image from espn.com
Pirates 1 Astros 4
Pirates 6 Astros 3
Pirates 0 Astros 5
Wow. The Bucs had quite the week while I was gone. A couple of trades (Nyjer Morgan? Wouldn’t have been my first guess of who was to go next). So, as a result, what we saw go out in Game one was quite literally a AAA team. We had 6 players in the starting lineup (including the pitcher) who were in AAA last year. How you expect to win with a lineup like that is beyond me. Seriously. I almost decided to stop covering the Bucs in this blog because I only cover professional baseball. But, I guess I have to work with what I got. So here goes.
In that first game, the AAA Pirates couldn’t get going at all. They managed only 4 hits for a team batting average of .138. Ladies and gentlemen, the future of your Pittsburgh Pirates! Man, I sure hope these guys are still in the middle of the growing process. 5 position players went hitless, and Steve Pearce narrowly avoided the golden sombrero (strike out 4 times in a game), but only because he only got 3 at bats to strike out in. Just a game that made you want to stick your head in the sand and wait for Steelers training camp to start.
Game two was defined by 1 inning. Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss rejoined the lineup to decrease the number of AAA players by 2. It looked like the same old Pirates, though. Our offense was in serious condition at the beginning of the season, and this week its been downgraded to critical condition. The Pirates got 3 hits in the 7th inning and (aided by some very wild pitching) were able to put up 4 runs. Now if we can just find a pitcher who can’t find the strike zone every game, we’ll be fine. Dropping the 7th inning, however, we had 4 hits and 5 strike outs. Not a good ratio at all. Paul Maholm was on a bit of a skid and had an OK outing. Not great. Just OK. Hopefully he can build on it, though. We got away with one here.
Game three was just sad. Wandy Rodriguez pitched a complete game 5 hit shutout against us. Wandy. Rodriguez. Not a bad pitcher, but far from Cy Young. Just embarrassing. We struck out 11 times. 11 times! Charlie Morton showed flashes of brilliance and flashes of stupidity. He pitched a first pitch strike 8 times to 22 batters. That number has to go up. But he’s young. Just overall not a good day for your International League All Stars Pirates.
So, for those playing at home, that means this series we had a grand total of 16 hits and 22 strike outs. You read that stat right. We had a combined average of .172. I’ve seen a ton of bad baseball. It comes with the territory of living in Pittsburgh. But this series has got to be the absolute worst display of hitting I have ever seen. The numbers are laughable. Now, I realize that we’re EXTREMELY young after all of the trades (I was only half kidding about that International League All Stars crack), but an average of 5 hits per game is embarrassing. I’m real frustrated right now, and it doesn’t look like its going to end soon. On the contrary, the rest of the season looks like the longest 3 months of baseball we’ve ever seen around here…….and that’s saying something.
image from espn.com
Pirates 1 Astros 9
Pirates 6 Astros 4
Pirates 4 Astros 6
Ok. So we follow up a sweep of the first place Mets with….losing 2 of 3 to the last place Astros. The bipolar ball club strikes again! Following the Pirates is getting depressing. Every time they show a glimpse that they can play, they pull the rug out from under you and remind you how much they suck. I realize that most of you reading this are too swept up in the Pens to care what the Buccos are doing. It’s so frustrating, I can’t put it into words. So I’ll just make a soundtrack for you to listen to while you read to try to set the mood. Of course the mood is blues. Take it away, Mr. King:
So, game one was characterized by…you guessed it…the bats disappearing again. This time we managed only a depressing 6 hits. We made Mike Hampton look like an all-star. No extra base hits all day. Just depressing. I guess the one redeeming thing was that we picked the right day to fall flat in the batters box since the pitchers had a rough outing themselves. Jeff Karstens got knocked around 6 runs and 9 hits in a little over 5 innings. The baffling thing about it, though, was the walks and strikeouts. He walked 4 and struck out 2. Not that unusual until you see that he threw a first pitch strike to 21 of the 28 batters he faced. To start out ahead so much and have that kind of final results is very troubling. It’s something to definitely keep an eye on.
Game two was a rare example of the Pirates jumping on a team early and slamming the door. I think when we start seeing more wins like this, we’ll see the Pirates turning the corner. We jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the 3rd and wouldn’t let them come back. The Astros scored a single run in the 3rd and 4th, but that was it. Paul Maholm went 7 and gave his usual quality start. Grabow and Capps then shut it down. We’re a small ball team this year. Small ball teams can win, but they have to learn to keep leads when they get ’em. That’s why I like this win so much.
Game three was just maddening. So we go into the 7th down by 2. We get a little bit of a rally going and tie the game at 3. We’ve got the bases loaded and 1 out. The Astros have their second pitcher of the inning on the mound. The Pirates can smell blood. Up steps Adam LaRoche to hit into an inning ending double play. That’s another strong claim by Adam for the ‘player you would LEAST like to have up in a critical situation’ award. This is followed up by the bottom of the 7th when the Astros have men on first and second with 2 outs. Tejada steps up and hits a grounder to short. Ramon Vazquez makes a diving stop and proceeds to throw a wounded duck 3 feet away from second base. This despite the fact that he was 2 feet from the bag when he caught it. A run scores on the play, and the Buccos pack it in.
