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Monday morning mop-up duty: how ordinary can transform Pirates to extraordinary


MILWAUKEE –  Yes, the Pirates could have limped into a wild card game by standing pat.


Yes, this was a 90-win roster before Tuesday.


But should the Pirates lose in a wild card play-in game it would erode at least some of the momentum gains of the season. What if there was no playoff game at PNC Park this fall? That would not sit right with a city that has been waiting so long for a taste of October baseball.


After acquiring Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, the Pirates are in much better position to not only advance to October, but they are in a better possession to capture the division and advance deep into October.



In a vacuum, Byrd and Morneau are not difference makers for any particular team. They are not No. 4 or No. 5 hitters in an above average lineup. But they are potential difference makers for the Pirates.


What do I mean? The importance of Byrd and Morneau comes down to simple math:


**When the Pirates score four or more runs they are 59-14 this season.


**That’s an .808 winning percentage when scoring three or more runs this season.


**Too often the Pirates don’t score at least four runs in a game.


**Right field and first base were the club’s top offensive liabilities.


Yes, four runs is a sort of magic number in baseball. But it is especially so for the Pirates, whose staff is 3.51 ERA in the second half after posting a 3.08 mark in the first half. Even with the slight decline in run prevention, if the Pirates are scoring four runs in a game they are most likely going to win on any given day.


The problem? The Pirates have averaged fewer than four runs per game.


The slight decline in run prevention combined with a stagnant offense led to a 26-26 record in the second half entering the weekend series with St. Louis.


The Pirates don’t need to be great offensively to have a realistic chance to advance deep in October. They simply need to be average.


With an ordinary offense this is a club that can potentially have an extraordinary October.



9. Yes, much has been made of the Pirates’ anemic offensive and rightfully so. But you could argue the bench was the weakest link of the team, and the trades of the last week have dramatically upgraded this area. Now Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata are not being counted on as everyday players at key offensive-production positions, rather they can perhaps been above average bench assets and platoon pieces.


8. I don’t think chemistry will be an issue going forward. Byrd, John Buck and Morneau are all regarded as plus character guys. Even Jones, who will lose playing time to Morneau, praised Morneau’s character as much as his bat. Give Jones credit for being open to the media regarding his feelings of losing playing time, but also accepting that this is was a week that makes the Pirates better.

(Ironically, Jones was blocked in Minnesota by Morneau earlier in his career leading to his move to the Pirates.)


7. Yes, the Pirates added two impact bats for pennies on the dollar, after waiting for prices to come down following the non-wavier July 31 deadline. The Pirates didn’t give up a single elite prospect. Smart … and fortunate.


Make no mistake, there was risk in not making external additions prior to July 31. It was a gutsy poker play by the Pirates’ FO and it paid off.


6. The week’s events are icing on an incredible layer cake of moves for the Pirates’ front office over the last calendar year. From trading for Mark Melancon to signing Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano, a lot of lever pulls couldn’t have gone better.  Neal Huntington has gone from embattled to being a candidate for executive of the year.


Quite a turnaround.


Quite a story.


4. Morneau has homered nine times in August and the Pirates scouts believe a mechanical adjustment has revived his bat. Stay tuned. He’s not the same player he  was in 2006 but he can still impact games. If the improvement is for real… this could be a significant addition.


3. I think the biggest concern going forward is club’s pitching depth. With the uncertainty revolving around Wandy Rodriguez, with Jeff Locke’s regression, with Gerrit Cole’s inexperience, there are questions in the back of the rotation.


And any help will have to come internally now, with the Aug. 31 having elapsed.


2. Also concerning is the Pirates have dipped from first in baseball defensive efficiency to third in the NL. What is the root of this?  I don’t have any great sense of what’s behind the slip.


1. Most of the focus of the week’s trades has been centered on Byrd and Morneau. But don’t sleep on the impact of Buck as a No. 2 catcher. One scout I spoke with credited Buck with really aiding Matt Harvey’s development. Maybe he can help Cole become Harvey. That would be worth something, no?


STAT OF THE WEEK: 412.2 feet

That’s the average distance home runs off the bat of Marlon Byrd are traveling season, seventh in baseball. Among the names before him? Hunter Pence, Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton.


The 22 home runs are very real.


Byrd claims he’s clean and that a mechanical adjustment has led to the power (more on this later in the week).



“We impacted today without too negatively impacting tomorrow,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington.

In the fewest words possible, Huntington explains what the Pirates pulled off this week.



Can the Pirates win it all?

“We do (believe that),” Huntington said. “People probably will mock that statement, but we do.”



Nice to see last week’s modest proposal – batting Neil Walker leadoff – was adopted by Clint Hurdle on Sunday. Walker has a .370 OBP vs. right-handed pitching, makes a lot of sense.


But I’ll take it a step further I’d recommend this lineup vs. right-handed pitching – at least until Starling Marte gets healthy:


  1. Walker, 2b
  2. McCutchen, cf
  3. Alvarez, 3b
  4. Morneau, 1b
  5. Byrd lf
  6. G. Jones rf
  7. Martin, c
  8. Barmes, ss

That is a much deeper lineup that the Pirates could have fielded a week ago against RHPs.




