Thursday, April 5, 2012

Halladay Out-Duels Bedard, Phillies Beat Pirates 1-0

By Chad Carlson

Photo Credit: AP
The Pirates opened the 2012 season against the Philadelphia Phillies this afternoon at PNC Park, and as is the case every year on Opening Day, optimism was at an all-time high.  Not only were both teams on an equal-playing field before the game began today, but Pirates’ fans were remembering the excitement of last year’s first half when their team was in the middle of an unprecedented run to the top of the N.L. Central division, and were playing highly-competitive baseball through July.  We all know what happened in the final couple months of the year, but taking the next step, as the team has said they’re ready to do, began today.

Unfortunately, the Bucs faced one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, Roy Halladay, and that’s exactly the way he pitched today.  The Pirates’ first two batters tallied hits, from Alex Presley and Jose Tabata, and didn’t get another hit the rest of the game.  Halladay pitched eight shutout innings and Jonathan Papelbon recorded his first save as a Phillie, as the Bucs fell to their cross-state rivals, 1-0 on the North Shore.

From the Pirates’ perspective, there were a number of positives and negatives to take away from today’s game.  Offensively, they were held in check all day long.  Andrew McCutchen grounded into a double in the first inning with two one and no outs during the Bucs’ one and only true threat to Halladay.  He, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, and Pedro Alvarez combined to go 0-12 today.  Rod Barajas struggled as well in his three at-bats, as did Clint Barmes, who blasted a shot to the warning track in his first at-bat.  Overall, the Bucs’ hitters looked overmatched all day.

Despite the loss today, it was a strong performance by the Pirates defensively.  No errors were committed on the day as the defense made the plays they were supposed to, from Andrew McCutchen to Pedro Alvarez to Neil Walker.  Erik Bedard pitched seven strong innings for the Bucs, giving up just one run on six hits while walking one and striking out four.  Chris Resop and Juan Cruz each pitched a scoreless inning. 

More often than not, when a Pirates’ starting pitcher gives up a run or less in seven or more innings, they’re going to win the game.  Today, that wasn’t the case.  Still, it was a solid start to the season for the Bucs, and while it would’ve been nice to win the season-opener in front of the record-breaking crowd at PNC Park, it was satisfying to see one of the team’s newest acquisitions pitch strong in his debut. 

After a day off tomorrow, the Pirates and Phillies will face off again on Saturday at 7:05pm.  Cliff Lee will be opposed on the hill by Jeff Karstens.

Record vs. Phillies:  0-1
Record vs. N.L. East:  0-1
Record at Home:  0-1
Overall Record:  0-1

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pirates Look To Finish In 2012


Photo Credit:  http://www.bleacherreport.com/
 “Starting Opening Day, it’s ‘finish.’ Last year we were able to rekindle the city. Now it’s time to finish a play, finish an at-bat, finish an inning, finish the game and finish the season.”


Those words, spoken by Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle, were the fighting words, the theme of the team’s Spring Training workouts and Grapefruit League season in February and March in Bradenton, Florida.

The Bucs played respectable baseball for the first four months of the regular season, and in doing so, created quite a stir around Major League Baseball. In fact, for a matter of weeks, the Pirates were battling it out, and on several occasions even surpassed, the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals for the N.L. Central division lead.

As we all know, the wheels fell off after the All-Star Break, and a team that, at one point, had a 51-44 record, ended up losing dozens of games in all too familiar (and embarrassing) fashion on their way to a 70-92 mark. In the process, they secured their North American sports record 19th consecutive losing season.

But we know all that already. So does Clint Hurdle. So do the players and the coaching staff. They’re not focusing on that. They’re not focusing on records. They’re focusing on each play, each pitch, each at-bat. They’re striving to be better in each aspect of the game, as Hurdle indicated above, by getting better at each individual element of the game, it will, in turn, improve the team’s chances of accomplishing bigger goals.

