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Pirates/Braves Recap

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pirates 6 Braves 7 (15 innings)

Pirates 3 Braves 4

Pirates 3 Braves 2

Pirates 3 Braves 1

Hey, remember when I recapped the Astros series and I said this was a frustrating team to follow?  Well, I didn’t know the half of it.  Let’s set the stage first.  The Braves are struggling.  They have a pretty decent rotation, but they can’t seem to score runs.  Their extreme desperation is the reason the Nate McLouth trade took place weeks before the trade deadline.

Speaking of Nate, he wasted no time getting a shot in against Pirate management where it counts.  He went 3 for 7 with a home run in game one.  Funniest scene of the year was Zach Duke’s reaction to the homer.  It just smacked of ‘how the heck could you do that to me, man?’.  The game turned out to be a marathon.  We had a ton of chances in late innings to score a run or two and end the thing, but failed to come up with clutch hitting each time.  There were for times in the 8th inning and beyond (when one run would have pretty much won it) where we had a man in scoring position and failed to get him home.  We came back from a 5-1 deficit to tie it.  We had the momentum and a desperate team on the ropes.  We had our bullpen throwing the best I’ve ever seen them throw, and we blew it.  Again.  The most odd ball thing about this game, though, was the decision to put Jeff Karstens on the mound in the 15th inning.  We had used up every one of our relievers by that time except for Matt Capps.  Now, I know using your closer for a late game relief appearance is not desirable, but why not put him out there for an inning or two before throwing a starter out there?  Karstens of course throws up on himself and walks the first batter.  A sac bunt and two hits later and the game is over.  I’m not a baseball genius, but maybe Jeff didn’t pitch so well because, I don’t know, he hasn’t had to quickly warm up and throw in  relief since he was a Yankee?  I honestly have no idea what John Russell was thinking.  To make things worse, the Braves were in worse shape pitching wise.  Kris Medlen was pitching for Atlanta in the 15th.  He also threw the 14th and was the last relief pitcher Atlanta had.  Plus, they didn’t have a AAA pitcher in need of a quick call-up like Charlie Morton to make up for  using a starter.  If the Pirates don’t give up a run in the 15th, the Braves have to either screw up their rotation or use a position player.  Neither is desirable.  It was an awful game to watch because we had the game won, and lost it with bad strategy and hitting.  The one bright spot, however, was the continued hot streak of Andrew McCutchen with 2 triples.  This soon changed, however, as you’ll read later.

Game two was equally frustrating.  We built up an early 3-1 lead after 4, and just let the Braves slowly eat into it.  Ross Ohlendorf took the hill for the Pirates and gave them 6 innings.  He gets charged with 3 earned runs, but I only credit him with 2.  He gave up a single to the first batter in the 7th before getting the hook, and Sean Burnett let him in.  Having a man on first with no outs is not a hard jam to get out of.  The bullpen definitely let the team down in this one, but I can’t believe how the bats disappeared in the second half of the game.  We were lucky to get one man on per inning after the 4th.  It was pathetic.  We’re a small ball team.  We’ve got some speed, and we’ve got some players who can slap a ball the opposite way for a hit.  We don’t have any home run hitters (especially with Doumit on the bench).  That’s fine.  You can win with small ball (look at Tampa), but you need consistency if you’re going to do that, and we have none.

Game three was a close game we finally won.  Once again, we jump out to a quick 2 run lead, but this time we’re able to tack on another run in the 7th to seal it.  That extra insurance makes all the difference, and it especially did in this game because Matt Capps came up with a 2 run lead in the 9th and gives up a solo shot.  Still not a great day for the Pirate bats.  We got absolutely no production from the bottom half of the order.  The 5-9 spots were a combined 1 for 15.  That’s right.  1 for 15.  How terrible can you get?  We also didn’t get a great outing from McCutchen who went 0 for 5.  So, basically, Sanchez and Morgan won us this game.  Thanks guys!  The big news from the game, however, was Charlie Morton’s debut.  He went all of 1 inning before being yanked with a sore hamstring.  McLouth dings us for a homer.  The guy we get in return gives us one solid inning of work.  <smacks head against desk>  Crap.

Game four was the afternoon closer.   This was a pitchers duel from the start.  Paul Maholm and Javier Vazquez both pitched outstanding.  Vazquez struck out 12 in 8 innings.  Maholm struck out 8 in 7.  The Braves struck first in the 4th inning, capitalizing on a rare fielding error by Jack Wilson (he didn’t have his best game overall).  We got it right back in the 5th off a solo shot by Delwyn Young.  That’s his first as a Succo, I mean Bucco.  Andrew McCutchen continued his mini slump, going 1-4.  But that one hit was a key one that started off a game-winning 2-run 9th inning.  I’m starting to wonder if maybe pitchers are starting to figure him out?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

So a most frustrating series against Atlanta, but at least we get the sweep.  I feel like we definitely could have taken 3.  This is the not the Braves team that won all those division titles.  This is a team even the Pirates have a shot at.  Detroit is coming to town starting tomorrow evening.  That should be an interesting fan atmosphere on Saturday no matter what happens in game 7 tomorrow.  Lets go Bucs!

