the final game against the Brewers, and tonight he picked up a hit. Hopefully, he will find the groove and the ball will start leaving the yard again.

Part of the reason the Pirates are now only two games under .500 is Andy LaRoche. He came back from his back spasms on fire. He is hitting over .350. No hits tonight, but he got a walk and scored. His glove is always great and having him hitting is a nice bonus.

The recent change has been in the pitching. Karstens really pitched great. Malholm was not over powering, but did a decent job. 4 runs in seven. That is consistent enough. D.J. Carrasco pitching three innings last night and that was what the Pirates needed. And tonight was an amazing performance by Brian Burres. He went 5 1/3 of four hit shut out baseball. Jack Taschner pitched 2 2/3 to save the rest of the pen, which is overworked. And then Evan Meek showed he will be the closer next year and be Moskos's main competition in a few years. Meek got his first career save.

Congrats to Evan Meek and the Pirates. Keep rollin boys!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Series win - April 28

The Pirates went from losing 22 games in a row in Miller Park to winning a series there. It was a good day. Malholm pitched okay. 4 runs allowed, but made it through 7 innings. McCutchen hit two homeruns. LaRoche hit a homerun. Doumit hit a pinch hit homerun. Jones got a clutch hit, the game winning RBI actually. Iwamura and Jones both raised their average. The bullpen did give back one lead, but Carrasco pitched well enough to get the win, and even came back out after the Pirates took the lead in the 14th to finish off the game. That was great and saved an arm. Carrasco went three innings. Pretty impressive. Hanrahan did well as did Meek.

In fact the lone problem is Octavio "Doh-tel". He blew another. He did come back out and finish the 11th without a run. Still, the man is paid to save ball games. He failed to do it again. The Pirates need him to be a closer, a real closer or they will never get to .500. They pulled him out of the fire today, but saves are a must for a struggling team like the Pirates.

Matt Capps for those who are wondering is perfect in save attempts for the Nationals.

Prospect Check

Earlier in the winter I ranked the Pirates Top 25 Prospects. After the first 20 games it is a good time to check up on them.

