Until last night.
Drew Sutton last night was able to wrest the title of play of the year (so far, anyway) from McKenry for the 2012 title with his dramatic, completely unexpected but somehow not surprising, game winning walk off home run in the bottom of the 9th to beat the (hapless) Houston Astros. That home run, Sutton first in the bigs since the 2010, put the Pirates into a 1st place tie with the Reds, who later last night lost to the Dodgers 3-1.
I’ll spare all of the talk about the PIrates being 8 games over .500 for the first time since the last day of the 1992 season, because to be honest, .500 no longer really matters. Heck, finishing 82-80 and ending ’the streak’ this year seems like it would be a bit of a disappointment at this point in the season.
There just seems to be too much right for this team right now. Things are clicking in a way that says that last year was last year, and this year is the first of many more in a good way. They’ve got the Zoltan Z going on, like the Brewers’ beast mode claw from last year’s playoff run. One of those things that when your opponent does it, you hate it. But when it’s your team, it connects you with them in a way like no other. Note: the image and subsequent link to the page where these shirts are sold are of no affiliation to me in any way whatsoever. I just thought they were cool (though could be improved) and it would be great if a percentage of each sale went to Pirates Charities, but that’s not up to me… just saying).
Anyway, we have a potential National League MVP in Andrew McCutchen earning his way to an All Star game that he will be playing to win. Because it *might* actually mean something to his team in October.
We have a closer who has blown two saves all year long, and an offense that picked him up by coming back to win both of those games.
We have guys who we acquired, traded the same day, and picked up off of waivers after he was cut by the team we traded him to coming in an hitting game winning walk off home runs.
We have a big time prospect pounding at the door in Indianapolis to come and join the party in Starling Marte, along with enough pitchers to solidly staff an 11 man rotation if we needed to.
We are 9 days away from the deadline to sign drafted players, and there is an incredible indifference regarding whether or not 1st round pick Mark Appel actually signs with the Pirates or not (He’d be insane not to sign, by the way. No more money coming his way, plus a chance to be part of a… yep, I’ll say it… dynasty in the years to come. The only person who is hurt here is Scott Boras, since he’s already cost his client millions of dollars).
We have the best offense in baseball since June 1. Incredible, considering the articles written here and everywhere else about how historically bad the offense was in April and May.
It’s a lot of fun right now, and it’s cool to be a Pirates fan. I was wearing my Bucco gear every day in Milwaukee last week, and I was stopped over a dozen times by strangers wanting to talk Bucco baseball. Not to mention, it is cool to go to Pirates games now. Bandwagon fans or not, it’s a lot more fun to have those folks’ butts in seats. Plus, the ticket sales justify everything we’ve been saying all along. You win and they will come. Well, the Pirates are winning, and the fans are showing up as well.
As Drew Sutton said after his incredible hit last night… “every once in a while, you get a moment. You’d better enjoy it.” I think truer words have never been spoken about anything in life. And as baseball fans, the sport is all about life lessons as well, that we can teach our kids, and that we can learn from ourselves. As those of us that thought that is might be “our year” every year since 1992, we all know disappointment and perseverance.
But this year, even if it turns out not to be “our year” when all is said and done, right now, we are all living in one of those moments that you get every once in a while.
You’d better enjoy it.
Remember not too long ago when every article on the Buccos seemed to refer to the squad as the ‘hapless Pirates’? Well, now that we officially have some haps, Pittsburgh is starting to become much more ‘hap’pening. With tonights 9-1 drubbing over the, dare I say, ‘hapless Minnesota Twins’, the Pirates are back to within two games of the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central. They are also one game behind the Giants and Mets in the race for the two National League Wild Card spots right now as well, with the Braves wedged in between a half game ahead of the ‘Happening Pirates’.
Yep, it’s only the first day of summer, but this team is built to last. Even despite losing last year’s ace, Charlie Morton, to season ending Tommy John surgery, the pitching of this team has been outstanding. Starters are terrific, bullpen has been solid… even AAA Indianapolis has one of the best pitching staffs in the league. Although Brad Lincoln has struggled in his starting role, he was outstanding in the bullpen this year (and probably better suited for that role long term). If needed, this team could easily call up guys from Indy like Rudy Owens (now at 6-2), Justin Wilson (73 K’s in 74 IP), Jeff Locke (72 K’s in 77 IP) and even Rick VandenHurk (5-0, 1.86 ERA) from a team that is 15 games over .500 and in 1st place by 9.5 games.
The Pirates 9 run outburst tonight launched them past the San Diego Padres to no longer be the lowest scoring team in the Majors.