That was our season in a nutshell. We keep making enough plays to get us in contention. To be right where we need to be. Then we get to crunch time and proceed to choke. Every time. I can’t believe how bad we are with runners in scoring position. That’s the thing that drives you nuts with this ball club. Everyone on the team has a lot of talent. No one on this team is consistent with that talent at all. Next up is a four game set with Atlanta that should be fun because of you know who. It’s yet another wounded team we can steal a series from. Lets hope for better results.
image from espn.com
Pirates 1 Astros 6
Pirates 7 Astros 4
Pirates 1 Astros 2
So, while you were preoccupied with the Pens, the Pirates lost another series. Who saw that one coming? At least this year is more of a slow death, as opposed to the usual 12 game losing streak that eliminates all possible hope of a winning season before May.
The Astros were coming in on a 7 game losing streak. This is the second series in a row where we’ve had a good but vulnerable team across the diamond and we lost 2 of 3. Can’t happen. In game one, we stranded 7 batters and only managed 7 hits. The “here today gone tomorrow” offense we’ve got is the biggest story of the year. It’s getting to be maddening. Brian Moehler pitched a complete game and was the big story of the day. But it wasn’t Moehler, it was the anemic Pirate offense that won the game for Houston.
In game two, the Pirate bats decided to show up again. There were a couple of nice rallies against Wandy Rodriguez (I love that name), and Jeff Karstens did just enough for the win. Gorzelanny came in to try to close the game out (no save opportunity), and hiccuped in the 9th despite a decent 8th inning. Matt Capps came in to save the day, and didn’t even go through the adventure that he normally gives Pirate fans. It was also a skyblast, so some fans actually got to see a decent Bucco game.
Game three saw the Bucco bats go back into hibernation, going 4-30. 4 hits! That’s it! That’s a .133 team batting average. The worst part of it is that we wasted a really good start by Paul Maholm. He’s been doing some quality work this year, and we can’t seem to give him any help. Mike Hampton went 7 and gave up 3 of the 4 hits, but once again, it wasn’t the Astros pitching, it was the Pirate batting.
Frustration with this team is growing. People are howling for Snell’s head, but there’s no one below to take his place. The Pirates show flashes of good hitting, and then seemingly take nights off. I’m going to do a study comparing and contrasting the bipolar bucs bats later (once hockey season ends). You’ll be amazed.
image from espn.com
Pirates 7 Astros 0
Pirates 1 Astros 4
Pirates 3 Astros 6
Ok. Just to be straight with everyone, I didn’t get to see a single one of these games. 2 afternoon games + 1 game directly overlapping a Pens playoff game = 0 games watched by me. So everything I’m writing comes directly off of the box scores. In other words, take what you read here with a grain of salt.
In the first game, Zach Duke decided to go crazy. The guy is off to a tremendous start which is really good to see. That’s the second complete game of the year (though the first one wasn’t a Pirate pitcher). I wonder if we’re seeing a trend in Major League Baseball? The bats also came alive with homers by Doumit and Adam LaRoche. Adam’s really been hitting well to start the season, and he’s starting to show some power already. Plus, his strikeout numbers aren’t TOO bad (I’m trying to keep low expectations for him since his style is pretty much all or nothing at the plate). Maybe we won’t see the early season struggles we’ve come to know and love from him.
Ross Ohlendorf didn’t have a great game on Thursday, but if the Buccos are only going to give him 1 run in support, there’s not much he can do. There’s a disturbing trend popping up for the Pirates. They have 7.5 runs per game in their 4 wins, and 1.6 runs per game in their 5 losses. Compare that to the pitchers who have given up 2.5 runs per game in the wins, and 4.6 runs per game in the losses. That’s still a difference, but much more consistent than the offense. Especially when you take the 9 run disaster Ian Snell pitched in St. Louis out of the equation (that would make it 3.5 runs per game). I think everyone (including me) thought that the season would hinge on the pitching. Well, the pitchers are holding up their end of the bargain, and it’s up to the hitters to manufacture some runs on a consistent basis.
This was the second straight day that the Pirate’s starter (Jeff Karstens this time) struggled and couldn’t make it to the 6th inning. This has been a consistent problem for the Bucs, and really does a number on the bullpen later in the season if it isn’t stopped. Now, again, I only watched spurts of this on the afternoon replay, but 5 walks in 4 innings tells me Karstens was dealing with some serious control issues. On the bright side of things, the back end of the bullpen continues to look strong. Sean Burnett gave up a critical home run, but besides that the front end of the pen has had a decent start to the year as well. They were thought to be a major weakness coming into the season. In other news, Nyjer Morgan continues to be on fire. So much so that I’m worried about when this streak is going to end. He hit the .400 mark today. That’s sick. But he still only has one walk so far this year, and as soon as his bat slows, he’s going to need to find that other way on base. Especially in the lead-off spot. It’s got me a little worried. But, in the mean-time, it would be great if he could stand close to Nate McLouth from now on so maybe he catches fire too.