Friday, April 26, 2013

Raising Expectations

The Pirates not only came through their important 10 game homestead with flying colors, but then took 3 of 4 from the hated Phils in Philly.  We have won 10 of the last 13 and are leading in the suspended game.  This is great news for the Pirates.

It is made even better by the fact that Andrew McCutchen is in a bit of an unnoticed slump.  McCutchen is hitting only .235 and has a lower walk rate right now than in years past.  Although he has a lower strike out rate as well, his BABIP is a measly .250.  This gives one reason to hope that Andrew will break out in a big way.  But the important thing is the Pirates are winning without him hitting.  Add in the fact that Neil Walker is not hitting that well either, and we see that the Pirates may have actually found an offense.

In years past Neil Walker going down ended the offense as people were able to pitch around McCutchen.  Now we have a lead off hitter in Marte who is playing great.  We have a platoon that appears to be working at first and in right.  We have Pedro who hits homers and nothing else.  We have a catcher who is a power threat and that is enough to give our decent starting pitching and our great bullpen wins.

Let's hope that the platoon continues to work as that still is the place that concerns me.  Better pitchers are on the way as Morton is looking good, and Lirano is stretching out.  Both are an improvement over Sanchez.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

An important homestand

These next 10 games could really set the tone for the year.  Reds, Cards, Braves.  It started off scary, but with a win last night.  It is important that the Pirates are still within a few games and have won some of these series.  It is early to say that this homestead is make or break, but it as close as you can get.  The Pirates could easily come out of this homestead in first place, or in last.  Everything is set up for us from pitching to having a day off before it started.  This is "almost must win territory".

That being said, the Pirates have some good stuff going on in the minors right now.  You have to think that by July the starting pitching will be 3/5ths different.  You would also think that the Pirates might have some new bench players.  Jordy Mercer in particular is going to be hard to ignore if he keeps hitting so well, and the guys in the majors hit so poorly.  Bullpen help is already on the way with Brian Morris.  Vic Black is doing well and could be another.  If Tony Watson continues to struggle, one would imagine he may disappear from the big league roster.  

Either way, keep an eye on these games.  We are not exactly know for making late season charges, so we had better take advantage early, like right now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Day Off to talk about Stetson Allie

The Pirates could not get the sweep and in fact got blown out.  But I am not too worried yet because the pitcher was a guy who will be replaced as soon as Karstens or Morton or Lirano get back from the DL.  He is not part of the long term team so his success is not that important.

So we might as well focus on the Farm System, and particularly a surprising story from West Virginia in Stetson Allie.  Allie you will remember was a second round pick who could  hit 100 on the radar gun, but never got the control.  So, last year they converted him back to an infielder.  I believe he played third base last year, and not that well in Rookie Ball.  Well, that was last year.

This year he is in West Virginia and playing first base.  He is currently hitting .333 with 2 HRs and 2 doubles.  He has 4 walks and 10 Ks.  However, almost half those Ks came in the first two games where he struggled a lot.  Allie's OPS is 1.012.  Even better news is he seems to be able to do it against both righties and lefties with a homer off of each.  If you throw out those first two games, his numbers get real scary good.  He is currently riding a 5 game hit streak coming into today's game.

It is real early, and Allie could return to last year's .213 AVG and 3 HRs in 40+ games in rookie ball, but the fact he is playing full season ball and doing well is a great sign.  Remember he came out of high school so he is actually about where he should be if he had gone to college.  He would either be in his senior year of college right now and bound to play in Short Season ball or if he had come out as a junior would probably be starting the season at WV anyway.  I admit to being depressed a little when he flamed out as a pitcher, and I dropped him off my top prospect list, but it was always mentioned how much he loved to hit and how good he was at it in High School.  He can play his way back onto the prospect list if he keeps this up.  It is far too early to give up on him.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Forget LA, what about Phil Irwin

The Pirates looked absolutely awful in LA.  Admittedly Zack Grienke and Clayton Kershaw can do that to bats, but still, it was embarrassing.  If not for McCutchen's homer, I think I may have given up all hope for this season.

The good news is we looked a lot better today in Arizona.  An early lead, McCutchen driving in multiple runs, and in the end a great bullpen performance leading to a victory.  Marte and McCutchen look great.  Jones hit a homer, which is a hopeful sign, and Travis Snider has gotten a few hits now.  Hopefully Alvarez comes around soon, and maybe Walker too.  Then we could have a real offense.

