Brave & Crazy: Hogan's 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates thread
Baseball 2008: Five reasons to believe in Pirates ... or not
If lineup, rotation exceed expectations, so might the team
Thursday, March 27, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Paul Maholm is reason No. 1.BRADENTON, Fla. -- On the surface, the 2008 Pirates would appear to be the most predictable team in the history of professional sports.
They are coming off 15 consecutive losing seasons, they did little more than tinker with a roster that lost 94 games, the median age of their everyday players is a low-ceiling 28, and their will be a $25 million payroll gap between them and everyone else in the National League's Central Division.
Not much suspense, right?
Damaso Marte, the Pirates' usually reserved reliever, sees it differently.
"Look around here," he said the other day at his McKechnie Field clubhouse stall. "Look at our young starters. Look at the back of our bullpen. Look at how our hitters hit in the second half last year."
He ruefully lowers his brow.
"People think we can't win? We've got a surprise for them."
It remains to be seen, naturally, how much of that is typical spring optimism or a true portent.
Here are five reasons why the Pirates could -- that is could -- be winners for the first time since 1992:
5. No one will run off with the division.
After all, after it took only 85 victories to finish first in 2007.
There might still be some quality, particularly with the formidable lineups in Milwaukee and Chicago, but few are projecting the Brewers and Cubs to join the league's elite, largely because of flawed pitching.
Milwaukee's staff remains led by injury-prone Ben Sheets and is shallow beyond that. Same with Chicago beyond Carlos Zambrano. Each team's bullpen could be exceptional, but how much will that matter if they are behind?
Cincinnati could surprise, led by one of the league's top three pitchers in Aaron Harang, buoyed by the familiar big bats of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., and infused with terrific young talent. But that is no certainty.
St. Louis and Houston, long the 1-2 class of the Central, each appear set for a backward step.
4. The lineup has no glaring holes.
Not exactly powerful praise, particularly since the lineup is basically the same one that batted .267 -- four points below the league average -- and seldom saw a pitch it did not like.
But there was that amazing August of 2007, lest anyone forget, when aliens possessed the Pirates and coaxed them to the best offensive month of any team in Major League Baseball, including a leading 45 home runs.
Was it a fluke?
Simple logic would suggest it was.
But how, then, to explain that the only lineup regulars who performed well above their career norms were Jack Wilson at .362, Freddy Sanchez at .374 and Adam LaRoche at .348. The rest were at usual levels or below, including Jason Bay at .237.
"It's just that we all hit at the same time," Ronny Paulino recalled. He hit .269. "We can do that again."
It could help, too, if the Pirates, finally, after years of wishing for Andy Van Slyke, solve their center-field problem. A power-hitting, base-stealing Nate McLouth might suffice.
3. Help could be on the way.
If the Pirates appear on their way to having a successful season, owner Bob Nutting, president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington are on record as saying they will add to the roster.
It remains to be seen what that would require and, more important, what that would entail.
But imagine the impact, including emotionally, of a significant roster boost after the team already has gained some steam.
2. Fundamentally speaking, they could improve.
Sure, every manager preaches fundamentals. But, under John Russell, this spring training has included daily meetings aimed at highly specific training -- the pitchers had one at 8:30 a.m. yesterday -- as well as incessant drills, vocal communication and plenty of repetition.
As one veteran player put, presumably in a complimentary way, "These guys don't miss anything."
There is no way to quantify what improved fundamentals will mean to the Pirates, nor is there any way to know now if they will be seen.
1. Paul Maholm.
It is a gross oversimplification to suggest any one player, even an Albert Pujols, could transform a 94-loss team. But it might not be an overstatement to suggest that, if Maholm walks over from the losing to the winning side, the Pirates' rotation might suddenly go from having potential to being potent.
And he knows it.
"Yeah, I do," he said. "But hey, thanks for the pressure."
Think of Maholm as the swing vote in an election. If Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny pitch as they did last season or even better, and Maholm joins them, the Pirates have a successful majority not just for the coming summer but for years. Anything Matt Morris or Zach Duke do would be a bonus after their down seasons.
