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September 17, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


8 comments so far - add yours!

The Morton dilemma and a future ace and first baseman?

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PNC PARK – Charlie Morton is making things interesting.

Morton has said he’s not going to be 100 percent if he pitches through his sports hernia. It’s going to at least need offseason rest and, perhaps, surgery. But he said he felt well enough to pitch and the Pirates wanted to see if an 80 percent Morton is better than a 100 percent Vance Worley, who has been trending down after an efficient start to his Pirates’ career.

So what did we see from Morton on Tuesday night?

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September 16, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


2 comments so far - add yours!

When the hitting coach matters

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LEBO – We don’t see the hitting coach.

He doesn’t make mound visits. He doesn’t hold press conference. While the bullpens are visible to the public before games, where pitching coaches are often watching over pitcher’s shoulders, batting cages are hidden in the bowels of major league parks.

We don’t see the hitting coach often so there’s not a belief he impacts the game like  a pitching coach, there is a perception he is not an equal subordinate like the offensive and defensive coordinators in football. I think we think of hitting as more of a  hardened skill that players either possess or do not. But sometimes the hitting coach matters.

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September 15, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


6 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: Let’s get ahead of ourselves

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LEBO – The Pirates have a 67.7 percent of making the postseason, according to Baseball Prospectus. There’s a better than even chance the Pirates will be playing meaningful baseball in October whether it’s in a wild card game or as division champs. Let me repeat this, there’s a better than 50-50 chance the Pirates are playing in the playoffs for a second straight season. The Pirates have done what they’ve need to do against the Phillies and Cubs.

So let’s get ahead of ourselves: who do you want as a first game postseason starter for the Pirates?

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September 12, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


2 comments so far - add yours!

Frankkkkkkkkkkkkie is back and his slider never left

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SOMEWHERE OFF THE PA TURNPIKE – For the Pirates, for any team, to advance into October and then be competitive in the postseason they require top-of-the-rotation pitchers to pitch like elite arms. Well, Francisco Liriano is getting back to being the ace he was last season.

Liriano was in 2013-, Cy Young-vote-receiving, NL Comeback Player of the Year-form last night in striking out a season-high 12 strikeouts over eight shutout innings as the Pirates capped a successful 10-game road trip.

Really, Liriano has been great in the second half since has returned to full health. In 69 second-half innings, he has a 2.22 ERA and he’s striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings, an elite rate. He’s striking out more batters per nine innings than he did a year. Last night, Liriano looked much like the guy who dominated the Reds in the wild card playoff game last year. His fastball command has improved and his slider never left.

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September 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


10 comments so far - add yours!

With his season likely over, what to do with Pedro?

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PHILADELPHIA – Could Pedro Alvarez’s nightmare season get any worse? Short answer: yes.

We know about the 23 throwing errors that forced him off third base at least temporarily, the most throwing errors since throwing errors began be tracked separately from total errors in 2002 (and Alvarez hasn’t played third base consistently since early August).

We know about the power outage. After tying for the NL lead with 36 home runs last season, Alvarez has hit 18 this year and his slugging percentage is down by 68 points.

He’s performance has been below replacement level (-0.2 WAR), and for the second time in the parts of five seasons he’s played he produced below replacement level. While he’s also won a Silver Slugger award, it’s not exactly the type of consistent impactful performance you want from a former No. 2 overall pick.

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September 10, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


24 comments so far - add yours!

Does Volquez have a point?

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PHILADELPHIA – Edinson Volquez is one of the most easy-going major leaguers I’ve encountered in my brief two years covering the sport.

He’s often smiling, joking, signing sometimes even dancing as he was prior to Monday’s game to the beat of the clubhouse stereo. After giving up five home runs in a game in Yankee Stadium earlier this season, Volquez was still affable and engaging with reporters following the performance. He even chuckled several times during post-game interviews. Nothing seemed to bother him.

But after Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Phillies, Volquez was clearly irritated. He was visibility frustrated to reporters for the first time as a Pirate. And much of his frustration was aimed at Clint Hurdle for taking him out after 92 pitches. Volquez wanted to come back out for the seventh inning. Continue Reading →

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September 8, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


10 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: Separation Week?

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SOUTH HILLS – You can’t predict ball. And you certainly can’t predict this Pirates’ season.

From Josh Harrison going from 25th man to All-Star, from the Pirates’ pitching and defense transforming from strengths in 2013 to liabilities this season, and  from the lineup morphing from average last season to (secretly) elite, little if any of this has been easily foreseen.

This week was a perfect microcosm: the Pirates are swept at St. Louis, the season is on the brink for what seems like the 23rd time, then they go sweep a surging young Cubs team and take over the second wild card spot? It’s nothing if not entertaining.

So now what?

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September 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


6 comments so far - add yours!

My Pirates 2014 MVP ballot and what it (and yours) reveals

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SOUTH HILLS – Exceptional radio talent David Todd had me on his show yesterday and one of the interesting questions he asked was this (which he has also been throwing out to his audience): who are the the Pirates’ top five MVPs in 2014?

There were some common trends in all the lists he received and collectively they told an interesting story. First, I’ll share my list and feel free to add your own (and defend it) …

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September 3, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


4 comments so far - add yours!

Jeff Locke is reverting back to All-Star form (and that means trouble)

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SOUTH HILLS – On Aug. 22nd in Milwaukee, Jeff Locke walked six batters in six innings. He did not strike out a single batter. So Milwaukee batters either walked or put the ball in play and miraculously scored only two runs in six innings against

Locke. Afterward, Locke said this: “It was a lot like last year’s first half. There were so many games we had four-plus walks, two or three hits” …. So many games in that first half Locke somehow avoided disaster.

It was almost if Locke thought it was a good thing he had just pitched as he did last year. After all, I suppose he surmised he was a first-half All-Star. Continue Reading →

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September 2, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


6 comments so far - add yours!

Gerrit Cole’s checklist to acehood

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SOUTH HILLS – As we discussed here and on the Final Word on Sunday, the key for the Pirates in navigating a difficult September schedule – 17 road games, 9 home games – was getting their top-of-the-rotation arms to produce ace-like performances.

I felt this way for several reasons: For starters, there’s something to be said of the baseball axiom that you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher. There’s a reason the Vegas betting lines typically favor the better starting pitcher. That’s where it starts, in the center of the infield. …. But as we’ve discussed many times here, the root of home-field advantage is umpire bias, it’s borderline ball-strike calls (PITCHf/x has proven this). So to win on the road, you’re better served to have pitchers with plus stuff and command, and who can generate swings and misses and better get away with not living on the fringes of the strike zone.

On Monday, the Pirates needed Gerrit Cole to pitch like an ace. He pitched well at times but he wasn’t ace-like.  He failed to protect two leads and now the Pirates have to face Adam Wainwright today. The Pirates need a great month from Cole if they plan to play in October. So how can Cole develop into a true No. 1 in short order? Continue Reading →

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