The Bucs head out to the west coast, having lost two of three to the last-place Houston Astros. The Padres enter the series leading the National League Wild Card race, powered by the 1-2 punch of Jake Peavy and former Pirates prospect Chris Young (hey, Matt Herges is doing okay in Colorado.) Having just clinched a fifteenth consecutive losing season, Pittsburgh will assume its normal September position of welcome late season matchup/”spoiler.” Fun, huh?
Tale of the Tape
Runs Scored/Allowed: 682/764
Pythagorean Record: 66-83
Defensive Efficiency: .682 (27th)
San Diego Padres
Runs Scored/Allowed: 663/594
Pythagorean Record: 82-66
Defensive Efficiency: .707 (6th)
RHP John Van Benschoten (41 ERA+) vs. RHP Jack Cassel (90 ERA+)
LHP Tom Gorzelanny (129 ERA+) vs. RHP Greg Maddux (108 ERA+)
RHP Ian Snell (114 ERA+) vs. RHP Chris Young (152 ERA+)
RHP Matt Morris (103 ERA+ with Giants; 72 ERA+ with Pirates) vs. RHP Brett Tomko (74 ERA+ with Dodgers; 257 ERA+ with Padres)
– To say that John Van Benschoten has struggled with the Pirates would be a profound understatement. With a 10.86 ERA, 40 hits allowed and more walks (23) than strikeouts (19), JVB has conjured up memories of Ryan Vogelsong. Again playing out the string, the Pirates will give Van Benschoten a couple of starts in place of Tony Armas. These next few starts will be crucial for JVB, who faces a career crossroads at age 27. With a dubious injury history and diminished stuff (high-80’s fastball, less break on the slider), Van Benschoten needs to make a strong impression to remain in the team’s plans. A move to the bullpen seems possible.
– Steve Pearce has been fairly productive with the Bucs (.311/.367/.444) after tearing up the minors (a cumulative .333/.394/.622 line). The question is, where does Pearce fit in with the Pirates in 2008? Pearce is 24 and has athletic limitations. However, his bat has made him of interest going forward. Pearce is no star, but he could provide adequate production at first base or right field for the league minimum. Might Xavier Nady or Adam LaRoche be shopped this winter?
– Through cavernous Petco Park, the Padres have gained a serious financial advantage. Because of the expansive territory of the park, the Padres have been able to find competent pitching at a discount rate. Hurlers with mediocre fastballs that have other merits (good control, decent secondary pitches) have found success pitching for the Padres. In a market where lukewarm pitchers break the bank (hello, Matt Morris), the Padres have been able to rely more on the waiver wire and low-profile trades to fill out its pitching staff. Conversely, the Padres can also trade an overvalued arm while receiving several more of these types of pitchers in return. Righthander Scott Linebrink is the poster child for this strategy. Originally claimed off waivers from the Astros in 2003, Linebrink enjoyed a run as one of the more productive setup men in baseball from 2003-2005, before turning in an average 2006 season. In ’07, however, Petco shielded the decline in Linebrink’s strikeout rate and a gulf began to appear between his home/road splits, making the righty appear better than he truly was. Linebrink was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for several more good control/ordinary stuff prospects, including righthander Will Inman and lefty reliever Joe Thatcher.
– Acquired from the Cleveland Indians this past offseason in a mutually disastrous trade (Josh Barfield is hitting .246/.273/.326, benched in favor of Asdrubal Cabrera), Kevin Kouzmanoff has been a disappointment for the Padres. The organization viewed Kouzmanoff as a young power-hitting third baseman, but the “Crushin’ Russian” has flailed against righthanded pitching (.229/.301/.389) while playing a third base that would make Brooks Robinson cringe. To be fair, Kouzmanoff has been considerably better in the second half (.306/.353/.532). But, with prospect Chase Headley (.330/.437/.580 for AA San Antonio) forcing his way into the picture, Kouzmanoff is a candidate to be moved to left field.