Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: appreciating 94, looking ahead to Tuesday’s match-ups and perhaps to Jose Abreu

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Buckle up Pittsburgh. Since pitchers and catchers reported to spring training some 230 days have elapsed in the Pirates’ best year since 1992. And now the life and death of that season comes down to one game.

 

I get why Major League Baseball opted for the second wild card: it makes the division races more meaningful, it keeps more teams in the races, thereby keeping more fans interested in buying tickets and $8 beer, and it’s also created two great made-for-TV events. I actually like it as a fan of the game. There’s nothing like elimination-game baseball. But I understand why the No. 4 seed does not and likely never will.

 

The 2013 NL No. 4 seed, the Pirates, finished the season four games better than the Reds but now must win a fourth straight game against Reds on Tuesday to advance to the NLDS. Fairness is not part of the second wild card equation.

Continue reading Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: appreciating 94, looking ahead to Tuesday’s match-ups and perhaps to Jose Abreu

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The Burnett Legacy: PNC Park is baseball’s best pitcher rehabilitation facility … and Hurdle’s decision to go four-man NLDS rotation

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CINCINNATI – A.J. Burnett‘s outing Friday might have been his last as a Pirate. He’s a free agent who is considering retirement after the season. And even if Burnett decides to return on a one-year deal, which GM Neal Huntington indicated is Burnett’s preference, would the Pirates be willing to out-spend other suitors?

 

Will he be back? Who knows, but there’s a significant percentage chance he does not return.

 

So if we have seen the last of the 36-year-old Burnett in Pittsburgh, what does the the always competitive, sometimes cantankerous man who sat at the top of the Pirates rotation the last two seasons leave behind? My take: a lot.

Continue reading The Burnett Legacy: PNC Park is baseball’s best pitcher rehabilitation facility … and Hurdle’s decision to go four-man NLDS rotation

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Play-in game strategery: Liriano or creative Plan B

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CHICAGO – After Wednesday’s loss the Pirates are almost certainly headed toward a play-in game against Cincinnati on Tuesday, the only question is where the game is to be played.

 

Unless the Cardinals lose three straight against the Cubs – percentage chance? – and the Pirate or Reds sweep their three-game series beginning Friday, we’re headed to a Pirates-Reds, play-in. The Pirates have to win this weekend’s series to host.

 

That means Clint Hurdle will face his most important decision of the 2013 season: what will his pitching plan be against the Reds?

Continue reading Play-in game strategery: Liriano or creative Plan B

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Champagne, the Bucs and Wrigley (a retrospective)

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By Joe Rutter

Watching the Pirates spray champagne all over the Wrigley Field visiting clubhouse Monday night was a novelty for many fans, especially those too young to remember when the team previously clinched a playoff berth in 1992.

Yet, it wasn’t the first time in the past 21 years that bubbly touched the lips of Pirates players in that clubhouse.

Only the most astute Pirates fan would recall that champagne was uncorked in 2002 after the Pirates won their 72nd game, thus avoiding 90 losses in that rain-shortened 161-game season.

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Inside the Pirates’ celebration

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CHICAGO – It’s 1:08 eastern time. I smell like cheap champagne, Coors Light and I can’t wear this shirt again on the road trip.

 

I just witnessed grown men and some kids (Cole, Gerrit) sporting every sort of goggles imaginable – from Oakley skiing eyewear to something out of eighth-grade chemistry class – dousing themselves with perfectly drinkable alcohol.

 

Enjoy it, Pittsburgh. This is what you’ve been waiting 21 years for.

 

Continue reading Inside the Pirates’ celebration

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Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: a stimulus package for the Pirates

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CHICAGO – On August 8th, the Pirates were 70-44.  They had completed a sweep of the Marlins and a week earlier they had won four out of five games against the Cardinals, a series some labeled the club’s most important since 1992. The Pirates hope that period does not represent their high-water mark in 2013.

 

Since those happy days (remember what it was like to smile?), the Pirates are 19-23.

 

They’ve lost the best record in baseball. They’ve lost first-place in the NL Central. They’ve lost their cushion in the No. 1 Wild Card spot as they enter their final week of regular season play tied with the Reds in the Wild Card standings.

 

Continue reading Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: a stimulus package for the Pirates

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Do the Pirates have their shortstop of the future? And thoughts on expanded rosters and AJ Burnett

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PNC PARK – I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest Billy Hamilton’s slide home last night was the most heart-breaking such action for the city of Pittsburgh since Sid slid back in October of 1992.

 

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The speedy Hamilton scored from second on an infield single in the ninth, allowing the Reds to complete a three-run comeback despite having trailed 5-2 in the  ninth and been down to their final out.

 

As I wrote in the game story from last night, Pirates’ defense has played a significant part in their 2013 success. But if the Pirates fail to advance to the postseason, even if they fall a game short of a division title or home-field advantage in a wild-card play-in game, it will not be the radical shifts and aggressive approach to run prevention that will be remembered. It will be Jordy Mercer‘s error that began a chain of events that led to the epic, one-game collapse.

Continue reading Do the Pirates have their shortstop of the future? And thoughts on expanded rosters and AJ Burnett

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The emergence of Gerrit Verlander, errrr, Gerrit Cole

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PNC PARK – Remember when Gerrit Verlander’s results, I mean, Gerrit Cole‘s results didn’t match his stuff?

 

Remember when Cole was striking out only six batters per nine innings in Triple-A this spring? Remember when he struck out a well-below-average 4.1 batters per nine innings this June? Despite the fastest average fastball velocity in the majors, he wasn’t missing bats.

 

Remember when Cole was at UCLA and scouts wondered why he didn’t deliver the same results as teammate Trevor Bauer despite superior stuff and strength?

 

Continue reading The emergence of Gerrit Verlander, errrr, Gerrit Cole

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About last night: You can’t have it both ways…. Did Bud Black find Mark Melancon’s weakness … And does McCutchen have to do even more lifting?

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PNC PARK – Some are criticizing Clint Hurdle for not leaving Charlie Morton in for the ninth inning Wednesday, in the Pirates’ third straight loss to the Padres, which came via a soul-crushing blown save by Mark Melancon.

 

Morton was excellent. But I can’t fault Hurdle. Morton was at 99 pitches, he hasn’t thrown more than 104 in a start this season. Just days earlier, some were criticizing Hurdle for leaving AJ Burnett in too long. And an argument can be made to support the the idea that Burnett, or any pitcher, should never go beyond 100 pitches. Burnett has a .985 opponent OPS when facing a lineup for a fourth time.

 

The numbers suggest that pitchers decrease in effectiveness every time they go through a lineup. They fatigue, they show batters pitches, and batters adjust to sequence, stuff and velocity.

Continue reading About last night: You can’t have it both ways…. Did Bud Black find Mark Melancon’s weakness … And does McCutchen have to do even more lifting?

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Monday Morning Mop-up Duty: the Pirates’ democratic defense

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Baseball is often thought of as a team game played individually.  But the Pirates have proven this season that defensive play is most effective when the pitchers, fielders and off-the-field staff become more interdependent, not less.

 

Yes, Crash Davis, strikeouts are fascist.

 

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 Costner knew defensive efficiency 

 

One of the cool things I learned in reporting on the secret success behind the Pirates’ season – perhaps the most aggressive run prevention plan in major league history  –  is nearly everyone in the organization has played a role in improving the Pirates’ defense. It’s been a defensive democracy.

Continue reading Monday Morning Mop-up Duty: the Pirates’ democratic defense

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