Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Stretch Is Over.....Finally

     The Buccos went into this past 20-game stretch with a try-to-survive mentality. They had to go to Cinci, St. Louis and play the Dodgers and Diamondbacks at home. San Diego was a home and home set in there as well. We all were hoping 10-10 at the least to keep with the Reds who have been surging and 12-8 would have been great. didn't go off as planned. The Pirates limped to a 7-13 record and are now 8 1/2 games behind the first place Reds, 4 games behind the Braves who hold the #1 Wild Card spot, and now a 1/2 game behind the Cardinals for the #2 and final Wild Card spot.

     This is the first time since late June that the Buccos have been on the outside looking in to the playoffs and most of us see this as a growing problem. One reason is the way they played against the bottom feeding San Diego Padres. The Padres took 5 of 6 games from the Buccos by just about every way possible. A 6 run comeback against J-Mac, hitting multiple homers off of AJ "the stopper" Burnett, a walk-off homer in the 10th inning after the Bucs crawled back into it by way of a ninth inning 2-out 2-run homer. Every way you could think the Padres beat us in it.  Today frustrated me the most. The Friars sent a kid making his major league debut, after looking terrible in his last AAA start, and he dominated the Bucs. The guy was pitching against the Washington Wild Things only a couple years ago in the Frontier League and they scored more off of him then the Pirates could today. (UGH!)

     Anyway, That is all over. There are no more games against NL West opponents, Padres included, which is a sigh of relief to the Bucco faithful. The focus now turns to the NL Central where the Buccos will play the next 28 games against (3 vs. Reds, 3 vs. StL, 9 vs. Mil, 6 vs. Hou, 7 vs. Chi) and only 7 more games against the NL East (3 vs. Atl, 4 vs. NYM) This will be the true test if the Pirates want to finally make the playoffs. They can easily gain that #1 spot over the Braves and they still have games remaining against the Cardinals to overtake the #2 spot. The only place we will really need help is for the division lead. The Reds will have to slip down the stretch for us to have a shot but that's why they play all 162. There are a lot of ball left folks, and even after a horrendous stretch we still find ourselves in contention.


Friday, August 17, 2012

We're Still Hangin Around

     J-Mac looked like the dominant, pre-all star break, ace as the Buccos beat the Cards 2-1 by way of a wild pitch and past ball on back-to-back batters. It was a big win because it gives the Buccos a bit of distance for that second wild card spot. They lead the Dodgers by 1 1/2 and the Cards by 2.

     In tonight's post we will look ahead (yes, I'm going to break the unwritten rule of looking past the current series) to compare the "Big 4" (Bucs, Reds, Cards, Braves) by their schedule. After you see this you my have a different thought on if the Bucs still have a chance in the NL Central or, at least, the #1 WC spot.

     After tonight's completed games the standings are as follows:
     CIN 72-47   --
      PIT  66-53    6
      STL 64-55    8

    (1) ATL 70-49    -- 
          (2) PIT   66-53    4     --
                 LA   65-55   5.5  1.5
               STL  64-55    6     2

Here is the schedule for the "Big 4" for the rest of the season: (I do not have LA or SF on here because this is more aimed towards the Division and #1 WC spot. I see those two teams fighting for the #2 spot.) If the Pirates start to fall farther away from Cincy and Atlanta I will have a post about the #2 spot. But today we get to still talk about the good stuff.

     PIT                   CIN                STL                ATL
     @STL (2)    <        CHI (3)           PIT (2)            LA (2)   
             @SD (3)      >    @PHI (4)          HOU (3)      @WAS (3)       
       MIL (3)     >       STL (3)       @CIN (3)         @SF (4)
       STL (3)    =      @AZ (3)        @PIT (3)         @SD (3)
   @MIL (3)    <   @HOU (3)     @WAS (3)          PHI (3)
       HOU (3)    >        PHI (3)         NYM (3)         COL (4)
         CHI (3)      =      HOU (3)         MIL (3)       @NYM (3)
    @CIN (3)      =      PIT (3)         @SD (3)        @MIL (3)
    @CHI (4)      >   @MIA (3)       @LA (4)         WAS (3)
         MIL (3)      <    @CHI (3)        HOU (3)       @MIA (3)
      @HOU (3)      >       LA (3)        @CHI (3)        @PHI (3)
    @NYM (4)     =      MIL (3)       @HOU (3)        MIA (3)
         CIN (3)       =    @PIT (3)         WAS (3)        NYM (3)
       ATL (3)      =    @STL (3)          CIN (3)          PIT (3)

As you can see, each of these teams play the same amount of home/away games/series.

If you compare the Bucs and Reds the Pirates may have the upper hand if you go series-by-series. 
< = Reds have it easier (By record of opponent)
> = Pirates have it easier (By record of opponent)
= Equal (By record of opponent)

Pirates would have a 5-3-4 advantage. (Not counting the 2 series against each other). 

