Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walking the Plank: Pirates Thoughts and some Black and Gold Links

State of the Pirates Address

The Pirates are now 22-24 as we roll slightly over the quarter mark of the MLB season. At this point we are deep enough into 2011 to start gauging how this team looks, but not far enough for some slow starts to turn around.

Everyone can acknowledge there is a good amount of young talent in Pittsburgh these days, perhaps more than in any one of the previous 18 losing campaigns, but when you see progress from that talent it is a beautiful thing.

While in most cities a ball club that is 2 games under .500 would have almost as many negatives as positives, if not more, there is a lot of positive to pick from in 2011 so far.

When looking at the 2011 Pirates you have to start with the surprising pitching, and you can't start anywhere else but with Charlie Morton. Morton stands at 5-1 with a 2.62 ERA and has looked downright dominant at times becoming the ace of the staff. While the Halladay comparisons early in the season were somewhat laughable, he has done nothing other than reinforce the comparison early in 2011.

If not for the electric Morton, Kevin Correia would probably get more accolades in Pittsburgh. Correia has proven to be a solid free agent signing and set the tone early winning his first few starts on the road. He is the first Pirates free agent pitcher to win more than 5 games since 2003.

After Ross Ohlendorf went to the DL Jeff Karstens has filled in about as well as you could expect from a 5th starter. James McDonald seems to have turned around a funky start (that included giving up grand slams in back to back outings) and has turned in 4 consecutive quality outings to teams not named the Brewers.

Lastly, there is Paul Maholm, who is 1-7, which ties him for the most losses in all of baseball with Brian Fuentes and John Danks, but that really isn't representative of how well Maholm has pitched. Pirates' bats have given him the worst run support in baseball at 2.04 runs/game. The next lowest is for Madison Bumgarner of the Giants at 3.18. If there was a precursor to how this season would go for Paul it was the second game of the season, where Maholm was in line for the win against the Chicago when the bullpen let him down. Paul's trade stock is going up with each quality start and his record is not indicative of how good he has been.

The bullpen has been up and down, but what bullpen isn't? Evan Meek still hasn't gotten off the shelf but Jose Veras has filled in nicely for him. Joel Hanrahan has been a flat out stud, 13 for 13, 16:5 SO/BB, not much more you can say about him, he defines closer.

Andrew McCutchen, who is the centerpiece of all this young talent (at least in my mind) seems to have gotten things back on track after a slow start. McCutchen continues to show more power, than most scouts originally thought he had during his prospect days, with 8 HRs, leading the team. Cutch is also 5th in the defensive WAR stat overall at 0.8 (if you can figure out how that is calculated), while he does have a propensity to misplay balls every once in a while, I can't help but notice he also comes up with one of those highlight reel sliding catches about every other game now.

Don't laugh but how about Ronny Cedeno? While Ronny isn't anyone's dream SS, he has been on a tear recently, picking up a hit in 9 of his last 10 games and multiple hits in 4 of the last 7. If anything it gives Pirates fans a taste of what having a SS that isn't a black hole in the line up, is like.

Lastly Neil Walker looks like he will be a stud at 2B, his ABs are quality, he has been clutch at times and he leads all 2B as well as the Pirates with 30 RBIs.

It hasn't been all roses though, it never is for a sub .500 team. Tabata, despite a quick start, still hasn't gotten on track, he does lead the team with 11 SBs. Pedro Alvarez, other than a few ABs, has looked lost out there and now sits on the DL. There have been baserunning snafus and bunts gone wrong as well as innings from hell. The bats have gone silent at times, which is indicative of a young team, and the run support just isn't there some evenings. ***cough, cough, Maholm***

Overall though, from a team perspective the Pirates have already accomplished a lot early in 2011, they seem to have put their atrocious road woes behind them with a 13-12 record (4 wins away from lasts years total of 17). This past weekend the Bucs matched their interleague win total of 2 from last year.

While there have been horrific moments, there have been segments of quality baseball. The sixth inning against Detroit Saturday comes to mind, where strategic hitting and proper baseball plays gave the Pirates the lead and handed Max Scherzer his first loss of the season. The next step is if this young team can a consistently execute at that level or will moments like that 6th inning remain a flash every once in a while.

Jim Leyland will always be a baseball man I respect greatly and he had some glowing words about the Bucs after the weekend series with the Tigers:

"The people here should really be excited about this team," Leyland said. "The Pirates have a lot of good young players. They can score some runs. They have good pitching. Quite honestly, there were a few years here where there wasn't much reason to get excited but there is now and I know how hard it's been for the fans to be patient."

Hearing Jim Leyland say those words, reinforces my excitement for the future.

Some links around the Pittsburgh Sports World:


Guess what Pirates fans, the pitching matchup of the night takes place right at PNC Park as Charlie Morton (5-1, 2.62) takes on Jair Jurrgens (5-1) and his pristine 1.80 ERA. When is the last time you could say that?

Check out Rich's Braves series preview here.


Something we all know in Pittsburgh already, but it's always good to see it in print, Troy Polamalu was voted as the NFL's best defensive player by a panel of experts over at ESPN. Take that Ed Reed.


Thankfully, the off season focus is on the power play according to Ray Shero.

Speaking of Ray Shero, he met with Pascal Dupuis and Mike Rupp to open up contract negotiations. It will be interesting to see how Shero wheels and deals with all the UFA forwards and 2 RFAs (Jeffrey and Kennedy).

Penn State

Ed DeChellis leaves Penn State, coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, to go to...........Navy? Interesting take on the entire basketball situation at Penn State from David Jones at Pennlive.com.

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