Besides, Maholm is 25, a former first-round pick, coming off an encouraging second half of 2007 and, for what it is worth, has been the Pirates' best player -- position or pitcher -- all spring.
The time seems right.
Now, here are five reasons why the Pirates will wind up with a 16th consecutive losing season, one shy of the professional sports record set by the 1933-48 Philadelphia Phillies.
5. No change means no change.
The math is daunting for a 68-win team to improve to 82 or better.
The Pirates have turned from winners to losers from one season to the next only nine times in their first 121 years, and they have done it only three times when the first season had a winning percentage of .420 -- the mark in 2007 -- or lower. Last time for that was 1957, and there is no babyfaced Roberto Clemente in this group.
On top of that, asking the same group to do it ... even management has publicly acknowledged it is asking quite a lot.
4. An early shower in April?
Few teams in baseball can be counted out in the first two months, but the Pirates have all kinds of reasons to carry that added burden.
For one, the last time they were competitive as deep into a season as June was in 2005, after that now mystical night of June 11 when they crushed Tampa Bay, 18-2, at home to improve to ... gasp, 30-30.
Who will forget the fans waving that huge ".500" banner above the left-field rotunda the next afternoon, only to see a loss and the permanent abandonment of mediocrity?
To management's credit, no one is shying away from the strong-start talk, as had been the case in years past.
"Absolutely no question, we've got to win in April," Russell said. "We're not in a position to be waiting around."
3. Whither the bullpen?
Matt Capps could be one of the league's best closers -- who will know until he has more save opportunities? -- and Damaso Marte and John Grabow are effective, durable left-handers. Newcomer Tyler Yates could help, too, if he can shake off a poor second half in 2007.
After that ...
This should put it in perspective: The rest of the bullpen will consist of three pitchers who will not find out until the final two days of this spring training that they have not been cut.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, provided sinker-baller Franquelis Osoria can perform up to long-held expectations and Phil Dumatrait can find a way to harness dynamic breaking stuff from the left side. But uncertainties abound.
2. Whither the depth?
Pause and picture the Pirates losing any everyday player, starting pitcher or late-inning reliever, and imagine the replacement.
OK, now take the outfielders out of the equation.
Not easy, is it?
1. That seven-letter word stitched across the front of the jersey.
The Pirates' many outreaches to their rich past, as well as other attempts to pursue what Coonelly calls a "culture of excellence" surely will have an impact someday. The franchise as a whole is behaving in a first-class fashion, top to bottom, from upgraded facilities to superior communication to a human touch in handling some players' personal issues.
But the current stigma, no matter Coonelly's February speech to the players urging them to relinquish ownership of it, will not go away without winning.
"For 15 years, the name of the Pirates has been associated with losing, and that's tough," catcher Ryan Doumit said. "It seems like it's to the point where people outside the team expect it. They're waiting for it. 'Here we go again.' And that stinks for us. We know what we're capable of doing."
He rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, I know we say that every year. But we've got good players. I mean, good players. If we play up to our abilities, I honestly, truly believe we can compete with anybody. We've got pitchers who can shut teams down. We've got hitters who can put up numbers. There's just no reason why we shouldn't be able to compete. But I understand, everyone's still waiting for that."
I may try and hit another Pirates game this year.
PNC may be the nicest park I have been to, and I have been to a lot of stadiums. A few beers and some Primanti Brothers with that skyline.
I still remember Ken Griffey Jr. taking batting practice and trying for the Allegheny River.
Go Pirates ;D
I'm optimistic...especially with the staff's showing this spring.
Now, if they can just get off to a good start and if they can get Freddie throwing again, I'd be happy.
I got the spring gear on, the necessary medicine in hand...I'm ready for year 16 of the rebuilding process....bring it on!! Ha!
They didn't raise ticket prices this year (only one of two teams not to) but the beer is increasing by a buck and a quarter I believe...some local tax BS.
and to this day, I still can't get used to French Fries being just another topping on a burger instead of a full fledged side.
Nady homers twice in Pirates' wild 12-11 victory over Braves
Monday, March 31, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ATLANTA -- It was, beyond a doubt, one of the most extraordinary openers in the 122-year history of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club.
