So first things first, yea, I know it’s been a crazy long time since I’ve updated this site. And despite my repeated claims that I am going to get better and find time to do with this site what I really want to do with this site, I know that I am too slammed with being a serial entrepreneur and doing what I do to properly commit to this, as much as I wish it weren’t the case.
Anyway…this week, the Pirates made some moves. I didn’t say anything about them being ‘good moves’, or ‘interesting moves’, and definitely not ‘promising moves’. They made some moves. The first one I will mention is the latest one to happen, the decision to non-tender Jeff Karstens. I’ve always admired Karstens for the way he pitched well in big games, games when the team needed a win, and the way he would routinely outsmart the opposition in a way that reminded me of a guy like Greg Maddux. Now I know, Maddux is a Hall of Famer… but bear with me. Maddux didn’t throw hard. But he was smart, and he could predict what a hitter was thinking. And he had incredible control. Those are traits that I always saw in Karstens. He was a bulldog who flat out battled, every time out. That guy could be on my team any day of the week. And to be non-tendered over such a small amount of money (estimated less than $4 million would have kept him), it seems criminal to have not done so.
Of course, Karstens was non-tendered so that the Pirates could add newly signed catcher Russell Martin to the roster. The Pirates signed Martin to a 2 year contract for $17 million. That comes out to $8.5 million for a catcher that has hit the last six years at .293, .280, .250, .248, .237 and then .211 this season. Yes, that means that each year since 2007, he has managed to have a worse batting average than the year before. His on base percentage has also dropped each of the last five years. Rod Barajas was run out of town after hitting .206 last year. So we’re looking at a .005 point improvement for that $17 million, if we’re lucky.
Martin is a right handed hitter that hit .191 at righty friendly Yankee Stadium this season. That’s ONE – NINETY – ONE. And now he comes to PNC with its massive left field. One would logically assume there is a pretty decent chance that he is likely to hit worse at PNC Park than he did at Yankee Stadium. Martin did have a career high 21 home runs this year. And a career high 95 K’s as well. Martin was a 1.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) guy last year. For reference, Michael McKenry was a 1.7 WAR.
So I’m sitting around thinking how likely terrible this is probably going to turn out for the Pirates. On paper, and using logic, this looks like an obscene waste of money. As a Pirates fan, I hope I am wrong and that it works out. But I hoped things would work out in August and September last year as well. I love Pirates baseball, but this feels like such a bad move on so many levels.
If only we had a young prospect that was knocking on the door ready to play the position, we wouldn’t be in this place. Then I thought immediately of Tony Sanchez, and how he must feel about this Martin signing. Yes, in 2009 we drafted a catcher 4th overall. Yep, that’s the year that Stephen Strasburg went number one, Dustin Ackley went second, and other guys like Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, and Drew Storen all went in the top 10.
Our guy has floundered in the minors, battled injuries, and is best known for his Twitter controversy with the Pirates a couple years ago moreso than anything he has done on the field. He hit .233 in Indy this year, after getting what might feel to some like an undeserved promotion from Altoona, where he hit .277 with 0 HR’s in 40 games before going to Indy.
How must Sanchez have taken the Martin signing? Well, I has that very question earlier tonight, and posted it on Twitter. I asked if the Martin signing was the Pirates admitting that Sanchez was a bust. I think that is a fair enough question.
As you can see, Sanchez retweeted it. But not only that, he retweeted it from a bar, where he was drinking a Bud Light. Now I’m not trying to come down on the man for drinking a beer at some bar. Many ballplayers and people do it all the time, and why not? Heck, I’m drinking a Stella right now while writing this tonight. But when the baseball world – not just me – sees you as someone who is at least perceived to be lacking in dedication and potential, “tweeting your haters” from a bar seems like an interesting choice. I can’t see Andrew McCutchen tweeting to his haters from a bar with a photograph like this one below.
