Pirates-Nats: Why not first place?

Thursday, 25 July 2013 10:30 AM


As anyone following the standings knows well, the St. Louis Cardinals are not an easy team to catch. They are 1 1/2 games in front of the Pirates and have won five of their past six.


There is much anticipation, and understandably so, for the five-game series with the Cardinals that begins Monday at PNC Park. But what transpires before is just as important. The Cardinals have a difficult schedule, the Pirates have an easy one.


The Pirates play Washington this afternoon, the Cardinals play Philadelphia tonight. On the weekend, the Pirates have three games in Miami against the Marlins, (37-62) the worst team in the NL. At the same time, St. Louis is in Atlanta for three games with the Braves (57-44), the third-best team in the league.


There are no sure things in baseball. With so many game, there’s no such thing as an upset. But the chances are not remote that when that epic series begins Monday the team in first place won’t be St. Louis.


* *  *  

Right-handed lineup:  Facing tough Nationals  left-hander Gio Gonzalez, manager Clint Hurdle has loaded his lineup with right-handed batter, and that does not included Neil Walker. The difficulties Walker, a switch-hitter, has had batting right-handed vs. left-handed pitchers (11-for-57, .193) are well documented. Jordy Mercer moves over to play second with Clint Barmes at shortstop. With Jose Tabata unavailable to start after being hit by a pitch last night, Josh Harrison is in right field. Harrison is 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs against Gonzalez. The only lefty in the lineup is Pedro Alvarez.


Since coming off the disabled list July 7, after missing almost a month, A.J. Burnett is 0-1 in three starts with a 2.76 ERA. For the season, he is 4-7 with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He has not finished the sixth inning since coming back from injury. In his most recent start, he gave up 10 hits and two earned run in 5 1/3 innings. Adam LaRoche is 7-for-20 with two doubles and a homer and five RBIs vs. Burnett and Jayson Werth is 2-for-9 with two homers.


Opposing pitcher: Gonzalez, 7-3, 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, is one of the best pitchers in the National League. He his 10th in ERA, 16th in WHIP, sixth in BAA (.207) and 11th in OPS-against (.621). He is beyond outstanding against lefties, which is why the Pirates have eight right-handed batters facing him. His line vs. left-handed hitters: .150./.165/.239 -- .404. Against right-handers his line is ..225/.320/.368 -- .688.  He has faced almost exactly three times more RHB than LHB yet he has walked 47 righties and only two lefties. In his most recent start, a 3-1 win over the Dodgers, he pitched six innings and allowed four hits and no runs while walking two and striking out 11.


Pirates lineup, 12:35 start:


1. Marte, LF

2. Mercer, 2B

3. McCutchen, CF

4. Martin, C

5. Alvarez, 3B

6. Sanchez, 1B

7. Harrison, RF

8. Barmes, SS

9. Burnett, P


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You be the GM!

Thursday, 25 July 2013 02:30 AM


A week remains in the non-waiver trading period and speculation from people who should know is that there will not be a lot of action and not a lot of big-time deals will be made.


That’s OK for the Pirates. They don’t need a big-time deal. As currently constructed, they’re good enough to make the postseason. They have an nine-game lead in the wild card race and are 1 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis.


The floor is being thrown open to the readers today.


What needs to be done -- within reason?


White Sox outfielder Alex Rios looks all but out of the question. The Pirates need to set their goals a bit lower.  Still, there are player out there who could upgrade the team. Here are the Pirates’ primary needs:


* A hitter who can give them more production in right field than Travis Snider and Jose Tabata.


* A utility utility infielder who is better than Josh Harrison and preferably one who can platoon with Neil Walker at second base.


* Everyone says you can't have enough pitching. But to get a starter better than the five the Pirates have would be too costly. The bullpen is outstanding and there's more depth at Indianapolis, if needed. Pitching is a secondary need.