Just as surely, it was one of the most exhilarating, in its own exceptionally bizarre way.
Damaso Marte and Matt Capps blew a five-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning -- yes, five-run lead -- but Xavier Nady's second home run -- yes, second home run and fourth hit -- in the 12th inning as the Pirates outlasted the Atlanta Braves, 12-11, tonight at Turner Field.
Where to start?
How about with that last inning?
Nate McLouth's third hit of the evening led off the 12th against Atlanta reliever Blaine Boyer, with the score 9-9. McLouth was bunted to second, and Jason Bay drew a five-pitch walk. After two outs, Nady sent a 2-0 fastball to his power alley, right field.
Franquelis Osoria gave up a Jeff Francouer home run with two outs in the bottom half, and Mark Kotsay doubled to bring up the tying run. Matt Diaz singled, and the Braves were back within one.
No, pinch-hitter Corky Miller
Now, the crazy part ...
The score was 4-4 after the Pirates had chipped away at a two-run deficit, when Nady led off the eighth against fresh reliever Manny Acosta. He dug himself an 0-2 hold -- third time for that on the evening -- but ripped the next pitch, a high fastball to the opposite field.
Ryan Doumit, the surprise starting catcher, singled to right and, one out later, Jack Wilson drew a walk. After two outs, McLouth crushed a 2-0 fastball to right for a three-run home run.
Once it was 9-4 entering the ninth, victory appeared plenty secure.
But Damaso Marte made a mess, walking two around a strikeout. And Matt Capps was uncharacteristically wild when summoned right after him, walking his first batter two batters -- nearly impossible to imagine for a pitcher who had six total un-intentional walks in all of 2007 -- to bring in a run.
That brought the tying run to the plate. Chipper Jones' single scored two and made it 9-7, with still only one out.
Mark Teixeira flied out.
So did Brian McCann -- or so it appeared. But his high pop inexplicably dropped between Bay and McLouth as each looked skyward in vain.
Two more runs scored, and it was, unbelievably, 9-9.
Nady and McLouth each homered in the opener last year, too, a 4-2 victory in Houston. The most recent member of the Pirates to homer in back-to-back openers was Barry Bonds in 1988-89.
Ian Snell, in his first opening-day assignment, gave up four runs in six innings. There were seven hits, including a home run, as well as three strikeouts, two walks and a wild pitch.
It was John Russell's debut as a major-league manager, too.
He was mostly business before his first game as a major-league manager, presiding over two pregame meetings, observing batting practice from behind the cage and patting a few backs. But he did allow to some sentimentality, having aimed for this day since becoming a professional coach in 1994.
"It's obviously a special day," Russell said. "Being my first game, it's something I'll never forget. Been looking forward to it a long time."
The Pirates pecked away at Atlanta starter Tom Glavine early and struck first in the second inning.
Adam LaRoche lashed a double to right, took third on Doumit's single and, after two outs, scored when Atlanta second baseman Kelly Johnson failed to scoop Wilson's dribbler his way and was charged with the first of what would be three errors by the Braves' infield.
The Braves countered with three in the third, an inning which started with Snell walking Glavine.
The uh-oh factor always is high when that happens.
Sure enough, Johnson singled, and Yunel Escobar drilled a two-run triple to right. Jones' groundout scored Escobar, and it was 3-1.
The Pirates got one back in the fourth, nearly two. McLouth singled to center with men at second and third, scoring one run easily, but Wilson was nailed at the plate on a no-hop laser from Kotsay to end the inning.
Atlanta's next batter, McCann, launched a one-strike changeup atop the seating section beyond right-center to restore the Braves' two-run lead, 4-2.
They put two more aboard against Snell in the fifth, but a spectacular double play ended it without damage. Wilson backhanded Teixeira's one-hop smash, did a backhanded flip to Freddy Sanchez, who -- in another sign his shoulder is healthy -- fired to first to finish it.
Glavine was done after five, his pitch count at 97. All but four of the Pirates' 22 batters he faced drew a first-pitch ball. He allowed seven hits and two walks, but just the two runs.