So while the system seems to have pitching depth, the offense is what will make or break this 2012 version of the Bucs. And the offense has been coming around and showing signs of life lately. Casey McGehee is forcing himself into the lineup every night with a 9 game hitting streak now, and hitting .356 in June. Pedro Alvarez is currently on a good streak that hopefully will last for a while. Garrett Jones is hitting very well also. Cutch is Cutch. And the Pirates have been getting contributions from others as well, such as Josh Harrison putting together a nice run of games. Even Clint Barmes is hitting .300 over the last week. And wouldn’t you know it, but the Pirates 9 run outburst tonight launched them past the San Diego Padres to no longer be the lowest scoring team in the Majors. Trailing by 1 headed into the game, they now lead the ‘hapless Padres’ by 8 runs in that category, and trail the Marlins by 15 runs for the next rung up the leaderboard.
The way this team has been playing so far this year, it is looking more an more legitimate that this team is going to hang around a bit longer than it did ‘post Jerry Meals’ in 2011. And maybe after all those years of being ‘hapless’, Pirate fans are now just ‘happy’.
Sure, even for the most optimistic fan, it can be a little hard to read that title with a straight face. I admit, it would be an incredible and miraculous story if they were to somehow end the 19 year drought of even a .500 record by bringing home a world title. You hear all the time and everywhere the reasons why there is no chance in the world that this team could even make the playoffs, let alone with the whole ball of wax.
But on this off day, on a day when I finally find a wee bit of free time to write an article on my painfully neglected site, I am here to tell you why, in fact, this 2012 edition of your Pittsburgh Pirates will in fact shock the world and bring a World Series title back to Pittsburgh.
It’s June 11, and the Pirates are in first place. If you’re going to win the World Series, you first need to make the playoffs. Being in 1st place is one way to get there. Staying in 1st place is a better way. Sure, the Pirates were in 1st place much later than this last season. And that is one reason why they will be much more comfortable staying there this year.
The Pirates are 5 games over .500 right now. I’m not sure why Yahoo’s site shows them above the Reds right now, as pretty much every other standings page has the Reds on top due to their alphabetical superiority, but I’ll go with the Yahoo standings.
Being five games over .500 on June 12 guarantees them nothing other than losing no more than 130 games this year. But being 5 games over, with a realistic chance of being somewhere around 10 games over .500 by the end of the month is a very good start. Somewhere around 44-33 at the end of June is a realistic record, considering this team is on a 12-3 tear over the last couple of weeks. That finish would only be 12-6 to finish the month, and you have three against a bad Twins team in there to go along with 4 against a beat up Phillies team, and a series with the Tigers that looks like it will miss Justin Verlander. Also in there are the next six against surprisingly good teams Baltimore and Cleveland, and a couple against slumping and injured St. Louis at the end of the month. 12 more wins in June is absolutely possible.
A 44-33 record gets people to stop talking about 19 years of sub-.500 records and gets them instead wondering how good this Pirates team is. And the answer to that question begins and ends with its pitching staff. The Pirates have the #3 ranked ERA in all of baseball right now, behind only Washington and the Dodgers. The team WHIP is tied for 6th in the Majors. The home ERA is the best in all of baseball. And the home WHIP trails only the Dodgers by a 1.09 to 1.10 count.
The Pirates have the 4th best ERA in innings 1-6, at 3.41. And in innings 7 and beyond, it’s even better… 2.93.
Sure, offensively there have been troubles. We have the 2nd worst batting average in all of baseball. We trail the Padres by 14 runs to escape last in baseball in runs scored. We need to get 20 more hits than the A’s in order to escape the cellar in that category. But we’ve hit more doubles than the Rays, more Home Runs than the Dodgers, and more triples than a majority of the teams in baseball. Our on base percentage is by far the worst in baseball as well. And despite what seems like a speedy team, we are in the bottom quarter of the league in steals.
But the Pirates are in first place, even with all of that. And if they are 44-33, you can bet that there may be a move or two that infuses some offensive firepower into this team again this year. Last year, Derrek Lee came in and brought some much needed pop, but broke his hand and missed key time last year. Ryan Ludwick was brought in to do the same. Who knows what kind of move could be coming this year, but if a Jed Lowrie came over to play short or a guy like Alfonso Soriano was brought in as an outfielder, this team will score more runs. And with the pitching depth that is on this team, the 2012 Pirates can contend with anyone in this division through October.
So the Pirates shock the world and win the NL Central this year, hitting around 90 wins. With the wild card the way it is now, the Dodgers would likely be the #1 seed in the NL and get to play the winner of a one game playoff between teams like the Giants and Reds, or maybe the Marlins or Nationals. That leaves the Pirates to play the winner of the NL East in the opening round of the playoffs. The East is very good this year, and the Nationals appear to be tops in that division right now. Forgive me for holding a grudge, but I’d personally love for the Braves to win the division and be the Buccos first playoff opponent in 19 years. Maybe Sid Bream can even throw out the first pitch for the Braves. It would be a great storyline. But I think it would either be the Marlins or Nationals that end up winning that division. Game 1 in PNC Park would feature Strasburg against A.J. Burnett. Strasburg strikes out the first 15 Pirates that come up to bat, but the Buccos don’t give up many runs either, and steal a late win against the Nats with a run in the bottom of the 9th. Then the Pirates get a win again Gio Gonzalez and go up 2-0 with a pair of 1 run wins. Then they go back to DC and beat Edwin Jackson, personally ending his one year contract with the Nationals.