That all sounds wonderful. But naturally, this type of mentality has been met with much skepticism…and rightfully so. After all, no professional sports team has ever endured losing to this extent, so it’s difficult to draw any comparisons to any other team in any other sport. That being said, the Bucs did make strides last season…they learned about winning and they learned about losing. They experienced both over-achieving and under-achieving at different times in the season, and they won games in which they underperformed while losing games they deserved to win. Those are all the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows of a 162-game MLB season, and with a young core of players who had yet to endure it, last year was a learning experience of utmost importance.

Tomorrow afternoon, thousands of baseball fans will embark on their annual trip down to PNC Park, decked out in their Steel City colors and motivated by a blind optimism that will never be as high as it’ll be on that day. That’s right, folks, tomorrow is April 5, 2012, Opening Day for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Bucs have had a busy offseason and Spring Training, but all those moves, trades, releases, acquisitions, etc., all boil down to the same question that has hounded the team since the early 1990’s: Is this the year they end the streak?

“The streak,” as all Pittsburgh followers know, refers to the 19 consecutive losing seasons the Pirates (and their fans) have endured since 1992. So aside from the regular na├»ve optimism of Opening Day, why else should any of us believe that this is the year the Bucs turn the corner?

First of all, it starts with leadership from the top. Do the Pirates have that? It looks like it…Clint Hurdle had an under-talented team playing well above its head for 2/3 of the season last year.

How about starting pitching? This is obviously a huge question mark at this point. They spent money (yes the Pirates) to bring in A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard, and while Bedard has pitched solidly, avoided injury, and is even slated to being the Opening Day starter, Burnett is out two months with the orbital bone. Not exactly what the Bucs had in mind when they acquired him from the New York Yankees. The other starters, including Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia, and even Charlie Morton, all had strong first halves in 2011 followed by terrible finishes. Which pitcher shows up this year? Only time will tell.

Bullpen? Joel Hanrahan proved to be one of the best closers in the league last season, and so far this spring, he’s looked just as effective and confident in 2012. The key will be if the Pirates are able to maintain a lead through innings 6-8 to even get the ball to Hanrahan. Guys like Evan Meek, Jason Grilli, and Chris Resop headline the slew of bullpen arms will always prove to be extremely valuable.

And that takes us to the offense. At the heart of the debate is Pedro Alvarez, the outrageously gifted third baseman who has underachieved (to say the least) at the big-league level thus far. Pedro is a strikeout machine right now, and while he’s shown the ability to hit for power, so far this spring, he hasn’t been able to hit anything. He is the key to the offense being good as opposed to average (at best). Andrew McCutchen, having just signed a new contract, looks to continue to progress from a star to a superstar, while Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley, as well as new Buccos Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas, will all have vital roles in the Pirates’ quest for .500.

Pittsburgh will need to get off to a fast start this season, as they encompass one of the most difficult April schedules in baseball. After opening up with a three-game home slate against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pirates travel out west for series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks. Ouch. Fast start needed indeed.

There are those out there who believe the first half of 2011 was a fluke…a blip on dismal radar that is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ present and future. Conversely, fans and baseball lovers that long to see a winning team in Pittsburgh had their hopes rekindled with the hint of success last year. One thing can’t be argued, though. As we saw last season, if this team is competitive, people will watch…people will care. The Pirates were seven games over .500 in July last season, and fans were coming in droves down to PNC Park night in and night out.

Can the Pirates take the next step? Will they improve upon a small step in the winning direction from last year? Will they finish?

The journey begins this afternoon at PNC Park.

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pirates Head To Pittsburgh With Loss To The Phillies

by Zane Heiple

Photo by pittsburghsportsdepot.com
Spring training is now officially over, after the Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up a two game exhibition series with the Philadelphia Phillies in a 7-2 defeat.  Tonight's game was one final chance for those players looking to earn a roster spot to show management they were worthy of the opportunity.

Matt Hague has been they only Bucco that has shown consistent power throughout the spring, because of this he has stayed in the hunt coming into tonight's contest.  He would go 2-3 during the game.  At this point with so little power on this team, the only way I see Hague not making the roster is by a lack of versatility on his part defensively. 

Tonight was also a chance for James McDonald to throw a few innings before his first start of the season.  McDonald would go three innings allowing one run on two hits while striking out three and walking one batter.  Evan Meek also worked an inning tonight giving up one hit.

