Bax’s Bucco Blog: Power Outage
Simply put, the Pirate offense is largely to blame for the Buccos’ 1-5 showing this week, which brings the season record to an even 12-12. While being .500 after 4 weeks isn’t bad, the fact that the Buccos began the week 4 games over .500 makes it a lot tougher to take.
Back to the offense. The last time that a Pirate hit a home run was last Sunday in San Diego, when Adam LaRoche hit two. That’s an entire week of baseball without a long ball and that is also unacceptable. Before those two bombs, the last time any Pirate hit a home run was the previous Tuesday! That means the Pirates have gone nearly two weeks with only 2 home runs, both by the same player in the same game! While the offense began the week on solid footing, putting up back to back 5 spots, the Pirates followed that by being SHUT OUT in 3 of the next 4 games. Not coincidentally, the only game during that span which the Pirates actually scored some runs was the only one that they won.
The bullpen did the Pirates little favor this week as well, losing the first two games against Milwaukee while allowing 6 runs. They followed up that not-so-stellar performance by allowing 6 runs in the first two games against Cincinnati. Tyler Yates (5 runs allowed) and John Grabow (4 runs allowed) were the primary culprits in the bullpen’s implosion.
The starting pitching, on the other hand, was again a bright spot outside of Jeff Karstens. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Karstens had two starts this week and he allowed 10 runs in 10 innings, both times in Bucco losses. Hopefully the Pirates will start skipping his turn whenever the schedule allows as he’s been the only blemish in their otherwise excellent rotation.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Monday: Milwaukee 10, Pittsburgh 5______ The Pirates didn’t get much in terms of pitching as Jeff Karstens gave up 5 runs in 5 innings and Tyler Yates was stuck with the loss as the Pirates couldn’t keep the Brew Crew down in the 8 th, allowing 5 runs. Njyer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche all had multi-hit days in the losing effort.
Tuesday: Milwaukee 6, Pittsburgh 5______ The Pirates blew an early 5-1 lead (provided in large part thanks to Jason Jaramillo and Eric Hinske) as ace Paul Maholm struggled in the 5 th and 6th and the bullpen blew its second consecutive game as Jesse Chavez was saddled with the loss after allowing a go-ahead 2 run homer.
Wednesday: Milwaukee 1, Pittsburgh 0___ The Pirates only mustered two hits in support of Ian Snell’s brilliant start, lowering his ERA to 3.72. This was the Yovani Gallardo show for the Brewers, as Gallardo pitched 8 shutout innings AND provided the winning margin with a 7 th inning solo home run off of Snell. This was the Pirates 18 th consecutive loss at Miller Park and marked the first time all season that the Pirates were swept in a series.
Thursday: OFF DAY
Friday: Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 0______ The Pirates wasted a second consecutive excellent start, this time by Zach Duke, as they dropped their 4 th consecutive game. Duke pitched 7 innings and allowed a single earned run but the Pirates only managed 5 hits against previously inept Bronson Arroyo. The Bucco bullpen struggled again, allowing 3 runs to give the Reds breathing room.
Saturday: Pittsburgh 8, Cincinnati 6__ The Pirates finally pulled out of their skid behind a solid start from Ross Ohlendorf (3 Runs in 6 innings) and a strong offensive attack. Nate McLouth’s return to the lineup featured a 3 for 5 performance and despite the bullpen allowing 3 late runs (again) the Buccos held on to set up a rubber match on Sunday.
Sunday: Cincinnati 5, Pittsburgh 0____ _The Pirates got another mediocre start from Jeff Karstens, his 5 runs in 5 innings mirroring his Monday effort in Milwaukee, and were unable to muster any offense against the Reds’ Johnny Cueto. The lone bright spot was the 4 scoreless innings out of the bullpen, 3 by Evan Meek.
1) ADAM LAROCHE: While LaRoche didn’t have the same level of performance as last week’s solid showing, he still hit the ball well this week. During a myriad of poor offensive showings, LaRoche had good at-bats and was consistently on base. His lack of power aside, he was the best performer during a bad week at the plate.
2) THE HEALTH OF NATE MCLOUTH: McLouth missed nearly a week due to an oblique strain but the Pirates should consider themselves fortunate as McLouth removed himself from the lineup and could have missed significantly more time. Not coincidentally, McLouth’s return was paired with an 8 run explosion and McLouth went 5 for 13 during the Cincinnati series. With the early injuries to Jack Wilson and Ryan Doumit, the Pirates dodged a major bullet here.
