Archive for July, 2012

Playoffs? You want to talk to me about playoffs?

| July 31, 2012 | 1 Comment

Apologies to Jim Mora, but with all of the excitement about the Pirates in 2012, it is important to look back a year ago at the similarities and differences between the 2011 team and the 2012 Buccos.  While it definitely feels different this year, the Pirates were in first place on July 25 last year, whereas they were not in 1st place this year on that date or since.  They do lead the Wild Card standings right now, and they have for a while – though the Braves tied them for the 1st wild card spot last night.

On this date last year, the Pirates had fallen from tied for first on July 25 to 4.5 games back of the Brewers on July 31, three games into what would be a 10 game losing streak while the Brewers won 7 in a row and 13 out of 14 to essentially bury the Buccos and wrap up the excitement for 2011.  The Pirates were 7.5 games out of the 1 wild card spot available last year on this date, and would be 10.5 games back of the Brewers by August 10.

But this year, they have already survived a Reds 10 game winning streak and kept pace to remain within 3 games of Cincinnati.  And right now, they have a 3 game lead over the Dodgers /Giants and a 4 game lead over the Cardinals.  Further than that, the D-Backs are 6.5 games back.  However, despite that lead, Baseball Prospectus still has the Pirates’ odds for making the playoffs at only 44%.   This trails the Braves (84%), Dodgers / Giants (50%), and the Cardinals (59%).   So do the Pirates just get disrespected because of their history?  Or more likely because the pitching is showing signs that the wheels could fall off again like it did last year?

The Wandy Rodriguez deal helps with that.  But Erik Bedard leads the majors in losses, Kevin Correia has been removed from the rotation because of concerns about performance, and even James McDonald has been downright bad since the All Star break.  If A.J. Burnett continues to be an NL MVP candidate like he has been, Jeff Karstens stays consistently good and Wandy Rodriguez being what he’s always done, then we are set with three pretty good starting pitchers.  If McDonald gets back to himself from before July, that is 4.  This team has the pieces to hang around and get one of those 3 potential playoff spots they can earn.

So basically, they are in a ”new” division right now, that looks something like this.

‘Playoff’ Division:   (3 our of 6 teams make the playoffs)

Team     (GB)

Reds      ( – )
PIRATES       ( – )
Braves             ( – )
Dodgers / Giants (non-NL West Leader)       ( 3 )
Cardinals           ( 4 )
D’Backs             (6.5)

So, can the Pirates maintain  the three game lead that they currently have over the next and last 60 games?    Last year, after 102 games, the Buccos were 53-49.   And then they went 19-41 the rest of the way en route to 90 losses.    The good news is that with the head start that the team has in 2012, a similar and horrible collapse of 19-41 the rest of the way would still leave the Pirates 77-85.  It would only take a 23-37 finish to hit the always elusive .500 mark.

The whole .500 thing should be a side note at this point.  Not hitting .500 would be an epic collapse not worthy of any celebration, and who would have thought that to be the case at the beginning of the year?   It is more interesting right now to note that it would take only a 32-28 record from here on out to hit 90 wins.   And a 42-18 record, which is a .700 winning percentage (they are currently playing at a .569 clip) would get them to 100 wins.   So maybe that would be shooting for the stars a bit much.  But if the Pirates were to just continue their .569 clip from here on out, they would end the season at 92-70.  That would not have been good enough to win any of the three NL divisions last year, but it would have been good enough to win the single wild card that was available.  And if there were two wild cards available last year, then they would have hosted the Cardinals in the one game playoff with the winner then facing the Phillies in the NLDS.

So it isn’t asking a ton to think they can and should make the playoffs this year.   Last year, the wild card was won with 90 wins, and the Braves were the first team out with 89 wins.  So there is no room for a collapse of any sort, but it also won’t take anything special or above the norm to get in.  Arizona, for example, needs to finish 38-21 to get to 90 wins, which is a  .644 clip for a team currently playing .505 baseball.   So if three out of the five teams including the Pirates, Reds, Cardinals, Braves and Dodgers make the playoffs, and we get a 3 game head start, we’re in a good place.  But with a 4 game series in August at home against the Dodgers still to come, along with a 4 game home series against Arizona, 9 more games against the Reds (6 on the road), six against St. Louis (3 home, 3 away)and the final three games of the year at home against Atlanta, it could be a very exciting end to this season.


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Grade-a-Trade: Travis Snider for Brad Lincoln

| July 31, 2012 | 1 Comment

Travis Snider - PiratesLast night, the Pirates traded away perennial prospect Brad Lincoln to the Blue Jays for perennial prospect Travis Snider.   This trade deals away a position of strength in pitching, specifically relief pitching since that is where Lincoln contributed the most for the Pirates, and brings in left handed power and a corner outfielder in Snider.  Initial reaction from the fans is mixed, with many people wanting to hold on to Lincoln but many people excited about the potential of Snider.  Snider is young still, and has many years of control still for the Pirates.  Lincoln has been projected as a potential future closer, though I’m not sure I buy into that all that much either.   I think teams still look at Lincoln as a starting pitcher, though he did not have great success in that role in Pittsburgh.  But Neal Huntington has always been able to build a bullpen, so there is no reason to doubt that this can not continue without Lincoln on the roster.

