Bax’s Bucco Blog: Divisional Disappointment
I said at the end of last week’s blog that this week was a big one for the Pirates: Two sets against divisional opponents, both of whom were struggling. In fact, both teams entered their series with 7 game losing streaks. A 4-2 or 5-1 week would have put the Pirates right in the thick of the division hunt and would have brought their season record right up to the .500 mark.
However, it was not to be as the Pirates went a disappointing 2-4 during the week, dropping their season record to 22-28. It was the same old story as the Pirates’ bats returned to their consistently frustrating lack of consistent production. The two wins this week for the Buccos bore fruit in the form of 17 runs. That’s very good. Their 4 losses generated a grand total of 5 runs! That’s really bad. Even worse, it wasn’t like the Pirates were facing a run of ace pitchers. Of their 4 losses, only Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano could be considered a top of the line starter. Their other 3 losses came at the hands of rather average starters, including the especially galling complete game by Houston’s Brian Moehler on Friday. Moehler’s ERA entering the game? 8.31! That is simply unacceptable.
Even more confusing is that the Pirates’ two wins during the week came against two very good starters! Chicago’s Ryan Dempster (who was an All-Star in 2008) might not be having the same success as last year but he is an excellent pitcher. Yet the Buccos tagged him for 6 runs! Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez was the National League ERA LEADER going into Saturday’s win yet the Bucs managed to strike early and often, I’m simply at a loss for words when it comes to the Pittsburgh Baseball Club’s offense.
On the injury front, there was finally a lot of good news. First and foremost, closer Matt Capps had a major injury scare on Monday, when a line drive hit him right in his throwing elbow, which had given him some issues earlier this year. His arm went numb and he had to be immediately removed. It was a scary scene to say the least. Yet, he surprisingly avoided the disabled list, returning on Saturday to finish a save. The Buccos are extremely fortunate that Capps appears to show no ill effects as there aren’t a lot of great options behind him at the closer position.
Reliever Tyler Yates, who is on the DL, was given a clean bill of health on Sunday as well. Whether he will be sent to minors for a rehab stint is still up for debate. Another major note from the Disabled List was that catcher Ryan Doumit had his cast removed and is cleared to begin rehabilitation on his injured wrist. Don’t hold your breath though: Doumit is still at least 6-8 weeks away from getting behind the plate at PNC Park.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Monday: Pittsburgh 10, Chicago 8_________ The Pirates continued their week in Chicago by winning the series opener against the Cubs in dramatic fashion. Led by Freddy Sanchez and his 6 for 6 performance, the Pirates had 18 hits to pound their way to victory. The bullpen was also very good, allowing only 1 run in five innings of work. Sean Burnett replaced the injured Capps to earn his first career save.
Tuesday: Chicago 6, Pittsburgh 1___________ The Pirates’ offense must not have got the memo that the rain wasn’t expected to come until midway through the game as they only mustered 4 hits, two by the red hot Sanchez, before the game was called in the top of the 6 th inning. Starter Ian Snell allowed all 6 runs in the shortened game to continue his disappointing year.
Wednesday: Chicago 5, Pittsburgh 2________ The Pirates continued their trend of not supporting Zach Duke’s sterling efforts by only giving him two runs of support. However, Duke left the game tied at 2 entering the 8 th inning before the bullpen was tagged for 3 runs, giving Chicago the win in the series rubber match. Ramon Vasquez was solid substituting for Jack Wilson, going 3 for 4 at the plate with an RBI.
Thursday: OFF DAY
Friday: Houston 6, Pittsburgh 1______________ The most frustrating game of the week featured the Pirates scratching out only 7 hits and a single measly run against one of the worst starters in the National League. Freddy Sanchez and Andy LaRoche (2 hits apiece) were the only two Pirates to offer any production against Houston’s Brian Moehler, whose 9 innings of 1 hit baseball lowered his ERA to 6.43. It was frustrating, to say the least. Ross Ohlendorf struggled for the Buccos, allowing 4 earned runs in 5 innings to take the loss.