Then the Pirates get the Dodgers in the NLCS, where a hobbled Matt Kemp limps out to pinch hit against Joel Hanrahan in the 9th inning, bringing back memories of Gibson vs. the Eck. But the Hammer drops on Kemp this time, he reinjures the hammy and the Bucs go on to beat the Dodgers in 5 games due to more dominating pitching performances.
And in sweet justice, when every non-Yankee fan in America falls in love with the new sweetheart, David shocks Goliath as the Buccos beat the Yankees in the World Series. Though the Pirates win the title, the Yankees would have the World Series MVP on their payroll. Hollywood couldn’t write a better script than that. Though I just did. And it very well could happen. Just watch, and enjoy the ride.
Let’s Go Bucs!
Well, I really, really did not want to use a second consecutive image from the movie ‘Major League’ on this blog, but I think after the baseball that we’ve seen the past week, we may have to resort to sacrificing a live chicken to turn the hitting woes around.
“I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats.”
That’s pretty much where we are right now. Pirates pitching has been unbelievable. They have given up 20 runs total in 7 games, less than 3 per game. 8 of those runs have come in the first inning, where we have not yet scored this year. Take away our slow starts, and we’ve given up 12 runs in 54 non-first-innings this year. That’s flat out amazing.
However, the Pirates have scored only 11 runs, total, in any inning, all season, in 7 games so far. We’ll take a look into just how bad this team’s offense has been so far this year, with some interesting facts to put in perspective just how historically bad things have been so far in 2012.
Here is the Pirates Opening Day lineup, along with their batting averages now, through 7 games.
1. Alex Presley .269
2. Jose Tabata . 190
3. Andrew McCutchen .360
4. Neil Walker .048
5. Garret Jones . 143
6. Rod Barajas . 059
7. Pedro Alvarez .063
8. Clint Barmes . 105
- That is seven guys under .270, SIX guys under .200, and THREE GUYS UNDER .065
- As a team, the Pirates are hitting .178.
- The Pirates have 39 hits in 7 games. They also have struck out 58 times in 7 games. The Pirates have drawn exactly 7 walks this season in seven games. They are 5 walks behind the second to last place team (Phillies, with 12).
- The Pirates have 4 players with more than TWO hits total this season. Andrew McCutchen (9), Alex Presley (7), Casey McGehee (5) and Jose Tabata (4). Yesterday, while the Pirates managed just one hit total in its game against San Francisco, there were 14 Major League players with more than 2 hits yesterday alone.
- The Pirates have 3 HR and 10 RBI as a team so far this season. That is fewer home runs than Corey Hart, Ian Kinsler or Josh Willingham, and fewer RBI than David Freese, Matt Kemp, or Andre Ethier. There are 11 other individual players with as many home runs as the Pirates have hit this season.
- The Pirates rank last in Major League Baseball in Runs Scored, Hits, RBI, Walks, Average, On Base %, Slugging % and of course OPS. They are also last in Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, and Number of Pitches Faced. They are second to last in doubles (7 to 6 over Cleveland), triples (with 1), and home runs (3-2 over Boston).
- If the next person that hits a home run for the Pirates is not named Clint Barmes, Pedro Alvarez, or Michael McKenry, they will be tied for the team lead in home runs with one.
- If Chicago Cubs’ 3B Ian Stewart were traded to the Pirates right this minute, and the only statistics he was allowed to bring with him were from his first at bat yesterday, he would immediately be tied for the Pirates team lead in homers with 1, and would be alone at the top of the RBI leaderboard with 3.
- Pedro Alvarez has struck out in 10 of 16 plate appearances this year. Ironically enough, the two times he has reached base were by a ball hit over the fence for a home run, and on a dropped third strike when the first baseman dropped the ensuing throw to first. He would come around to score after that happened, and is why he leads the team with 2 runs scored this year (tied with Andrew McCutchen and Michael McKenry).
- Not surprisingly, the Pirates have not had an intentional walk issued to them yet this year.
- Only five players have been issued a walk at all this year. Three of them are not starters (Navarro, McKenry, and McLouth). Only three walks have been issued to starters, two to Andrew McCutchen and one to Neil Walker.
- Pitchers Kevin Correia and James McDonald each have as many hits (1) as opening day starters Neil Walker, Rod Barajas, and Pedro Alvarez, as well as other key contributors who have started this season - Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, and Nate McLouth.
- Teams are likely to stop pitching to Andrew McCutchen until the rest of the team comes around. The Pirates are hitting .178 as a team WITH him. If you take out Cutch, the team batting average drops to .155.
- If you also take out Alex Presley, the team batting average drops to .137 for everyone else.
Hopefully, this trend comes to a screeching halt tonight, and it is something we look back on and laugh about. But the start that we’ve seen from this offense so far this year has been, well… offensive.
Yo bartender, Jobu needs a refill.