I don’t think what I asked would qualify me as a hater. After all, is there anyone else in that top 10 list that I mentioned earlier that you wouldn’t trade straight up for Sanchez right now? Of course not. Not a knock on Sanchez, but those guys are either quality major league players already, or highly ranked prospects. Sanchez is neither at this moment. And he’s done nothing to really get you geeked about the likelihood that he becomes one of those. And he didn’t impress the Pirates so much that they just gave $17 million to a guy who hit .211 last year. Does that make the Pirates “haters” too?
And if you do have a chip on your shoulder, good. You should. But tweet something from the batting cages telling me to Sit the F Down and that you’re busting your rear to show them what you can do. Not while tweeting with a beer and some bikini bottomed girl in the background.
I’ve not met Tony Sanchez in person, and from what I’ve heard he is a swell guy. He’s very active on Twitter, and I do follow him, so I see a lot of the things he posts. And because of that, I admit I do have questions about his maturity level, as well as his dedication and commitment and drive to be the best. He loves to talk about his “haters”, but I’ve yet to see him acknowledge that he’s really done nothing – NOTHING – yet to earn any sort of love either, let alone any of the $2.5 million signing bonus that he was given when he signed with the Pirates. Personally, I am not a Tony Sanchez hater. I’m the exact opposite. I am a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. If there is anyone out there that can help this baseball team win, I’m not hating anything about that. So for that reason alone, I want to see Tony Sanchez succeed beyond my own or even his own wildest dreams.
I just don’t think that is going to happen. Maybe if he were a third round pick or later, or a guy who looked like he was taking this thing seriously and working his behind off to be a Buster Posey rather than a bust, then maybe there would be a little more optimism with him. But I am not expecting it. I would not be surprised if Sanchez never plays a single game in the black and gold.
In all likelihood, this is going to be Neal Huntington’s last year as general manager of the Pirates. That almost seems like a foregone conclusion. So do you think a new G.M. is going to have any reason or loyalty to keep Sanchez around? He’s not his guy, he’s “dead weight” in that new person’s eyes, and if he can trade him for anything at all, Sanchez will be sent packing. Catcher prospects are a commodity in this league, so there is definitely some trade value for Sanchez. I don’t think Huntington would trade him, because that would be admitting failure. But the next GM would have no such hesitation. So right now, if I had to wager, I would bet money on Sanchez never playing a game for the Buccos.
Like I said, I may be completely wrong about Tony Sanchez. I’d love to talk to him and ask him these questions myself (so Tony, if you’re reading this, and I know you are, follow me @GoBuccos and DM me, we can talk and put the interview right here on this site). I’m sure you’re not a bad guy, and I’m absolutely 100% on your side and want to see your success. But when the Pirates spend that kind of money on a guy like Russell Martin, that isn’t exactly a vote of confidence. I’d love to know what Tony thinks. I already know what many of us do.
Friday night, August 3, 2012 – Pirates trail the Reds by 3.5 games before losing to the Reds in Cincinnati that night. It was a game where new Pirates pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez, threw a pretty good game, but game up a couple of key hits, including an inside the park home run to Chris Heisey and a 2 run home run to opposing pitcher, Mat Latos. Latos kept the Pirates in check all night, and then in the 9th inning, trailing 3-0 and with two outs, NL PLayer of the Month for June and July Andrew McCutchen was intentionally hit by a 101 mph fastball from Aroldis “Coward” Chapman.
The next two days, no Pirates pitcher retaliated for what happened to their franchise player. No fight. No standing up for themselves. No anything.
Perhaps this was foreshadowing of who this team really is, as since that night the Pirates have shown very little fight in going 12-23 and doing their absolute best to fall out of the National League playoff picture, and perhaps out of contention for ending the 19 straight losing seasons.
Most recently, the Pirates were ‘out-hearted’ by the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs – two teams who were a combined 70.5 games out of first place at the time, the Pirates losing 4 out of 6 games at PNC Park, where at one point somehow not too long ago, they actually owned the best home record in Major League Baseball.
