SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – So let me get this straight, the Pirates began their 10-game road trip with a series split at Cincinnati — beating the Reds with Ch arlie Morton and Brandon Cumptonin games started by Cincinnati’s top-of-the-rotation arms in Mat Latos and Homer Bailey — and the Pirates then swept the Angels, they of the $145 million payroll, more than double than that of the Pirates. The Pirates did all of this despite being down 80 percent of its Opening Day staff.
That is overcoming the odds, folks.
Is it a testament to luck and good fortune? Depth? Skill? Planets aligning? Super Moon?
I’m not sure but if the Pirates are to end their streak of futility, if they wanted to a seat at the postseason table they, had to pull off some surprises and that’s just what this week has been And this week, this month, Pedro Alvarez has surprised us most of all.
9. Is Alvarez the next Chris Davis? The low-walk, high-strikeout slugger, who suddenly finds his way? Alvarez is having the best month of his career and his torrid stretch continued into Sunday with another homer and a key triple in the 10th, when Mike Trout took a poor route on a flyball.
Alvarez’s June to date: .316 AVG., 9 HRs, 22 RBIs, 1.132 OPS
(I suspect Scott Boras is no longer interested in talking extension).
Clint Hurdle said the breakout is tied to Alvarez letting the ball travel longer, making contact not before the plate but in the strike zone. Is it sustainable? No. No, in the sense that I don’t think Alvarez is a 1.132 OPS guy. He strikes out too much, he’s proven to be too streaky. But he’s never had a streak like this before. Alvarez has never had a .900 OPS for a month in his career and he’s going to flirt with a 1.000 OPS for this June.
Does Alvarez deserve All-Star consideration?
The Pirates desperately needed a middle-of-the-order run producer, can Alvarez be that guy the rest of the season? Or will he be prone to his typical extreme up and downs? If Pedro has found a new level of performance he could be the middle-of-the order bat the club so desperately needed.
8. Morton struggled on Sunday and he could be challenged to keep his rotation spot without better command and results. Still, this is a guy who is just a year off Tommy John surgery and the velocity is improved.
7. How about this for an under-the-radar trade that no one talks about: Jeff Locke and Morton for Nate McLouth.
NL ERA leaderboard:
|1. Jeff Locke, PIT||2.01|
|2. Matt Harvey, NYM||2.05|
|3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD||2.06|
|4. Patrick Corbin, ARI||2.19|
|5. Jordan Zimmermann, WSH||2.26|
Does any name stick out to you?
6.The Pirates’ rotation could get crowded in the coming weeks with a number of arms returning health, but I can’t see Gerrit Cole being sent back down to Triple-A. This is a team now seriously in contention and Cole is one of it’s top 3 starting rotation options. Cole is not a finished product, far from it. But if you have command of the fastest fastball, among starters, 96.4 … that’s a good place to start.
5. There was some debate on whether Cole struck out Albert Pujols with a 93 mph changeup or two-seam fastball on Sunday but I’m certain the replay showed it was a changeup grip. It it was indeed a changeup it came in too hard, but it did have fading action. Cole doesn’t need perfect offspeed stuff to be effective, but when he has it the Ks will come.
4. I believe Jordy Mercer started his 11t game in the Pirates’ last 12 on Sunday. Hurdle was reluctant to call him an everyday shortstop but that’s what he is. His bat makes him more valuable than Clint Barmes and he made several big league throws this week.
Short term he’s the guy, but is Mercer the long-term answer at short?
3. Tony Sanchez got the call up this week and watch and see if he gets much time at catcher or if he’s simply part of a DH platoon. Sanchez has had throwing issues this season. While his bat has become less of a question, now his defense is in question.
2. Did we mention the Pirates have right-handed pitching depth?
Luis Heredia threw five shutout innings in his season debut on Sunday, allowing one hit while striking out five (four walks). This kind of the depth couild allow the Pirates to make a substantial deadline deal.
1. I don’t think the Pirates’ defense has received enough credit. The Pirates’ lead the Majors in converting batted balls into outs (73.1 percent rate) and it’s a key reason why they’ve been able to weather some injuries to starting pitchers. Shifts and speedy outfielders can make an impact.
STAT OF THE WEEK THAT MIGHT ONLY INTEREST ME: 101.88
Speed in miles per hour of a Cole fastball on Friday night.
HE SAID IT
“It’s hard to be perfect” – Jason Grilli upon blowing his first save of the season Wednesday.
Is it time to have some concern regarding Jason Grilli? He entered the week allowing opponents to score just four times in 34 appearances and he had touched up a couple times this week. It’s too early to panic, there was going to be some regression, but keep an eye on Grilli.
Assuming the rotation heals up, the Pirates don’t have many glaring holes. Right field is one and I’d be making calls. If not for the blockbuster, perhaps for a Michael Morse type of bat. Even if Alvarez continues to hit, the Pirates need another middle-of-the-order presence and a higher OBP atop the lineup.
Visited the strip district for the first time this weekend. Great stuff. Honestly, you could probably cut your grocery bill by 30 percent doing your shopping there. Also found some Maryland-style steamed crabs at the seafood wholesaler. Great find.