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Silver linings playbook: finding the good in the ugly of the first failed attempt to scale Mt. 82

MILWAUKEE – The champagne is still on ice. The Iron City sixer, or the Belgian triple you planned on downing in sweet victory is still in the fridge. Or maybe it’s not after what you saw Wednesday, perhaps it was drunk in despair, while watching a 9-3 loss to Milwaukee.


Yes, the non-winning season streak stubbornly lives on, at least until Friday in St. Louis.


Yes, there were was a lot of ugly Wednesday in Miller Park.


*There was Francisco Liriano’s continuing inconsistency on the road, which is troubling. He’s authored three awful road starts – but two really good ones – since August 1.


Liriano’s road ERA is 4.36 this season.


At home? 1.20. (Attention free agent to be pitchers).


Most pitchers have significant home-road splits in part because of umpire bias. More troubling to me is Liriano’s mechanical breakdowns from the stretch. The Brewers recorded four straight hits off Liriano in the third — on eight total pitches.


*There was Nick Leyva waving in Justin Morneau in the fifth, a really questionable arm movement considering the score and Morneau’s foot speed.


*There was Clint Hurdle not pinch-hitting for John Buck in the seventh, though I asked Hurdle about the left-handed bats on the bench and he defended the decision after the game. He liked Buck in that spot.


“We talked about (pinch-hitting),” Hurdle said. “We have a lot of different ways we  make decisions. We have some analysis. We have some hard numbers. I like the match up with Buck. We know we Jones over there. We know we have Snider. I like the match up with Buck right there. Couple reasons: he’s gotten five hits since he’s been here, sharp single to center, ended up lining out to right-center. We liked the match up and we were going to use the other guys (later).”


*There were the benches clearing, though no escalation, after Wily Peralta hit Morneau with a pitch following Andrew McCutchen‘s 101st home run in the fifth. McCutchen left the box slowly unable to pick up the ball. Peralta took it as showmanship.


Said Hurdle: “I think it was a young man that maybe got emotional.”


There was a lot of ugly.


But there were two very encouraging sights for the Pirates among the wreckage: the bats of Morneau and Marlon Byrd.


Hurdle made the absolute correct call, I think, in moving Morneau into the cleanup spot ahead of Pedro Alvarez on Wednesday.


It’s a trade-off: some power for some contact. Alvarez has more home runs and RBIs, but Morneau strikes out at half the rate (17.8 percent to 32.2). And Morneau uses the whole field, something Alvarez has never shown an aptitude and/or willingness for. We saw it Tuesday and we saw it again Wednesday. Morneau lined out to left in the first, he doubled down the left-field line in third. Those are the kinds of professional at bats you want to drive in runs and extend innings, particularly when you have high OBP guys like McCutchen and Neil Walker in front.


“I think it’s an added level of experience, and it’s a different skill set that I think connects the dots a little more solidly through the middle,” Hurdle said. “If Morneau wasn’t here, Pedro hits fourth. Morneau is here. I think we set up a little bit better. You don’t have the same swing-and-miss, you don’t have quite the same power. But I think from a hit-ability angle, and the quality of at-bats, it makes more sense to go that way right now.”


Byrd has been everything the Pirates have hoped he’d be, 13-for-21 since the trade, a line-drive machine, a bit like St. Louis’s Allen Craig in that he seems to have an ability to heighten focus and sharpen approach with runners on. (I know my Sabermetric friends will hate that I just wrote that).


And before you get to down on John Buck, he did catch 25 of Matt Harvey‘s 26 starts this season. Those worked out pretty well.


As friend of the program, David Manel noted, Buck, Byrd and Morneau have already combined for 1.0 WAR. They’ve been here just over a week.


That’s a silver lining.


