Late Dingers by Stones Turn the Tide

The Pirates held a nice 7-4 margin and needed just six outs. They got four outs, but allowed five runs in the process to lose the game.

Andrew McCutchen’s bases loaded triple in the seventh gave the Pirates a 5-4 lead. Nyjer Morgan followed with a single to make it 6-4 and Brandon Moss drove in a run in the 8th for the Pirates final tally.

But Colorado and Jim Tracy rallied. Chris Iannetta drilled a two out three run homer off of John Grabow in the 8th inning to tie it. Huston Street put two Pirates on in the 9th but emerged without a blemish. Then Jesse Chavez gave up a two run one out tater to Todd Helton in the 9th. Ball game.

Charlie Morton gave up two runs on five hits in five innings. Jason Hammel, who had won his last three starts, gave up five runs in six plus. Ian Stewart was the early hitting star for the Rockies. He drove in three runs with a double, triple and dinger.

The Good

Apparently angered by the comment made by Norris in yesterday’s summary, Nyjer Morgan had four hits and made a ridiculous catch of a foul ball.

Brandon Moss had three hits, including two doubles.

The Bad

The bullpen. Including Sean Burnett who relieved Morton, the Pirates bullpen gave up 7 runs in 3-1/3.

The Rest

Morgan’s only other four hit game came 9-23-08 in Milwaukee.

McCutchen already has four triples. The last Pirate rookie to record more was Jose Guillen with five in 1997. Last Pirate rookie with more than five were Gene Freese (8) and Roberto Clemente (11) both in 1955.

The Rockies are 17-5 under Jim Tracy. Last time the Pirates won 17 games in 22 contests? I have no idea and I’m too depressed to look.

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Goodbye to X and Marte

The final two months of the Pirates’ season just got interesting. In the past week, the Bucs have added eight players to the organization. Four of them came directly to the Major League team, and it won’t be long before Ross Ohlendorf joins them. Those are quite a few new players to watch and learn about, along with other interesting guys like Steve Pearce and maybe Andrew McCutchen at some point. Very soon, I will begin profiling some of the fresh faces in an attempt to learn some more details about each. But first, I think it is appropriate to say goodbye to the players we lost, all of whom are really great people.
When the Pirates acquired Xavier Nady in July 2006, he became a fan favorite almost instantly. He hit .300 for the remainder of the season, and seemed to always be the guy to get the clutch hit. In 2007, he made his reputation. Despite battling injuries, he had the best season of his career, hitting .278/.330/.476.
But his numbers were not what made the season significant. Obviously, the Pirate players quit on Jim Tracy and his coaching staff late in 2007. They played with little passion, noticeably uninterested in winning on most nights. Tracy has received the bulk of the blame for what transpired, and rightfully so. I doubt you will see this happen in 2008 with John Russell leading the ship. But the players deserve their share of the blame as well. They chose to mail in the end of a losing season. One player that did not quit was Xavier Nady. As his teammates went through the motions and his manager focused mostly on saving his job, Nady went out every day and left everything he had on the field. Despite ailing hamstrings, he valiantly tried to cover right field at PNC Park. He ran out every ground ball. During a critical moment in one ordinary game, with his legs in unusually bad shape, Nady took off and stole second. He was promptly stranded. Nady has had a fantastic 2008 season, continuing that determined mentality on the field. But it was his refusal to lay down in 2007 that I will always remember and appreciate about him.
Damaso Marte is a very quiet player. In fact, I can’t remember hearing him say a single word the whole time he has been with the club. I never really connected with Marte the way I do with most Pirate players. But it was a pleasure watching him enter game after game and simply torture left-handed hitters. And from some of the accounts I have read from Dejan at the Post-Gazette, he seems like he was a very good teammate.
I have hoped for the past year or so that the Pirates would move their few valuable pieces for young talent. I am ecstatic now that it has happened. But that does not make it much easier. As a fan, it is always tough to see your favorite players leave town. No matter how much sense it makes for the franchise.

Posted in Andrew McCutchen, Damaso Marte, Jim Tracy, John Russell, Ross Ohlendorf, Steve Pearce, Xavier Nady. Comments Off on Goodbye to X and Marte

Pirates News and Notes: Sanchez’s pain continues

Freddy Sanchez had a setback in his recovery from shoulder surgery during yesterday’s loss to the Reds. He did not make any throws during the game, but was very discouraged afterwards.

“It just doesn’t feel right. It’s frustrating. I’m very concerned now.”