Snider brings a nice potential corner outfield bat to repeatedly bang balls off of and over the Clemente Wall in right field.  Whether or not that plays out remains to be seen, but I really like this deal.   I like it better in the offseason and not in the midst of a playoff race, but I like it nonetheless.

Because both of these players and young and have not really contributed a lot to the Pirates or Blue Jays yet, it is tough to give an accurate grade initially.  This is one that will definitely have an updated grade in another year or two or longer.   But initially, I will give this deal a B- as it intends to address the left handed power gap that the team has needed to fill for quite some time.


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Grade-a-Trade: Wandy Rodriguez for Rudy Owens, Robbie Grossman, and Colton Cain

| July 31, 2012 | 1 Comment

Wandy Rodriguez - PiratesAs part of the 2012 push for the playoffs, the Pirates acquired Wandy Rodriguez in exchange for Rudy Owens, Robbie Grossman and Colton Cain.   This trade will take some time to evaluate the winner and loser, likely years before the three guys that the Pirates gave up in the deal become a known commodity enough to determine whether or not this is a win or a loss.

Initially, I personally like this deal as it gives up a position of depth in pitching (Owens and Cain) in exchange for a known commidity with a solid track record and multiple years of control in Rodriguez.  Grossman and Owens have combined to be the Pirates minor league players of the year for the past three years, but that is as much an indicator of the system those three years than the players.   I do think that Owens could have helped the team this year, considering guys like Bedard are in the rotation despite a major league worst 12 losses at the time of me writing this, and Kevin Correia having spent most of the season in the rotation as well.   But in a playoff race, you want the guys who have experience and have been there before, and Wandy qualifies as such.

Initial fan reaction has been mostly positive to this trade, and I personally would grade it as a B+ right now.  If Wandy can help this team get to the playoffs and advance, this trade becomes an A.  This trade will be revisited in the years to come to determine how well it turned out in hindsight.



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1st Place Pirates Keep Rolling

| July 4, 2012 | 0 Comments

July 4, 2012 NL Central standings

Happy 4th of July everyone.  The Pittsburgh Pirates definitely made it a happy 4th of July.  Just like they did the 3rd of July.  And the 2nd of July.  And 42 other days so far during this 2012 Major League Baseball season.  The Buccos are doing exactly what they need to be doing right now… making hay when the sun shines so to speak.  When you play the worst teams in baseball, you need to beat them.  And with the 6-4 win over the Houston Astros today, they did that for the 3rd time in the first 3 games of this series.   Today’s win, the first without the benefit of a Pirates home run in 12 games, moved the Pirates to 45-36 – a record that is more and more making the whole .500 or bust quest a very minor afterthought.

This team finds ways to win.  Today, it was Mayor Pedro, the Fort and the Legend all coming through with offensive games.  Pedro’s 2 run single now gives him an incredible 48 RBI this season, after 81 games in the books and 81 more to go.  It’s easy to figure out season paces right now, but considering his early season struggles, I’d have to take the over on his 96 RBI pace to end the season right now.  And while we’re at it, hats off to Pedro Alvarez for really sticking with it and working hard to persevere this season.  I think he is always going to be a streaky hitter, but at Clint Hurdle said, Pedro wouldn’t have gotten many votes for mayor earlier this year.  Not too many people believed in him, and now, he’s found a home in the middle of this lineup and has show terrific improvement with plate discipline and pitch selection.  He’s proving to be an inspiration to anyone that has ever had to overcome adversity in life, and he’s a guy that I am rooting for to be the best player that his talents will allow.

Michael McKenry has filled in admirably this last week or so when Rod Barajas get dinged up in the Phillies game, and Garrett Jones has also really picked up on his consistency as well.  Today, those three guys brought the lumber, going 5 for 9 with 4 RBI and 3 runs scored.  MVP in waiting Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 3 to keep his average at a National League leading .360.  And every Pirates starter except for pitcher Kevin Correia had either a hit or a run scored today, which has been typical of this total team effort we have seen this year.

The win today moves the Pirates above the Texas Rangers for the best home record in all of baseball at 26-13, and they are now 25-12 overall since May 24, which will be tied for the best record in baseball since that time if the Yankees lose to Tampa today.

Pirates will go for the 4 game sweep and a ’10 games over .500′ record tommorrow night, with Jeff Karstens facing Bud Norris.   The weekend ahead brings in the San Francisco Giants sans Matt Cain.  The weekend matchups for that series are:  Erik Bedard vs. Barry Zito, James McDonald vs. Ryan Vogelsong, and A.J. Burnett vs. Tim Lincecum.   There is a decent chance the Pirates could hit the All Star break in first place with a blistering 49 wins.