Alvarez – is not hitting at the hoped for pace, although it is picking up now. He is up to a .250 average and has 4 homeruns. More importantly he has only 3 errors in 19 games. However, his strike outs remain high (20). Still his potential is undeniable.
Tabata – continues to show he is just a solid player. He may not have any power, but he is hitting .312 and is 8 for 9 in the stolen base department. No errors in his 17 games. He is a solid starting outfielder with top of the order potential.
Lincoln – is having a good season. He is completely ready. He is 2-1 with a 3.63 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and only 5 walks. I like Lincoln and look forward to seeing him play in the majors sooner rather than later.
Owens – is proving that his last season is no fluke. After dominating low A and briefly playing at high A, Owens is now struting his stuff at double A. A 1-0 record in 3 starts is okay, but 15 strikeouts to 1 walk is amazing. A 1.08 WHIP shows that Owens has the goods to play in the big league.
D’Arnaud – is struggling after an excellent Arizona Fall League. A .164 AVG is awful and 6 errors still show concerns in the field, which is why many think he will end up at second rather than short. Still half of his 10 hits are doubles. The kid has talent.
Alderson – is not turning heads. The stat everyone is watching is strikeouts and in three starts he has only 5 and has the same number of walks. Yet, despite a 5.52 ERA he has not lost. He is 1-0. Alderson continues to find ways to win at every level. It is hard to overlook that fact.
Marte – is going to get promoted before the year is out. He is hitting .345 with a 448 OBP. He is 6 for 7 in stolen base attempts. No homers yet, but is showing signs of power.
Grossman – is starting to slump but still has a .273 AVG and more importantly a .411 OBP. His strikeouts are still a bit high, but his glove is not a concern. Considering his young age, this guy looks good.
McCutchen – He is in the majors as the fifth starter. He won the position fair and square. However, he has not faired all that well (0-2, 13.50 ERA). For some reason his spot seems to be in trouble despite clearly having a better season than Charlie Morton. It is too early to throw him under the bus.
Sanchez – a .345 AVG and a .479 OBP is more than many probably expected. He is also hitting for some power with 2 homeruns and 16 RBIs. His bat was the concern, but he has handled the move up to High A without missing a beat. He too maybe in line for a promotion before the season is over.
Lorin – is expected to start back in June or July after hip surgery. The lone surgery on this list.
Mercer – is living up to the high standards always pressed on him by the Pirate organization. He is hitting .298 with 5 doubles, a triple, and a homerun. He is also learning a new position often playing third and only has one error.
Pounders – will be playing Rookie League ball.
Pribonic – is starting slowly. He is 0-1 with only 11 strike outs and 6 walks. He has a 6.35 ERA which shows he is giving up runs including 2 long balls. It is still to early to panic on Pribonic, but this is not the start hoped for by the team.
Foster – justifies his inclusion on this list with 2 saves and four games finished in six apperances. He has 4 strikeouts and only 1 walk. A .68 WHIP is excellent and he is showing good signs of being a top notch closer.
Wilson – might be having the worst season of these prospects. He is only 1-1 but has given up 10 walks and only recorded 11 strikeouts. And ERA over 6.50 is not good by any means.
Stephenson – will be playing Rookie League ball.
Black – will be playing with Bradenton in early May. Apparently he is resting a strain.
Locke – is impressive. Locke has a 2-1 record, but 20 strikeouts, 5 walks and a 1.02 WHIP. More strike outs than innings pitched is always a good sign.
Miller – has only pitched six innings in 2 games, but has a 1.00 WHIP and is 1-0 on the season, so the signs are looking good. He needs more work, but I see no reason to down grade Miller for his performance thus far.
Bixler – traded in the off season. For those who care he is hitting .302.
Uviedo – is showing he is a viable option for future pen work. He has a .69 WHIP, a 12 to 4 strike out to walk ratio and a 2.08 ERA in six appearances.
Walker – may actually have increased his potential for the Pirates by learning new positions. He was a catcher in college, learned third base, and now plays second and some outfield. Also he seems to have shaken off the slow starts and is hitting .296 with 2 HRs and 7 doubles. No errors as he learns a new positions is a good sign.
Clement – is in the big leagues and is not hitting at a high rate (.208), but has 3 homeruns showing that he might have the power that is so desperately missing for the Pirates. His glove has been better than expected.
Holt – is playing at a higher place than I expected coming into this year and his .375 AVG is proof that he is ready to play at the high A level. His six errors need to be worked on, but Holt’s bat leaves little to worry about at this point.

Maybe the guy that needs to be added to this list to replace Bixler is Michael Crotta. Crotta is 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 4 starts and 16 strikeouts and only 3 walks. Moskos five saves or Jeff Sues 6 games finished both make them look good as possible future bullpen guys.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I told you so

I knew Jeff Karstens was up to the task. He always has been. Karstens did not get the victory, but he did his job. 6 and 1/3 innings of 2 run baseball. He left the game with a 2-2 tie. Of course the bullpen folded and gave up a homerun to seemingly lose the game. Just the 23rd straight loss in Miller Park. But lo and behold . . .

Ronny Cedano ties the game on the second pitch from Trevor Hoffman. Then a strike out, two hits and a walk later Ryan Doumit hits a grand slam to give the Pirates a 7-3 win.

Tomorrow will tell if the Pirate offense has woken up or if they just ran into Hoffman, who is ending his career as one of the worst closers in the game. Hoffman was soundly booed by the Brewer fans.

No matter what happens replacing Charlie Morton with Karstens is a great idea.

Karstens is back, Raynor is gone

Well another unbelievable game has come and gone. The Pirates gave up 9 runs in the 8th inning. Ugly is not a strong enough word.

But the big news of the day is Jeff Karstens is going to make a start. He was added to the 40 man roster by the dropping of John Raynor, the Rule 5 Pick. This means that the Pirates are now carrying an extra man on the pitching staff. It also means that the Pirates are going to have to trade to keep Raynor. Raynor has talent, but I hope that they don't trade away some of the great lower minor league talent they have for this borderline starter. Better to just get half their money back from the Marlins.

Another point to make is that Brian Bass is on the major league roster now. I like that move. He took Brandon Jones's spot on the 40 man roster. Jones was always extraneous, and it is no big loss to have this guy on waivers. In fact, we probably get to keep him as he was not tearing it up in Triple A.