The Reds lead the division by 6 games but this is a very doable task but as we all know a bad team can still get streaky. Couch, cough, Cubs and Padres.

You can also see with the Cards and Braves that the Pirates would have an upper hand down the stretch as well. 

The one MAJOR player in all of this could be the Phillies. Thankfully we already got them out of the way early while they were in the midst of a major struggle and St. Louis has as well. The Phillies, as of late, are 17-15 since the all-star break. They still have the ability to play spoiler against the Reds and Braves.

     We can all say that it's finally great to be able to talk about these kind's of things in the Burgh again. Pretty soon (Check back in 2 weeks), if we can gain a few games on STL/LA, those two wonderful words can be mentioned again by Bucco fans..........Magic Number.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Buccos Get Back On Winning Track

     The Buccos got a HUGE victory to end their disappointing homestand defeating the Dodgers 10-6.

Hitting:      The Buccos got on the board first for the first time in ten days by way of a 3-run jack by Garret Jones. Cutch and Jordy would score on the play. Pedro would add a double after the homer but failed to score. The Buccos would be blanked the next two innings before answering in the bottom of the fourth with a one out walk by Barajas followed by a Barmes trip-trip-triple. (Yes, The Barge scored from first). Burnett would ground back to the pitcher and Marte would strike out looking. 4-4 after 4. Joe Blanton made a HUGE mistake in the fifth. Jordy Mercer led off the inning with a single, Blanton then walked Cutch on a close 3-2 pitch. That brought up Garret Jones and he made them pay with his second 3-run shot of the game. That would be followed by a #DayDro solo shot to make it 8-4. Blanton would be removed from the game and as he was walking to the dugout he would get tossed for arguing with the HP Ump.  They would add two in the seventh by way of a Barmes 2-RBI single.

Pitching:      AJ Burnett got through the first inning unscathed (finally a scoreless first for the opponent) then allowed a solo-shot by James Loney in the second but that wasn't the highlight of the inning. With Andre Ethier at the plate, Matt Kemp yelled at the Umps from the dugout and got tossed, then continued by running after the Ump. Don Mattingly would come out to get Kemp then put in his two cents before getting tossed himself.  The Dodgers would take the lead in the fourth by way of a run by a Pedro Alvarez throwing error after Mark Ellis led the inning off with a ground-rule double followed by a 2-run shot by Hanley Ramirez to make it 4-3.  That would be the only time they led but it did get interesting in the seventh. AJ would allow the bases to load with two outs.  Mark Ellis hit one off of Burnett to reach on an infield single to make it 8-5, he would then hit Juan Rivera to make it 8-6.  That would end Burnett's outing. Tony Watson would come in and get the final out to end the Dodger threat. Grilli pitched a scoreless eighth and The Hammer did as well to end it. PIRATES WIN! PIRATES WIN!

      This is a big win for the Buccos because it keeps them in the second WC with the Cards who they will play the next three games in StL. It also keeps them within 7 of the Reds. Yes, I still think they can do it in the Central with 6 games, still, with Cinci. The Reds still play the Phillies 7 times and I may be the only person to think that's important but they still are the Phillies and they game go on a streak at any time.  It  CAN happen.

Stud: Garrett Jones 2 HR, 6 RBI, 2 Runs
Dud: Gabby Sanchez 0-4, 2 K's 1 Run

Monday, August 13, 2012

Playoff baseball starts now

     The Buccos dropped a tough one tonight, 5-4 to the visiting Dodgers. A team that is only 1 1/2 games behind the Bucs for the last NL Wild Card spot. We have 3 games left against LA with the most favorable game already taken place. It doesn't get easier after this series with the Buccos traveling to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals who are 2 games behind the Bucs for another crucial 3 game series.

     Tonight's game was a tough one to swallow. Yes, they fought back to within one but the outcome could have been different had the bullpen succeeded. Juan Cruz came in for the seventh and loaded the bases on two walks and a HBP. Tony Watson would come in to get the final two outs but allowed an inherited run to cross which would be the difference in the game. I think it's about that time when Bryan Morris should be making an appearance in the bigs. The six man rotation is pressing the pen. Jeff Locke is up solely for long relief, therefore taking two spots away in the pen. If the Pirates want to keep this roster and keep competing, the pen will have to be close to perfect in order for them succeed.

     With that being said, The Buccos are still 64-51. They are still only 5 games behind the Reds with six games remaining against them. The schedule gets easier after the Cardinals series while the Reds does as well but the reds face the Phillies seven times. Yes, the Phillies have been bad this year but they seem to be turning it around and it could help us in the race. There are still 47 games left, crazier things have happened so try and stay away from the edge of the cliff.



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Burnett Trolls Cubs

     A.J. Burnett took a no-no two outs into the eighth before getting squeezed by the ump, followed by the only Cubs hit by Adrian Cardenas. Burnett would get the final four outs to finish off the shutout. He would allow only four baserunners the whole night.

