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What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday’s action

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Jameson Taillon, your city needs you. The 67-69 Pirates have lost eight games in a row, falling an insurmountable 21 games out of first place in the NL Central. They’re also now 5.5 games out of the second NL Wild Card slot and even the injury-plagued Mets are closer to that than the Pirates are.

The Pirates, simply, haven’t been hitting. While they scored seven runs in Tuesday’s loss and six runs in Monday’s loss, the club has been shut out three times during their current eight-game skid, including twice by the lowly Brewers. The pitching has been abysmal, yielding an aggregate 38 runs over their last four games.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the team’s failure, however, may be closer Tony Watson. The Pirates traded soon-to-be free agent Mark Melancon to the Nationals on July 30, opening up the door for Watson to take over as the closer. To that point, Watson had a 2.64 ERA and a 39/15 K/BB ratio in 44 1/3 innings, mostly serving as the set-up man for Melancon. Since taking over as the closer, Watson has a 5.02 ERA and a 10/5 K/BB ratio in 14 1/3 innings. He’s given up five home runs, including three in the ninth inning on Tuesday night to the Cardinals in a devastating 9-7 loss.

There are 26 games left in the regular season for the Pirates. Let’s hypothetically and very generously say they go 16-10 (.615), putting them at 83-79. They would need the Giants to go 8-16 (.333) or worse or the Cardinals to go 9-16 (.360) or worse, and the Mets to go 9-14 (.391) or worse. Furthermore, the Marlins (six games out) could win no more than 14 of their remaining 23 games (.607). Similarly, the Rockies (7.5 games out) could win no more than 16 of their remaining 24 (.667). In other words, in order for the Pirates to sneak into the postseason, they need four out of five teams in the NL Wild Card race to hit the skids starting now.

Note: Records used are prior to Wednesday afternoon’s games.

The odds are against them, but stranger things have happened in September. Ask the 2007 Mets. Taillon starts for the Buccos tonight at home against the Cardinals’ Mike Leake in a 7:05 PM EDT start.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Atlanta Braves (Mike Foltynewicz) @ Washington Nationals (Stephen Strasburg), 7:05 PM EDT

Toronto Blue Jays (Marcus Stroman) @ New York Yankees (Bryan Mitchell), 7:05 PM EDT

Houston Astros (Doug Fister) @ Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ Miami Marlins (Andrew Cashner), 7:10 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Mike Montgomery) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Matt Garza), 8:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Danny Duffy) @ Minnesota Twins (Kyle Gibson), 8:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Albert Suarez) @ Colorado Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa), 8:40 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (David Price) @ San Diego Padres (Jarred Cosart), 9:10 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Brock Stewart), 10:10 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (A.J. Griffin) @ Seattle Mariners (Ariel Miranda), 10:10 PM EDT

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”