(Fill in the blank, here, dear readers … It’s open mic night)


– TS



  1. Michael says:

    There is still many more games to play, how about everybody in the press slow down about these trades and actually see how the team plays. I know the numbers look good, but numbers are perspective and do not always tell reality.

  2. Chuck H says:

    I think the biggest problem the Pirates have has been with them all season. Clint Hurdle
    and his inability to recognize when to take his starter out of the ballgame. This has cost
    the Bucs many games all season.

  3. bucfan59 says:

    That line up lacks speed, OF defense and 3-6 is likely to produce a ton of Ks. And it produced all of 1 run, after the outcome was decided, yesterday.

  4. leefoo says:

    That, and Hurdle’s insistence on bunting, bunting, bunting.


  5. leefoo says:

    Like Travis, I am somewhat worried about our pitching, esp at the backed, but it’s not like the Cards and Reds don’t have some pitching concerns of their own.


  6. leefoo says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying this time, win or lose. (Hopefully, WIN).
    But, I can’t help but be concerned about next year’s starting pitching staff (it’s the worry wart in me)

    Back: Liriano….He’s never put up back to back stellar seasons.
    Back: Charlie….Is his comeback real or a mirage?
    Back: Locke….Which Jeff are we getting?
    Back: Cole…Just a hard throwing # 4 or something more?
    Back: Gomez, Crumpton, K Johnson, Irwin, etc, etc….

    Gone: AJ (unless he gives us a hometown discount)
    Gone: Wandy (unless he wants to pitch thru pain. Arthritis doesn’t go away)

    Up: Taillon? If so, when and how effective will he be?

    Acquired: Another FA find or trade equivalent to AJ, Frankie or Wandy?

    Lots of questions marks.


  7. leefoo says:

    Wishing everyone a Happy Labor Day!!!!
    Save me a hot dog!!!


  8. leefoo says:

    SET YOUR DVRS!!!!!!

    ” Andrew McCutchen is one of the most talented people you’ll meet in your lifetime, and you will see that on the E:60 profile Tuesday night.


  9. Travis Sawchik says:

    Getting Marte healthy would add speed and outfield defense to the lineup, but in general this is not an especially fast or athletic club

  10. leefoo says:

    wholeheartedly agree.

    and one game doesn’t show what a lineup can do.

    Kelly was filthy again yesterday.


  11. Travis Sawchik says:

    While most bunts are counter-productive, not every bunt is a bad idea …

  12. Travis Sawchik says:

    Hurdle has seems to have different levels of trust in starting pitchers. He’ll leave AJ Burnett longer in a game than Jeff Locke.

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    I know Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn have tailed off since the SI cover, but the Cardinals have an amazing wealth of young pitcher. Michael Wacha might be the best of the bunch and he’s not even in the rotation yet

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    There’s a lot of uncertainty with the 2014 rotation, no doubt.

    I would think Gerrit Cole is better next season, he’s only 22, and I do believe in the Morton comeback

    I also think the FO will try to find another buy-low starting pitcher. My guy is Phil Hughes.

  15. leefoo says:

    I’d LOVE it if we got another Yankee player, esp Hughes.

    I wonder what he’d cost?

    I hope you’re right about Cole.


  16. leefoo says:

    Yep…but AJ may have earned it (maybe TOO much…lol)? I’m a Locke fan, but he still has some ‘growing pains’.

  17. leefoo says:

    every once in awhile a bunt IS a good idea….maybe Hurdle should read that….lol

  18. Yokesoverez says:

    I followed Phil Hughes more than I wanted this year – as a pitcher on my fantasy team. I only paid a $1 for him, and it was too much and I cut him in June. My point is, unless out coaching staff can “fix” him, he is a very hot/cold pitcher and would be very unpredictable on the mound. I envision a Jonathon Sanchez or James McDonald type. Yikes!

  19. Chuck Snow says:

    Think the Pirates have been given the oppurtunity to go deep in the playoffs. It’s up to the team now. But at the very least that horrid streak is about over.

  20. NMR says:

    Nice blog, Travis.
    Just say no to Hughes.
    I know he’s the trendy pick since people think that just because PNC has a big left field his HR issues will go away. But doing that willfully ignores the chance of his road HR rates going up. Is Hughes REALLY a guy with the kind of stuff that prevents homeruns as much as his 7% road HR/FB ratio says he is? I don’t see it.
    The Pirates have had success with buy-low guys who are ground ball pitchers or have significant upside. Hughes is an extreme fly ball pitcher with average stuff, and at 28, will get a multi-year deal for decent money from somebody. No reason Pirates should risk that for a back-end starter, at best.
    Josh Johnson is the veteran the Pirates should take a chance on. I yr / $10-12m pillow contract to rebuild value like Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren have taken with the Nats over the last two seasons.

  21. leefoo says:

    NMR and Yoke….thanks for the heads up on Hughes.

    I agree with NMR….nice blog, Travis!


  22. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, NMR

    Hughes might not be the right fit. Pure speculation on my part. But do consider Burnett and Liriano weren’t always groundball pitchers … until they came to Pittsburgh.

  23. NMR says:

    Great counterpoint, Travis. No reason not to at least entertain the idea that an improvement could be made due to organizational philosophy.
    Non-baseball rec:
    The Laurel Highlands Trail running from Ohiopyle to Johnstown is wonderful for Fall backpacking.

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