I like Karstens starting today unlike some other guys. Jeff showed he was pretty good out of the pen. More importantly he made some spot starts in the past, so this is not new to him. If I remember correctly he made at least three starts last year and won two of them. I know his history with the Brewers is bad, but if Lincoln has to stay in the minors then this is as good as it gets.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pirates 7-11

The Pirates were swept again. It was awful to watch. The Pirates had bad pitching again, and coupled it with bad baserunning. In one game the Pirates had Aki Iwamura throw out by a mile at home. I blame the 3rd base coach. In the last game of the series the Pirates scored first, but still blew it because Morton was pitching. But he did not get help on the base paths as Aki was thrown out at first after a pop up was caught in center. That cannot happen. You can never be doubled off of first. Then the Pirates had the bases loaded later in the game and a base hit to center was turned into a fielders choice because LaRoche was thrown out at second. He was heading back to first thinking it might get caught in the air. These things cannot happen.

The last game is a good example of what happens to a team in a slump. Not only were the giving away baserunners, but they gave up so many runs that a good offensive day was wasted. McCutchen, your Carrier, went 3 for 5. Aki, the lead off guy, had a hit, as did your two RBI guys in Jones and Doumit. And arguably your worst hitter LaRoche, had a 4 for 4 day. You cannot lose thosse type of games. Yet, somehow out of all that hitting the Pirates only got 3 runs. The pitchers, thanks mostly to Morton, gave up 10. An ugly loss.

The frustating thing about the rash of bad pitching is knowing that the Pirates have help down in the minors they just will not go get it. Brad Lincoln is ready. Yet, we are trying Jabakuskas, Burres, and now Bass to fill a hole that is made for Brad Lincoln. I do think Bass is the best option, and I wonder why they did not get him before now. But still Lincoln would better.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Pirates did score but lose again

Well, what can you say? The Pirates lost all three games to the Brewers by a combined total of 36-1. You can't do anything other than kick yourself if you are a fan. They managed one inning of three runs. A two run blast by Jones and a solo shot by Clement. Still a 4-1 loss. To the Astros. Embarassing.

What is the problem?
Our power hitters have never caught on. Jones was hot for the first two games, but just today hit his fourth homer and is not hitting all that much in between. Ryan Doumit is not hitting, and without those two threats the rest of the team struggles. McCutchen and Milledge have had to carry the offenes, and we win when Iwamura hits there is enough there to put together some offense. It worked for a few days, but now they are struggling and the offenes disappears.

The other problem is the over use of the bullpen. This however is linked to the fact that Charlie Morton is no good. Add in the fact that Daniel McCutchen is often going to need early relief, and two of the four pitchers are a problem. Every now and then the other two are going to have stinkers. Ohlendorf needs to get better, and the sooner that they rid themselves of Morton the better off they will be.

Here's hoping that the Pirates can avoid another sweep. But don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Charlie being Charlie

I am going to go ahead an post this about even though the game is still going on. The Pirates lose. I could have posted this yesterday because Charlie Morton is pitching. Or was pitching. He went a whole inning and gave 6 runs. Way to go Charlie. It is currently 8 to 0, so the Pirates have only given up 2 runs since Charlie departed. Please, please, please, Pirates get rid of this guy. He is no big leaguer.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 16, Pirates back at .500

This game offered very little good news for the Pirates outside of the the great pitching by Zack Duke, and ultimately the win. He was amazing. Yet, the bullpen gave up two runs in the 8th mainly by being unable to throw a strike. That included Lopez and Donnelly. Yet, they still managed to turn the game over to Dotel, who then turned into "Doh-tel" by giving up a triple that came in on a sacrifice. He is not a long term option out there.

