Can Cole, Locke hold up?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 04:15 PM
In a listing of the top 10 stories of the second half of the MLB season, Tom Verducci lists the Pirates as No. 2. He has concerns, and not just about the offense. He wonders about the durability of Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole.


By Tom Verducci,


The All-Star Game is history, perhaps strangely literally so for a game that featured a record number of first-time participants and four players age 21 and younger. The stars of the night were 72-year-old Neil Diamond, 68-year-old Jim Leyland and 43-year-old pitcher Miriano Rivera.  For the record, there was no sign at Citi Field of Betty White.


Otherwise, it was just another example of how baseball is played in 2013: 65 batters came to the plate and only one of them knocked in a run with a hit. The best hitters on the planet produced a total of three runs. Pitching rules. Nothing new there, either.


Now it's time to turn our attention to the second half, when awards are won, pennant races are decided, records are chased . . . and bombshell drug suspensions hang in the balance.


Here's a look at the top 10 storylines of the second half:


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Pirates are living Royals' dream

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 02:30 PM


Kansas City Royals fans might look at the Pirates' success and wonder what happen to them. It was the Royals who were supposed to have the farm system brimming with talent. And what has it got them: a 43-49 record and another year of losing baseball.  It should be noted, though, that the Pirates 2013 success is more the result of shrewd personnel moves than a farm system that is massively producing MLB-ready talent


By Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star


Andrew McCutchen is a wonderful baseball player with great hair and a big smile. He does not, however, know much of anything about Kansas City or the Royals, and we know this from the way he explains how his Pirates have gone from national joke to baseball’s second-best record at the All-Star break.


“If you don’t do so well for so long, you have to eventually get better,” he says. “You’re drafting high. You’re getting key guys. It’s the laws of physics. It has to eventually turn around.”


I tell McCutchen that folks back in Kansas City are still waiting for physics to kick in, and he doesn’t say much. Laughs a little. Shrugs his shoulders. Not his problem. His Pirates are winning, he’s joined by four teammates here for Tuesday’s All-Star game, so he’ll leave the analyzing to us.


Don’t mind if we do. The Pirates are doing what the Royals keep talking about doing, or dreaming about doing. They are 56-37 and better positioned than ever to end a 20-year streak of losing seasons that dates back to Barry Bonds and Three Rivers Stadium.


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Cardinals are king of clutch

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 12:30 PM


It was mentioned here the other day that the Pirates had three players in the top 25 in batting average with runners in scoring position last year, which seemed to be pretty good. That showing pales into total insignificance compared to what the St. Louis Cardinals have done this year. The Cardinals have been incredible in such situations, which leads to this possibility:


Just as it has been widely speculated that the Pirates pitching will decline in the second half because it can’t continue to be that good, the same could be  true of the Cardinals ability to hit in the clutch.


Four of the top seven players in RISP batting average in the NL are Cardinals as are five of the top 13.  Their RISP numbers are truly amazing and a key factor in the team's first-half success.


* Alan Craig leads the NL with a .489 batting average (44-90), which is 156 points higher than his overall average.


* Matt Carpenter is fifth with a .391 BA (25-64), which is 70 points above his overall average.


* Yadier Molina is sixth with a .388 BA (33-85), which is 47 points above his overall average.


* Matt Holliday is sevenths with a .368 BA (25-68), which is 100 points above his overall average.


* Pete Kozma is 13th with a .338  BA (27-80), which is 105 points above his overall average.


Needless to say, St. Louis leads the NL. This is its team batting line in RISP situations: .337/408/.467 -- .876.


This is the Pirates: .230/.324/.333 -- .657. The Pirates are 14th in the league .


The Cardinals BA in RISP situations is 61 points higher than its season average; their OPS is 123 points higher. The Pirates team batting average is 12 points lower; their OPS is 40 points lower.


Craig has to be one of the most underrated players in MLB. In his four-year career, his OPS in RISP situations is close to 1.100. He led the league last year with a .400 average.


