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