     Neil Walker had the offensive equivalent to Burnett as he hit a grand slam in the first and added a sac fly in the seventh. The 5 RBI's would be the only offense of the game but it would be plenty. Cutch would have three hits in the game (2 singles, double) and Pedro would add two hits (single, double). Newly acquired outfielder, Travis Snider, would score two runs in the game and go 1-4 with an infield single and a walk.

     The Pirates look to take the series tomorrow afternoon before heading to Cincinnati for a crucial 3 game series with the first place Reds (3 games up).

Starters Lines
     Burnett: (W, 13-3) CG, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 8 K's 
     Coleman: (L, 0-2) 4 2/3 IN, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 K's (2 to Burnett)

Turning Point
     Burnett taking the mound - A.J. was dominant from start to finish. No signs of trouble for the ace.

Stud/Dud of the Game
     Stud: A.J. Burnett - Need I say more?
     Dud: Starling Marte - 0-5, 2 K's

Final Thoughts
     -- There were a few transactions over the past 24 hours. Brad Lincoln was traded to Toronto for Travis Snider who went 1-4 with a single, walk, and 2 RBI's. Gorkys Hernandez was sent to Miami for Gaby Sanchez and AAA pitcher, Kyle Kaminska. They also traded Casey McGehee to the Yankees for reliever, Chad Qualls. 

     -- Drew Sutton was also DFA'd to make room for the transactions. 

     -- Daniel McCutchen was recalled from AAA to fill a spot that will be most likely taken by Qualls come tomorrow.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Welcome To Pittsburgh, Starling Marte

     It only took one pitch for Starling Marte to make his mark on Pittsburgh Pirate baseball as he sent that first pitch out in a Pirates 5-3 victory over the Astros.

     The Marte homer was one of three that left the park as he, Jones, and Barmes all left the park. Cutch, Barajas, Walker, Pedro, and Burnett each added singles as well.

     A.J. Burnett was lights-out until the eighth as he threw 2-hit ball until getting light up for two solo homers in the eighth. Brad Lincoln came in and got the final two outs while allowing a walk and The Hammer would come in and allow a run but get the save.

     The Buccos did what they needed to do and what was expected of them to do. Take care of business against the Astros.

Starters Lines
     Burnett: (W,12-3) 7 1/3 IN, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K's 
     Keuchel: (L, 1-3) 6 IN, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K's (1 to Burnett)

Stud/Dud of the Game
     Stud: Starling Marte - 2-4 with a single, homer, RBI, and a run.
     Dud: McGehee - 0-4 with a strikeout and 1 LOB

Turning Point
     Marte's homer in the first - It took the Bucs one pitch to take control of the game.

Final Thoughts
     -- Starling Marte is only the 28th player in MLB history to hit a homer on the first pitch of their ML career. He ended up going 2-4.

     -- The Pirates have yet to give up a lead after the seventh inning.

     -- Newly acquired LHP Wandy Rodriguez will make his Pirates debut on Saturday against his former team, the Astros.
This Day in '92
W @ ATL 5-4
     Stan Belinda would blow a save in the eighth but get the win by way of an Orlando Merced ninth inning RBI single.
     Jay Bell would homer in the game while Merced (2), King, and Slaught would record RBI's.
     Andy Van Slyke would pinch-hit and get intentionally walked.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bucs Bats Take Night Off

     It's the first day back from my vacation and I witness the Pirates lay a goose egg in a 2-0 loss to the Cubs. What makes this loss more frustrating is the fact that Erik Bedard looked amazing by only allowing one hit and one run in seven innings of work. Alfanso Soriano and Starlin Castro played Pirate killers by plating both runs by way of two doubles by Soriano after Castro reached base by walk and hit. The Buccos got the tieing run on in the ninth when Josh Harrison led off the inning with a pinch-hit infield single. Drew Sutton and Alex Presley would then strike out and Neil Walker would ground out to end it while leaving Cutch in the on-deck circle to watch. Ugh, just frustrating to watch. There's always tomorrow, though.

     While I was gone, the Buccos righted the ship after a not-so-good start to the second half. They got down early to the Rockies in the second game of their series but were able to come back and win starting a 5-game winning streak which included a sweep of the Miami Marlins. Cutch and Pedro's homerun battle continues as Cutch leads by one, 22-21. Bedard's start tonight is a good sign that he could be coming around to the form he had at the start of the season but it's hard to tell because he faced the Cubs tonight.

     Another thing I was impressed at was the atmosphere tonight. The largest Monday crowd in PNC Park history was on hand (27,586) and the place was electric up until the final out. This is a good reason to say that Pittsburgh is, indeed, a baseball town one again. The Bucs, going into tonight, were tied with the Reds, in the loss column, for 1st in the Central and three games up, in the loss column, to the Braves and Dodgers in the Wild Card.

     Don't worry Bucco fans, we couldn't win the rest of them. It's just time to start another long winning streak to keep this amazing season going.