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Monday Morning Mop-up Duty: is the division already lost?


SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Well, that was one awful Sunday in Pittsburgh sports, no?


We have the cover to prove it.


About the only good news that came from Sunday’s game for the Pirates is Charlie Morton did not suffer an arm injury, rather he left with left foot discomfort. He will undergo further evaluation. That’s his landing foot, so it could still be a significant issue. Morton has been the club’s most consistent starter since August 1, so the Pirates cannot afford to have him miss extended time.


It was not just a dark day in St. Louis for the Pirates, it was a dark weekend, one that saw the Pirates go from the division driver’s seat to the back seat.


A 1.5 game lead in the NL Central, became a 1.5 deficit. With the Reds’ fourth straight win on Sunday, the Pirates are now tied for second. Interestingly, the Bucs greatest concerns might now be in regard to starting pitching.


I think it’s unlikely the Pirates win the division at this point simply because the Pirates play the toughest remaining schedule:


*The Cardinals have three games remaining against teams with a record of .500 or better.


*The Reds have six games against teams with records of .500 or better remaining — all six against the Pirates.


*The Pirates have nine remaining against winning clubs. And in the first of those nine games they face Yu Darvish tonight in Texas.



9. While the Pirates strengthened their club with the additions of Marlon Byrd and and Justin Morneau, their division rivals weren’t  idle.


The Pirates saw what rookie Michael Wacha can do as a starting pitcher for the Cardinals: he can be a top-of-the rotation arm with his mid 90s fastball with downward plane and elite changeup.


For the Reds, sliding Billy Hamilton doesn’t even need plate appearances to impact games. Hamilton has remarkable speed, I’ve never seen anything like it. Now he can’t steal first? Scouts are split on if he’ll hit. But he can be an impact, late-game weapon as a pinch-runner. He might have already given the Reds two wins this month.


The Cardinals and Reds are more talented in September than they were in August.


8. The Pirates do not have any meaningful reinforcements ready in the minor leagues, unless you think Jameson Taillon is ready. The Pirates don’t plan on adding him to the September roster.


7. Morton has been the club’s most consistent starter since August 1, which has to be awfully concerning. AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano have been widely inconsistent in the second half.  That’s not how you want to enter September. Liriano has been shaky pitching from the stretch. Perhaps Ray Searage can tune that up in a bullpen session. I’m not too concerned with Liriano, the stuff is still there.


6. Pedro Alvarez has a swinging strike rate of 17 percent, worst in the Major Leagues. You can dispute some of Clint Hurdle’s decisions, but he has been absolutely right to move Morneau into the cleanup spot over Alvarez. You simply cannot have that many empty at bats that early in a lineup. Alvarez has been especially susceptible to pitches below the strike zone.


5. Think about this: Gerrit Cole has been the second most consistent starter on the club since August 1. Cole’s swinging strike rate is league average at 8 percent, somewhat surprising for a guy who can throw 100 mph. But sliders and changeups are swing-and-miss pitches, not four-seam fastballs. Cole induced some more swings and misses with his slider as the game went along in Milwaukee last week, can he get more consistent with the pitch in 2013?


4. Still too many walks for Jeff Locke on Saturday. Could have been worse, but it needs to be better. The Pirates expect him to be on the postseason roster, but I don’t think the All-Star will be in the rotation. … if the Pirate advance to a playoff series.


3. The Pirates’ defensive efficiency has been in decline. They’ve dropped from first to fourth in baseball over the last month. What’s going on here?


2. Nick Leyva, more stop signs for Morneau.


1. If the Pirates have to play the Cardinals in a one-game playoff there is a potential sliver lining: Liriano is 3-0 with two earned runs in 24 innings against the Cardinals this season.



“We kicked their butts at our place, and they got us back,” – Pirates’ OF/1B Garrett Jones.



“I could watch Billy (Hamilton) run all day.”


Reds infielder Todd Frazier.


Me too, Todd.




Marlon Byrd’s flyball ratio.


Byrd has been an excellent acquisition. I know many are skeptical about Byrd’s career season at age 36 and with his ties to Victor Conte and his 50-game suspension last year for a drug that can mask steroid use. But Byrd says he’s never used steroids or HGH and said he made significant offseason changes to his swing, which he said has led to the breakout. Here’s a reason to believe him: his home runs aren’t traveling any further than they were in 2010 but he’s increased his flyball percentage by 15 percentage points this season.



Don’t hesitate in placing Jason Grilli back in the closer role, because Mark Melancon is actually more valuable as a high-leverage reliever in the seventh and eighth innings.


After all, the ninth inning often presents low-leverage situations.



