Bucs Rally to Avoid 82nd Loss

It looked bleak for the Smoky City Nine heading into the bottom of the 9th. Rick Ankiel homered off of Jesse Chavez in the top of the 9th to give St. Louis a 5-4 lead. The Cards trotted closer Ryan Franklin out to the mound to close the deal and not only give the Pirates a losing record but also mathematically eliminate them from the playoffs.

But the Pirates came up with four singles and two runs. The final tally came on a single from Garrett Jones. That made a winner of Chavez and a loser of Franklin.

The Cardinals scored in the first when Jason Jaramillo’s toss back to the mound sailed over the head of Paul Maholm and scored Julio Lugo from third. Hopefully he won’t get Mackey Sasser disease.

The Cardinals took a 4-1 lead before the Pirates scored three times in the sixth off of Joel Pineiro. Ronny Cedeno had a two run single and Jaramillo – who had three hits – struck the game tying blow.

That’s how it stayed until the 9th, staving off historical infamy for at least one more contest.

Maholm allowed four runs in six innings. He gave up six hits and whiffed seven. Pineiro also went six and gave up four tallies. He allowed eight safeties and struck out three.

The Good

13 hits.

A win.

Pirate pitchers combined for 10 whiffs.

The Bad

Jaramillo’s throw.

The Rest

Neil Walker gathered his first ML hit and first ML run.

Chavez recorded his first ML win.

Lastings Milledge has hits in 9 of his last 10 games. So has Jones.

The Pirates had not scored off of Franklin in his last 11 appearances covering 9-2/3 IP.





Reds Sweep Pirates

Any way you look at it, this is getting uglier. The Reds swept the Pirates yesterday behind Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips.

The Pirates, with help from long balls from Garret Jones and Brandon Moss, held a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the sixth. Drew Stubbs homered off of Zach Duke to tie it. Rookie and recent call up Neil Walker committed a throwing error, opening the flood gates. After Joey Votto doubled, Phillips drove in a run – his third of the game – with a ground out. Darnell McDonald singled with two outs for the final tally of the inning and the game.

After that, the Cincy bullpen shut the Pirates down, striking out six of the final eight hitters. Bailey struck out eight in 6-1/3. He allowed three runs on seven hits. Overall, the Pirates were struck out 14 times. Duke gave up 9 hits and three earned runs in six innings.

The Good

Jones continues to rake.

Duke had two hits and Ryan Doumit had a pair of doubles.

The Bad

Good grief. 25 games out. A seven game losing streak.

The Rest

Two of Homer Bailey’s five wins in 2009 have come against the Pirates, both after the fire sale.

Phillips is hitting over .400 and has 13 RBI against Pittsburgh this year.

Jones now has 18 HR and 34 RBI. The record for the fewest RBI in a season with at least 20 dingers is Chris Hoiles who drove in 40 runs with 20 taters in 1992. Kevin Maas hit 21 homers in 1990 and knocked in only 41.

This was Duke’s fifth career two hit game.

Walker has started his career 0-5

Pirates add five to 40-man roster

The Pirates added five players to the 40-man roster today, protecting them from the Rule V Draft. As expected, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata were among those additions. Reliever Jeff Sues also was added. This was not surprising after his impressive return from an injury in 2007. Over 64.1 innings with Lynchburg and Altoona last season, Sues struck out 72 and walked 26.

The unexpected additions were catcher Steve Lerud and reliever Ronald Uviedo. I expected those two spots would go to Kyle Bloom and Jamie Romak. Bloom struggled with control this year, but picked things up in the second half of the season. He was also impressive in winter ball in Hawaii, striking out 32 and walking 11 in 30 innings. Romak hit .279/.360/.552 with a .398 wOBA in 331 plate appearances with Lynchburg. He struggled after being promoted to Altoona, and was lousy during a stint in the Arizona Fall League.

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Rosters Expanding – Who Will Join the Buccos?

It is September first and with that comes a formal acknowledgement that the Pirates are without any hope of salvaging a winning season. The good news is that the club will bring up some players with the rosters being allowed to expand.
The Post-Gazette speculates on who those players might be. On their list are the following in alphabetical order:
Jimmy Barthmaier
T.J. Beam
Brian Bixler
Luis Cruz
Robinson Diaz
Craig Hansen
Ross Ohlendorf
Ronny Paulino
Steve Pearce
Marino Salas
Romulo Sanchez
I would be very surprised if we don’t see either or both of Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen. The only negative to that is the clock starts on their arbitration eligibility. But, I can’t see any other way for this club to draw fans in the gates. The team has 10 home dates left. If there is good news it is that all three teams left to come into PNC are in the race (for now) – St. Louis, LA and Houston. The chances of the Cardinals and Astros are likely to be very slim by the time they arrive. There is no weekend home series against the Cubs that will pull in 100,000 fans.
Promotion wise, there is a Rennie Stennett give away, the on-going t-shirt Tuesday, a couple of cap days, a fireworks day, alumni autographs (Bobby Del Greco, Grant Jackson and Ken Macha – perhaps in town to interview for John Russell’s job?) and a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. Looks to me like they need to put the future of the franchise in the display case to get the turnstiles moving.

