Friday, July 23, 2004

Games 94, 95, and 96: Acevedo, Harang, and Claussen

G'damnit, five back again. If the Bucs lose tonight and slide to six back again, I'll pull some of my hair out.

The Reds send some of the usual suspects to the mound in this series.

Acevedo is a little guy (for a pitcher) who is pretty close to leading the league in home runs allowed. The only thing holding him back is ineffectiveness; he trails only Matt Morris, Eric Milton, and Greg Maddux in HR allowed.

Aaron Harang has been pretty effective since we saw him last. He's a huge goon who doesn't strike out lots of guys. Craig Wilson should be happy to see him.

Brandon Claussen is a 25-year-old finesse lefty the Reds got from the Yankees. He has pitched seven good innings. New to the league, he could have continued success as hitters try to figure him out. Fans attending Sunday's game are in for a treat since they'll be able to compare Sean Burnett against comparable rookie starters.

I doubt I'll be back until Monday, but those doubts mean little since a week ago I was doubting I'd be back before the end of the month. Let's go Bucs.

He who speaks ill of the horse, will buy him

I guess Bobby Cox isn't getting Kris Benson:

"You hear a lot of rumors about him going to other places, and you can see why," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said after watching Benson stifle his team Wednesday night. "Scouts seeing him [Wednesday night] would have liked him an awful lot." Benson allowed five hits in eight innings against the Braves. "He throws strikes and attacks hitters," Atlanta catcher Johnny Estrada said. "He's got a live fastball and a good slider, and he pitches inside a lot. And he kind of 'short-arms' the ball. A lot of guys were coming back to the dugout saying they were having trouble picking the ball up."

That's from Paul Meyer's notebook. Speaking of Paul Meyer, I think I missed his Q&A this week. We'll catch up with it next week. Those things are great.

Good idea

Great column today from Gene Collier.

I know at least one family of Steeler fans who'd like to leave Honolulu and live in Pittsburgh.

Cook on patriotism at the ballpark

Many people who have lived in less free societies love America because only in free societies can the patriotism be optional. That's another thing to add to Ron Cook's latest.

Generally speaking, you won't find politics or off-topic posts here because we believe you came to this site for one reason. And it would dilute your enjoyment to find something else here. A fan is a person who goes where the fans go when the fan has a spare dollar or a spare hour. The more diverse the crowd of fans, the better I think. Sports should bring people together. If you start to put conditions on being a fan - you also have to support this, or you also have to believe that - then you are working toward a more homogenous group of fans and it will be less fun (because less surprising) to go and join that group of fans.

How's that for a ass-backwards explanation for a homogenous blog?

You people can fight all you want in the comments, and maybe we'll join in, but we won't make readers feel that certain political beliefs are a prerequisite for getting in the door and getting a good seat for the action and a good cup of good beer.

If it ain't first, it ain't first.

Thus spoke Moses:

"Who gives a shit if you're second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth? If it ain't first, it ain't first," he said.

Place in the standings is not as important as overall win and loss record. I trust Mac senses the danger in this comment, though. You can't let the players think there's no difference between winning 67 and 73 and 76 games. Each win makes the final record exponentially better. Winning courts winning. Speaking of which, I'd like to see some winning this weekend.

[Ed. note: I restored the profanity. Mac seems to like the word "shit" so I put it in there for the bleep of the Trib editors. Mac can thank me later.]

Benson lives in Georgia

This is better for the grumblers who get upset because his wife calls in to the radio. Steve Novotney has the story.

Under radar

Anyone else notice the lack of the steeler's presence in any national preseason NFL discussions? Under the radar is a great place for the steelers to be going into training camp. Reminds me of 2001.  Fair to say it will be Cowher's legacy that his teams underachieved when the national media expected them to win and overachieved when they weren't (a comment probably more on the expectations than on the team, but seems to be a correlation nonetheless).  Let's hope things stay true to form.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A is for Atlanta

The Pirates play a night-and-day with Atlanta and then it's bring on the nappy Reds.

The Braves are beating up the rest of the NL East, winning about 2 of 3 against division opponents to date. They are hot, coming off a 7-3 stretch, and they just split a pair with Philadelphia. Last night's game went to extra innings so we hope they're still tired when the ump cries, "Play ball," tonight.