That quote is very disheartening, and leads me to believe that this injury might be more serious than we thought. Sanchez was expected to be healthy around the end of December, but is still unable to throw in late March. Something tells me this might be more than lingering soreness.
It is very possible that Sanchez will start the season on the disabled list. When Luis Rivas is starting at second base, we will see exactly how miserable this team’s depth is. Rivas has hit .262/.307/.385 over seven Major League seasons. He has spent most of the past two seasons in Triple-A. If Sanchez’s injury proves to be serious, maybe we will see Brian Bixler sooner than expected.
Kim on thin ice
One common criticism of the past regime was that they stuck with poor free agent signings far too long. We may not have to wait very long to see a change in that philosophy. Byung-Hyun Kim, who has been hit hard this spring, may be losing his roster spot. He seemed to have an edge after signing a Major League contract, but he has performed below expectations thus far. If Kim is cut by March 26, he is owed only one-fourth of his salary.
The lasting effect of Jim Tracy
Former PLC writer David Golebiewski wrote a solid article for MVN’s The Transaction Guy today, detailing the abuse that Tom Gorzelanny endured last season at the hands of Jim Tracy. It could be a long season for Gorzo.
Castillo placed on waivers
Former Pirate infielder Jose Castillo was placed on waivers by the Marlins. Castillo’s career has been disappointing and it continues to head in the wrong direction.
Pirates at Rays
The Pirates and Rays are just underway in St. Petersburg. Zach Duke is making the start and will look to continue his promising spring. John Grabow, Sean Burnett and Casey Fossum are also expected to pitch. Burnett is pitching in his second consecutive game in his effort to make the team’s bullpen. The Pirates currently lead
2-0 in the second inning. The game is being broadcast on the Pirates Radio Network.
UPDATE (1:43 PM): The game has been delayed by rain after two innings.

Pirates to announce new manager on Monday

The Post-Gazette’s Phil Axelrod says that “Frank Coonelly confirmed yesterday the Pirates plan to name a new manager at a news conference Monday.”
The Beaver County Times’ John Perrotto speculates that Jim Tracy’s successor might be John Russell, currently the manager of Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Phillies’ organization, and former Pirate third base coach.
It won’t be Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell.
As Wilbur said and Charlie echoed, who’s managing the team right now isn’t of the utmost importance. It’s necessary to rebuild the minor-league system over the next couple of years; we should be more concerned with who’ll be replacing Brian Graham and Ed Creech in the Pirates’ front office. Worry about the big-league manager in 2010 when we might sniff .500 if all goes well.

Posted in 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates, Ed Creech, Frank Coonelly, Jim Tracy, John Russell. Comments Off on Pirates to announce new manager on Monday

Pirates must build future around young pitchers

The World Series is over. The Red Sox won, Josh Fogg lost, and we can all return to our regularly scheduled off-season blogging.
Over the past week or so, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Pirates’ future plans—as I’m sure many diehards have. We hear grumblings about changes in leadership, talk around the water cooler about trading Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, and keep an eye on what our prospects have been doing in fall leagues. Nothing out of the ordinary there; typical October stuff.
What’s interesting, though, is that Pirate pitchers are getting a good bit attention this off-season from non-Pittsburgh bloggers. In the past few days I read two thorough profiles of our aces on highly regarded fantasy baseball sites.
At THT Fantasy Focus, Derek Carty wrote extensively about Tom Gorzelanny’s 2007 campaign and took a shot in the dark at what his 2008 might look like. At Roto Authority, Tim Dierkes went through a similar exercise using Ian Snell as his subject matter.
It’s clear that the baseball world realizes that the Pirates have two special pitchers at the top of our rotation, and I think it’s safe to assume that Neal Huntington will figure out that the Pirates’ only reasonable hope for near-term success lies in the arms of Gorzo and Snell.
Don’t get me wrong: to be even a half decent team in 2009 (let alone next year), the Pirates have a lot of work to do. The majority of our lineup wouldn’t start for more than a handful of major-league clubs; our minor-league system is devoid of impact prospects.
In addition to the meticulous grooming of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Steve Pearce and the selling off of veteran pieces for developmental projects during the winter meetings, Huntington needs to start carefully game planning for his 2009 and 2010 rotations.
Maybe that’s why we hear John Farrell’s name being mentioned as a candidate to succeed Jim Tracy. Our skipper and his pitching coach turned Zach Duke from rookie of the year candidate to Triple-A filler, and their treatment of Gorzelanny, Snell and Paul Maholm in the late summer months bordered on abuse. Farrell, praised for his work with Boston’s staff, might be able to address those problems—if he’d even consider leaving a world champion to take a job with a perennial loser.
In the past few days, Jake mentioned that the Pirates could work out trades of Snell to the Rockies and Bay to the Twins in exchange for a handful of big-time prospects. It’s all idle speculation of course, but I agree with the general premise: Perhaps it’s time to move on from the guys who clearly won’t be Pirates when we next contend for a playoff spot, instead reloading the farm system and building for the long term. Adding Franklin Moraleses, Ubaldo Jimenezes and Matt Garzas would be a step in the right direction; when you have the chance to trade Jack Wilson for Jair Jurrjens, you take it.
While the Pirates lose in 2008, Gorzo, Snell and Maholm will be eating up service time, inching closer to the day when they’ll be eligible to leave Pittsburgh via free agency. Maybe it’s time to get even younger: to tear it all down and start over.
The Pirates aren’t a team to be reckoned with, but if we started a fire sale there would be more than a few general managers knocking on Huntington’s door. Trading our favorite players for elite talent and putting the right people in charge of cultivating our resources may be the only way to stop our consecutive losing seasons streak from reaching 20.