Yet, McCutchen showed again how important he is to the team. He is not having a great year by any means. He had two hits today, but scored both times. That is unbelievable. He is the center of this offense and seems to be involved in all the scoring. He got a two out hit in the ninth, stole second, and then Milledge delivered a base hit and McCutchen scored from second. That is what a "Carrier" does. He finds way to carry his team even when he is not playing all that well. If McCutchen can heat up, the Pirates have a chance to be real good.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Minor League Report: April 15

The Pirates Minor League System continues to look fairly impressive.
Triple A Indians lost again because they have trouble with offense. Pedro Alvarez had some early season power, but is now only hitting .219. On a positive note, he is not striking out all the time. Getting the bat on the ball. Pierce is super hot, but it is bound to fade as it did tonight. Donald Veal gave up 3 in five innings of work. Stephen Jackson worked 2 innings and gave up another run. That was more than enough to sink the Indians. The Postive Note is Jose Tabata. He is ready. A .344 average and his fifth stolen base has him ready for the pros.

Double A Altoona continues to show case the future infield of the Pirates. Tim Alderson pitched his first win. He now has a 3.60 ERA, but strike out totals are still low. I still believe he is going to be a great big leaguer because he just wins. Of course it does not hurt when the Curve put up 13 runs. D'Arnaud is struggling right now with an average below 2. Mercer is hitting well with a .310 average, and Harrison has a .344 average. Negrych DHed tonight and continued to hit well at .300. The Curve are really trying to get him in the game anyway they can. Daniel Moskos continues his path to a major league bullpen with a save. He got two outs in the 8th inning when it was a one run game. The Curve belted 7 in the ninth to take the pressure off, but it counts as a save nonetheless.

High A Maulers are still in progress, but they have the best record and the best outfield. The Pirates future lies here. Only three regulars have averages below .300. Grossman is hitting .333, Marte is hitting .333, and Owen Lattimore is hitting .400. Behind them waiting for Marte to get called up to Double A is McClune who in three games is hitting .429. First rounder Sanchez is hitting .368. Worth noting is 3B Jeremy Farrel, who is hitting .348 with 12 RBIs and three homeruns. There are also several pitching prospect there including Bryan Morris who has no decisions yet in two starts, but a very nice 1.86 ERA. Nathan Adcock pitched 5 scoreless innings a got the win.

Single A Power are a dissapointment. They were not going to be world beaters, but they have been real bad. And tonight was no different. They managed to struggle up 4 runs, but still lost. Evan Chambers is not hitting well right now, and they need him to provide some offense. The pitching is saving the Power right now. Miller and Baker have had good starts and Zachary Foster and Erickson have been good out of the pen. But Kyle McPherson put up his second straight poor outing. Hunter Strickland has alos struggled in his two starts giving up more hits than innings pitched.

Right now the Pirates look good in Double A and both Single A teams as far as prospects go. Alvarez could pick it up more, but other than that one has to be happy right now about the future of the Pirates. I still think 2012 is the year the Pirates take down the World Series.

Pirates Road Ahead

The Pirates just showed a disappointing 2-4 on the west coast swing. Yet, they had a chance to win both series. They currently sit at 4-5. They will also continue to lose every game Charlie Morton pitches. Daniel McCutchen was sent to the minors to continue to get his regular starts, but with Ross Ohlendorf probably missing another start, one has to wonder if it would not be better to bring him back up.

This is the important stretch of the season for the Pirates. They are about to play 22 of their next 24 games against National League Central division opponents. This will either keep them in the hunt or drop them out completely. To reach the goal of a .500 season, being still in the hunt is a must. Early season failure almost always leads to a June swoon.

The good news is that Alvarez is hitting some big homeruns, Tabata is hitting .300 and has stolen 4 bases, and Lincoln just threw 6 scoreless innings, although the Indians failed to score a run so he did not get a decision. These guys ought to be up in June and that could give the Pirates the energy they need to make a real push.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pirates 4-13

9th inning heroics by LaRoche and Aki Iwamura give the Pirates the win. Coming into the top of the ninth the Pirates sat on a one run lead. LaRoche increased it with his first homer, a solo shot. Then with Ryan Church on third after a triple, Aki Iwamura hit a 2 out single to give the Pirates a 6-3 lead. They needed every one of those runs.

Octavio “Doh-tel” almost blew the game. He gave up a lead off double on a 1-2 pitch. He then lost all control to the weak hitting right fielder for the Giants. Had to challenge him so as not to bring the tying run to the plate. So he served up a long ball, and now the Pirates only led by 1 with no outs and the heart of the order coming up. To his credit Dotel recovered and got two quick outs, but the game would end on a sharp line drive to first baseman, Garrett Jones.