In proposing deals remember that general manager Neal Huntington is not likely to trade any  big-time prospects. The highest-rated prospect Huntington has traded is Robbie Grossman, who, at best, was in the second half of the team’s top 10. The top prospects are not going to be moved.


So what can the Pirates expect to get for less than their best prospects?


Would Jose Tabata be of interest to another team?

The floor is yours. You be the GM!


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Liriano outduels Strasburg

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 10:05 PM


How good was that?


Two dominating pitchers dueling in the backdrop of a pennant race, as a preseason favorite battled to catch up in the game and in the standings to the surprise team of the season.


And didn’t.


Francisco Liriano, the dazzling surprise package of the 2013 free-agent crop, went pitch for pitch tonight with Washington's Stephen Strasburg, the one-time phenom who continues to excel, and came out a winner.


For eight innings the only difference between the two in this spectacula matchup  -- Liriano, 7 2/3 innings, two hits, no runs, eight strikeout; Strasberg, eight innings, two hits, one run, 12 strikeouts -- was a second-inning home run by Pedro Alvarez, his 26th of the season.

It stood that way until the ninth when the Pirates broke the game open and then halted a Washington rally to win, 4-2. 

The victory was their fourth straight and slammed the door on a three-game losing streak that preceded it -- a stretch that had the fans nervous but not this team. The Pirates are now 21 games over .500 and riding a wave of one outstanding pitching performance after another.


Liriano, plain and simple the Pirates best pitcher, came back from his worst start of the season last week, with what could easily be classified as his best. He didn’t get  the complete game that he posted on July 5 but he did get complete domination of the Nationals.


He had a no-hitting going until two were out in the sixth. Anthony Rendon hit a hard bouncer to the left of Pedro Alvarez, who dove and knocked down the ball but could not recover it to make the throw. Liriano walked Ryan Zimmerman to move the tying run into scoring position but struck out Jason Werth to end the inning.


With a runner on second in the eighth, via a single and a sacrifice, Liriano struck out Scott Hairston and was relieved by Justin Wilson, who retired Rendon on a foul pop up.


The Pirates took much of the drama out of the game in ninth by scoring three times, with Neil Walker’s double driving in the first and Michael McKenry bases-loaed single the next two.


But the Nationals retrieved the drama in their half of the inning. With Wilson still pitching, Ryan Zimmerman opened the inning with a single and Werth followed with a home run. That brought on Mark Melancon, the Pirates new closer, with a chance for his third save of the season but first since taking over for injured Jason Grilli. He got it on a strikeout, a single and a double play.


The Pirates have a chance to sweep the Nationals tomorrow afternoon when A.J. Burnett pitches against Washington left-hander Gio Gonzalez.


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Pirates-Nationals: Enter the aces

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 04:15 PM


The Pirates scored 11 runs on 18 hits in winning the first two games of their series with the Washington Nationals,  but they were facing Dan Haren, one of the worst starters in the National League this season, and Taylor Jordan, making his fourth MLB start.


Washington steps it up quite bit in terms of pitching for the remaining two games of the series. Tonight right-hander Steven Strasburg, 5-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, starts for the Nationals and tomorrow it's left-hander Gio Gonzalez, 7-3 this season, 21-8 last year.


At 25, Strasburg is removed from pheenom status but, other than his W-L record, his numbers speak to the fact he’s living up to his promise. He’s top 15 or lower in ERA, WHIP, BAA and K/9. Strasburg is in the midst of his worst month of the season. He has a 5.32 ERA in July. From May 11 to June 21 he had seven straight starts where he allowed one run or fewer.


*  *  *


Time to bounce back: Francisco Liriano, 9-4, 2.44 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, is coming off his worst start of the season -- 4 1/3 innings, five runs, five hits, four walks against Cincinnati Friday. Left-handers are batting .127 (8-for-63, one extra base hit) right-handers .251 (60-for-239) against Liriano. He has a 1.67 ERA at home and a 3.12 ERA on the road.