Cubs lose; NL Central teams waiting for 2008

About a month and a half before the 2007 season started, I asked a number of NL Central bloggers to weigh in with their thoughts on who would win the division. In Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #14, you heard from the good guys. In PPR #15, you got the enemy’s take.
The Brewers and Cubs proved to be the overwhelming favorites—the former for their productive, youthful core; the latter for an expensive off-season that brought Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis to Wrigley. Most rankers, though, expected the division to be packed tightly together. The teams just weren’t very good.
At season’s end, the pundits’ projections proved to be on target: Chicago finished at 85-77; Milwaukee, 83-79; St. Louis, 78-84; Houston, 73-89; Cincinnati, 72-90; and Pittsburgh, 68-94. Over the course of the year, three squads lost their managers—hasta la vista, Phil Garner, Jerry Narron and Jim Tracy—and a fourth—the Cardinals—might soon drop the guillotine on Tony La Russa. Three general managers were sent packing, too—sayonara, Walt Jocketty, Tim Purpura and Dave Littlefield.
Long story short: 2007 wasn’t particularly kind to the Comedy Central. Over the course of the next few months, we’ll find out if we have any hope for change in 2008.
The Milwaukee Brewers will be a year older and a year wiser. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun will only get better with another year of experience under their belts. Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo should form a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, but the staff could still used a sturdy No. 3. Maybe the Crew should sink $10-12m into a veteran starter like Tom Glavine or Curt Schilling?
The Cubs will be a year older and a year wiser—but also a year slower. It’s hard to ignore the presence of Rich Hill, Carlos Marmol, Geovany Soto and Felix Pie. The Cubs’ window hasn’t closed, and they’ll in the thick of things in 2008. But Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee aren’t getting any younger. Jim Hendry needs to replace Jacque Jones in his lineup with a legitimate bat.
Cincinnati should win more than 72 games if Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey stay healthy. If I were Wayne Krivsky, I’d be looking to redistribute the talents of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, building my offense around Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto—but in a perennially soft division, it might be hard to justify trading two legitimate power hitters.
The Cardinals’ cursed season began when they lost Chris Carpenter on opening night. Albert Pujols proved to be human—hitting only .327-32-103—and St. Louis should have realized by now that it would be in their best interests to surround him with a little more talent. Whether or not a new GM can come in and do that over the winter remains to be seen.
Houston never recovered from the shock of being swept by the Pirates in their first three games. The rotation featured Roy Oswalt, smoke and mirrors; the lineup relied on Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and a pleasant mid-season surprise, Hunter Pence. With a nonexistent farm system and a budget squeezed by a $100 million commitment to Lee, the Astros might be headed for a rebuilding phase.
The Pirates? Well, you read all about the Pirates. The team’s four best hitters never found a groove at the same time. Three young starting pitchers took steps forward, but the back of the rotation proved troublesome. A lineup believed to be mediocre at best at times turned downright putrid. Frank Coonelly has displayed an interest in avoiding a 16th consecutive losing season, but to do that, the Pirates must improve by 13 wins. I don’t see it happening.
And there you have it: An early guess at the 2008 final standings.

Breaking news: Pirates to fire Jim Tracy today

Okay, so we knew it was coming—but now it’s really happening. The Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic says that the Pirates have called a press conference (set for 3:30 p.m.) to announce the firing of Jim Tracy.
Any details will come later; for now, go back to reading Dave’s article on the Pirates who could, should and will be traded this off-season.
UPDATE, 2:45:
From MLB.com:

The Pirates also dismissed senior director of player development Brian Graham, senior director of scouting Ed Creech and director of baseball operations Jon Mercurio.
Doug Strange, formerly assistant GM, will now serve the club as a special assistant to Huntington.