Buy low on C.J. Spiller, fellow fantasy football nerds.


Don’t sell high on Colin Kaepernick.


– TS



  1. NorthPirateFan says:

    The big obstacle to winning the division, aside from Clint Hurdle’s continued lineup shenanigans, is and has been the schedules. The Pirates and Reds have six more games but then it’s basically a bunch of punching bags for the Reds the rest of the way, Cubs, Brewers, Mets and Astros. The Pirates on the other hand have three games against the Rangers which if things go as one would expect should leave them well back in third place and their chances of winning the division long gone by Wednesday evening. The Cards schedule isn’t quite as soft as the Reds but it doesn’t have any teams with winning records on it either. All in all the Reds have to feel pretty good heading into this week despite the injuries and bumps they’ve encountered to get here. I said at he beginning of August it was irrational for anyone to believe a team with the Pirates’ run differential could maintain a record of 26 games over .500 with the schedule they had remaining and they’ve proven me right by slowing drifting back toward a level you’d expect a team with such a poor offense to be at. Only question now is will they be able to win enough games against their weaker opponents to stumble backward into that one game wild card spot.

  2. NorthPirateFan says:

    Also, while giving credit to Hurdle for moving Morneau into the four spot, should would be nice if he had someone hitting in front of him that would occasionally get on base beside McCutchen.

  3. SJB says:

    Maybe we’ll see Marte before October for that. Maybe we’ll also be lucky and see Pedro moved to DH against the Rangers. ;)

  4. SJB says:

    I know people (DK) like to steadfastly insist the collapse isn’t happening and won’t by qualifying it with: “They’ll finish over .500 and and maybe make the playoffs”…whatever helps the fans sleep…but if playing well below .500 ball since the beginning of August and looking anything like the team that was 26 games over at that time isn’t a collapse, then I don’t know what is. In another week’s time, they could very well be a handful of games behind both the Cards and Reds and actually battling more than they should have to for the final wildcard spot, and the way they are playing, I feel more confident thinking that will be the case, versus them regaining the division lead at any point.

    It was one thing to expect the Pirates to maintain any level of respectability with an offense that’s as poor as theirs, but when the pitching goes AWOL, hoping for anything better than what you are getting now is pure fantasy.

  5. Joe says:

    I hate to be negative but I anticipate the Pirates to be in 3rd place in the division and to be battling for that last wild card slot and get creamed in the one game playoff.

  6. Dongoinggoinggone says:

    The 82nd win could be quite elusive. This team has been successful primarily because of their good pitching. As the pitching has faltered the bats have not been able to pick them up, no surprise! The beauty of baseball is it is virtually impossible over 162 games to be better than your statistics. On paper the Reds and Cards are far superior, but there is hope if the Pirates can make it to post season. In a short series anything can happen, see the Giants last year. Eight more wins should do it.

  7. NMR says:

    -Should be interesting to see how much of the Cards young starting pitching actually translates to playoff starting pitching. Miller, Wacha, and Carlos Martinez would all seem to be in the same “innings limit” boat as Gerrit Cole.

    -“The Pirates’ defensive efficiency has been in decline. They’ve dropped from first to fourth in baseball over the last month. What’s going on here?”
    Help me out here, but isn’t DER directly correlated with pitcher BABIP fluctuations? If so, then Jeff Locke is the obvious answer to your question.
    But Jordy>Barmes and a month without Marte probably factors as well.
    -I’d love to hear a professional saber-minded evaluator take on Pedro’s season and what it means moving forward. That roughly 4% jump in his whiff rate is almost as alarming as the 6% drop in overall contact rate, but doesn’t seem to fit the mold – in age or rate – of a declining hitter. His almost 30 point drop in BABIP also seems odd given his career high line drive rate and low pop-up rate, coupled with his obvious plus power.
    I know I’m certainly not smart enough to know if all that adds up to crash and burn or breakout next season.

  8. NorthPirateFan says:

    I said getting ON base in front of him. The last thing the Pirates offense needs right now is Starling Martes’s .314 on base percentage 1 walk every 23 plate appearances and 1/6 walk to strike out ratio against RHP.

    If they want to hit him leadoff against LHP fine but Travis Snider hitting leadoff and Walker hitting second -v RHP gives them the best chance of creating RBI opportunities for McCutchen and Morneau.

    Jones is going to get the DH duties which gives them the chance (not really with Hurdle making out the lineup card) to have four lefties facing Darvish and Garza and that might just give them a chance to not get blown out in this series.

  9. NorthPirateFan says:

    There’s a difference being negative and being objective. The cheerleaders will call anyone who calls it as they see it negative but it ain’t always so.