The Pirates scratched another off Chris Resop in the sixth. Nady led off with a double the other way and scored on two groundouts to the right side to cut Atlanta's lead to 4-3.
They tied in the seventh, thanks in part to another gift. Pinch-hitter Nyjer Morgan lined a double to right, and McLouth bunted him to third. Sanchez bounced to short with a drawn-in infield, and Bay bounced one to the same place. But Escobar's throw, despite plenty of time, went in the dirt for another error as Morgan crossed home.
The tied score was placed in the hands of the Pirates' remodeled bullpen, and Tyler Yates made an impressive Pittsburgh debut in the seventh. After a two-out walk, he reared back for three fastballs -- 96, 96 and 97 mph -- that he blew by his old teammate Jones.
Next came the home runs and the ninth-inning collapse.
Capps signed thru 2009
Pirates Notebook: Capps' contract could lead to more
Saturday, April 05, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MIAMI -- The Pirates and closer Matt Capps yesterday signed a two-year contract worth $3.05 million, buying out his first year of arbitration eligibility.
Each sought a longer term, and that still might be achieved. But probably not until after this season.
"It's certainly something we can look at in the future," general manager Neal Huntington said.
"We'd still like to see it happen, maybe down the road," Capps said. "For now, this is something that works for both sides."
• Capps' $435,000 salary for this season -- assigned by the team in March -- was increased to $500,000. A $250,000 signing bonus raised his total pay for the year to $750,000.
• He will make $2.3 million in base pay in 2009, the first year in which he would have been arbitration-eligible. He also can make up to $150,000 in performance bonuses that year, based on games finished that year: $50,000 each for 50, 55 and 60 games finished.
The Pirates approached Capps about an extension in late December, and initial talks were aimed at a four-year contract plus a club option, which would have given the team control of all of Capps' three years of arbitration -- 2009-11 -- and his first year of free agency.
Similar deals were reached with starter Ian Snell and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, but that quickly fizzled with Capps, and talks turned to a three-year contract plus a club option.
That fizzled, too, and talks broke off in early March. Two weeks later, they resumed and this week finally reached the modest compromise.
The Pirates' general stance is that they have to cautious with relievers.
"We believe in Matt, but relievers' performance is the most volatile of any position," Huntington said. "Financially, because of that, it was hard to find common ground."
"We appreciate them not giving up on us," he said. "It's just a two-year deal, but it shows the confidence they have in me. And I think it makes for a good first step."
Wilson, Sanchez out
Neither shortstop Jack Wilson nor second baseman Sanchez was able to play last night, but neither has been ruled out for the weekend.
Wilson's strained left calf, sustained Thursday in Atlanta, swelled yesterday to the point that he described it as "ballooned." There remained no indication of any injury more significant than a deep bruise, but Wilson acknowledged that it was "stiff" and "sore," making it sound as if his next action could be in the home opener Monday.
"We'll see how he progresses in the next couple days," manager John Russell said.
Luis Rivas took Wilson's place, marking his third career start at shortstop in 567 games.
Sanchez was a last-minute scratch, informing the athletic trainers of lingering discomfort in his right shoulder immediately after a full round of batting practice. Russell said the team preferred to give Sanchez, who was pulled after five innings Thursday, "another day" to rest it.
Chris Gomez took his place.
• Utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz has been mostly bedridden by the flu the past few days but has remained available for duty.
• The Pirates hired Brian Tracy, former manager Jim Tracy's son, to be pitching coach for State College, their Class A short-season affiliate. Brian Tracy, 24, was drafted as a pitcher in the 20th round last summer but, after a frank discussion about his long-term projection as a player, management offered a try at coaching because of his acumen and baseball background.
• Capps' raise for 2008 pushed the payroll above the $51 million mark, to $51,103,783.
Things are changing somewhat, as the new FO is loaded with ex-Indians guys who were instrumental in building that team with semi-cheap long term deals for it's young stars...as the articles above have pointed out, deals are being reached and discussed all the time in the Burgh now. Quite refreshing really since it had been the land of the one year contract for seemingly certuries.
