Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tuesday Pirates Rant™

This season just keeps getting weirder. The pitching is falling apart--to the point where Shawn Chacon being added to the rotation both upgrades the rotation and severely hurts the bullpen--just as the offense is figuring things out, and the Pirates just finished a 4-6 homestand against Milwaukee, Florida, and Arizona. However, the NL Central is so unbelievably terrible that this article found its way to print this morning:

Imagine this call over the PNC Park loudspeaker in early October:

Ladies and gentleman, your 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates ... the National League's Central Division champions!



The punch line to some cruel, go-ahead-and-rub-it-in joke?

Yeah, probably. Truth is, if the Pirates keep performing as erratically as they have in the season's opening quarter, there is no chance.

At the same time ...

"We have 41/2 months of baseball left to play and, obviously, we're sitting in a division right now where clubs are not playing all that well," manager Jim Tracy said. "We're not in a division where a club is pulling away."
Well...it IS laughable--if the Brewers do indeed fade, it will be the Cubs or Astros who catch them--but the division is so bad that somebody who gets paid a lot more money than I do, thought this was credible. The Pirates' offense, defense, and pitching have rarely been worse, it seems, but .500 has never been more attainable. Forgive me if I don't get excited.


* Ryan Doumit is STILL tearing the cover off the ball, even though he still doesn't really have a position. Through 76 at-bats, Doumit is batting .368, with a .435 on-base %, and .618 slugging %.

* Adam LaRoche has slowly begun to figure things out. Granted, he's still a smidge below the Mendoza line (.199), but his May numbers (.293 / .400 / .448) are much closer to what was expected of him all along.

* Freddy Sanchez' batting average is up to .276, which is terrible considering he's the defending NL batting champ, but it's great considering he was recently in the .220s.

* Ian Snell (4-2, 2.76 ERA) is still doing well, as is Tom Gorzelanny (5-2, 2.43 ERA).

* Closer Salomon Torres hasn't given up a run in his last 8 appearances.


* After Snell and Gorzelanny, the rotation has been putrid. Zach Duke (1-4, 5.19 ERA), Paul Maholm (2-6, 5.82), and Tony Armas Jr. (0-3, 8.46 ERA) have been rotten. Duke has improved recently, but Maholm has backslid, and Armas was bad enough that he lost his rotation spot to Chacon.

* You know how I complimented CF Chris Duffy for keeping his on-base % over .333? Yeah, it's now at .283 (with a .220 batting average). Not exactly what you're looking for in a leadoff hitter. But if you take him out of the lineup, your defense goes from bad to horrible. Have I mentioned how much this organization's depth sucks lately? Oh, and the guy the Pirates hoped would succeed Duffy if Duffy wasn't getting the job done? You know...Pirates' #1 prospect Andrew McCutchen? Batting .181, with a .245 on-base %. In AA Altoona. Fantastic.

* Jim Tracy is still a terrible manager:

It seemed a questionable choice, to be generous.

Arizona was slithering back into the game, down four runs in the seventh inning, and bases were loaded. A big hit was needed, and the Diamondbacks' pinch-hitter for light-hitting Robby Hammock surely would be switch-hitting slugger Tony Clark, owner of 232 career home runs and extraordinary power.

And Pirates manager Jim Tracy's signal to the bullpen was to summon ...

Marty McLeary?

The same Marty McLeary who had been hit hard in every outing since his recall from Class AAA Indianapolis two weeks ago?

The same Marty McLeary who had been used only in mopup duty?



Clark's grand slam high into the center-field seats brought a tie that stunned and silenced the crowd of 30,677 at PNC Park, and Arizona's two-run eighth off Matt Capps would cap an astounding 9-8 victory for the Diamondbacks last night.

Tracy had all his relievers available except John Grabow, who had created the mess that inning, and Shawn Chacon, who had pitched five innings Thursday. He could have brought in Damaso Marte, Jonah Bayliss or Matt Capps, those he usually uses with the game on the line.

Or even Salomon Torres. Some managers in recent years have taken to calling on their closers in the game's most critical situations rather than just the ninth inning.

Instead, Tracy chose McLeary, whose first three appearances with the Pirates resulted in eight hits -- three of them home runs -- and a 7.36 ERA.
And when Tracy was asked why he made the decision, he basically threw Marte (too wild) and Capps (sucked that night anyway) under the bus. Just like last year, Tracy leaps to take credit for anything that bounces their way, but when his decisions are questioned, he blames the first person who pops into his head. Strong leadership.


Pat from WHYGAVS, on the state of the NL Central:

Honestly, I'm a bit tired of the same old "The NL Central sucks" stuff. The truth is that while the division is not great, I think there are two tiers in the division that will emerge pretty clearly this year. The Brewers and Cubs and everyone else. The division was no good last year, but no more than three teams had any realistic shot at winning the thing and it was probably down to only the Astros and Cards. Just because no team is the Mets in the division doesn't mean the Pirates have a chance.

And so we get two of the rejects in the division this year facing off tonight at 8 PM in St. Louis (the thread is going up a bit early because I'm going to a Greensboro Grasshoppers game tonight). The Pirates are a bit ahead in the standings, but the Cardinals have played much worse, scoring fewer runs than the Pirates and allowing more. Still, they're the Cardinals and we're the Pirates. It's hard to get that delineation out of my head at the moment.
Rowdy from Honest Wagner on Tony Armas:

The team was stubborn with Armas. When you make shitty personnel decisions, they have a ripple effect. If the team wants to win games, they have to win games now. Not later. No amount of losing today will increase the winning later. If they want to win games now, they have to play the most competent players. This means scrapping the "plan" when necessary. Armas, a $3M part of the offseason plan, was failing us well before this week. He had no business getting that last start.
Have I mentioned this team still has a chance to win 80 games? So confusing. And yet, I find myself caring about this season less than most. Until they fire their GM and prove that they actually want to field a good team, I have the feeling that will continue.

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