Despite the horrendous results that the Pirates have floundered their way to since August 3, they still find themselves only two games behind St. Louis in the loss column, and likely will be tied with the Dodgers in the loss column at the end of the night tonight – in the battle for the 2nd and final Wild Card spot.
So there are two ways to look at things… 1 – if this team played even mediocre baseball against some of the worst teams in the league for the past month, they’s have around a 5 game lead in the Wild Card race right now. And then there’s #2 – Despite playing their worst, un-inspiring baseball of the season for the past month and change, this team somehow is still in the midst of a playoff race.
The Cardinals are 2 games up in the loss column, are battling injuries, and are headed west for a 7 game trip against the Padres and Dodgers, while finishing the season against Washington and Cincinnati. That is sandwiched around series with Houston, Chicago and Houston. The Dodgers have a brutally tough stretch remaining as well.
The Pirates need to realize that there is a playoff spot there for the taking. But they have to take it. Nobody is going to give it to them. And as much as I hate calling out my team… they may have to scratch and claw and fight for it.
And it begins tomorrow night, where Wandy Rodriguez battles Mat Latos in Cincinnati. Again.
With all due respect to a terrific outing from James McDonald tonight, and an all around great team win in a much, much needed game, this was an amazing performance from Pedro Alvarez tonight. Pedro was 4 for 5, with 2 MONSTROUS home runs, 3 runs scored and 4 RBI. And did I mention anything about the monstrosity of the two home runs?
Nevermind they were big home runs.
Nevermind they were long home runs.
This game was pretty much the biggest game the Pirates have ever played in the history of PNC Park. They lose tonight, and they are dead to rights – slumping, season slipping away, 4 games out of the wild card with no hope fading fast. But Pedro’s home runs not only led the team in the 9-0 win, but the energy that came along with those two home runs just may have provided the spark and energy that this team desperately needed to get back some positive momentum in the playoff chase.
A 9-0 win gave the Buccos their 69th win of the season. That is more than they won in 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005. And it is still only August 28th. So that is a great milestone, but in this season of risen expectations, it is just a step along the way. And as big of a game as it was, it’s career as the biggest game ever in PNC Park history will be shortlived, as tomorrow night, the Pirates will play one just a little bigger. But after that game, it’s 9 games against the Brewers, Astros, and Cubs. Then 3 in Cincinnati, followed by 10 more games against the Brewers, Astros and Cubs. That is a schedule that plays favorably for the Pirates, but they still have to win the games.
The performance from Pedro tonight was as clutch and locked in as you will ever see anyone. Hopefully it was the spark that this team needs to carry them out of August and into September and beyond. Go Buccos!
Last week at this time, I wrote that if the Pirates are still holding on to a playoff spot on the morning of August 20, they would be in pretty good shape to close out the magical season with a playoff berth. After today’s grueling 19 inning win over the Cardinals, they wrapped up those 7 games against L.A. and St. Louis at 3 wins and 4 losses, by winning 3 of the last 4. And despite trailing Cincinnati by 6.5 games in the NL Central, they lead the Giants by 1 game, the Cardinals by 2 games and D’Backs by 5 games for the second and final Wild Card, and are back to within 3 of the Braves for hosting that Wild Card game. Heck, the Pirates today won for the 67th time this season. They won 67 or few games in 5 of the past 7 seasons. And if they win tomorrow night, #68 will be as many of 6 of the last 7. The must finish only 14-27 to get to the now anti-climactic yet elusive .500 mark.
With 41 games remaining, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the remaining road for the Pirates, as well as the teams they are battling, in an effort to see what to expect over the final 7 weeks of the 2012 Major League Baseball season.