The Cardinals have recently been excellent in clutch situations. They were second in the league last year, first in 2011. But they’ve never been this good.


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Crime in the NFL

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 10:30 AM


Who would have thought that among Pittsburgh's three pro sports teams the Steelers would be the one with the worst off-the-field image. They do, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Of course, it’s not just the Steelers, it’s the NFL.  Below is just about everything you would want to know about crime in the NFL. The Steelers are middle of the pack among players arrested since 2000 with 19.


A word of caution: There is nothing I've seen in these numbers that compares the NFL to the general population.


By Andrew Powell-Morse,


From murder charges against former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez, to attempted murder charges against Cleveland rookie Ausar Walcott, and DUI and burglary charges against troubled young WR Titus Young, the NFL has found itself in headlines for all the wrong reasons this off season. Are the 30+ players who have found themselves in a pair of cuffs since the Super Bowl cause for concern to the league, or is this just business as usual?


First let’s take a look at the assortment of things NFL players have been arrested for since 2000. In the table below you’ll find all of the different offenses, one of which is “Other.” “Other” offenses are those that simply defied classification.


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The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 12:15 AM


With the Pirates more legitimately involved in a pennant race that at any time since 1992, it’s not exactly the right time to talk about the team’s 2014 edition, but, hey, it’s a slow news week.


Based on what we’ve seen this year, the Pirates are a team built to compete in 2014. There are, of course, no guarantees in MLB. The Los Angeles Angels are just one example of that. But there’s reason to believe the Pirates can be competitive and a playoff-caliber team in 2014


Contracts are almost as important as talent in determining future rosters, and that’s particularly true of small-market teams. A look at the contractual status of the current Pirates:


Free agents after the season: A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Clint Barmes, Brandon Inge, Jeff Karstens.


Signed for next year: Russell Martin $8.5 million, Francisco Liriano $8 million, Andrew McCutchen $7.25 million, Jason Grilli $4 million, Jose Tabata $3 million; Pedro Alvarez $700,000.


Arbitration eligible with 2013 salary: Garrett Jones $4.5 million, Neil Walker $3.3 million, James McDonald $3.025 million, Charlie Morton $2 million, Gaby Sanchez $1.75 million.

Eligible for the first time: Mark Melancon, Travis Snider and Vin Mazzaro.


Under team control: Gerrit Cole, Jeanmar Gomez,  Josh Harrison, Jeff Locke, Starling Marte, Michael McKenry, Jordy Mercer, Bryan Morris, Alex Presley, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson,


Free agents: It’s hard to imagine the Pirates not being outbid for Burnett, who figures to be a sought-after player. With his injury history this year, Rodriguez might opt for the $13 million the Pirates (along with the Astros) have to pay him in 2014 and wait to test free agency after next season. Barmes, Karstens and Inge, if he finishes the season, will be allowed to walk.


Arbitration: McDonald and Snider will be non-tendered. Walker, Morton and Melancon will be signed. Mazzaro is questionable.


The status of Jones and Sanchez require elaboration. Jones stands to make close to $7 million next year and it’s unlikely the Pirates will pay that to a platoon player, particularly one having as mediocre a season as Jones is. Sanchez is the heir apparent but he’s been so disappointing that the Pirates might prioritize the acquisition of a first baseman in the offseason and nontender both Sanchez and Jones.


The 2014 lineup is set at second base, Walker; third base, Alvarez; left field Marte; center field, McCutchen; catcher Martin. Mercer is the probable shortstop.


Right field and first base are the keys. If the Pirates can upgrade those positions, and that’s not all that hard, the lineup can be better in 2014.


The starting rotation is brimming with candidates. Assuming Rodriguez exercises his $13 million option, he’ll be joined by Liriano, Locke, Cole, Morton and Gomez as starting candidates. There’s no one at the minor-league level jumping out until Jameson Taillon is ready, but several prospects, if healthy, will get an opportunity.