Bautista Optioned

Jose Bautista didn’t see it coming. But, he was demoted. I’m a little shocked, as well. But, taking a step back, I think it makes sense. Andy LaRoche plays third. Neil Walker is supposed to be able to play third. Bautista had previously played 130+ games total at all three outfield spots. But, I’d rather see what Steve Pearce, Brandon Moss and perhaps even Jason Michaels can do.
As the Post-Gazette’s coverage points out, playing time in Indy might be scarce for Bautista with Walker at third and an outfield full of prospects. Did I say prospects? I meant Chris Duffy and Nyjer Morgan.
Bautista has had over 1500 ML PAs. I don’t think his career is over by any means. I don’t think he’ll ever see significant playing time in Pittsburgh again without a severe injury or someone completely failing.

Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable, 06/24/2008

At what point do you expect the Pirates to field a championship-caliber team? Will the team’s top prospects (McCutchen, Walker, Pearce, Alvarez, etc.) be enough to take them to that level?

Mike from Hyzdu Headquarters
This is something that I have pondered at length. I think when looking at the future we may be looking at 2010-2011 until the big league club can be competitive. Will they be a World Series contender by then? I don’t think so, but you can never tell. I would think that in 2-3 years we will have brought in Alvarez, McCutchen, and Walker among others to fit in with any holdovers, McLouth and Doumit come to mind, from this current team. By then I would think we would see some competitive baseball being played in Pittsburgh.
I think we can all agree that if there is not some upgrade or addition to the pitching staff, we will never contend. I could see a lot of the position players that are in the organization stay here, but not so much for the pitching. We need more depth if we ever hope to contend. I would think that this will be one position that management looks to in any future transactions.
The variable in the equation is who gets added to the organization that we do not know about right now. Will there be some free agent signing? Will there be some blockbuster trade? A transaction like one of those will most likely change the scenario for better or for worse.
But as far as getting the organization to a point that things are all running smoothly, I think we are looking at 5 years. It is going to take a good long while to stock the farm system. Once the system is comparable with other contending teams, then we have got something going here.
It will be awhile to see a real team start to take shape in Pittsburgh. I think it may happen sooner than one might think, but it will take longer to really get the organization on good solid ground.
Nancy from Sandlot Swashbucklers
Andrew McCutchen isn’t hitting like a top prospect should be. He started off slowly, but had his batting average up to .200 by mid-April. He got a little better, up to .279 by the end of April, and hit .304 in May, with an extended hitting streak. As soon as the streak was over, though, he had a slump. Now he’s back to .285. With the inconsistent hitting, and high number of strikeouts (14 in April, 24 in May, and 12 already in June) and relatively low number of walks (14 in each of April and May, 5 in June), he doesn’t look like what you’d want in a lead-off hitter — though that’s where he has been hitting for most of the season. His speed on the base paths is excellent, but it requires him to get onto the base paths first. If the Pirates don’t plan to use him in the lead-off spot, maybe that won’t matter as much. It’s my impression that he does better when Nyjer Morgan is around — they seem to feed off one another. In the outfield, McCutchen is very close. With his speed and timing, he gets to almost everything, including balls going into the deep part of left-center field, the no-man’s-land of Victory Field. McCutchen could be called up at the end of 2008 and do ok, and he’d be able to play for the Pirates in 2009 without falling on his face, but it will be a little longer before he’s really ready to be championship quality.
Walker has made great improvement at third base, and by 2009, you probably won’t be able to tell he hasn’t played there all his life. His hitting needs work, though. He started the season slowly, then hovered around .200 for weeks. After some extra work with hitting coach “Bam Bam” Meulens, the average went up to .220 and hovered there. Because his “personal” strike zone is larger than the plate, he often reaches for outside pitches rather than take balls — resulting in few walks but more strikeouts. He’s averaging 19.5% strikeouts/at-bats this season, and that has been up to 23% in June. He should have a better average and while he leads the team in homers (11), he should be hitting for even more power. Walker could be ready for Pittsburgh by the end of 2009, especially if he can turn the power on, but it will be longer before he’s ready to be the Big Competitor.
Steve Pearce started the season playing exclusively in right field, working diligently to learn the new position. He’s an ok outfielder but just ok. He has not made a lot of errors, because he doesn’t get to the balls to even try for the tough plays. His speed is so-so for an outfielder, but he does not seem to have the instinct and timing that allow good outfielders to get the jump on the ball. (When Ryan Doumit moved to the outfield, he “got it” much more quickly. He also had Chris Duffy tutoring him — he was Duffy’s personal project.) At first base, though, Pearce is ready now. Soft hands, good instincts. Pearce has a .269 average, but there’s more to that story. Prior to June 2nd, Pearce was hitting .259, and had been playing right field and occasionally DH’ing. Since June 2nd, Pearce has played 12 games at first base. In those 12 games, he has gone 18-for-44 (.409), and has been hitless in only one game. He’s also hit 6 doubles, 3 of his 8 homers, and 11 of his 41 RBI. Since June 2nd, Pearce has played 6 games in right field, and in those games, he’s gone 2-for-23 (.087), with a double and a 2-run homer. It’s clear to everyone watching him that he is much more relaxed and comfortable at first base, though when asked this weekend “Would you rather be at first base or in the outfield?” , he answered, “I’d rather be in the lineup. I don’t care where I play.” So — if Pearce can stay mostly at first base, he can be ready for Prime Time in 2009.
Pedro Alvarez — well, if you don’t sign the contract, you can’t play. There must be some happy medium where he can balance out his and his agent’s desires for the greatest compensation ever, and the understanding that he needs to get onto the field before he can get to the big leagues.
Jesse from Raise the Jolly Roger!
I think that the Pirates could have a championship caliber team in 2010. The current major league team is not going to get it done. I really think we need to get rid of Bay for some pitching. McCutchen could come up and Alvarez could replace Bautista. We will have other prospects coming up too. That is why the magic number ,in my opinion, is 2010.
Matt Bandi from Pittsburgh Lumber Co
The Pirates are going to need quite a bit of luck to build a contending team within the next couple of years. The limited minor league talent that is approaching the Major Leagues will need to become productive starters. Andrew McCutchen remains a top prospect, and should become a fixture in centerfield for the Pirates. But Neil Walker and Steve Pearce, while they have good potential, are large question marks at this point. Walker is hitting just .226/.265/.442 in 265 at-bats this season, and Pearce is at just .265/.317/.447. Pearce has to improve quickly, as he is already 25. All three of these players are very vital to the team’s future. In addition, Pedro Alvarez must sign soon and then live up to the hype.
The Pirates will also need a contribution from an unexpected source. One or two of their marginal prospects must step up their performance and become a staple in Pittsburgh. Some names to watch are Shelby Ford, Jamie Romak and Jason Delaney.
Neal Huntington needs to make very smart trades before July 31. The Pirates have many holes on the roster, and only limited players of value to use as trade bait. Huntington must spin Jason Bay and Xavier Nady for help at middle infield, starting pitcher, etc, etc, etc. That will take intelligence and quite a bit of luck. An ill-advised trade of either player could really set the franchise back.
Finally, some of the younger players in Pittsburgh have to continue to perform. Nate McLouth must continue to hit well enough to become a productive left fielder once McCutchen arrives. Ryan Doumit must stay healthy, continue to perform offensively, and improve behind the plate. Matt Capps needs to remain a steady closer.
Obviously, a lot needs to go right for the Pirates to take the next step in the near future. The chances of everything working out are slim. Most likely, the Pirates will be competitive, but will not be a playoff team until the new regime has a chance to build the farm system through the draft. The team is entering a rebuilding period that will probably last about five years.