For the most part tonight's game was more about giving some minor league players one last chance in a big league atmosphere before being sent off to their respective teams.  I doubt management will look at any one players performance in this game as their final decision making determination, but it couldn't hurt for a player to perform well.  With the spring season over Pittsburgh finished with a record of 9-20-2. Ouch.

Next up for the Pirates is the day every Major League Baseball fan has been waiting for since the last out of the World Series, Opening Day.  Pittsburgh will host Philadelphia in a three game series set to kick off at 1:35 on Thursday.  Erik Bedard will be the starting pitcher for the Buccos, while the Phillies will counter with Roy HallidayFans From The Stands will be in attendance, so be sure to check back after the game for pre and post game videos, along with a writeup on all the action.

And...

As Always...

Let's Go Bucs!

Monday, April 2, 2012

McCutchen Homers, Phillies Edge Pirates 4-3

Well the days in Bradenton have come and gone for the Pittsburgh Pirates for another year.  The Bucs returned to the keystone state for a pair of exhibition games tonight and tomorrow against their cross-state “rivals,” the Philadelphia Phillies.  Of course, they’ll open the regular season on Thursday at PNC Park, but tonight, as will be the case tomorrow, both teams were simply getting their final warm-ups in before the season kicks off later this week.

Both teams played a solid baseball game tonight, exhibition or not, and the Phillies got the last laugh, beating the Bucs 4-3 at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark.

Pittsburgh didn’t send a starter to the mound tonight, using seven relievers to pitch the nine innings.  Tony Watson, Evan Meek, and Juan Cruz each gave up a run in the first, second, and third innings respectively, while Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, and Chris Resop each pitched a scoreless frame.  We all know how the game ended, but overall, the Pirates’ pitching staff did a serviceable job, giving up seven hits to the high-powered Phillies’ offense. 

From an offensive standpoint, a few things remained constant.  Andrew McCutchen is still a stud, and Pedro Alvarez is still a dud.  Ok, I don’t really mean that (not yet), but the two continued their trends in opposite directions.  Cutch blasted a solo homerun in the sixth inning to tie the game at that point.  He’s hitting .304 this spring and looks like he’ll be ready to take off on Thursday towards a strong season. 

Alvarez, on the other hand, went 0-3.  He’s hitting .154 this spring.  Is it a bad thing that I’m content when he flies out (as opposed to striking out)?  I think it is.  Luckily for Pedro, everyone gets a clean slate on Thursday.  I’m STILL thinking he’ll have a big year for the Bucs, but am I thinking or hoping?  We’ll see.  Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, and Rod Barajas had a hit each tonight as well.

Earlier, Daniel McCutchen and Brad Lincoln were optioned to Triple A, where they will begin the 2012 season in Indianapolis.  That leaves the lone remaining bullpen spot up for grabs amongst three relievers:  Chris Leroux, Daniel Moskos, and Jared Hughes. 

The Pirates and Phillies will meet again tomorrow at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark for the final exhibition game of the 2012 spring training campaign.  Then, after a day off on Wednesday, the teams will open up their respective regular seasons at PNC Park on Thursday.

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pirates Leave Florida With Win Over The Blue Jays

by Zane Heiple

Photo by Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review
With March over, we are one step closer to opening day.  The Pittsburgh Pirates moved even closer to that glorious occasion by winning the final game of the Grapefruit League season with a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Jeff Karstens was on the hill and pitched quite well to close out the spring.  He would go four innings allowing one run on four hits while striking out and walking a batter.  He would end spring training with a 2.12 ERA.  His next appearance will be during the season opening series against the Philadelphia Phillies.  The only other Bucco to pitch today that could be coming north with the team was Daniel Moskos.  Over one inning of work he would allow one hit and strikeout two batters.

It took awhile for the offense to wake up today, but it came thru in the clutch with some late inning action.  In the eighth inning Nate McLouth would hit a two run home run.  Matt Hague would then hit his seventh home run of the spring with a solo shot in the ninth.  Hague has impressed me with his bat all spring.  While it is no guarantee that it would continue during the season, the Pirates are very limited with power bats and should give Hague a shot at playing in the majors this season.