3) STARTERS NOT NAMED JEFF KARSTENS: While Paul Maholm had an atypically poor start this week, the trio of Snell, Duke, and Ohlendorf combined for 21 innings pitched and 5 earned runs, amounting to an excellent ERA of 2.14. On the season, the Buccos’ top 4 starters all have ERAs under 3.75.
1) THE BULLPEN: The bullpen cost the Pirates two games in Milwaukee and nearly cost them another against the Reds. Even worse, the supposed ‘go to’ guys on the team, Yates, Grabow and closer Matt Capps, were responsible for the lion’s share of the trouble. The bullpen pitched 4 scoreless in the series finale against the Reds: We can only hope that is a harbinger for their performance in the future.
2) THE POWER OUTAGE: The Pirates didn’t have a home run all week and were shut out 3 times. Their six game run total was a paltry 18 runs. The Pirates had 3 quality starts and went 1-5. Enough said, the Pirates have to start scoring more runs.
3) JEFF KARSTENS: Karstens was truly mediocre this week; the only positive thing that I can say about him was that he at least ate up some innings. However, Karstens exhibited an alarming lack of control and has been struggling since Spring Training. Expect the Buccos to start skipping his turn when off days allow for it.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday , 7:05 PM EST vs. Milwaukee, Paul Maholm (3-0, 3.09 ERA) vs. Yovani Gallardo (3-1, 2.86 ERA)
Tuesday , 7:05 PM EST vs. Milwaukee, Ian Snell (1-3, 3.72 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (1-2, 5.88 ERA)
Wednesday : 8:15 PM EST @ St. Louis, Zach Duke (3-2, 2.21 ERA) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (2-2, 5.28 ERA)
Thursday : 1:40 PM EST @ St. Louis, Ross Ohlendorf (3-2, 3.48 ERA) vs. Joel Pineiro (4-1, 3.24 ERA)
Friday : 7:10 PM EST @ New York Mets, Jeff Karstens (1-1, 6.30 ERA) vs. John Maine (1-2, 5.40 ERA)
Saturday : 1:10 PM EST @ New York Mets, Maholm (3-0, 3.09 ERA) vs. Livan Hernandez (1-1, 6.75 ERA)
Sunday : 1:10 PM EST @ New York Mets, Snell (1-3, 3.72 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (3-1, 1.10 ERA)
The Pirates have an odd schedule with a pair of 2 game sets to start the week before traveling to New York for a 3 game set with the Mets. Barring any rainouts, this will be the first week this year that the Pirates will play 7 games, meaning that their starting pitching needs to continue its solid performance because there won’t be any off days to rest the bullpen.
Luckily for the Pirates, they’re scheduled to get two starts this week from both Paul Maholm and Ian Snell, both of whom have stellar ERAs. Maholm’s last two starts have been a little shaky but there is little concern that his struggles will continue. The best news is that Karstens only has one scheduled start this week.
Let’s look at the pitching matchups, first against Milwaukee (luckily at PNC Park). Monday features a return shot at Yovani Gallardo, who single-handedly won last Wednesday’s game for the Brew Crew. The Pirates were upset afterwards about a questionable strike zone from the home plate umpire so this will be their chance for revenge as they start Maholm.
Tuesday features Snell taking on former Pirate Jeff Suppan, who has struggled heavily. The Pirates should have a major advantage here as Snell is coming off of a great start against this same Brewer team while Suppan has been consistently bad during the first month.
Wednesday begins a road trip for the Buccos in St. Louis and they send Zach Duke to the mound in a clear advantage over struggling Todd Wellemeyer. Thursday is a little more even as Ohlendorf takes on a surprising Joel Pineiro, whose 4-1 mark is among the best in baseball.
The Buccos have the matchup advantage against the Mets as well, as New York sends two pitchers to the mound with ERAs over 5 for their 3 game set, though ace Johan Santana awaits on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Pirates send the forgettable Karstens to the mound on Friday in what is sure to be a shootout and then send Maholm and Snell to finish the week.
Overall, the Pirates have a clear starting pitching advantage in three games this week, while the other four are fairly even. Thus, it seems like a good week for the Pirates to get back on track. If their offense can wake up from a terrible week, a 4-3 or even 5-2 mark doesn’t seem unreasonable. The Mets have been struggling, the Brewers aren’t quite as invincible against the Bucs away from Miller Park, and Pirates have already split a 4 game set with the Cardinals. Everything appears set up for a rebound week.
Also there is another reason that the Pirates have to avoid having another bad week: Even this early 4 game losing streak had many longtime Pirate fans thinking, “Here we go again…..” and that is definitely not what the Pirates want their fans to start thinking.
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 email@example.com
By: Matt Baxendell
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