Drafting Alvarez would be a statement from management

As the Post-Gazette has reported, the Pirates have possibly marked Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez as their target for the second pick in Thursday’s amateur draft. He is widely thought of as the best hitter in the draft, and is expected to be Major League ready in just a year or two.
Drafting Alvarez would say two things about the new management group. The first one is obvious. Making that pick would finally alleviate our fears that the Pirates will continue to draft players based on affordability. Alvarez is represented by Scott Boras, and will seek a bonus well above the slotted amount.
Just as significant, selecting Alvarez would indicate that the Pirates are committed to bringing a competitive team to PNC Park in the very near future. The team currently has a few decent prospects in the high minors, and Alvarez would be right behind them on the way to Pittsburgh. If Neal Huntington can spin his best trade bait (i.e. Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, John Grabow, Damaso Marte, etc.) for some talented pitching and middle infield at the Triple-A level, the Pirates could see a solid, young nucleus reach the Major Leagues in 2009 and 2010. If Huntington continues picking up quality role players like Phil Dumatrait and Chris Gomez for next to nothing, things could get a little more interesting very soon.
Does that mean picking Alvarez over Tim Beckham is the right move? Not necessarily. Beckham is a high school shortstop who is likely the most talented player in the draft. He may turn out to be a better player than Alvarez, and would be very valuable playing a premium position. But he is several years from being Major League ready.
Are the Pirates capable of winning in the next two years by adding Andrew McCutchen, Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Neil Walker and any players acquired in a trade this summer? Or should the team be building for five years down the road?

Posted in Andrew McCutchen, Chris Gomez, Damaso Marte, Jason Bay, John Grabow, Neal Huntington, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Phil Dumatrait, Steve Pearce, Xavier Nady. Comments Off on Drafting Alvarez would be a statement from management