This and that: Over the past 28 days, Garrett Jones has an OPS of 854; over the past 14 days it is 1.013; over the past seven it is 1.366 . . . Russell Martin threw out his 20th baserunner last night. That’s the most by a Pirates catcher since -- do you believe this? -- Ronny Paulino nailed 24 in 2006 . . . Starling Marte is hitless in his last 17 at bats. This is the second straight month Marte has more hit batsmen than walks -- 4-3 in June and 3-2 in July . . .  Gaby Sanchez had a double last night, giving him three hits in 22 at bats this month (.136) . . . When scoring five or more runs, the Pirates have won 17 straight times.


Extra starter:  With a doubleheader against St. Louis Tuesday, the Pirates will need an extra starter. Once a problem for the team, it's not this year. Jeanmar Gomez will move easily into one of those Tuesday starts.


Top two (in at bats) in each batting order spot: 1. Marte 385, Alex Presley 28;  2. Travis Snider 112, Neil Walker 71;  3. Andrew McCutchen 358, Jones 11;  4. Jones 210, Sanchez 96;  5. Martin 143, Walker 79;  6. Pedro Alvarez 178, Walker 45;  7. Walker 47,  Martin 46;  8. Clint Barmes 185, Jordy Mercer 59.


Pirates lineup, 7:05 start:


1. Marte, LF

2. Walker, 2B

3. McCutchen, CF

4. Alvarez, 3B

5. Jones, 1B

6. Snider, RF

7. McKenry, C

8. Barmes, SS

9. Liriano, P

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NFL is just as dirty as MLB

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 02:45 PM


MLB has so badly botched the public relations aspect of drug enforcement -- including the incredibly stupid decision to commission the Mitchell Report -- that it has by its own buffoonery drawn attention away from other sports.  Meanwhile the NFL, in comparative quiet, suspends drug abusers and then goes about the business of football without turning it into a three-ring media circus.




By Matt Calkins, San Diego Union-Tribune


Major League Baseball — the cheating capital of American sports. Yeah, right.


Dugouts and bullpens — homes to the most crooked athletes in the USA. Dude, take off the blinders.


To conclude that baseball is a cheater’s Mecca based on the suspensions and investigations is to conclude that cockroaches prefer open spaces because you see one in your kitchen.


No, baseball’s problems just happen to be in plain sight — but it won’t be alone in its visibility for long. So if you’re a football fan praising the NFL’s purity, or a hoops hound loving the NBA’s integrity — prepare yourself. In time, your league will be exposed.


Read the rest of the story.


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Penn State: A year later

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 01:15 PM


This week is the anniversary of the day chief NCAA blowhard Mark Emmert felt the need to show the world how tough he was and go where his organization had never gone before and impose sanctions on Penn State University and its football program, some of which were grotesquely unfair.




By Dennis Dodd,


SOMEWHERE NEAR A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL -- A year later, they have something to have and to hold. At least there's that at Penn State. They're not quite sure how long it will last, but it beats the car wreck they rolled up to that morning last summer when they flipped on their TVs.


"This," former Penn State linebacker Mike Mauti said last July 26, "is the first year of Penn State."


For a school in its 158th year of existence, the statement made total sense at that time. The new normal at Penn State meant that the Grand Experiment began to transform into The Way Out. Jerry Sandusky went in jail. Joe Paterno was gone. The Freeh Report was later released in all its ignominy. Victims continued to sort out their lives.


Three days prior to Mauti's statement, Penn State's chief export, its identity -- that pride and joy to have and to hold -- had effectively been de-emphasized by the NCAA.

Rread the rest of the story.

*  *  *


John Luciew, The Patriot-News: Penn State, Emmert, NCAA: Who really prevailed?




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Stark: A dud of a deadline

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 11:00 AM


Deals will be made between now and July 31, but Jayson Stark writes not that much should be expected. With the additional wild card, fewer teams are sellers and with additional revenue sharing more teams are signing their best player. As for the Pirates, they still need offensive help, but with Garrett Jones heating up, Neil Walker back, Andrew McCutchen on fire and Pedro Alvarez seemingly stabilized, Neal Huntington is less likely to overpay for another bat.



