Bax’s Bucco Blog: The Quarter Report
One of my most basic axioms when it comes to baseball: You don’t know how what your team really has until you’ve played 40 games. Well, at the quarter mark of the season, I think the Pirates have established their identity for the season.
The 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates have very good pitching. Their team ERA of 4.09 after 44 games is 4th best in the National League and the Buccos will be in games more often than not thanks to their rotation. While their record is currently 20-24, I believe very strongly that these Pirates will stay in the hunt for a winning record all year long because of their strength on the mound.
However, these Pirates also have a shocking inability to play consistent offense. The Pirates simply don’t have a ton of power in their lineup and the loss of Ryan Doumit was really a blow because his replacements, while performing well above expectations, don’t pose the power threat that Doumit does. It was in large part due to their spotty offense that the Pirates suffered through a 1-13 stretch a few weeks ago. Think about how good this team’s record would be if the offense had contributed more during that stretch (The Pirates are 19-11 outside of those two weeks).
In short, this could be one of the better summers to be a Pirate fan in recent memory. This team is still pretty young and is only going to improve. Furthermore, their excellent starting rotation could help produce a winning season if the offense can score enough runs.
As for this past week, the Pirates got off to a great start, winning the first three games in Washington, who can really hit despite their dismal record. However, the Pirates blew a late lead in the series finale as the Nationals prevented the sweep and then their offense went dormant as the Bucs were shut out in the first two games at the White Sox. Luckily, the Pirates’ bats woke up late in the final game on the South Side of Chicago and a two out rally produced a 4-3 victory to give the Pirates a winning record for the week.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Monday: Pittsburgh 12, Washington 7_________ Can you say offensive explosion? The Pirates overcame a disappointing 5 inning, 5 run outing from Ross Ohlendorf to score 9 runs in the final 4 innings against a bad Washington bullpen. Jack Wilson led the way with a 4 for 4 showing at the plate and Craig Monroe added his 3 rd Home Run of the season in the victory.
Tuesday: Pittsburgh 8, Washington 5___________ The Pirates got a decent starting effort by Jeff Karstens (6 innings, 4 runs) after they jumped out to an early 5-1 lead. The Pirates overcame a late blown save by Sean Burnett (who was giving Matt Capps a day off) to score 3 runs in the top of the 10 th and Tom Gorzelanny earned his first win since being recalled after pitching a perfect 1 & 1/3 inning in relief. Brandon Moss continued his torrid pace with a 2 for 5 showing and Andy LaRoche homered for the Pirates.
Wednesday: Pittsburgh 2, Washington 1________ Paul Maholm pitched 6 innings for the Pirates and only allowed one earned run. However, the game went right down to the wire as the Pirates could only scratch out 1 run through 8 innings despite finishing the game with 11 hits. Luckily, a wild pitch allowed Freddy Sanchez, who went 2 for 4, to score the winning run in the top of the 9 th inning and Matt Capps nailed down his 8 th save of the year as the Pirates extended their winning streak to five games. Also notable was that the Pirates snapped Washington’s streak of scoring at least 5 runs in a game at 10.
Thursday: Washington 5, Pittsburgh 4___________ The Pirates carried a 4-3 lead into the 8 th inning but Tom Gorzelanny struggled in his 2 nd inning of work and Washington ended up with a 5-4 decision to avoid the sweep. Ian Snell allowed 3 runs in 6 innings of work in the losing effort. The LaRoche brothers drove in all 4 of the Pirates runs.
Friday: Chicago White Sox 2, Pittsburgh 0_______ The Pirates were absolutely shut down by Gavin Floyd (ERA: 6.54), getting only two hits and wasting a complete game effort by Zach Duke. Duke fell to 5-4 despite only allowing 2 runs in 8 innings of work.
Saturday: Chicago White Sox 4, Pittsburgh 0____ The Pirates nearly had back-to-back complete game losses by their starting pitchers as Ross Ohlendorf went 7 2/3 innings in the losing effort, allowing 4 runs, 3 of which were earned. The Buccos’ 2 nd consecutive dismal offensive effort produced only 5 hits and Andy LaRoche (2 for 3 with a walk) was the only bright spot.