Saturday: Pittsburgh 7, Houston 4___________ The most confusing game of the week saw the Astros send ace Wandy Rodriguez (ERA: 1.83) to the mound against 5 th starter Jeff Karstens. Surprisingly, Rodriguez was chased in the 5 th inning after allowing 5 earned runs while Karstens pitched seven strong innings, allowing only 6 hits and 2 runs. Matt Capps came on late to earn the save in his first appearance after his injury scare on Monday. Andy LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez and Eric Hinske powered the Bucco attack, combining for seven of the Pirates’ 13 hits.
Sunday: Houston 2, Pittsburgh1____________ _There was good news and bad news from the Buccos’ 2-1 loss to the Astros. The good news was that starter Paul Maholm broke his recent string of tough outings by pitching 7 innings and allowing only 2 runs, only 1 of which was earned. The bad news was that the Pirates led off the game with a home run by Nate McLouth but then only managed 3 more hits the entire game. The Pirates offense simply couldn’t get anything done again and Houston took the series’ final game.
1) MATT CAPPS BOUNCES BACK AGAIN: Capps had a huge scare on Monday but managed to bounce back quickly and earn a save on Saturday. In fact, the Pirates wouldn’t have used him during any game while he was injured anyway so really Capps’ only notable missed time was the final 2/3 of an inning after he hurt himself in Chicago. While Capps didn’t dodge the actual bullet that was hit at him, the team and Capps definitely dodged the proverbial bullet in this case.
2) JEFF KARSTENS: After listing him as one of the negatives last week and generally complaining about his ineffectiveness all season long, I felt it proper to recognize Karstens’ fine start on Saturday. His ERA for the year is now down to 4.83 and he has been surpassed by Ian Snell as the Pirates’ worst starter. He has now had 2 consecutive solid starts and could be a major contributor if he can continue pitching well. We all know he has the talent to be very good.
3) FREDDY SANCHEZ: Freddy went 6 for 6 on Monday, which would have landed him on this list regardless of what he did the rest of the week. However, Sanchez finished the week 13 for 20 at the plate with 3 walks! That’s shockingly good and it makes it even more troubling that the Pirates couldn’t score to save their lives with one of their setup guys seemingly always on base. Freddy looks a lot like the guy who won the 2006 batting title and his season average is all the way up to .333!
4) ANDY LAROCHE: Let’s say that I told you only two Pirates from the opening day lineup are hitting .300 or better. Obviously Freddy Sanchez is a clear choice but would anyone have picked Andy LaRoche, especially after his terrible start? Yet LaRoche is now batting exactly .300 thanks to two consecutive very solid weeks. LaRoche went 8 for 21 at the plate this week with two walks and was moved to the 2 nd spot in the order for the last two games of the week. All that is left is for him to start hitting for power and the can’t miss prospect that we didn’t see last year will have fully arrived.
Honorable Mention: Zach Duke, Jack Wilson
1) THE LACK OF OFFENSIVE CONSISTENCY: I’ve already said this but it was by far the biggest negative of the week. You can’t win a lot of ballgames if you only score less than 3 runs, which the Pirates did in all 4 of their losses this week. With the quality of starting pitching that the Pirates have had this year, they should have a much better record. Hopefully, the offense will turn it around behind the streaking duo of Sanchez and LaRoche.
2) IAN SNELL: This is getting ridiculous. Snell got shelled again in his only start of the week and his 5.43 ERA is almost exactly where he finished at the end of a very disappointing 2008. So, who is the real Ian Snell? The guy whose ERA was 3.76 in 2007 or the overpaid disappointment of 2008-09? Snell has two starts this week and if he doesn’t improve his control (30 walks in 10 starts is NOT acceptable) then the Pirates will have a tough time in those games.