Pittsburgh will now head back to the keystone state for a two game exhibition series in Philadelphia.  Tomorrow an assortment of bullpen pitchers will receive work on the hill for the Buccos.  First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.

Grapefruit League record:  9-18-2

And...

As Always...

Let's Go Bucs!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pitching Falls Apart Against Twins & Orioles This Afternoon

By Chad Carlson

Photo Credit:  http://www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com
The Pirates had a busy Saturday afternoon today, with intra-squad games against the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles.  Kevin Correia and Erik Bedard started against the Twins and Orioles respectively, and neither, well, exactly propelled much confidence with their performances today.

Kevin Correia will make his first start of the season in a little over a week in the Pirates’ first road game of 2012.  In his final Spring Training game, he (and the rest of the team) was hoping for a strong performance to carry over to the regular season.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen today against the Minnesota Twins.

Ryan Doumit’s new teams lit Correia up for 10 runs on 12 hits in just 2.1 innings today.  After a routine opening inning, Kevin ran into a world of trouble in the two subsequent innings, and wasn’t able to escape the third frame.  Daniel McCutchen, who will also be apart of the Opening Day roster bullpen, also struggled, as did Tim Wood.  D-Cutch surrendered three runs on three hits in an inning, while Wood was touched up for two runs on four hits in two innings.  Not the kind of performance we want from the pitching staff leading up to the regular season. 

Offensively, Jose Tabata and Michael McKenry were the only Pirates to have a multi-hit game, and McKenry blasted a homerun for the Bucs today.  Pedro Alvarez went 1-4 with only one strikeout, and Matt Hague also homered, his sixth of the spring.  He continues to make a strong case for an Opening Day roster spot, along with Yamaico Navarro, who went 1-4 today.

The Twins won the game, 15-3.

Similar to Correia (but not quite to that extent), Erik Bedard struggled in his start today, giving up four runs on five hits, including two homeruns.  His ERA sits at 5.03 right now, and even though this is just Spring Training, this is not the way one of the top pitchers in the Pirates’ rotation needs to throwing as we approach Opening Day.

Joel Hanrahan gave up a run today, while Chris Leroux had a solid one inning of relief, striking out two batters without giving up a single hit.

Garrett Jones had a homerun (his fourth of the spring) and two RBI’s, while Rod Barajas and Casey McGehee had a pair of hits a piece.  Clint Barmes and Alex Presley each had a hit as well, including Presley’s solo homerun.

The Bucs and Orioles played to a 6-6 tie. 

The Pirates will face the Toronto Blue Jays tomorrow afternoon before heading to Philadelphia for the final two exhibition games against the Phillies.

Grapefruit League:  8-18-2

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Pirates-Rays End Game In A Tie?

Photo by AP
by Zane Heiple

Well I guess the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays forgot to post their lineups for the shootout before the first pitch today, as their game ended in a 3-3 tie.  This is the only time of year where one can see a baseball game end like this and with the way the Buccos have been playing maybe this was for the best.

Pitching for Pittsburgh today was strictly done by bullpen and minor league players.  The bullpen grouping of Tony Watson, Jason Grilli and Chris Resop shutdown the bats of Tampa.  Watson and Grilli each pitched two scoreless innings, while Resop threw one shutout inning.  The Rays were able to get to Brad Lincoln in the seventh inning touching him up for three runs.  Tim Alderson then came in for the final two innings allowing zero runs on two hits.

Offensively for the Pirates Casey McGehee and Matt Hague led the way.  Each would go 2-4, with McGhee bringing one run home on a solo shot in the first and Hague bringing in two on a home run in the seventh.  Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker had a rough go of it at the plate going 0-4 each.

Always good to see some quality innings from the bullpen guys as I am sure they will be leaned upon heavily this season.  Pittsburgh will have a split squad game tomorrow.  One game will see Erik Bedard at home against the Baltimore Orioles, while the other will be against the Minnesota Twins on the road with Kevin Correia starting.  First pitch for both games is scheduled for 1:05.

Grapefruit League Record 8-17-1

And...

As Always...

Let's Go Bucs!