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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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September 12, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Frankkkkkkkkkkkkie is back and his slider never left

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SOMEWHERE OFF THE PA TURNPIKE – For the Pirates, for any team, to advance into October and then be competitive in the postseason they require top-of-the-rotation pitchers to pitch like elite arms. Well, Francisco Liriano is getting back to being the ace he was last season.

Liriano was in 2013-, Cy Young-vote-receiving, NL Comeback Player of the Year-form last night in striking out a season-high 12 strikeouts over eight shutout innings as the Pirates capped a successful 10-game road trip.

Really, Liriano has been great in the second half since has returned to full health. In 69 second-half innings, he has a 2.22 ERA and he’s striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings, an elite rate. He’s striking out more batters per nine innings than he did a year. Last night, Liriano looked much like the guy who dominated the Reds in the wild card playoff game last year. His fastball command has improved and his slider never left.

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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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