CLARK BUILDING COMMAND CENTER – The Pirates woke up this morning a half game behind Cincinnati in the NL Central, having just completed a 7-2 homestand.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Pretty darn good when you consider the Pirates faced the Reds (playoff team in ’12), Cardinals (playoff team in ’12), and Braves (entered the ‘Burgh with two losses and left with five) during the homestand.
Now the question is can the Pirates sustain early this success and produce a winning season?
The key to breaking the streak, the key to sustaining success is pretty simple: starting pitching.
AJ Burnett is pitching out of his mind.
Wandy Rodriguez is a solid.
Burnett probably can’t be this good all season. Wandy is not always going to face the minimum through seven innings. But the Pirates can count on them keeping them in most games.
As for the rest of the rotation …
Sunday’s formula to victory is not sustainable. Jonathan Sanchez lasted just three innings, throwing 74 pitches, and further taxed an already over-burdened bullpen. It is not a formula for success.
(How much more time does Sanchez have in the rotation?)
There’s been far too many not-quality starts this season for Pittsburgh. The Pirates have enjoyed just six quality starts in 18 games this season. Yet, the Pirates are 10-8. Getting a quality start only 33 percent of the time typically does not correlate to a 55.5 winning percentage.
The good news is there are some options.
Maybe McDonald is OK just as he insisted he way. Maybe Liriano will be lightning in a bottle. Maybe Gerrit Cole will be up and throwing strikes in June. Maybe Charlie Morton can consistently touch 95 mph.
There are options. And maybe enough options to sustain and end this drought.
ATTENDANCE IS DOWN (YEAH, IT’S BEEN COLD)
The Pirates are a half game out of first place. They just hosted three of the National League’s best teams, and won seven of nine games. .. Despite all that attendance is down.
Through 12 home games last season the Pirates averaged 23,918 fans per game.
Through 12 home games season the Pirates are averaging 20,615 fans per game.\
That’s a significant decline but there’s one catch: the Pirates didn’t play their 12th game until May 8th last season. Warmer weather generally results in more folks wanting to be outside at a ballpark.
So let’s see what attendance is like when the Pirates return home on May 3rd against the Twins.
But part of this decline might not be about the weather or anything the Pirates control. Declining attendance is a concern across all pro and major college sports, because of HD television, cable packages, and DVRs.
A challenge going forward for any team is how to continue to compel folks to pay for tickets in an era where there’s a 48-inch flatscreen in their living rooms.
YOU’RE PROBABLY AWARE THAT THE PHILLIES ARE OLD …
… In baseball terms anyways.
The Phillies have an average roster age of 30.3, they’ve shaved a year from that age from last year but are still the fourth oldest team in baseball.
The aging curve is a cruel thing. Just look at Roy Halladay. Two years ago he was in the conversation as best pitcher in baseball. Now he had a 6.04 ERA. His fastball averaged 92 mph in 2011. Last year it fell to 90. This year it’s at 89.7.
You know the Phillies are old but did you know the Phillies, yes, the Phillies of Hamels, Halladay and Lee, have an NL-worst 4.6 ERA entering into this series?
Then there’s Chase Utley’s knees, Ryan Howard’s Achillies, Cliff Lee’s … well, as we mentioned yesterday Cliff Lee’s a cyborg sent from the future.
The aging curve is a cruel thing and the Pirates will see that first hand this week.