Fittingly Jones made the play for the last out as he had a huge game. Jones went three for four, but two were crucial RBI base hits. McCutchen went 1 for 3 with two walks, and scored three times. That is what you need from your two stars. McCutchen is finding ways to be in the middle of everything, and Jones is finding ways to get McCutchen off the basepath, whether it be base hit or homerun. Add in Iwamura doing his thing in the lead off spot and that is the winning formula for the Pirates.

It does need to be said that the Pirates have a bench that is coming through for them this year. Church got a big hit tonight, and stayed in on a double switch. Jones was moved to first and showed why he is a long term option at that position.

Malholm only allowed 3 runs in 5 innings, but something has to be said for only giving up three runs when they get 8 hits. Meek and Donelly were superb out of the pen.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 10, 2010

The Pirates won today to get back above .500 with a victory over Dan Haren and the Diamondbacks. The Pirates skipped McCutchen in the rotation to get back to Duke. There are some real good signs from this game such as the continued good pitching from the pen and from Zack Duke. The Pirates got big hits from Jeff Clement and Iwamura which left the yard and a timely RBI basehit by Cedano. The bad sign is that Andrew McCutchen is not doing all that well. A 1-5 day saw his average dip into the .220's. If the Pirates have a real chance at success they need him to do better. You can't live off of Cedano forever.

If you are keeping track of the Pirate prospects here are a few you might want to note as of today. Robbie Grossman still hitting .500 and the Bradenton Mauraders are a perfect 3-0. Alderson struck out 2 in 5 scoreless innings, and that game ended with Daniel Moskos picking up the win to keep the Altoona Curve perfect. The game also saw Jim Negyrich play leftfield. Jordy Mercer by the way is hitting over .400.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Point about Morton is made

The Pirates were shelled with Morton on the mound. I said it several times, Morton is the weak link. He is the problem with the Pirates right now. Can Lincoln get to the majors fast enough? Why do people keep saying, "questions remain about Morton's mental toughness". There are no questions. Witness tonight's fourth inning. Morton could not get anyone out once things went bad. Not even Adam LaRoche, who did not have any hits all season before that inning. There is no question: Morton is not tough enough for the big leagues. I would rather have Lincoln, I would rather have Hart, I would rather have a four man rotation. Morton is not ready.

In fairness, Brad Lincoln got beat down tonight in Triple A giving up 8, 7 of which were earned. Thanks to two doubles by Tabata and Pierce as well as two homers by Alvarez and a boat load of other hits the Indians still won the game 14-12. The Pirates AAA, AA, and High A all won tonight. The Low A squad in West Virginia failed to produce any runs at all and lost their second.

Minor League Opening Day

In case you missed it while the Pirates were losing to the Dodgers, the minor league season kicked off. The Triple A team got slaughtered even though Tabata got a hit, Alvarez hit a two run homer, and Pierce went 3 for 4. They still got destroyed giving up just shy of 20.

The Double A Altoona squad won 5-1 with Mercer playing third and racking up two hits, D’Arnaud playing short and getting a hit, scoring a run, and driving in a run. And Harrison played second. Perhaps even better was Crotta throwing six solid innings, and Daniel Moskos throwing the last two innings of the game. I think this could be a good sign.

However our Super Team in the Minors is our High A Braedeton Pirates. They lived up to the hype I have put on them by hanging 18 runs on their opponent. The amazing outfield of Grossmann, Marte, and Latimore went an impressive 7 out of 11 with 10 runs, 6 RBIs, and 2 HRs. Oh yeah, first round pick Sanchez had 2 for 4 day as well. Bryan Morris pitched 4.2 allowing no earned runs, but two runs did score on a throwing error. Hanrahan struck out two in his first inning of rehab work. It was a good day for the Pirates and their future.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One Series, one series win

The Pirates started off the 2010 season on the right note. They faced the mighty LA Dodgers, and they have now won the series after winning the first game in a blow out and the second game in extra innings. Garrett Jones hit two homeruns in the opener on Monday, and hit another one in the game on Wed. What is better for the Pirates is that two of those three homeruns were with runners on, something he was not so good at doing last year. McCutchen had multiple hits on Wed to raise his average, and one hit in the opener that sparked a two out three run rally that ended with Doumit getting a homerun. Ryan Church even got a pinch hit that scored three in the opener to blow the game wide open. Duke and Ohlendorf both looked solid and the bullpen was excellent tonight. What more could the Pirates ask for?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Minor League Update

The minor leagues kick off soon as well. So let us look at some of the interesting stuff about the rosters.