    The fact is the Pirates have a much tougher road ahead than the Reds or the Cardinals and everything is going to have to break their way if they don’t want to see their chances of winning the division evaporate before the week is out and not much of anything is likely to go right if Clint Hurdle tries to play three games of small ball against the Texas Rangers.

  10. Travis Sawchik says:

    The Cardinals have a ton of elite young pitching, Rosenthal, too. They aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.


    The increased swing-and-miss from Pedro correlates with his best power season to date. I wonder if he’s made a conscious decision to make an adjustment – like starting his swing earlier – to trade contact for power

  11. Well, just think how great next weekend will seem by comparison. Go Pittsburgh!

  12. NMR says:

    “They aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.”
    Are you saying St. Louis DOES NOT place innings restrictions on their young pitchers? I’d be inclined to follow their development practices, fwiw.

  13. cmat0829 says:

    there is a big objective leap from “not going to win the division” which I agree with (though will be rooting for them to do it with all my might) to “battling for the last wild card. I believe the team is still 8 or 9 games ahead in the wild card and really hard to call that a battle. Even after such an ugly weekend in STL, it is hardly objective to project the wild card spot in real jeopardy.

  14. NMR says:

    Haha, thank you.

  15. Travis Sawchik says:

    I meant the Cardinals wealth of young pitchers means they’re going to be competitive in the division for quite a while.

    I’m not sure what their philosophy is on work limits, though I imagine every organization has red lines they won’t cross.

  16. NorthPirateFan says:

    It’s not the ugliness of what’s passed that I’m concerned with. The math certainly favors them right now but with 9 of 20 remaining games against Texas and Cincinnati the ugliness might just be starting.

    Again, not saying it will work out that way just that it’s a little to early to be counting chickens as some have been doing.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    I would think BABIP is more dependent upon DER, but if the types of batted balls are changing – more line drives, fewer groundouts and popups – than that would change defensive efficiency.

  18. NorthPirateFan says:

    I wonder if he’s not being encouraged by the coaching staff to make that trade? Jay Bell and Hurdle don’t talk much about their approaches where as Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy and their coaches were very vocal about their desire to see aggressive hitting from their players with no concern for walks and discipline, but I do recall Hurdle not so long ago being quite chipper about him swinging at more first pitches.

  19. NMR says:

    Oh, certainly. I just don’t see how that is at all relevant to this year’s playoff race, which is what your blog was about.

  20. NMR says:

    The proverbial chicken and egg, eh?
    Just seems like when you have guys like Locke who were clearly due for BABIP regression see that regression take place, it will very obviously affect DER…without any actual changes in skill or strategy(shifts).

  21. SteelAg70 says:

    Tonight’s matchup against Yu Darvish may be pretty scary. He has been struggling of late, but so was Wainright. I have a feeling Darvish will set a Rangers record for strikeouts tonight. It may not be pretty.

  22. NMR says:

    Given Pedro’s natural prodigious power – and natural swing-and-miss tendancies – I would find it flat-out dumb to consciously make that trade, and I’d be shocked if that was advocated by any baseball people.
    As far as approach goes, Pedro has actually seen a 6% drop in first pitch strikes, which would assume to be a good thing.
    Wierd season, all around.

  23. Chuck H says:

    That weekend series with the Cardinals was the perfect example of futility and lack of
    desire to win as I’ve ever seen in my life. It was almost unbelievable that a team of
    so-called professional baseball players could play like a sandlot pick-up team. Now we have
    nothing to look forward to since our league leading pitching staff is also looking like a bunch
    of street pick-ups. No way do they belong in the play-offs, which I’ve said all season long,
    because you have to have dependable hitting to go along with good pitching. Pedro is a joke at the plate nowadays. Seems like he’s swinging for the fences every at-bat and the
    apposing pitchers know this. He would swing at a pitch if it was rolled in by the pitcher.
    Too late to GO, BUCS!!!

  24. Bill Simones says:

    Would you people relax! Knock off the bad-mouthing. Tell you what. You can sit here in Nebraska and get the freakin’ Broncos shoved down your throats, or you can enjoy the Pirates. Update, you’re not in high school anymore. Move on and enjoy the way the team played in Texas. All of you who think you can do better, put your beer away, go for a jog, and swing at a fastball. Oh, wait. I’m sorry, that would mean you would have to shut your mouths and actually DO something. If you don’t like the Pirates through everything, get OFF the bandwagon!!!!!!

  25. Chuck H says:

    All I said was we stunk up the weekend series with the Cards, Bill, so get off my back.

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