3) NYJER MORGAN: Most major league offenses take their cue from their leadoff hitter. When that leadoff hitter goes 3 for 20 in a week, the offense is going to struggle. Even worse, Morgan had two of his hits in one game and was virtually shut out from the basepaths the rest of the week. Morgan has to start getting on base more consistently if the Bucco offense is going to wake up.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday , 7:05 PM EST vs. New York Mets, Ian Snell (1-6, 5.43 ERA) vs. Livan Hernandez (4-1, 4.28 ERA)
Tuesday , 7:05 PM EST vs. New York Mets, Zach Duke (5-4, 2.75 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (7-2, 1.77 ERA)
Wednesday : 7:05 PM EST vs. New York Mets, Ross Ohlendorf (5-5, 4.45 ERA) vs. Mike Pelfrey (4-1, 3.88 ERA)
Thursday : 12:35 PM EST vs. New York Mets, Jeff Karstens (2-2, 4.83 ERA) vs. Tim Redding (0-2, 9.20 ERA)
Friday : 8:05 EST @ Houston, Paul Maholm (3-2, 3.82 ERA) vs. Mike Hampton (3-4, 5.07 ERA)
Saturday : 7:05 EST @ Houston, Snell (1-6, 5.43 ERA) vs. Roy Oswalt (1-2, 4.62 ERA)
Sunday : 2:05 PM EST @ Houston, Duke (5-4, 2.75 ERA) vs. Felipe Paulino (1-4, 6.75 ERA)
The Pirates have another big week ahead of them. While the offense has been frustrating, the Pirates still sit only 6 games under .500. The Mets, who swept the Bucs in a 3 game set in New York City in the only meeting of the young season, are up first for a 4 game set in Pittsburgh.
The Mets are going to be a tough matchup. They sit at 28-21 on the year and will send three very good starters to the mound in this series, led by perennial Cy Young candidate Johan Santana, who has been virtually untouchable this year and leads the NL in ERA at 1.77. Thus, the Pirates will face the NL ERA leader for the 2 nd time in 4 games! That’s not a catalyst for success. The must-win game of this series is the final one, where New York will throw Tim Redding and his 9.20 ERA at the Buccos. If he has half of the success that the equally bad Moehler did against the Bucs on Friday, I will be very displeased. If the Pirates can split at home with the Mets, it should be considered a success.
Up next is a rematch of this weekend’s set with the Astros, this time in Houston. The Pirates are 2-4 against the ‘Stros this year, which is frustrating considering that Houston is in last place in the NL Central. Even worse is that Mike Hampton is the first starter for the Astros. While a guy with a 3-4 record and a 5.07 ERA shouldn’t intimidate anyone, Hampton is 2-0 against the Bucs in 2 starts this year, allowing only 1 run and 7 hits in 13 innings while striking out 11.
Despite their personal kryptonite on the mound (though there are probably a lot of pitchers who could legitimately claim that dubious honor this year), the Pirates still have to start winning some series. Any less than two wins against the last place Astros is unacceptable.
The keys to this week are threefold: The first is Ian Snell giving the Bucs a chance in his two starts. He needs to be a lot better and his 1-6 record is an accurate representation of how bad his year has been. The second is giving Zach Duke a tiny bit of run support. Duke also has two starts this week and he has been consistently excellent (ERA: 2.75) but only sports a 5-4 record. If the Bucs can score 3 or 4 runs for him for once, they could take both of his starts.
Finally, the Buccos have to start scoring runs with some consistency. This team just isn’t hitting for power and they’re not taking advantage of their chances. It isn’t like the Buccos stink: Their team average is .262, good enough for SIXTH in the National League! However, they’ve only scored 214 runs, which is 12TH in the league. They have to start producing better when they get their chances, plain and simple. While their pitching has struggled a little bit lately, they still only have a team ERA of 4.23 and that’s about average for the league.
The Pirates need to start getting hits with runners on base. The Pirates need to start supporting a solid pitching staff. You can’t win if you don’t score. Let’s get some runs!
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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