The Indianapolis Indians are heavy on the pitchers. They have lots of bullpen help for the Pirates down there. It goes without saying that Lincoln, Tabata, and Alvarez are there and a close eye will be kept on them. The one prospect to watch is Donnie Veal. He had a tremendous return to starting pitching in the Arizona Fall League. He is trying to extend his arm backout after pitching from the pen last year to meet his obligations of Rule 5. Now he will return to the starting rotation, and could be a candidate for the starting rotation in Pittsburgh next year if all goes well this year. Watch him.
Overall however, Triple A still reflects the weakness of past drafts. Even the talent heavy pitching part is mostly from moves over the last year like Jabakauskas and Hart. The infield is full of people that are not real major league talent except for Alvarez. Walker at second is interesting, but his time is about gone. Diaz is a weak hitter and Pierce has shown he cannot hit at the big league level. The outfield is underwhelming as well. Expect a poor season for the team as a whole.

The Altoona Curve are really interesting and I have great hope for this team. It is basically the championship team from High A coming up a notch. Here is where the future is meeting the past. D'Arnaud and Mercer are on this squad, but so are Ford and Negyrch. Awkward. Joining the champs will be outfielder Gorky Hernandez. And joining Rudy Owens (who is higher up than I thought he would be this year) are Tim Alderson as well as Danny Moskos and Jeff Sues.
It should be a better team than the one that took home the crown. Expect great things.

The Bradenton Mauraders are loaded as well. This is the team to watch to see the future of the Pirates. Locke, Pribonic, Adcock headline a host of good pitching prospects. Sanchez is starting his year here. Big year to see if he is for real as a prospect. Interestingly enough Brock Holt has made the jump to High A after a nice year State College. I am interested in him as well as Robbie Grossman, who is leading an outfield with Latimore and Marte. This team ought to be very good, but Marte will probably get a call up to Double A rather quickly. Still this team can win a lot of games and repeat as champs for the Pirate organization (I know it is a different team, you know what I mean).

West Virginia Power is a team that is looking for some guys to step up into the ranks of real prospects. Quentin Miller is here, but who else will join him in a list of people to watch? Evan Chambers had a nice year at State College last year and is overlooked as a third round choice for the Pirates last year. He will be one to watch. Jason Erickson, 24th round selection in 09 draft, is on this team. He had an overlooked year at State College. He will be one who could leap into the pitcher of prospects. As might Nathan Baker (5th round in 09). I am kind of surprised at the guys who are not on this team. I was hoping that maybe a Victor Black might make this level, but they are working some of the guys slowly. Kyle Morgan will be playing 1B. A 08 pick that one should keep an eye on.
Overall this team feels like it might be a little light.

Those are the teams that look set right now. Watching the minors will be one of the great things for this year. Although if the Pirates keep playing like they did on Opening Day it could be a very good year all the way around for the Pirates.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Things that need to happen

Here is my list of things that have to go right for the Pirates this year.

If they are to be above .500 these things must happen:

1. McCutchen needs to hit .300 (or very very close to it). He is the most talented player on the team making him a defacto leader. He has to then show his talent with his play day in and day out. It will be a tone setter. If he hits a sophomore slump, that is all she wrote for the Pirates season.
2. Ryan Doumit has to stay healthy. Doumit does not need to be extraordinary, but he needs to be there in the line up. He is a switching hitting catcher with power. That alone will make pitchers work, and give good pitches to Jones and Milledge. Doumit is also experienced, and his help catching will be invaluable for youngsters like Daniel McCutchen and later Brad Lincoln. If he gets hurt the drop off to Jarmillo is too steep for the Pirates to get to .500.
3. Jeff Clement cannot be a hole in the line up. No team has a shot at making it above .500 if they have two holes in their line up, especially in the National League where the pitcher slot is already there. The Pirates have their hole with Ronny Cedano at Short. Thus, Clement needs to be around a league average hitter. Maybe a little lower if his power numbers are higher than expected. If he is a Steven Pierce .220 type hitter, then the Pirates are in big trouble.
4. The Bullpen needs to be successful. It is deflating to watch leads go away in the late innings. For a team that it is trying to end an atmosphere of losing, it is back breaking. The Pirates have a rebuilt pen and some extra help ready in the minors. They have to hold up. Dotel has to be successful in the closers role and the rest of the pen has to be a little better than league average. The Pirates will be behind enough without the bullpen putting them behind. They don’t have the firepower to overcome late inning screw ups.