The bullpen should be fully loaded with Grilli, Melancon, Wilson, Watson. Morris and possibly Mazzaro returning. Jared Hughes and Vic Black will contend for bullpen spots. General manager Neal Huntington usually brings in unheralded pitching candidates and sometimes, as in the case of Gomez and Mazzaro, they surprise.

So much depends on the rest of the division. But the Pirates, who look like they are for real this season, also look to be the same in 2014

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2013 anti-All Stars

Tuesday, 16 July 2013 03:00 PM


With the real but not-worth-watching-roster-bloated All-Star Game hours away, here’s Scott Miller’s anti-All Stars. These are the men who have mostly stunk out the joint this season while making a huge sum of money. No Pirates made the team but one some fans last year were hoping would be a Pirates did -- Carlos Quentin.  The best trades are the ones you don’t make.


By Scott Miller,


Welcome, welcome one and all to our annual Anti-All Star Barbecue, Picnic and Bake Sale. Donations are tax deductible -- we're raising funds for a private batting coach for B.J. Upton.


We'll announce this summer's team of underachievers and reprobates in just a sec. First, a couple of introductions.


Those gentlemen and ladies over there by the wireless router? They're from the National Security Agency. Look! That text message I sent you a few moments ago asking for more Mountain Dew? They read it before you did!


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There’s all kinds of talk about MLB levying historic suspensions on the latest drug cheats, most notably Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. But whether those players serve a day of those suspensions will likely rest with the most important man in baseball you’ve never heard of.




By Maury Brown,


There are people in sports that we see on television, read about in the paper, or hear their name on radio. More often than not, they are the players on the field, but not always. When important matters hit sports outside the lines, the names “Bud Selig”, “Michael Weiner,” or “Rob Manfred” might crop up.


That’s especially the case now for Major League Baseball. Commissioner Selig will address the media on Tuesday before the All-Star Game, and you can bet the chief topic of discussion will be the Biogenesis PED scandal. It’s possible that as soon as the day after the All-Star Game, Ryan Braun, and Alex Rodriguez could be included in up to 20 players that will be suspended, the largest number of suspensions in the history of professional sports over performance-enhancing drugs.


While the league will announce the suspensions, the players cited will continue to play. That’s because all MLB players have been afforded a grievance process through the jointly agreed to drug program between the league and the MLB Players Association. As part of the appeals process, the cases will be heard by an arbitration panel.


While it is a panel in name, two of the three that sit on it have clear positions that fall in line with the sides in this matter. The league will have Rob Manfred, the Executive Vice President, Economics & League Affairs for Major League Baseball. For the players, it will be Michael Weiner, the Executive Director of the MLBPA. The league will of course vote to suspend, the MLBPA will back the player and ask for the suspension to be rescinded. It is the third person in this—the independent arbitrator—that will ultimately decide the fate of the players named in the Biogenesis suspensions. It is this man—one few have ever heard of—that is the most important person in baseball you’ve never heard of.

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Pouncey should meet McCutchen

Tuesday, 16 July 2013 11:00 AM


Maybe Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey should spend a little time with another star athlete from the state of Florida. Some good sense might rub off on him if he were around Andrew McCutchen, a young man who projects a humble image and invariably says the right thing. Which he does here talking about the Pirates playoff chances.

By Matt Snyder,


NEW YORK -- The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't hosted a playoff game since they played in Three Rivers Stadium. A 7-1 victory over the Braves in Game 5 of the 1992 NLCS was the last time there was a home MLB playoff game in Pittsburgh. There were over 52,000 die-hard Pirates fans in attendance.


Can we even begin to imagine how raucous a PNC Park crowd would be in the playoffs? It's a beautiful stadium in a city that loves its sports teams. Loyal Pirates fans have waited ... and waited ... and waited ... and waited to finally see another playoff team.


As things stand, the 56-37 Pirates would qualify as the first wild card, meaning they'd have a home playoff game. Superstar Andrew McCutchen said he does think about it, but he doesn't want to.


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