Atlanta sports a dangerous lineup. Rafael Furcal, that speedy middle infielder, often leads off. Little Giles is back to play the sparkplug in the two hole. An improbably healthy J.D. Drew has been cleaning up from the third spot. He's among the league leaders in HR, R, BB, OBP, and SLG. Next comes the 2004 edition of Chipper Jones, which has been pretty maimed and ineffective against right-handed pitching. Then Johnny Estrada, the Prince of Doubles, and Andruw "Gold Club" Jones. Andruw is no Dorian Gray and I don't know, but, you ask me, he looks like that fast living has taken its toll. The Braves also get tremendous production from two platoons. Adam Laroche and John Franco man first and Eli Marrero and Charles Thomas, a recent call-up who's been fantastic, alternate in the outfield.

Kris Benson couldn't ask for a better audition. GMs all over the league will want to see if he can carve up a lineup that is about as good as any in baseball. Atlanta counters with Paul Byrd, who has missed a lot of time with injury.

Tomorrow it's Kip Wells and Russ Ortiz, Atlanta's 11-game winner.

B is for Bay

Speaking of Jason Bay, he has five Ks in his last seven at-bats. The ROY competition is still wide open for sure.

Time for another sit down with the good king of quality hitting, Randall Simon?

Maybe Bay will sit tonight for Alvarez.

C is for Control

Sean Burnett has pitched forty-five innings and given up zero home runs.

Jose Mesa has allowed one in forty innings; Brian Meadows has allowed one in forty-four.

I do believe Sean Burnett leads the majors for most innings without a home run allowed. Say what you want about the lack of strikeouts, the lack of gopher balls also deserves notice.

Jason Bay may have some competition for ROY before the year is done.

D is for Dominant

Mike Gonzalez: seventeen innings, twenty strikeouts, four walks, ten hits. Throws left-handed too.

If he can do that for fifty or sixty innings, then I think we have a closer.

E is for Eyeopener

Stolen bases are one of those things - like the hit-and-run or the sacrifice bunt - that we associate with the National League style of play. They've taken a beating, too, from many serious and many more amateur sabermetricians as old-fashioned and more exciting than genuinely useful.

Look at the MLB standings for steals, however, and you see that the five teams with fewer than 30 steals are all members of the National League. The Rockies, the Cubs, the Astros, the Gents, and the D'Backs trail the big leagues in steals. How can so many NL teams abandon the steal?

The Pirates have 39 steals - the same number as Texas. Going into last night, they were tied with Boston at 38.

Mac and DL often talk about finding better players. It's no secret that they hope to make better players. One area that needs work is the steal. The Pirates have only converted sixty percent of their chances this year. They have to do better than that. The Mets, Philadelphia, Seattle, Anaheim, and Cincinnati are all converting 75% or better.

Who needs to get better? Jason Kendall (8-for-15, 53%) and Bobby Hill (0-for-3, 0%) are the only players with three or more attempts and a lousy success rate. Rob Mackowiak is 10-for-13. Redman hasn't had as many attempts as we expected from him going into the season, but his success rate isn't so bad that a good steal or two won't make it look a lot better.

F is for Florida

The East is locked up and the only doormat there, Montreal, has been playing better of late.

The contending teams are bunched up near .500. Put Florida or New York in the NL Central and they are 12 games out of first. New York is fading - they've won only 3 of the last 10 - and they have Ty Wigginton injuring Mike Piazza between unlikely home runs. Florida and Philadelphia will play 11 of their remaining seventy games against each other.

Looks to me like the NL wild card is sure to come out of the West.

G on the Gad

Why are we playing another series of two games?

H is for Home Field

In this morning's USA Today, the Steelers are listed as three point favorites in the home opener. That is going to change I think.

We'll be taking the Steelers.

I is for Idiocy

Hard to believe someone would open his mouth to even suggest such a thing.

Pops hails from Earlsboro, Oklahoma. Shall we cancel a four-game PNC homestand to play games at Earlsboro High?

M is for Miracle

People often use the "m" word to describe things McClatchy has done lately. Hyperbolic? You decide. Steve Novotney makes the case here.

J is for Jeering

Chuck Finder breaks down a recent study by the Philadelphia-based Center for Sport Psychology describing the different fans of different areas. Finder has a little fun ventriloquizing the Pittsburgh fan as an illiterate moron. This is ironic since an ESPN study praised Pittsburgh's fans for having the country's highest "Sports IQ."