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Nate, We Hardly Knew Thee…

image from bleacherreport.com

image from bleacherreport.com

Wow.  I was all ready for a night off before the Pens game tomorrow, and then the Pirates decide to mess things up.  In a shocker, the Buccos trade Nate McLouth to Atlanta for pitchers Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton as well as outfielder Gorkys Hernandez.

So I’ve done just a bit of research on these guys (there’s not much out there).  Morton is the prize of the bunch.  He’s a AAA guy who’s had a few cups of coffee in the bigs.  He already has his first major league win.  In the minors he’s posting a 7-2 record with a 2.52 ERA.  Last year (also tripple A), he was 5-2 with a 2.05 ERA.  That’s pretty consistent.  I like consistency in pitchers.  He has an excellent strikeout/walk ratio (3.44 this year) which means he’s got some control (something the rest of the staff lacks).  He’s got a pretty good WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) that has been about 1.0 throughout his career.  Unfortunately, during his stints in the majors, it has not been the same story.  He had a 4-8 record last year with a 6.15 ERA.  The pretty strikeout/walk ratio dropped to 1.17, and the WHIP ballooned to 1.62.  That’s slightly below average for a major leaguer.  Now, the risk becomes whether that is just nerves from the first run in the bigs or if that’s a sign that he just can’t make the jump from AAA hitters to pro hitters (a la Tom Gorzelanny).

Locke and Hernandez are both low minor leaguers (A and AA respectively), so stats are pretty much worthless.  Locke is not really impressive with an ERA hovering around 5, and Hernandez seems to be a decent hitter (around a career .300 average).   But both of them have areas to work on.  Locke seems to have the velocity and raw talent, but needs to work on his control (gee.  That seems to be a reoccurring theme with Pirate pitching pickups).  Hernandez is a decent hitter who could be a much better hitter if he developed some patience.  He almost never walks.

So we have a borderline major leaguer who needs to prove himself at the highest level and a couple of projects with good upsides.  I totally understand why this trade was made.  We have some good young outfielders and not a lot of pitching.  You trade away something you have a lot of for something you don’t have enough of.  That what trades are for.  I also realize why people are upset.  Nate was a proven commodity.  The other three are not.  Well, that’s the risk a small market team has to make.

This is really the bottom line in the economic system of baseball.  The haves can out-spend their mistakes and the have-nots can’t.  Every team has now realized that with the rookie salaries, it’s very profitable to get quality output from young players.  Therefore, top prospects are hot commodities.  Even small market teams can win with these young guys (see Rays, Tampa Bay).  However, if a prospect doesn’t pan out, small market teams can’t go for free agents like large market team can.  That’s why the Rays can get to the World Series once in a while, while the Red Sox can make the playoffs every year.  The Buccos have to take this risk so that they have a wave of prospects that can come up together.  It may pay off, it may not.  Get ready for a crucifixion of Pirate management if it doesn’t.

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Pirates/Braves Series Recap

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pirates 3 Braves 0

Pirates 10 Braves 0

Pirates 1 Braves 11

I think the only way to really describe this series is bipolar. It started out innocent enough. Maholm pitched 7 scoreless innings. The bullpen did its job. The hitters struggled, but Nate McLouth comes through with a 2 run dinger to give us some breathing room. We eek out a win. That’s about as standard a game as you get in Major League Baseball. For those keeping track at home, that’s the first win of the year where we’ve gotten less than 6 runs of support. Not a good stat for the pitching staff, even though they’ve been doing a surprisingly decent job so far.

Game two saw some major fireworks from the good guys. Craig Monroe hit two three run homers and got himself a curtain call. Ryan Doumit went 3-4 with a pair of doubles, 3 runs and an RBI (on his bobble head day no less). Ian Snell had some control issues towards the end, but got through the jams to give 7 scoreless innings of work. I’ll take that every time. We just looked like world-beaters.

Game three saw the two teams apparently switch jerseys. Or maybe the Braves just got fed up with loosing to the Pirates. Who knows? The Braves smacked us around the yard going 15-36 (That’s a .416 team batting average. That’s right kids, they averaged Ty Cobb numbers against us). Fortunately (I guess) they spread those numbers around to all three pitchers. Neither Zach Duke nor Craig Hansen nor Donnie Veal had any luck. Baseball’s a funny game. Anything can happen in any game, but overall, things tend to work themselves out. The Buccos are right at .500 now. They could pull away and make this the year to break the streak. They could fall flat into the basement as usual. Even after a couple of weeks, you still don’t know. That’s why this is a maddening game.

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