On the Pirates: The most frequent fliers
Once again, inexplicably, they are singled out for most Western trips
Sunday, April 20, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LOS ANGELES -- Perhaps someday, when the Pirates become contenders again, Major League Baseball will treat them as an equal when it comes to arranging its travel schedule.
Until then ...
Last year, the Pirates were the only non-West Division team that made four separate trips to face their four National League opponents in the Pacific time zone.
This year, the same.
The Pirates were in Los Angeles last week and will be in Arizona Aug. 4-6, San Francisco Sept. 5-7 and San Diego to end the season Sept. 26-28.
Moreover, their only trip to the Mountain time zone, in Colorado July 17-20, also will come independent of the above. That means that all five series in the nation's two Western time zones will come on separate trips.
Want to know how the other 10 teams in the Central and East Divisions live?
Consider that Washington will play all four of its Pacific time zone series in two trips. Or that eight other teams play in Los Angeles on the same swing as San Diego. Or that the New York Mets, who play six games in the Pacific and Mountain time zones because of interleague games, get all of that done in three trips.
The schedule is pieced together mostly by a computer, and interleague games have done away with the old days of one catch-all trip to California. Still, the inequity where the Pirates are concerned is glaring and could be addressed with human intervention, as teams have a right to complain.
Frank Coonelly worked as MLB's chief legal counsel before becoming the Pirates' president, but he took his current job after the 2008 schedule had been compiled. Shortly after taking the job, he pledged to fight for the Pirates' rights, something that likely had not taken place in recent years.
A small price to pay
For all the money the Pirates are pouring into their new Dominican facility, as well as all that they have invested through a 50 percent increase in the scouting budget, the bottom line for finding the best Latin American talent still can look awfully low.
Consider that Cincinnati recently upgraded in both areas, too, but the Reds' biggest payoff came as the result of $3,500 for a skinny 16-year-old kid named Johnny Cueto.
As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, Johnny Almaraz, the Reds' former director of international operations, was trying to fill out his Dominican Summer League roster in March 2004 when a friend asked him to look at Cueto. Almaraz had a flight to catch early the next day, so he told the friend if he could get a game going at 7 a.m., he would watch.
That was that.
From there, the Reds fed Cueto to add 20 pounds to his frame, as well as a little beef to his fastball. Former pitching star Mario Soto taught him the curve, and he was on his way.
It is an isolated case, to be sure, but one that bolsters the long-held view of Rene Gayo, the Pirates' international scouting director, that signing bonuses are overrated.
"You have to see the talent, and you have to make a connection with him and his family," Gayo said. "Those are the two most important things. From there, you have to help him grow as a player and person, and that's what our new facility will help us do."
Grand theft reliever
ESPN's Jayson Stark reported the following quote from a scout doubting Atlanta's decision to trade reliever Tyler Yates to the Pirates, if only because of the loss to the Braves.
"I think their bullpen is going to have trouble," the scout said. "I love Rafael Soriano as a setup man but, as a closer, I think he's just middle of the pack. Peter Moylan is tough on right-handers, but I don't think he can get left-handers out. Guys like Blaine Boyer and Chris Resop have great arms, but they walk too many people and are up in the zone a lot. Manny Acosta's the same way. ... So, for me, you take that whole setup crew, and Tyler Yates is better than all of them."
Yates was acquired March 26 for Class AA starter Todd Redmond, who was coming off a backward-step 2007. The Braves acknowledged they were moving Yates only because they felt there was no room on their 12-man staff and he would have been placed on waivers.
The Pirates are not about to boast about trades publicly, but be sure they are quite content with how this one unfolded.
"We're not surprised with how Yates has done for us," manager John Russell said. "We are a little surprised that we were able to get someone like that, though, especially late in spring training. But that's how it played out. We're very happy with him."
Defense done right
None of the Pirates' top three prospects -- Andrew McCutchen, Steve Pearce or Neil Walker -- is off to a terribly hot start, each batting below .270 with little pop. But there has been plenty to like with Class AAA Indianapolis, not the least of which is its 11-6 start.
For one, the bullpen has been nothing shy of dominant. Sean Burnett, Marino Salas, Jesse Chavez and Jonah Bayliss each has an ERA of 2.50 or lower. And Salas, the prospect acquired in the Salomon Torres trade, has given up no runs in six appearances while striking out 11 and walking one.