The bad news is that Wandy Rodriguiz left with a leg problem that has been described as a hamstring issue.  That is not so good, as both our wins came on his starts.  I am not sure the Pirates can afford to add him to the list of Karstens, Morton, and Lirano of good pitchers not pitching.

If he does go on the DL, what I would like to see is a promotion of Phil Irwin.  I really like this guy.  He just gets the job done.  His first start this year was six good innings.  One walk, one run, five strikeouts.  He has done nothing but win at every level.  He does not have the blow your mind speed on the fastball, but he has the results, and he deserves a shot.  I like him better than McPherson, at least at this point.  I say, bring up Irwin and let him have a shot.

I would rather Wandy not go on the DL at all, but just thinking out loud.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Disappointing Opening

The Pirates dropped their opening series to the Cubs of all teams.  Not exactly an overwhelming endorsement for the season.

But, there is some good to come of it.  The Pirate rotation looks good.  Burnett and Wandy were dominating.  Unbelievable in fact.  I had huge concerns about James McDonald coming into the season.  Was the first half of last season a fluke?  Well, that may still be up in the air, but he pitched well in last night's game.  Not a ton of strike outs, but he only gave up one run.  That ought to be enough for a team to pull out a win or at least have a lead.  Not so with the Pirates pathetic offense.

The offense is currently the problem, but then again, it is early.  Cutch looks great.  Alvarez has hit okay, although had an 0-fer yesterday.  I am not sure why Clint put Martin hitting second yesterday.  This team's offense is going to be dependent on Marte, Cutch, Alvarez, and Walker.  If we want to win we are going to need to get something from the others.  Right now the best candidate is Clint Barmes.  Yikes.  Jones, Sanchez, and/or Martin need to hit with some power and soon.

What was actually more disappointing is the four opening day losses for our minor leagues.  Ouch.  Hansen (who I am not sold on), and Polanco were held hitless in Bradenton.  West Virginia got blanked.  Altoona had some good hitting, but no pitching, and Indy had some pitching without real hitting.  The lone bright spots were Jason Creasy pitching 3 innings of one run ball.  I like that kid.  Victor Black striking out the side (his next inning not as good), and the fact that no injuries took place.

Here is to a better second series in LA.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Preview and Prediction

The 2012 season starts today!!!!

The Pirates start the season  with what I have to admit is a bit of a disappointing line up.  But, this is largely because I am a huge Jordy Mercer fan.  I think he should have a shot, and his spot as the infield back up was taken by a suspect trade for an older Short Stop, who will sit the bench.  I don't have that big a problem with Josh Harrison making the club.  He puts the ball in play and plays with energy.  I hope he does not lose his spot when Brandon Inge comes off the DL.  The Pirates have to start trusting their farm system.

The real concern for the Pirates is the bench.  There is not a big time power threat on the bench unless you count Gaby Sanchez.  Snider and Tabata have potential, but also give you more reason to think they are going to fail than succeed.

The line up should be improved.  Marte's performance will go a long way to how well the Pirates do this year.  They need his bat.  Martin should be a big improvement at catcher.  I also think we will get a slightly better year from Alvarez.  I know I am going against stats projections here, but I think his average comes up a bit this year.  Not a lot, but enough.  Walker really needs to avoid an injury for us to stay in contention this year.  Top to bottom this is a better offensive team in the starting line up.

The Rotation does not worry me as much because it will be totally different by mid June.  Karstens and Morton will be back in June and around that time will be when Cole can be called up.  Burrnett and Rodreguiz are solid 1 and 2, and hopefully James McDonald can put together a full season with some strike outs.  Plus, Locke is ready in my opinion.

The bullpen is also not a big concern to me.  We have plenty of depth in the minors and I think Grilli will be fine as a closer.  In the end, we may not have as dominate a bullpen, but I think it will be fine.

I do think (again) that this is the year we break the curse.  I am going to go with 88-74.  This will only get us a Wild Card birth in my opinion.

Here are my picks for the year:
AL East - Toronto
AL Central - Detroit
AL West - Oakland
Wild Cards - Tampa Bay and LA Angels

NL East - Washington
NL Central - Cincy
NL West - Dodgers
Wild Cards - Giants and Pirates

I am going to go ahead and pick the Blue Jays to win the Series over the Nationals.

It should be an exciting year.