What’s it going to be tonight at the Great American Ball Park?
Baseball? Beanball? Basebrawl?
The Pirates and Cincinnati Reds have a history of throwing at each other and that was exacerbated last night first when Andrew McCutchen was hit in the back with a pitch in the fourth inning and then in the ninth when a pitch that defined the old cliche -- chin music -- from Aroldis Chapman sent Neil Walker to the ground.
Chapman famously beaned Andrew McCutchen last August, a pitch many believed was intentional.
Charlie Morton, who starts for the Pirates tonight, hit three batters in his last outing. But he is perhaps the last Pirates starter who would want to purposely put runners on base.
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Vast wasteland: This is the average batting line for the NL right fielders: .269/.333/.443 -- .775.
This is the batting line for Pirates right fielders: .230/.288/.361 -- .648. Be it Travis Snider, (.243/.316/.350 -- .666) mostly, or Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, Garrett Jones. Russell Martin or Brandon Inge (0-for-11), Pirates right fielders have failed to even come up to average. Pirates right fielders are 15th and last in OBP, Slugging and OPS and 13th in RBIs.
Sanchez vs. right-handers: Manager Clint Hurdle is starting Gaby Sanchez against a right-handed pitcher tonight although Sanchez had little success against them. Sanchez is batting .200 (15-for-75) with a .635 OPS against right-handers. Alex Presley, another option, is batting .313 (10-for-34) with an .810 OPS against righties.
The unpredictable Mr. Morton: You never know what you’re going to get with Morton, who makes his second start since returning from Tommy John surgery. Morton can be unhittable, on occasion, and unwatchable, at other times. Despite his well-known inability to handle left-handed batters (.328/.406/.509 for his career), Morton has been surprisingly successful against premier left-handed hitter Joey Votto -- 6-for-26 with one extra-base hit, a double.
Opposing pitcher: Right-hander Mat Latos, 6-0, with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, starts for Reds. In two starts against the Pirates this season, he has pitched 12 2/3 innings and allowed 11 hits and four earned runs (2.84) while walking three and striking out 13. Pirates batters are 25-for-131 (.191) against Latos with a .631 OPS. McCutchen Pedro Alvarez and Michael McKenry have homered against Latos.
Pirates lineup, 7:10 p.m.
1. Marte, LF
2. Martin, C
3. McCutchen, CF
4. Jones, RF
5. Walker, 2B
6. Alvarez, 3B
7. Sanchez, 1B
8. Mercer, SS
9. Morton, P
The Chicago Blackhawks know how the Penguins felt in facing the shutdown Boston Bruins defense. The Blackhawks were never shut out in the regular season. They were shutout last night and are without a goal against the Bruins for more than six periods.
By Steve Conroy, Boston Herald
After snatching away home-ice advantage in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Bruins look like a team that has no intention of giving it back.
In Game 3 at the TD Garden last night, the B’s gave a defensive effort reminiscent of their wipeout of the Pittsburgh Penguins, smothering the Chicago Blackhawks in a dominant 2-0 victory on second-period goals from Daniel Paille and Patrice Bergeron.
The B’s now have a 2-1 series advantage.
After holding the Penguins to two goals over 14 periods in the Eastern Conference finals, the Bruins have limited the Blackhawks to five goals in 13 periods, one in the last seven.
Read the rest of the story.
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Adam Gretz, CBSSports.com:Jagr still a factor despite absence of a goal
The five-player contingent known as the Pirates bench has come under criticism, and understandably so. Not that pinch-hitting is the only duty of reserve players, but the Pirates are 13th in the National League in pinch-hitting success (19-for-99, .192).
Which begs this question: What can be done to improve the bench?
Let’s review the five players or player combinations currently on the bench:
Gaby Sanchez/Garrett Jones: Nothing wrong here. Both are above-average MLB players. Which ever one is not starting is a threat off the bench. Jones’ lack of success vs. left-handers makes him a bit of a dud late in the game.
Alex Presley/Travis Snider: Since Snider has been getting most of the starts, this is more on Presley. He has a pinch-hit home run to his credit this year. But overall he is 4-for-22 as an MLB pinch-hitter. Since 2010, Snider is 8-for-38 and had a big pinch-hit homer last week. Since neither is an average MLB player, there is room for improvement.
Michael McKenry: How fast they forget. McKenry is taking all kinds of abuse this year. He was a hero last year. He is an adequate backup catcher, who had delievered some big hits in his brief MLB career. The only option here is Tony Sanchez, who’s having an excellent season at Class AAA. If the Pirates believe Sanchez is a better option, he should be in Pittsburgh.
Clint Barmes: He’s the backup shortstop, for the moment, and isn’t going anywhere.
Brandon Inge: He has shown little or nothing this season. He is 3-for-14 at a pinch-hitter. The Pirates should be aggressively pursuing a better alternative. They might not find a more versatile player, but they surely can find a better hitter.