For the Pirates to win the Division (this is in addition to the ones above):
1. Garret Jones has to have 100 RBIs. If Jones gets to 100 RBIs it means he is a solid big league player who is getting the hits with people on base, something he lacked last year. It also means he is still getting his fill of solo shots. Pitchers will be paying special attention, and that is good news for those around him. No one wins divisions without an RBI guy. Jones has to be that for the Pirates.
2. Ross Ohlendorf has to pitch like he did the second half of last year. Every division winning team needs an ace. Someone who can stop losing streaks single handedly. If Ohlendorf pitches like he did at the end of last season, then the Pirates will have their ace. Better yet, if it is Ohledorf then the Pirates are in better shape because you can be fairly certain that Malholm and Duke are going to produce decent years for you. That would give the Pirates three decent pitchers starting for them. It is a must that Ohlendort duplicate his success.
3. Milledge has to hit in the .280’s or above. The Pirates are going to have a solid top three or four (especially if number 1 in this list is true), but to be great they need more than that. Milledge is the bridge. If the number 5 hitter is hitting well, then it sets the plate for the bottom of the order that can come through from time to time, and it usually means he will get his share of RBIs as well knocking in the top half of the order. A fifth person to worry about in the Pirate order would help wear down starters and get to the bullpens faster.
4. Pedro Alvarez has to provide offensive pop. Alvarez is coming no matter what this year. So when he gets here he cannot fizzle. He has to be able to take over a few games by himself and provide solid offensive threats in the other games. His arrival will breath life in the Pittsburgh fans temporarily. However if he is slamming the ball around that life will not fade away. Another big bat is an important part of winning the division. Alvarez can easily provide it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Prospects I will be watching

Now everyone knows the big name prospects. People will be watching Chase D'Arnaud and Alvarez and others like that. But I will be watching some other prospects that are not at the top of the radar, but I think say a lot more about the potential the Pirates have and the ultimate success of their long term plan.

1. Robbie Grossmann. This young man had a rough year last year. Not a bad one, just one where he tired visibly as the season went along. He had some clear things to work on. Grossmann is one of the first large pay more than the slot picks from 08. Will he pan out? Will he get better from season 1 to season 2? This is worth watching.

2. Colton Cain. This young pitcher was in the 8th round (9th pick for the Pirates), and was paid a lot to come to the Pirates. Unlike some of his other draft picks, he did not log any time in the minors last year. Some said he had the greatest potential of the bunch. He is one to watch to see how deep last years crop of pitchers will go.

3. Brian Friday. If the Pirates hope to have a middle infield option any time soon it may be up to Brian Friday. So might as well watch him.

4. Jordy Mercer. With all of the attention that Chase D'Arnaud has garnered, it is easy to forget about Jordy Mercer. He was originally put in High A last year by the Pirates. That means they thought he was a better prospect than D'Arnaud. It may have been a little much, and he got tired. Now he will be back. Let us see how he bounces back this year.

5. Ramon Aguero. This man was placed on the 40-Man Roster this offseason to protect him. This was done while people like Jim Nygrech were left off. It looks like he might start at Altoona. Why the Pirates protected him is a bit of of a mystery to me. The risk of him on the 40-man is enough to make me watch.

Roster set

The Pirates have set their roster, and I have to say I am pleased. They ended up releasing Ramon Vasquez and keeping John Raynor. That is a great thing for the Pirates. I have to say that I am not so sure about Penn in the bullpen. I would have been happier with Brian Bass, but is it really that big a deal who fills out spot number 7 in the bullpen? Plus, Penn may only be here short term if Hanrahan comes back in 5 to 10 days.