For another, the defense, unlike that of the parent club, has been just as good with only five errors through 17 games, making for the best fielding percentage in the International League.
"I've been pleased with the defense," Indianapolis manager Trent Jewett said. "The most refreshing statistic is we've only allowed one unearned run this season."
The Pirates have committed 21 errors and allowed 11 unearned runs.
Pirates just took out some of the garbage....the new front office said all players were going to be held accountable to their performance no matter whom they may be, I guess they weren't kidding. Morris was worthless since coming over from the Giants and carried an obscene price tag for what he was. So long Matt, I'd say nice knowing you, but that'd be a bold faced lie.
Pirates release Matt Morris
Sunday, April 27, 2008
By Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pirates this morning released Matt Morris and put left-hander Phil Dumatrait in the right-hander's spot in the rotation, meaning Dumatrait will start Thursday in Washington.
Releasing Morris means the Pirates will pay him a little over $10 million, which includes the rest of his salary for this season and a $1 million buyout of his 2009 option.
Right-hander John Van Benschoten joined the Pirates from Class AAA Indianapolis this morning to provide length in the bullpen. It could be that Van Benschoten won't be with the Pirates too long. Left-hander Sean Burnett could be on the way in a couple days.
"It's been kind of a whirlwind morning,'' manager John Russell said. "Matt Morris has been a true professional. He's had a great career. He wanted to help us win, and it just wasn't happening."
I love it when Sweet Lou's arrogance bites him in the ass....yeah, Pinheadella, bring the outfield in on Jason Bay in the bottom of the 14th with a man on....you idiot. Ha!
Too bad the Bucs can't beat those creeps more often.
Finally took a series from those stinkin' Cubbies.....:thumbs:
Welcome Back Jack
A major hole is filled, finally....now if Doumit does indeed return ahead of schedule....:yayaya:
Pirates activate SS Wilson, send down Bixler
2 hours, 26 minutes ago
CINCINNATI (AP)—Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson came off the disabled list Tuesday and returned to the lineup for the first time since straining his left calf in the opening week of the season.
The Pirates optioned rookie shortstop Brian Bixler to Triple-A Indianapolis. He batted .175 in 34 games, including 24 starts. His six errors were tied for the team lead.
Wilson hurt himself during the third game of the season and had been bothered by tightness in the muscles during his recovery. He batted .316 in seven rehab starts for Double-A Altoona, and went 4-for-12 in four starts at shortstop for Indianapolis.
“It was nice writing his name in the lineup,” manager John Russell said. “I know he’s looking forward to it as much as we are. It’s been a tough go without that guy, but I think we’ve done a phenomenal job piecing things together while he’s been gone. We’re not expecting him to light the world on fire. We just want him to be Jack.”
Russell decided to bat Wilson second for the opening game of a series against Cincinnati.
“When (Ryan) Doumit gets back (from a broken thumb), he could hit second or eighth or maybe leadoff,” Russell said. “That’s an ability Jack has. We can move him around the lineup. We thought we’d get him up there and get him a few at-bats to help him get his swing back.”
I like to see team like Pirates, Milwaukee, Marlins and my new semi fav team the Rays (only because our old bench coach is now Manager of the Year Candidate Joe Madden and they have a few former Angels players ie. Percy). Hogan, I love your passion for a team that hasnt seen much postseason since Bonds weighed under 200 pounds. I am now getting spoiled with my Angels in the last 6 years but it wasnt always like that and yet I stuck with them regardless of how bad it got.
If the starting pitching would get consistant, this would be a contending team, good even. The promise of the young staff is not delivering this year, yet anyways..that and team health (small market thin), are the key factors.
Attention fantasy baseball guys!!!
May I present Ryan Freakin' Doumit fresh off the DL with a vengence
In the three-game series against WSN, the Pirates catcher went 9-for-11 with four home runs, two doubles and seven RBIs to help the Pirates win two of three.
For the season, he is batting .365 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 126 at-bats.
Since his return late last week, the Pirates have gone from last in the division to 4th place.
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