Bax’s Bucco Blog: Strong in the Face of Adversity
Simply put, the Pirates have had the best pitching in all of major league baseball through three weeks. The incredible starting pitching has led the MLB with 12 quality starts in 18 games and the team ERA is just over 3.00. That’s downright magnificent. Thanks to their starting pitching and a much more consistent offense (the Pirates scored no less than 3 runs in all 6 games this week), the Pirates reeled off a 5-1 week against opposition which entered the week with a combined record of 20-4! It was a banner week for the Buccos.
However, despite the wonderful week on the field, the Pirates ran into some major issues on the injury front. Star catcher Ryan Doumit was placed on the disabled list after having wrist surgery and is expected to miss at least six weeks of action. He was followed to the disabled list by shortstop Jack Wilson (injured finger) and reliever Craig Hansen (neck & shoulder issues). The list doesn’t end there either, as All-Star centerfielder Nate McLouth strained an oblique muscle and missed the final three games of the week. However, McLouth isn’t expected to go on the disabled list and will hopefully be ready to go at some point in this week.
With all of the injuries, that means that the Pirates had to make some call ups from AAA Indianapolis. Shortstop Brian Bixler acquitted himself well in Wilson’s absence, while catcher Robinson Diaz also had a strong debut. In place of Hansen, the Bucs recalled reliever Evan Meek, who had a very strong Spring Training but fell ill late thanks to a battle with Bronchitis. Hopefully, these three will show the depth of the Pirates system and contribute until Doumit, Wilson and company return.
A major reason for the Pirates’ excellent 5-1 week was a much more consistent offensive showing. While getting outstanding pitching has almost become routine in the first three weeks of the season, the Pirates run production of 8, 3, 7, 3, 10, and 8 runs was excellent. That’s an average of 6.5 runs per game and no game produced less than 3 runs. If the Pirates’ offense can continue that sort of production than the inevitable step back that the pitching staff has to take (they can’t be THIS good the entire season, it would be shocking) won’t have a major effect on the Pirates record.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Monday: Pittsburgh 8, Florida 0______ The Pirates opened a 3 game set in dominating fashion over baseball’s best team during the season’s first two weeks thanks to an outstanding start by Russ Ohlendorf. The Pirates knocked out 11 hits and Nate McLouth had 4 RBIs in the win.
Tuesday: Pittsburgh 3, Florida 2______ In a nail biting game, the Pirates took a 3-1 lead early on a Freddy Sanchez home run and held on as Jeff Karstens pitched six very solid innings, only allowing 1 run for his first quality start of the year. Matt Capps nailed down his 4 th save of the year to preserve the win after the Marlins drew within 1 run in the 8 th.
Wednesday: Pittsburgh 7, Florida 4___ Paul Maholm is human after all. After starting the year by allowing only 2 earned runs in 20 innings of work, Maholm allowed 4 runs in his 6 innings pitched in the series finale. However, the Pirates rallied in the bottom of the 6 th and broke a 4-4 tie to go ahead for good. Matt Capps saved the day for the second consecutive game and Adam LaRoche’s 4-5 day at the plate allowed Maholm to move to 3-0 for the young season and sealed the series sweep at home. This game finished up a 9 game homestand which saw the Pirates finish 6-3.
Thursday: OFF DAY
Friday: San Diego 4, Pittsburgh 3______ It took 11 innings for the Pirates to lose to the Padres. Starter Ian Snell allowed 3 runs in 5 innings of work but the bullpen rose magnificently to the challenge, pitching 5 shoutout innings before closer Matt Capps gave up the game winning run in the 11 th. The Pirates worst offensive outing of the week wasted a solid pitching performance and the Buccos’ three game winning streak was snapped.
Saturday: Pittsburgh 10, San Diego 1__ The Pirates rebounded from their bullpen-taxing extra inning loss by scoring 10 runs in support of Zach Duke, who pitched 8 1/3 innings of 1 run baseball. Not only did the Pirates rebound well at the plate but Duke gave the relievers a much-needed day of rest. Craig Monroe, starting in place of the injured McLouth, went 3-5 with 3 RBIs to lead the Pirate attack.
Sunday: Pittsburgh 8, San Diego 3____ _The Pirates earned a series win thanks to a solid start from Ross Ohlendorf, who pitched 7 innings and only allowed 3 runs. Call-ups Bixler and Diaz both went 1-3 at the plate with 2 RBIs apiece to bolster the Pirate attack and Adam LaRoche finished a great week at the plate with 2 home runs and 4 RBIs against San Diego ace Jake Peavy. John Grabow continued his scoreless streak to start the season by pitching the game’s final two innings.
