Springtime Storylines: Wait! What's that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: A team they used to call the Buccos, but no one seems to do anymore.


The
big question: Wait! What’s that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

You know what? I think so.  Yes, the Pirates have attempted to rebuild and tear down multiple times since the early 90s, but I’m kinda hopeful now for some reason. They won’t be winning anything anytime soon — in fact, I think they may have the worst record in baseball this year — but at least they allowed themselves to hit bottom and have stopped drafting like total morons in recent years.

The hope comes in the form of two guys right now: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. McCutcheon seems like he’s been around forever because he was drafted in 2005 alongside some guys who have been in the bigs for a while such as Jay Bruce, but he’s still only 23. That extra time may have done him some good. While Bruce is still searching for his stroke, McCutcheon came up last year and posted a .286/.365/.471 line and seems poised to for some truly great things.

Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBI across A and AA ball last year. He may or may not stick at third base and he may or may not see any time in Pittsburgh this year, but he’s got a ton of raw power and actually improved after his promotion in 2009.

Overall the Pirates are improving the organization. Nothing fantastic is happening right now and the big league club is going to be pretty horrendous, but the question I asked was “is there hope?”  The answer is yes.

So
what
else is
going on?

  • I’ll admit that I didn’t watch a ton of Pirates’ games last year, but I was kinda surprised to look at the Pirates Baseball-Reference.com page and see that their four primary starters — Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton — all had quite respectable ERAs in 2009, with the highest being Morton’s 4.55.  That’s better than I thought, and having Octavio Dotel in the pen is an improvement over Matt Capps.
  • But even if the rotation is acceptable, they’re not going to get a ton of help from their defense. Jack Wilson and Nyjer Morgan are gone and apart from McCutcheon in center, there isn’t a lot of leather on this team.
  • One smart thing the Pirates have done recently is to become the island of misfit toys. Taking chances on guys who crashed and burned or simply weren’t given opportunities elsewhere — think: Lastings Milledge and to lesser degrees Jeff Clement and Andy LaRoche — is probably a pretty decent strategy for a team in the Pirates’ position on the success cycle.  Why not take a chance on Elijah Dukes at this point? Zero downside so you can release him if he’s a headache, and if he turns into anything, flip the guy.
  • Misfit toys aside, this is going to be a pretty brutal offense. A healthy Ryan Doumit will be nice and the blossoming of McCutcheon could make things better, but overall there’s no reason to think that they’ll do much to improve what was a league worst offense.

So
how
are they gonna do?

Arguably respectable pitching + poor defense + poor hitting = a pretty bad team. The Buccos are going to lose a lot of games this year, no question. But like I said, there is hope, and if the teams keeps drafting well they could be genuinely competitive in a few years.  Given how bad things have been since, oh, December 8, 1992, that has to count for something.

Prediction: Sixth place, NL Central.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Red Sox 9, Indians 1: Doug Fister put forth a dogged performance last night, tossing a complete game one hitter, with his only mistake a leadoff solo homer surrendered to Francisco Lindor in the third pitch of the game. After that: nine full innings of no-hit ball which doesn’t technically count for anything special but which was pretty darn cool all the same. Eduardo Nunez drove in five behind him with a three-run homer and a two-run double. Jackie Bradley, Jr. doubled. Fister, however, was obviously the top dog here.

Yankees 13, Tigers 4: Since the Rays’ Logan Morrison said that Sanchez should not be in the Home Run Derby Sanchez has hit 12 dingers to Morrison’s five. Last night Sanchez homered twice. One of them went nearly 500 dang feet. I’d say he’s vindicating the choice pretty well. Masahiro Tanaka allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings in his first appearance since hitting the DL with shoulder inflammation. Nicholas Castellanos hit two homers in a losing cause for Detroit, including an inside-the-park homer with two outs in the ninth, giving the masochists sho hung around something to cheer for.

Cubs 13, Reds 9: A weird day for Chicago: Ben Zobrist was scratched from the starting lineup because he was late getting back from an offday in Nashville because he misplaced his rental car. There’s probably more to that story but let’s leave it go for now. Late in the game Kris Bryant suffered a minor injury which caused Joe Maddon to put Anthony Rizzo at third base for an inning because it was “fun.” Really:

“Looking at it, the only thing left was (catcher Alex) Avila at third, which is no fun, or Rizzo at third and Avila at first, which is fun, and that’s why we did it,” Maddon said.

Oh that wacky Joe Maddon.

As for the game, the Cubs were down 6-3 after five innings but rallied for ten runs in the final four to win it going away. Zobrist hit a double as a pinch hitter late. No word on whether he got lost on the way back to the team hotel.