By Jayson Stark,


"Here's a story you should write," a high-ranking large-market executive was saying the other day. "There are no players anymore.


"I mean that," he said. "There's a real shortage of players."


All right, so he didn't quite mean that there are literally "no players." Every big league roster still has 25 of them, same as it ever was. Count 'em up for yourself.


What he did mean was this: It's July, and -- now that Matt Garza has dialed up Allied Van Lines -- there are practically no significant players to trade for. Maybe you've noticed that.


So keep that in mind as you click on Rumor Central 18 times a day and gear up for another fun-filled baseball trading deadline, OK? It's a major stretch to call any player currently on the market a true "difference-maker." And that's causing some serious frustration in front offices around the majors.


Read the rest of the story.


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McLouth trade looking pretty good

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 07:00 AM


Nobody asked me, but . . .


* Through all the pro and con screaming about the Nate McLouth trade that has taken place over the past 50 months, did anyone envision that the two pitchers acquired in that deal, whom no one had ever heard of at the time, would pitch back-to-back wins for the Pirates four years later -- in the middle of a pennant race?


* I simply do not get the grudge some people have against Neal Huntington. Yes, he was a poor GM early in his tenure. He might be a poor GM later in his tenure. But he has done an outstanding job putting this team together. The constant need to bash Huntington on the smallest of issues is amazing. Some people are missing a great season waiting -- hoping? -- for the Pirates to collapse.


*, a highly respected site, list 50 blue-chip NFL players, only one of whom is a Steeler -- Ben Roethlisberger.


* The MLB All-Star Game drew 11 million viewers, which shows some sports fans will watch anything. The Pro Bowl drew an audience of 12.2 million, which proves the same thing.


* Utterly amazing how some people think Gaby Sanchez, who has a lifetime OPS of .882 against left-handed pitching, and whose batting line vs. lefties this season was .283/.411/.550 -- .961, should be sent to the minors. The Pirates have improved -- but not by that much.


* How many out there still think Tiger Woods will win more major golf titles Jack Nicklaus?


* The criticism of Clint Hurdle’s handling of the bullpen is mystifying. The Pirates have one of the best bullpens in baseball and Hurdle has handled it superbly.


* My prediction is the Pirates will get involved in deadline trading no earlier than July 30th.


* Excellent performance by Gerrit Cole last night. Cole and Charlie Morton, who won Monday night, form a back end of the rotation that some teams wouldn’t mind having at the front end. Morton’s ERA is 3.35 and Cole’s 3.51. If they had enough innings, they’d be 21st and 24th in the National League. Not bad for the pitchers considered the fourth and fifth starters.


* Do you think Ryan Braun has damaged his chances of gaining Hall of Fame induction?


* Looks like I was dead wrong about Morton. I fully expected him to not make much of a contribution this season and any value he might have would be further down the road when he was fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.


* In his past 20 games, Garrett Jones has a slugging percentage well over .500 and an OPS well over .800. If Jones can continue to hit as he did last season, along with the production of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez and the return to the lineup of Neil Walker, there’s hope yet for the Pirates offense.


* Picking Pitt football fifth in its division of the ACC seems about right.


* Travis Snider is a favorite punching bag for a lot of people and there’s no question he’s been a major disappointment. But as a guy coming off the bench, the Pirates could do worse. He’s 7-for-28 as a pinch-hitter, very respectable, with a homer and five RBIs.


* The overdue release of Brandon Inge doesn’t mean the Pirates don’t have more work to do in upgrading their bench. Just as there was for Inge, there has to be a better alternative somewhere in professional baseball for Josh Harrison.

* I’m thinking this is one year when the MLB season doesn’t close down in Pittsburgh with the start of Steelers training camp.

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