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September 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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With his season likely over, what to do with Pedro?

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PHILADELPHIA – Could Pedro Alvarez’s nightmare season get any worse? Short answer: yes.

We know about the 23 throwing errors that forced him off third base at least temporarily, the most throwing errors since throwing errors began be tracked separately from total errors in 2002 (and Alvarez hasn’t played third base consistently since early August).

We know about the power outage. After tying for the NL lead with 36 home runs last season, Alvarez has hit 18 this year and his slugging percentage is down by 68 points.

He’s performance has been below replacement level (-0.2 WAR), and for the second time in the parts of five seasons he’s played he produced below replacement level. While he’s also won a Silver Slugger award, it’s not exactly the type of consistent impactful performance you want from a former No. 2 overall pick.

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September 10, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Does Volquez have a point?

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PHILADELPHIA – Edinson Volquez is one of the most easy-going major leaguers I’ve encountered in my brief two years covering the sport.

He’s often smiling, joking, signing sometimes even dancing as he was prior to Monday’s game to the beat of the clubhouse stereo. After giving up five home runs in a game in Yankee Stadium earlier this season, Volquez was still affable and engaging with reporters following the performance. He even chuckled several times during post-game interviews. Nothing seemed to bother him.

But after Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Phillies, Volquez was clearly irritated. He was visibility frustrated to reporters for the first time as a Pirate. And much of his frustration was aimed at Clint Hurdle for taking him out after 92 pitches. Volquez wanted to come back out for the seventh inning. Continue Reading →

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September 8, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Separation Week?

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SOUTH HILLS – You can’t predict ball. And you certainly can’t predict this Pirates’ season.

From Josh Harrison going from 25th man to All-Star, from the Pirates’ pitching and defense transforming from strengths in 2013 to liabilities this season, and  from the lineup morphing from average last season to (secretly) elite, little if any of this has been easily foreseen.

This week was a perfect microcosm: the Pirates are swept at St. Louis, the season is on the brink for what seems like the 23rd time, then they go sweep a surging young Cubs team and take over the second wild card spot? It’s nothing if not entertaining.

So now what?

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September 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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My Pirates 2014 MVP ballot and what it (and yours) reveals

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SOUTH HILLS – Exceptional radio talent David Todd had me on his show yesterday and one of the interesting questions he asked was this (which he has also been throwing out to his audience): who are the the Pirates’ top five MVPs in 2014?

There were some common trends in all the lists he received and collectively they told an interesting story. First, I’ll share my list and feel free to add your own (and defend it) …

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September 3, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Jeff Locke is reverting back to All-Star form (and that means trouble)

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SOUTH HILLS – On Aug. 22nd in Milwaukee, Jeff Locke walked six batters in six innings. He did not strike out a single batter. So Milwaukee batters either walked or put the ball in play and miraculously scored only two runs in six innings against

Locke. Afterward, Locke said this: “It was a lot like last year’s first half. There were so many games we had four-plus walks, two or three hits” …. So many games in that first half Locke somehow avoided disaster.

It was almost if Locke thought it was a good thing he had just pitched as he did last year. After all, I suppose he surmised he was a first-half All-Star. Continue Reading →

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September 2, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Gerrit Cole’s checklist to acehood

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SOUTH HILLS – As we discussed here and on the Final Word on Sunday, the key for the Pirates in navigating a difficult September schedule – 17 road games, 9 home games – was getting their top-of-the-rotation arms to produce ace-like performances.

I felt this way for several reasons: For starters, there’s something to be said of the baseball axiom that you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher. There’s a reason the Vegas betting lines typically favor the better starting pitcher. That’s where it starts, in the center of the infield. …. But as we’ve discussed many times here, the root of home-field advantage is umpire bias, it’s borderline ball-strike calls (PITCHf/x has proven this). So to win on the road, you’re better served to have pitchers with plus stuff and command, and who can generate swings and misses and better get away with not living on the fringes of the strike zone.

On Monday, the Pirates needed Gerrit Cole to pitch like an ace. He pitched well at times but he wasn’t ace-like.  He failed to protect two leads and now the Pirates have to face Adam Wainwright today. The Pirates need a great month from Cole if they plan to play in October. So how can Cole develop into a true No. 1 in short order? Continue Reading →

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August 31, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: How to manage the rookie wall

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SOUTH HILLS – Here’s a wacky thought  – what else would you expect here, right? — should clubs expecting to be in condition hold back their top prospects even longer? Yes, even longer, despite the criticism they already endure for suppressing service time and Super 2 status?

Perhaps.

On Sunday I examined how most young players, including Gregory Polanco, face-plant into the rookie wall during their initial exposure to the majors.  Highly-touted Polanco contemporaries, Oscar Taveras and Xander Bogaerts, have also struggled this year. Not everyone, unfortunately, is all that is Yasiel Puig. We had a good sense of this from anecdotal experiences, of course, but it was interesting to study several hundred thousand plate appearances and see when the effect of this wall occurs and how it has changed.

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August 29, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Do you want the good or bad news? (How about both?)

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SOUTH HILL – The Pirates will remarkably enter September with meaningful baseball to be played despite an assortment of injuries, missed opportunities to upgrade the roster (though the folks inside 115 Federal St. might disagree), and general craziness.

The final month of the season will determine many significant things like whether back-to-back winning seasons are captured, like whether the Pirates can do something they didn’t a year ago – win the division – and, if not, whether they can fit in a wild card spot (and if so can they capture home-field advantage for the wild card game which is critical?).

Never is the schedule more important than it is September. So do you want the good news or the bad news?

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August 27, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Gerrit Cole’s time of year

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SOUTH HILLS – Gerrit Cole likes saving his best for last, apparently. At least the last quarter of the season.

Remember last year when Cole was solid but not spectacular the first three months last year after his call-up? Cole and manager Clint Hudle were asked ‘Where were the strikeouts from the former No. 1 overall pick with the 1o0 mph fastball?’ Well, Cole showed us where they were in September 2013 when he struck out nine at Texas when matched up against Yu Darvish on Sept. 9 – for win No. 82 – which was the beginning of a impressive final month of the season when C0le went 4-0 with 10.97 Ks per nine and a 1.69 ERA.

While it’s not quite September, Cole was as good as we’ve seen him since last September on Tuesday night.

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August 25, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: 101 ways to make out a lineup card

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MILLER PARK – A three-headed platoon monster at first base is a difficult animal to feed.

It’s an unusual roster situation to manage, to have three players limited on the defensive spectrum soak up so much flexibility, and, moreover, two seemingly redundant left-handed hitting options against right-handed pitching.

But Clint Hurdle is doing his best to manage the situation, filling out his 100th and 101st different lineup cards of the season Friday and Saturday in Milwaukee to help the Pirates to a critical series win. Continue Reading →

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