- TS


  1. Buck has started 3 times and all have resulted in poorly pitched games and 2 complete blowouts. Buck was brought here for 1 reason only, as insurance in case Martin gets seriously hurt. I don’t care how many of Harvey’s starts he caught, he was with NYM since spring training and had a chance to learn the staff. He doesn’t need to be getting OJT in Pgh in the midst of a pennant race. If Martin needs a day off, Sanchez is a perfectly fine alternative and has shown he can work well with Liriano and knows the new and younger pitchers from Indy. An added bonus is Sanchez, who, unlike Buck, is going to be catching in Pgh next year, gets experience in meaningful Sept games.

    • I have no problem with Buck. 3 games is an extremely small sample.


    • I care little about Sanchez and NEXT YEAR. What matters is THIS YEAR and John Buck needs to catch the pitchers he may have to catch in the Playoffs.
      And the Playoff pitchers need to throw and be comfortable with him.

      • LOL. Those 3 games Buck caught were losses. Maybe with either Martin or Sanchez they aren’t. John Buck is a scrub. Take away that first month of the season and his offensive stats are the usual rubbish. Nor is he an especially good defensive catcher. If he needs to learn the pitchers’ stuff, he can catch their bullpen sessions.
        Do you honestly think he’ll even see the field in the playoffs? So who cares if he rides the bench the rest of the season?

  2. I liked the note about Manel. I enjoy his bloggings.

  3. In light of the silver linings theme, I’ll play the compliment sandwich game.
    Compliment: Stolmy Pimentel’s fastball. Whew. There’s a roster spot for this kid next April.
    Criticism: Clint Hurdle defying all logic by letting Justin Morneau face Mike Gonzalez in the 7th. We all love Justin, but that doesn’t change the fact that he can’t hit lefties. It would be a major mistake to drop the Gaby Sanchez half of the platoon.
    Compliment: Jason Grilli’s slider still works. Well.

    • Agree with all that, NMR.


    • I like the compliment sandwich game.

      Morneau does struggle against LHP and probably should been pinch-hit for. Hurdle has a deep bench now, might as well employ it

      • It doesn’t hurt for Hurdle, Jay Bell, and Jeff Banister to see first hand how Morneau handles lefties.
        The Bucs weren’t down 1-2 runs.

        • Not sure what there is to gain from doing that, Groat.
          Hurdle, et al KNOW they already have a 1B that can hit lefties in Gaby Sanchez. They KNOW three years worth of data says Morneau can’t hit lefties.
          There’s a month left in the season. I hope this isn’t the time for experimentation.

          • As Marlon Byrd and Francisco Liriano give witness, one little adjustment in a stance or delivery can make a big difference.
            Shoot, if Travis is to be believed, a cotton pickin’ high school baseball coach made the small adjustment in Byrd’s swing that took him from .210 and 2 HR to this climatic season.
            I still believe in “eyes” over stats! Stats are not to be ignored . . . . but are secondary. In a game already gone, let Jay Bell and Clint Hurdle look over the wares Morneau brings first hand. Let them tinker with the carburetor.

  4. The WAR may be 1.0 but the concerning thing about Buck is that the Pirates are 0 ans 3 with Buck catching and the pitchers have given up 20 runs with him calling the pitches.

  5. There are many reasons why Pirates lost last night. #1-Hurdle left his starter in too long-
    7 runs, way too many for a starter to give up in only 3 innings. #2-Sir Whiffs-a-Lotte now
    cannot hit rightys or leftys. He was up twice with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs, and
    did not produce even a sac fly. It is pitiful to watch him flailing at pitches either in the dirt
    or so wide that he couldn’t hit with a bed slat. He may be leading the league in homers,
    but they mostly come with no-one on base. When we really need him, he sucks. And I
    think he leads the league in errors, too. Like I said, we can’t win them all, but, Hurdle,
    please learn when to take out a starter. At least, give us a chance to come back and win
    the game. GO, BUCS!!!

  6. Clemson Travis,
    Even though I did not agree with your call to pinch hit for John Buck, I think this is your best overall writing since you have entered the Burgh.

  7. Another Sunday, another Buck start behind the plate, another poor pitching performance and by a guy who’s been mostly unhittable the past month. Need I say more that this guy should not start another game the rest of the season?

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