Pittsburgh is actually really close to a relatively easy stretch of baseball again, and appear to have survived a really tough August with an 8-10 record so far this month. The month closes out with 3 in San Diego, 4 against the Brewers (first 3 at home) and 3 at home against St. Louis. Not a bad stretch at all, and the Pirates should get back to .500 or better for the month. And then the schedule gets easy. As a matter of fact, from today forward, the Pirates play exactly 3 games on the road the rest of the entire season that have a winning record. Those 3 games, in Cincinnati, are the toughest stretch left this season. In fact, the Pirates play only 12 games total, home or away, against teams with a .500 record or better out of the remaining 41 games on the schedule. 6 against Cincinnati, those 3 at home against St. Louis, and three to close out the year at home against the Braves. The other 29 games they play all comes against sub-.500 teams playing out the string and taking a look at rookies for next year.
Cincinnati, of course, by playing in the NL Central, enjoys a lot of the same benefits that the Pirates do in terms of schedule. But they had that super soft schedule in July and August, when they stretched out their lead a bit. Now, the Reds come back to reality a little more, starting with 4 games on the road against an improving Philadephia team this week, followed by 3 against St. Louis and then 3 in the desert against Arizona. Then in September, they also get the Phillies for 3 more, the Dodgers for 3, the Marlins for 3, the Pirates for 6 before closing out their season at St. Louis. As a matter of fact, of the Reds remaining 40 games, they play 18 of 40 against .500 or better teams, with 9 of those games on the road. And of the teams they play with sub .500 records, 10 of those games are against Philadelphia and Miami, both of whom are decent and dangerous baseball teams – and 7 of those 10 are on the road for the Reds. The Reds play a total of 22 of their last 40 on the road. Will that be enough for the Pirates to catch Cincinnati for the NL Central crown? There is a pretty good chance, depending on how well the Pirates can take care of business on their own.
But if the Pirates don’t catch the Reds in the NL Central this year, how do the Wild Card competitors stand up as far as remaining schedules go?
Well, the Dodgers have a brutal schedule to finish the year. L.A. plays 25 of their final 40 games against teams that are .500 or better, with 11 of those games on the road. They have 9 games left against San Francisco and 6 left against Arizona, with September also bringing 4 against St. Louis and 3 on the road against both Washington and Cincinnati. They also have 3 against Miami mixed in there, which is one of the better teams with a losing record. The good news for the Dodgers is that they play 23 of those 40 at home, but still… that is a brutal stretch to close out the season.
San Francisco may have taken its biggest hit for the remainder of the season earlier this week when they lost probably their strongest offensive player in Melky Cabrera for a steroids suspension. The Giants’ next seven games will go a long way on determining if they are going to be able to keep it together to make a run or not. They travel to L.A. to play the Dodgers for 3 games, and then get the Braves in town for 4. Including those 7 games, the Giants play 22 of their final 41 games against teams with winning records, which includes 9 against the Dodgers and 9 against Arizona, as well as those 4 against Atlanta this week.
Arizona has been hanging around for a while, and while they have the most ground to make up, their path is a bit easier than their two NL West counterparts. The D’Backs play 18 of their remaining 40 games against teams with a winning record, 10 of those on the road. 9 of their remaining games are against San Francisco, 6 against the Dodgers and 3 against the Reds.
And that leaves Atlanta, the team currently leading the chase for home field advantage in that one game playoff race. The Braves kick off a tough 10 game road trip tomorrow with 3 at Washington, 4 in San Francisco, and then 3 in San Diego. After that stretch, things become significantly more easy for the Braves, facing plenty of Mets, Rockies, Brewers, and Phillies in September sandwiched around some games against Washington in there as well. In all, the Braves play only 13 games the rest of the way against teams .500 or better. The good news is that 10 of those 13 are on the road, with the final three in Pittsburgh to end the season.
So while the Braves shouldn’t be challenged much throughout the end of the season, their schedule is still challenging, especially compared to the Pirates. The Buccos have the softest schedule out of any of the contending teams from here on out, so there should be no excuses for not making the playoffs at this point. Some timely wins against the Reds and a little help along the way, and the Pirates will likely be challenging for the Central division crown during the last week of the season – and with 29 of the next 35 games against some really bad baseball teams, the Pirates must take care of business until those last six games of the year.