With this new day, and really entirely new era of Bucco baseball, we are going to be starting the blog site up again in an effort to make it everything that we planned to do in the past, and to fix the things that at some point stopped working over the last year or so of site neglect.
So welcome back to another season of Pirates baseball. It feels great coming off of last year’s playoff appearance, but at the time, I remember how hard it was to watch St. Louis play in the World Series last year, knowing that it
should have been could have been us.
But now here it is, with a beautifully sunny final day of March in the Burgh, with the Pirates taking on the Cubs at PNC Park. By now, you know the Pirates are facing Jeff Samardzija, and Francisco Liriano will be taking the hill for the Buccos. It would be great for the Pirates to avoid the same slow start that they had last year, and with a tough early season schedule entirely made up of NL Central foes until late April, a fast start is going to be an important part of this season.
Based on my pre-season predictions, I think my pick for player of the game today is one of the guys who I think has a shot to be the second consecutive Pirate to win National League MVP this year. Despite the streaks that he is known for so far in his early career, I think this is the year that it all clicks for Pedro Alvarez, and he gets it started today with a big home run to lead the Pirates to an Opening Day victory against the Cubbies. Liriano will go 6 solid innings, then the Shark Tank will take over and shut down the Cubs in the 7th, 8th and 9th for a nice convincing Pirates victory.
Pirates 5, Cubs 1
HR: Alvarez, Martin
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!