1) THE BROTHERS LAROCHE: Both brothers had another excellent week. After Andy’s terrible start to the season, he’s now reeled off 8 straight games with a hit. Last week, he batted .348 with 5 RBIs. The power hasn’t come yet but Andy has been very productive. Big brother Adam, meanwhile, has been extremely hot. This week’s .409 average, .536 OBP, 2 Home runs and 8 RBIs cemented what should be a career month of April. Both brothers were also perfect defensively.
2) JASON JARAMILLO: After losing a great switch-hitting catcher for two months, it is a very good sign that the Pirates can plug in another switch-hitting catcher and get a .389 average and a .476 OBP from him in his first week as the new starter. Jaramillo is a much tougher out than anyone expected and if he can remotely approach his production from his first week as the #1 guy behind the plate, the Pirates will be perfectly fine until Doumit returns.
3) NYJER MORGAN: Yet another strong week from the leadoff hitter. Morgan batted .304, had a .433 OBP, stole 3 bases, scored a team-high 7 runs and drove in 2, all while provided excellent defense. Morgan’s season average now sits at .329 and his OBP is just a hair under .400. He’s off to a great start.
4) ROSS OHLENDORF: Two quality starts, 14 innings pitched, 3 earned runs, 7 strikeouts and most importantly, a 2-0 record. Ohlendorf has been great thus far and the depth he provides to the rotation as the #4 guy makes the Pirates that much stronger. There aren’t many teams that can run a 4 th starter out who is as talented and that’s a big edge over the course of a long season. Ohlendorf had a great week.
Honorable Mention: Freddy Sanchez, Zach Duke, Matt Capps
1) THE INJURIES: The Pirates are currently missing 3 of their 8 position starters from Opening Day. That’s not good, especially since only Nate McLouth avoided the DL. The Pirates can’t afford any more losses on an offense that just reeled off its first consistent week of the season.
2) BRANDON MOSS: The centerpiece of the Jason Bay trade is going to have to improve if he wants to hold off Craig Monroe and Eric Hinske in right field when McLouth returns. This week produced a .125 average and his first RBI of the year while Hinske and Monroe impressed, both hitting over .300 for the week. Moss doesn’t have a lot of time to turn around what has been a forgettable April at the plate with the veteran production behind him.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday , 8:05 PM EST @ Milwaukee, Jeff Karstens (1-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. Braden Looper (2-0, 2.12 ERA)
Tuesday , 8:05 PM EST @ Milwaukee, Paul Maholm (3-0, 2.03 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (1-0, 3.86 ERA)
Wednesday : 1:05 PM EST @ Milwaukee, Ian Snell (1-2, 4.50 ERA) vs. Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 3.71 ERA)
Thursday : OFF DAY
Friday : 7:05 PM EST vs. Cincinnati, Zach Duke (3-1, 2.43 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (3-1, 6.48 ERA)
Saturday : 7:05 PM EST vs. Cincinnati, Ross Ohlendorf (2-2, 3.24 ERA) vs. Micah Owings (1-2, 3.78 ERA)
Sunday : 1:35 PM EST vs. Cincinnati, Karstens (1-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (1-1, 2.55 ERA)
The Pirates have yet another tough week ahead, facing two divisional opponents. The trip to Milwaukee will be difficult, considering that the Pirates have lost their last 15 games at Miller Park! Furthermore, all 3 of the Brewers’ starters in the series have been solid this year. However, there is a silver lining: The Brewers have started 2-4 at home this year and sit at a pedestrian 8-10 to start the year, so the Pirates are definitely the hotter team (winners of 7 of their last 9 games).
The Pirates then return home after a travel day and will look to build off of their 6-3 mark from the opening homestand. The Reds are 10-8 to start the year and are 7-3 on the road this year. However, the Pirates will have the pitching advantage in two of the three games, as Duke and Ohlendorf both sport better ERAs than their counterparts from Cincy. Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce has been heating up of late and will be very dangerous at the plate in this series.
Overall, if the Pirates can continue their good play and come out of the week with a 4-2 record, it will be a successful week. On paper, this week isn’t as challenging as last week since their two opponent’s winning percentage is only .500 versus the incredible .833 mark that the Marlins and Padres sported going into last week.
Expect Bax’s Bucco Blog to be a weekly feature every Sunday or Monday. If you have any comments, questions, grievances, Bucco sob stories or general insults, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
By: Matt Baxendell
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