Sunday: Pittsburgh 4, Chicago White Sox 3____ _The Pirates finally broke through on offense, though it almost came too late. The Pirates entered the 8 th inning down 3-1 before Eric Hinske and Jack Wilson homered in back to back innings and Delwyn Young drove in the winning run to cap off a two out rally. The Pirates had a whopping 16 hits in the winning effort but ran themselves out of runs at least twice in the early going. Jeff Karstens was solid, allowing 3 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings and the Bucco bullpen pitched 3 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball to allow the Pirates to get back in the game. Matt Capps nailed down save # 9 in 1-2-3 fashion to avoid the sweep.
1) MATT CAPPS BOUNCES BACK: Capps entered the week with an ERA that sat at nearly 8. However, Capps was 2 for 2 in save opportunities and only allowed 1 run in 3 outings during the week. Capps was the key part of a much improved bullpen.
2) ANDY LAROCHE: LaRoche’s statistics from the last 7 games: 11 for 26 at the plate, 1 Home Run and 7 RBIs. LaRoche’s .423 week bumped his season batting average all the way up to .287 and his OBP sits at .359. Andy is having a very solid season for the Pirates and his power numbers should go up as the season progresses. He has a very bright future in Pittsburgh.
3) BRANDON MOSS: Much like Andy LaRoche, Moss had another great week. Moss batted .444 to move his average up to .266 on the season. It was only two weeks ago that Moss was hitting .200! Moss still has room to improve his power numbers but his continued ability to put the bat on the ball makes him another player who we can expect great things from as the season moves on.
Honorable Mention: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Jack Wilson
1) TWO MISSING GAMES: The Pirates’ first two games at Chicago featured 7 hits and zero runs against Clayton Richard and Gavin Floyd. That’s right, two average, at best, starters held the Buccos to nothing on offense after they averaged over 6 runs per game at Washington. It is random fits of inefficiency that have to be eliminated if the Pirates want to push for a .500 finish.
2) JEFF KARSTENS: This isn’t really fair, as Karstens was somewhat improved this week and the Pirates did win both of his starts. However, Karstens still allowed 7 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings of work this week and his ERA is still a deficient 5.19 for the year. There isn’t much question that he will be the rotation’s weak link in 2009. Luckily, he is young and talented, so there is hope for improvement.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday , 8:05 PM EST @ Chicago Cubs, Paul Maholm (3-1, 3.30 ERA) vs. Ryan Dempster (3-3, 4.40 ERA)
Tuesday , 8:05 PM EST @ Chicago Cubs, Ian Snell (1-5, 4.88 ERA) vs. Sean Marshall (2-3, 3.96 ERA)
Wednesday : 2:20 PM EST @ Chicago Cubs, Zach Duke (5-4, 2.77 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (3-2, 4.64 ERA)
Thursday : OFF DAY
Friday : 7:05 EST vs. Houston, Ross Ohlendorf (5-4, 4.20 ERA) vs. Russ Ortiz (2-2, 4.88 ERA)
Saturday : 7:05 EST vs. Houston, Jeff Karstens (1-2, 5.19 ERA) vs. Mike Hampton (2-4, 5.63 ERA)
Sunday : 1:35 PM EST vs. Houston, Maholm (3-1, 3.30 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (5-2, 1.83 ERA)
The Pirates have a very big week of divisional play ahead of them, beginning with the Cubs. The Cubs sit at only 21-20 and the Pirates send their top two starters out in this series. Furthermore, Ian Snell has been better of late so the Pirates could get very good starting pitching on the North Side of Chicago. If the Pirates can take two of three at Wrigley Field, it will be a successful series.
The Pirates then follow that up after an off day with a big home series against the Astros, who currently occupy the basement of the National League Central Division. The Astros’ first two starters have not been very good this year so hopefully the Pirates’ offense will take advantage and score plenty of runs. The series finale matches ace versus ace as the Astros throw the very impressive Wandy Rodriguez against Maholm. The Pirates need to take at least 2 out 3 from the Astros in this series.
This is a big week. A 4-2 or 5-1 showing vaults the Pirates right into the thick of the divisional race, as they sit 6.5 games back of the Brewers at the quarter point of the season. Let’s hope the offense can continue to provide one of baseball’s best pitching staffs with some solid run support.
Expect Bax’s Bucco Blog to be a weekly feature every 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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