Just for the recored Jack Taschner and D.J. Carrasco were added to th 40-man roster. The spots were opened up by releasing Vasquez and by putting Jose Ascino on the 60 Day Disabled List.

The Season begins tomorrow about 1:30pm.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pirate Prediction 2010

The Pirates are an extremely hard team to predict for this year because of the certainity that they will be extremely different by the end of the year, and chances are they will be greatly improved from about June on as the Pirates slowly add Brad Lincoln, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez.

I think the poor showing by the Pirates in the Spring has to be tempered somewhat as they played the Yankees and Red Sox an awful lot. However, the poor performance by many Pirate pitchers is a bad sign. Ohlendorf does not look like he is going to be duplicating his success from last year, and Morton looks like he will be duplicating his inability to get wins. On a brighter note, Daniel McCutchen looks like he will be fine as a 5th starter. The offense is coming around. There is a lot of potential at the top of the line up with Iwamura, A. McCutchen, Jones, and Doumit. Follow Doumit up with the streaky Milledge, and the Pirates can put up some runs. The ultimate success of the Pirates then depends on the bottom of the order with Clement, LaRoche, the pitcher, and Cedano. That has the potential to be easy outs every time.

I do believe the Pirates have the ability to win the central as the Cards are fading as a team and so are the Cubs, the Astros and the Brewers. The Reds are the only other team on the rise like the Pirates, but both will have to get past Pujols, who is good enough to keep the Cards on top even though the team around him is fading. The keys to winning the central then will be Zack Duke and Andy LaRoche. Duke because he needs to be the steady influence in the rotation as Morton will be down more than up, and D. McCutchen will have ups and downs as well. Malhom is going to be okay and Ohlendorf will probably turn out alright. The key then is Duke. He needs to have another double digit win season, but he has to lower his loss total. He also cannot fade as the season goes. The Pirates lost all hope of reaching the .500 mark as Duke basically ran out of gas after the All Star break. And Andy LaRoche is going to be a key because he has to live up to potential at the plate now. He has Alvarez breathing down his neck. If he is ever going to hit better than .250 and get some power it has to be now. If he does then the bottom of the order looks a lot better and those 5-3 losses can start to turn into 6-5 wins.

The Pirates are in a great position to really help the team and the organization as a whole this year. Church is trade bait, and he ought to bring something good. Don't be surprised to see Dotel shopped around. And if things go bad then LaRoche and Duke are also on the open market as well.

The Pirates have to stay in contention into May for their to be any hope. Slow starts have sunk this team and when overcoming years of failure, a good start is key to ward off the mentality that is sure to hit. All in all, I don't think the PIrates will get the breaks they need this year to win the division, but I do think a charge in the arm will come with each call up, which will be staggered for effect.

My Prediction: 85 wins. They break the curse but finsih 3rd in the Division.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Next Decision a Big Indicator

The real remaining decision for the Pirates before Opening Day is what to do with Ramon Vasquez. Apparently three people remain in contention for one spot or maybe two if they go with a short bullpen until Hanranhan comes back. If they do that then the decision is simply delayed a few weeks. The three people are John Raynor, Rule 5 outfielder, Steven Pierce, a young-ish first baseman, and Ramon Vasquez, a way past his prime utility infielder.

Now Pierce has an option left and has not been great this spring. Jones or Church can play back up first base, so they don't need Pierce. He is as good as gone. The decision remains between Vasquez and Raynor. The problem is there really is no debate. Vasquez is not going to hit above .240. He is a vet, but not a contributor. He might could add security at Third, but if LaRoche goes down, Vasquez would still be the back up to Neil Walker or Pedro Alvarez no matter what. Raynor on the other hand is young, a speed demon with offensive potential. He would be a legitimate center field back up, and add real potential and talent to the Pirates. So what is the problem?

The Pirates will have to pay Vasquez even if they cut him.

Thus, the decision made about Vasquez will tell a great deal about the Pirates. Raynor will be gone if they do not put him on the roster. Back to the Marlins. Vasquez would be to not waste 2 million dollars. That is the only reason. I understand they are trying to work out a trade, but it is not going to happen. The decision coming up will speak volumes. Listen for it.