Overall rankings of such things are stupid, really stupid, but the information revealed in the details of such a study can be illuminating. Unfortunately, I can't find a copy of the study on the web though it looks like every sports page in America has their own take on what the study says about the fans of their region.

K is for Strikeout

The 24-year-old Brad Eldred struck out 97 times in 334 at-bats.

Strikeouts are less of a worry with power guys since they don't shorten up with two strikes. But one in a three is a lot for a 24-year-old in A ball, don't you think?

For the AA Reading Phillies, 24-year-old first-base slugger Ryan Howard has 117 strikeouts in 346 at-bats.

L is for Eldred

First-base slugger Brad Eldred promoted from Lynchburg to Altoona today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Game 91, Livan Hernandez at Sean Burnett

After 90 games, the Bucs are still banging against a ceiling of six games under .500. If they finish there, of course, they repeat last year's record of 75 wins. They have to do better than that. Hopefully they avoid another losing streak and start another winning streak after treading water for half a week or so.

Livan Hernandez is a 6'2", 240-pound right-handed horse. The man routinely throws a ton of pitches but he averages under 16 per inning. Jason Schmidt and Curt Schilling have similar numbers on the season and per inning. This means that Livan runs up his pitch count for the season by (a) being effective and (b) staying healthy. He's hit hard sometimes but he's rarely injured. It's not clear to me what he's doing on the Expos. He could be grade A trade bait on a team with Montreal's record. Last April he signed a three-year, $21-million deal with Montreal and there he is today.

After throwing a complete-game shutout against the Blue Jays, Hernandez was pounded in back-to-back starts against the Braves. He allowed thirteen earned runs in six and a third innings. He should be primed to rebound tonight.

Sean Burnett could use some help from his infielders tonight. Any chance Simon sits against the big veteran righthander?

Randall Simon

Simon can't explain slump. No comment.

Keeping Benson

It could happen. Starkey doesn't think so, but it could happen. I think it comes down to Wells or Benson and right now, I'd keep Benson. Who cares what Jack Wilson says.

Torres at the movies

While Torres enjoys his vacation waits out his suspension, I wonder what movies he's catching with his wife.

Youth served

Kill the line about the Pirates not playing or wanting to play rookies. It's not true, as John Perrotto reports.

Steve returns

After an All-Star break vacation (from the web at least), Steve Novotney is back with a report on second-half things.

2006 All-Star game in PNC Park

Halleloogy - the AP reports the Pirates will host the 2006 All-Star game. Lots of coverage of this all over the usual Pirates outlets.

By 2006 we should have what, three, four, five, or six starters in the All-Star game?

Jose Mesa

The Cardinals are looking for right-handed relief help (second story right now, "Redbirds focus on middle relief"). I'm sure other teams are looking at him as well.

Mesa does best when handled consistently and respectfully. No bringing him in for "work" in non-save opps, no mouthing off about him doing what you'll say he'll do in the newspapers. He's been great as a Pirate and for that reason, I hope he sticks around.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Salomon Torres

Mac acknowledges him as a closer-in-waiting.

Do you think the Pirates will (a) bring back Mesa for 2005, (b) hire another "Proven Closer" for about $1M to do it in 2005, or (c) let Torres handle the job?

...Torres has eight years of MLB experience and he's making 775K this year. If he closes the last two months of the season, he'd be due for some kind of raise to come back next year. I could be wrong, but I don't think he's signed for 2005.

Tike Redman up to .252

Still has a lot of work to do on that on-base percentage, however. He hit .274 in June and he's hitting .300 in July but the OBP hasn't crossed .300 for the same period. Not good for someone the team half-expects to hit leadoff.

One thing at a time, I guess.

Congratulations, Papa Ward

Daryle Ward had a baby. We look forward to seeing what his pop can do when he comes back from his rehab assignment.

All hail Bobby Hill

Hard not to like Bob Dvorchak's recap today.

Billy Koch's response is pretty classic and classless:

"Nothing against him, but he's not a home run hitter," Koch said. "Give up a home run to a slap hitter with a tie score, it's not good. What's that? His second career home run?"

Ten in a row at home goes down like a tall drink of water after wandering months and years in the desert. If you look at the win-loss records of all the teams in the NL Central, Pittsburgh stands out, in a bad way. Very heartening to see this changing and changing fast.

One of us

The Pirates put the Marlins below .500.