Dodgers 8, Pirates 5: The Dodgers used six pitchers in the game without any of them going more than two innings. Their disabled list — the disabled list! — right now has a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Wood, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Yu Darvish and Julio Urias. Doesn’t matter, though. Nothing seems to stop them. Here the offense propelled them. Chris Taylor had three hits and drove in three runs. Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer. In the sixth, Adrian Gonzalez got his 2,000th career hit and was promptly knocked in by Corey Seager to put the Dodgers up for good.

Marlins 12, Phillies 8; Marlins 7, Phillies 4: This doubleheader was a home run fest, as the teams combined for 14 bombs in the two games. Giancarlo Stanton hit his 46th homer and Ichiro — Ichiro? — hit a pinch-hit three-run bomb in the first game. Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto hit homers too. In the nightcap Ozuna went deep again and Christian Yelich joined him. Yelich likewise robbed the Phillies’ Nick Williams of a homer with a sweet grab over the fence.

Athletics 6, Orioles 4: Ryon Healy hit two homers and Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis joined him. Three of those homers came off of Ubaldo Jimenez, who has given up 29 this year. A’s starter Paul Blackburn was cruising with four shutout innings under his belt when he was hit on the wrist by a comebacker in the fifth and was forced to leave the game. X-rays came back negative, however, which is a positive.

Diamondbacks 7, Mets 4: J.D. Martinez hit a first inning three-run homer and Patrick Corbin allowed one run on four hits over eight innings. Reliever Matt Koch struggled in the ninth, allowing three runs, which set the stage for Fernando Rodney to get a cheap as hell save by tossing only two pitches.

Rays 6, Blue Jays 5: Chris Archer struck out ten in six innings and Lucas Duda and Corey Dickerson homered. This is, based on just my gut, having done the recaps, as opposed to looking at the actual schedule, the 135th time the Rays and Jays have played this season.

Braves 4, Mariners 0: Lucas Sims allowed three runs over six shutout innings and three relievers completed the blanking. Nick Markakis homered and singled in a run. The Braves also scored on a play that featured multiple rundowns:

I wish I could hear Skip Caray call that one.

Twins 4, White Sox 1Jorge Polanco homered for the third time in two days and Kyle Gibson turned in his best start of the season, allowing one run over seven while striking out eight. If the season ended today the Twins would be the AL’s second Wild Card team. Also if the season ended today, the World Series would take place in September, which would be hella weird.

Nationals 4, Astros 3: Howie Kendrick tripled in two and Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer as the Nats came back from an early 2-0 deficit. The Nats don’t play the Astros often, but they have beaten them in nine straight meetings dating back to 2012. It’s 13 of 14 if you count back to 2011. Houston was in the NL in 2011 and 2012, of course. They should still be there but I suppose that’s the topic of another rant.

Royals 3, Rockies 2: The Indians scored one run on only one hit in their loss to Boston. The Rockies scored two runs on two hits in their loss to Kansas City. Here Danny Duffy allowed only one hit, but it was a two-run homer to Nolan Arenado, which followed a walk. By then the Royals had scored three thanks to a passed ball, an infield single and an RBI double. After that four Royals relievers kept Colorado hitless for the final three frames.

Padres 12, Cardinals 4Yangervis Solarte drove in six runs thanks to a couple of RBI doubles — one which cleared the bases — and a two-run homer. Austin Hedges added a two-run homer and Matt Szczur singled in a couple as the Padres romped. They were getting a lot of bad mojo out of their system, too. Coming in to this game the Padres had scored only six runs over their previous four games combined and Solarte had only driven in six runs in the previous two weeks.

Angels 10, Rangers 1Albert Pujols hit his 610th career homer — a three-run shot — passing Sammy Sosa for 8th on all-time list, and for first on the all-time list for homers from a foreign-born player. He also doubled in a run. Ricky Nolasco only allowed one run but couldn’t make it five innings, so he didn’t get the win. Three Angels relievers shut Texas out over the final four and a third, however.

Brewers 4, Giants 3: Travis Shaw hit a two-out double in the seventh inning to bring the Brewers back from behind and give manager Craig Counsel his 200th win. The Giants are bad, folks.

Aaron Judge’s record strikeout streak ends at 37 games

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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For the first time in a month and a half, Aaron Judge went an entire game without striking out, ending his record streak at 37 games. Judge had an RBI single and three walks in Tuesday night’s 13-4 victory over the Tigers.

Judge went 1-for-4 with a solo home run and zero strikeouts in a 9-4 loss to the Brewers on July 7. Between July 8 and August 20, Judge would strike out in all 37 games, breaking the record previously held by Adam Dunn, who struck out in the first 32 games of the 2012 season. If one counted streaks extending into multiple seasons, Dunn held the record at 36 games as he struck out in his final four games in 2011 as well.

After Tuesday’s performance, Judge is now hitting .284/.417/.594 with 37 home runs, 81 RBI, and 93 runs scored in 525 plate appearances on the season. He’s had a particularly rough second half, as he entered Tuesday with a .684 OPS since the All-Star break, a far cry from his 1.139 OPS before the break.