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September 29, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: True North

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CINCINNATI – Clint Hurdle was right. There was no easy choice in making his pitching plan Sunday. But there were those that thought he should have played the probabilities and saved his best starting option, Gerrit Cole, for their next most likely game entering Sunday: the Wild Card game. That play-in game became a reality with the loss. Now it’s a date Wednesday with the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner at PNC Park.

Cole has always been good on the big stage: from the College World Series to his debut last season to out-dueling Yu Darvish for win No. 82, and his work in the NLDS. Cole has been very good again in September. And he made his best start of the year Sunday when he tied a career best with 12 Ks and allowed one run – no walks – in seven innings. Over his last 21 innings he’s allowed five runs, walked two and struck out 27. At this point, if you could have anyone pitch a game for the Pirates it would be Cole – not Francisco Liriano.

But was Cole’s effort in vain? And was it an effort that could have been saved and stored for Wednesday? Hurdle did not have any easy choice to make but if Edinson Volquez does not deliver Wednesday it will be a decision that is second guessed. The decision was even being first-guessed.

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September 27, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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A tactical retreat

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CINCY –  There is a military strategy known as a tactical retreat.

Not every retreat is a poor decision, a sign of weakness. Sometimes it is prudent and smart, a way to build strength. Sometimes it is a search to find better ground, higher ground, a better fighting position. It might be something for the Pirates are mulling tonight.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was unwilling to discuss his starting pitching plans for Sunday and going forward after Saturday’s loss to the Reds. He indicated the Pirates would wait for the results from Saturday night’s Cardinals game before making a decision on whether to pitch Gerrit Cole. Continue Reading →

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September 26, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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What are Ray Searage and Jim Benedict worth? Plus some weekend plans

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ATLANTA – The Pirates players interestingly chose to have Giants-Redskins and Oklahoma St.-Texas Tech on the clubhouse televisions postgame even as they whittled their wild-card game, home-field advantage magic number down to 2 Thursday. The Giants were in action vs. San Diego.  (Maybe there’s no MLB Extra Innings in the visiting clubhouse).

I bring this up because we live in a football-crazed world where top college assistants now make more than $1 million per season. I came from a place, Clemson, where the offensive coordinator was paid $1.3 million per annum. And you know what? You could argue such coaches were undervalued for so long because of how important scheming and play-calling is and how many college head coaches are CEO/salesman types.

What I’m getting to is this: are baseball assistant coaches undervalued? How valuable is Ray Searage (and Jim Benedict) compared to any other coaches in the entire organization (even the MLB manager). When you can spin gold like Searage and Benedict you’re adding incredible valuable. Have you seen the cost of free agent pitching? These guys are essentially masters at rehabbing and flipping houses.  Continue Reading →

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September 25, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Final answers revealed in Joe-Ja

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ATLANTA – The Pirates entered Atlanta with only three areas of their roster carrying uncertainty as far as playing time and roster construction in October is concerned. Those areas? Right field, the bullpen bridge, and the No. 4 starter spot.

In Atlanta, I think we’ve received answers on how all three of these areas of various shades of gray will be resolved.

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September 24, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Same place, another soaked carpet, different mood

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ATLANTA – As the clubhouse opened after last night’s win, the Pirates celebrated wildly as all postseason clinching teams do, exhausting 20 cases of champagne (six bottles in each case – roughly two for every member of the traveling party) in about 20 minutes. The season is a grind and making the baseball postseason – just 33 percent of MLB teams do which is the toughest threshold in North American pro sports –  is an accomplishment.

Oh, and it’s not like the Pirates do this every September 23rd. (Just the last two).

Trib photographer Chris Horner’s trigger finger and Deadspin have you covered on the images but I’ll share one:

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September 22, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: a mandate for Martin?

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SOUTH HILLS – Baseball has been revived in Pittsburgh. They, the front office, built it and you, the fans, showed up.

The Pirates set a single-season attendance record Sunday: 2,442,564. That’s more than the total metro population. The city proved if the Pirates build a winner they will support it. Three of the six times the Pirates have gone over 2 million in attendance have occurred in the last three seasons, attendance increasing in each year. I’ve heard fans, and read comments, about how they forgot how much fun meaningful September baseball is. It is indeed, and the recent winning has also perhaps energized a new, younger generation of fans.

What the 2.44 million number tells us is that Pirates ownership should be gaining trust that if it invests wisely in its product, the public will support the product. This isn’t Tampa Bay or Oakland.  People will come, Bob. There is still work to do, though. Winning consistently is difficult, and building back trust is not accomplished after only two seasons. Resigning Russell Martin would go a long ways toward accomplishing both objectives.

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September 19, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Eight-two all over again … only a lot different

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have reached 82 wins in a season twice since 1992, and those campaigns have, of course, come in back to back years (Or since I arrived on the shores of the Allegheny. Yes, I’ll take full credit). Starting both No. 82 victories was Gerrit Cole. He beat Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers on a balmy night in Arlington last Sept. 9 for win No. 82, and on Sept. 18, 2014 he quite good in leading the Pirates to No. 82 against the Red Sox.

The similarities between the No. 82 wins end with Cole. Continue Reading →

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September 17, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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The Morton dilemma and a future ace and first baseman?

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PNC PARK – Charlie Morton is making things interesting.

Morton has said he’s not going to be 100 percent if he pitches through his sports hernia. It’s going to at least need offseason rest and, perhaps, surgery. But he said he felt well enough to pitch and the Pirates wanted to see if an 80 percent Morton is better than a 100 percent Vance Worley, who has been trending down after an efficient start to his Pirates’ career.

So what did we see from Morton on Tuesday night?

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September 16, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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When the hitting coach matters

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LEBO – We don’t see the hitting coach.

He doesn’t make mound visits. He doesn’t hold press conference. While the bullpens are visible to the public before games, where pitching coaches are often watching over pitcher’s shoulders, batting cages are hidden in the bowels of major league parks.

We don’t see the hitting coach often so there’s not a belief he impacts the game like  a pitching coach, there is a perception he is not an equal subordinate like the offensive and defensive coordinators in football. I think we think of hitting as more of a  hardened skill that players either possess or do not. But sometimes the hitting coach matters.

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September 15, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Let’s get ahead of ourselves

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LEBO – The Pirates have a 67.7 percent of making the postseason, according to Baseball Prospectus. There’s a better than even chance the Pirates will be playing meaningful baseball in October whether it’s in a wild card game or as division champs. Let me repeat this, there’s a better than 50-50 chance the Pirates are playing in the playoffs for a second straight season. The Pirates have done what they’ve need to do against the Phillies and Cubs.

So let’s get ahead of ourselves: who do you want as a first game postseason starter for the Pirates?

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