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August 21, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Silver linings playbook

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SOUTH HILLS – So that felt like a must-win game and important comeback last night for the Pirates, right? This weekend feels like it could be a time when it’s decided whether the Pirates remain in the division race or not.

In this space and elsewhere, the Pirates’ challenges that have led to this second-half slide have been addressed. But if you’re looking for reasons to believe why the Pirates can perhaps rebound again and finish as a 90-winish team and in the postseason picture, well, that hasn’t been discussed as much.

If you squint hard enough, there have been some silver linings lining these dark clouds hanging over the club.

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August 20, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Falling off a cliff

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SOUTH HILLS – This game can shift so quickly on us. One week the Pirates are a season-best nine games above .500,  knocking around Justin Verlander. A week later they’ve lost seven straight games and the season is on a tailspin out of postseason contention.

Blame can be assigned to many areas: the bullpen, injuries, poor starting pitching performances, some have criticized managerial decisions … But all these issues come back to something mostly out of Clint Hurdle‘s control: depth.

The game can shift on us quickly because it is a game of attrition. The Pirates are in a precarious position because of their lack of quality depth.

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August 18, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Another collapse?

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates are testing your cardiac health, I’m sure. The Pirates’ own health has placed them in quite a heart-sinking bind.

After the Andrew McCutchen injury I wondered in this Web space if the Pirates’ season was again on the brink. The Pirates responded with surprising resiliency, but it came mostly against teams like the Padres and Marlins. The Pirates have had the benefit of a relatively light schedule the first month after the All-Star break.

This past week the schedule toughened.  The Pirates responded with an 0-for-5 road trip. This tougher stretch of schedule continues today with a three-game set opening against Atlanta,  divisional play resumes this weekend at Milwaukee, and the Pirates return to face the Cardinals. The Pirates cannot afford having their next 10 days go like the last five when they did not at all look like a postseason-caliber team.

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August 14, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Challenges for baseball’s next commissioner

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SOUTH HILLS – I’m a little concerned about where baseball is headed.

Yes, baseball has grown from a $1 billion to a nearly $9 billion industry of the last 20 years. But the explosive revenue growth is not unique to baseball. Every other major sport has enjoyed dramatic revenue growth tied mostly to what I suspect is large part due to the right-place, right-time phenomenon: advent of the internet, fracturing of cable audiences placing a premium on live events, new technology/advertising platforms and the stadium boom.

Bud Selig has touted growing revenues under his leadership (though his responsibility for those is highly debatable). He has touted parity (though that has much to do with the devaluation of free agency in a Post-PED era when the game has trended younger). Selig’s greatest accomplishment, for me, is labor peace, which has been an important development.

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August 13, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Building trust?

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SOUTH HILLS – There has been a two-way trust issue in Pittsburgh regarding its baseball club: the city doesn’t trust the ownership to spend, and ownership doesn’t trust the city to show up at the ballpark. It had been this way for a while. It’s sort of a chicken-or-egg dilemma, though I’d argue that to whom much is given/purchased (a baseball club) more is expected.

Well, the city is doing its part this season as the Pirates have a chance to break their single-season attendance record of 2,436,139 set in 2001, the opening year of PNC Park. A year after the Pirates’ drew 2.26 million fans, the Pirates have drawn 1.8 million through 62 home dates, an average of 29,069 per game. The Pirates are out-drawing many of their small-market peers.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly predicted 2.5 million in 2014 attendance last year and told the Trib’s Karen Price that he’s optimistic the Pirates will set an attendance record this season.

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August 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: finding the unconscious Pedro … and enjoy Russell Martin, Pittsburgh

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PNC PARK – Many things have been said, many things have been written about Pedro Alvarez. I tried my best to explain what has happened to his throwing in Sunday’s paper.

We know Alvarez is taking reps at first base but here’s what I think is important to remember:

*Alvarez is not a clear upgrade at first base. Ike Davis has better career numbers and similar 2014 value vs. right-handed pitching (career wRC+ 127 vs. RHP vs. Alvarez’s 116 mark). You can argue Alvarez has more upside … but that is based mostly on faith and hope. So unless you believe he will be more relaxed and freed up to perform at first base, which is plausible, he does not provide an upgrade there.

*Alvarez is most valuable to the Pirates – and his future earnings will be greatest – if he can stay at third.

*Alvarez has actually improved in every area as a defender except one key area: making the routine throw. He’s getting to more groundballs and has made only one non-throwing error. Continue Reading →

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August 9, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Pedro on the move … across the diamond. And about that bullpen surplus

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PNC PARK – Today during batting practice, many of you got what you’ve been waiting for: Pedro Alvarez took groundballs at first base.  It should be noted he started at his usual third base position but then moved on to first. Clint Hurdle declined to address whether the club had plans to move Alvarez earlier this week. Well, the club is at the very least very curious about entertaining the idea of a position change.

Here’s the Bigfoot-like photographic evidence:

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August 6, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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A season on the brink (again)

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have been resilient in 2014.

They’ve clawed back from an eight-game-under-.500 hole when many left them for dead. I thought they were cooked when they lost Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole to injury late in the spring. They have somehow become a much worse run prevention team than they were a year ago, added few impact bats, seen home run champ Pedro Alvarez regress his way out of the lineup, and yet have again place themselves in a pennant race.

They’ve kept coming back, but that resiliency is about to be tested.

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August 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Finding a home for Pedro? Not as easy as you might think

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SOUTH HILLS – Pedro Alvarez‘s time at third base might be coming to an end.

Alvarez has started only three of the club’s last 11 games. While the Pirates have faced some left-handed pitching, he has also become too much of a liability to be throwing across the diamond in the middle of a pennant race. If you’ve lost track, the throwing error count is at 23, 10 more than the second-worst in MLB (Josh Donaldson).

Josh Harrison should be the starting third baseman going forward, and it sounds like he will be. He’s out-performing Alvarez in every way and it’s no longer a small sample as it’s August 4. Most important, he can throw the ball across the infield. Where does that leave Alvarez, the former No. 2 overall pick? It’s not an easy question.

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July 31, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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All’s quiet at the deadline. And the interesting thing that did happen.

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SOUTH HILLS – So much for that non-waiver trade deadline being too early, eh? In one of the most eventful and deadline days in recent memory, the Pirates were conspicuously quiet among the contenders.

Neal Huntington spoke with the media at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and said a lot of things you’d expect a GM to say that did not make a trade:

“We were engaged on a ton of fronts… We wanted to add to this club, we like this club…We stretched beyond comfort level… At end of the day we weren’t able to push any across line.” …

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