Who’s available? These are the Indianapolis candidates:
Sanchez, RHB, 25: His .955 OPS is fourth-best in the International League. On a team struggling for offense, that might indicate an immediate promotion. But being a catcher, his bat would come less into play because he’d be held in reserve. Going with three catchers would severely limit the bench’s flexibility.
Matt Hague, RHB, 27: He’s batting .293 with an .834 OPS. Of significance, where earlier in his career he had reverse platoon splits, this season he is raking left-handed pitching (.955 OPS in 65 at bats). He can play first and third base. He’s 4-for-14 as an MLB pinch-hitter with two RBIs.
Josh Harrison, RHB, 26 in July: Provides the same defensive flexibility as Inge, but, unfortunately, pretty much the same harmless bat. He is 5-for-44 (.114) with a .244 OPS as an MLB pinch-hitter.
Ivan De Jesus, RHB, 26: Batting .322 with an .861 OPS. In 42 at bats vs. left-handed pitching, those numbers are .405 and 1.009. Is 4-for-21 at an MLB pinch-hitter.
There is, of course, a vast universe of other players scattered through various minor-league teams. Clubs have been known to find players. The Pirates found Jason Grilli and McKenry in 2011; the Oakland A's last year found Brandon Moss.
There have to be better options than the Pirates currently have.
It took a sugary-sweet Father's Day column out of Arizona to lend a bit of explanation on why Todd Graham pulled such a sleazy exit from Pitt after the 2011 football season. Turns out he was emulating his own father, who snuck out the door when young Fraud was just a kid.
It looks like the Arizona media has fully bought into Graham’s line of, to be kind, blarney. Can’t blame them. Many in Pittsburgh did the same. The guy defines the phrase ‘con man.’
By Doug Haller, Arizona Republic
For 10 years, Todd Graham had his father in his life. His father coached him in Little League. He was involved. Then one day, he was gone. No goodbye, no contact. Nothing.
“When he left it really shocked my world,” said the Arizona State football coach, who is approaching his second season in Tempe. “That’s really devastating on a kid. Divorce is hard enough, but divorce and the person is totally gone? That’s really hard. It’s like a death.”
Nearly 40 years later, on Father’s Day, Graham admits that the experience has shaped him as a coach. He’s not alone. A good portion of Graham’s staff — including co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and special-teams coordinator Joe Lorig — grew up with absent or mostly absent fathers. In many ways, it’s not only shaped them as coaches, but the football program as well. ASU players say their relationships with the staff stretch beyond what they expected in college.
Read the rest of the story.
Something is totally out of whack with the Pirates.
At 41-29, they are on pace to win 95 games. But they are heading in that direction with an offense that is more likely to lose 95 games.
The 2013 Pirates are averaging fewer runs per game than the 2011 Pirates, the team that lost 90 times.
All of which leads to this question: Can the Pirates continue as a contender with so little run production?
Going into last night’s game, a 4-1 loss to Cincinnati, the Pirates were 10th in the National League in runs. The five teams behind them all have losing records and are a combined 54 games under .500. The two teams directly in front of them are a combined 24 games under .500.
The Pirates, stuck somewhere in the middle of that group of lightweight offensive teams, also should have a losing record. But they don’t. They are 12 games over .500.
The guess here is the Pirates cannot continue to win as they have unless the offense shortly begins to take a large step forward. This team cannot continue to rely on its pitching, and that’s particularly so now with top starters A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez on the disabled list.
Two big problems:
* The team is awful with runners in scoring position.
* The two most productive hitters, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, are playing well below expectations.
The Pirates were hitless in eight at bats with runners in scoring position last night. They are batting .223 in such situations -- last in the National League.
As was documented here Sunday, good teams and good hitters usually rise to the occasion with runners in scoring position. League-wide, batting averages are higher with men in scoring position. But with the Pirates they are lower.
McCutchen is having a good season, but he’s not having the kind of season expected of him. He's on pace to hit 16 home runs and drive in 81 runs. Last season he hit 31 home runs and drove in 96 runs. His slugging percentage is down 94 points from last season, his OPS is down 127 points.
With runners in scoring position, McCutchen is batting .239 with a .666 OPS. Last season, those numbers were .326 and .975. Last season, McCutchen was eighth in the National League in OPS with RISP. This season he is 57th.
Jones took a large step forward last season without getting much notice. He was one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League in his primary role of playing against right-handed pitching. He was fifth in the league in OPS against right-handed pitching at .888. He was first in slugging at .556.
This season he’s slugging .447 against right-handers, 36th best in the league. His OPS of .767 is 42nd. He’s no longer a force.
It the same with runners in scoring position. Last season Jones had a batting average of .308 and an OPS of .898 in RISP situations. This season those numbers are .236 and .650.
Other players are faltering, too, But the Pirates were counting big time on McCutchen and Jones and thus far they are not delivering as expected.
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In case you missed it, this is the great Starling Marte catch from last night's game. Best I've seen from a current Pirates outfielder and immediately brought to mind Andy Van Slyke.