And there's your 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates for April 2, 2007.
Please make predictions in the end-of-spring poll thread.
So I was at lunch today, by myself, after doing a whole bunch of work all morning, at a fairly swanky establishment. I ordered an over-the-top deluxe sandwich and step over to the cooler to select a beverage.
In the back of my mind, I am thinking about the Pirates and wondering what will come of them. I am scanning the rows of beverages absent-mindedly. My eye is looking for something--I don't know what. There are a few remaining roster cuts, but so far as I can tell they are predictable.
Then it happens: Latrobe, Pa. Yes! I nearly fall to me knees in gratitude. I find a somewhat stale Rolling Rock from last summer waiting for me in that original Latrobe, Pa. bottle. Hallelujah!
Next I felt a Spiritual Presence beside me--like an old friend had slipped down from the heavens to stand beside me with a pleasant smile. Yeah, like that.
It was a good lunch.
Oh, and in other news, the Pirates cut Jose Hernandez today. So long, Jose.
I also see, as Dejan Kovacevic explains, that "they have Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Humberto Cota, Brad Eldred, Don Kelly and Jose Castillo as six players for five bench openings, pending a decision on second baseman Freddy Sanchez's status." I like Don Kelly and see him as the next Mackowiak. I mean that in a good way. Cota never appears to call a good game and he can't hit too much, so I would cut him, but I'm not the decider and I acknowledge the Pirates can't go wrong choosing five of these six.
...it appears Don Kelly made the team for sure. Congratulations, Don Kelly!
Dejan Kovacevic distinguishes between the ceiling for our young talent and that of, say, the Marlins.
I think this has little to do with whether or not the Pirates can win half their games this year.
It is true that the perennial All-Stars tend to share a profile. They are very good when very young. The Marlins have more players that fit that profile.
Still, not many youngsters who are very good when they are very young go on to become perennial All-Stars.
And most major-league players have short careers. Most major-leaguers peak at an above-average level for only a few years.
The Pirates do not need a team of perennial All-Stars to eclipse the .500 mark.
They need a few players to peak at an above-average level for not even a few years, but just one year.
Are the Pirates close to becoming a New York Yankees-style dynasty? That is one question.
Are the Pirates capable of winning 82 or 90 games in 2007? That is a very different question.
Any of the players on the roster could hit at Albert Pujols level for four weeks. We all know that. And if and when they do, we'll all be pinching ourselves and reminding ourselves that this does not mean they are a perennial All-Star.
And sometimes that four weeks is all it takes for a mediocre player to turn in the above-average season. I'd prefer steady improvement to a sudden freaky streaky outburst of high performance, but the Pirates, like any team, will take what they can get.
So I disagree with the idea that the perceived low ceiling of our young players has much to do with whether or not they can achieve the mediocre goal of a mediocre .500 season playing in a relatively weak division.
In it, I see he passes an early test for me:
He also began revealing his plans for the Steelers in 2007 and what he thinks of some of his players. Yesterday, for instance, he publicly committed for the first time to staying with a 3-4 as his base defense next season.
"I know what it does to offenses, I really do," Tomlin said. "It's all about the personnel you have. We have the best 3-4 people in the world, I think. That's what we're going to do."
The more Tomlin looked at the way the Steelers played the 3-4, the more it convinced him to stick with it under coordinator Dick LeBeau rather than try to convert to a 4-3 Tampa 2, the type he coached with the Buccaneers and the Minnesota Vikings.
"To me, I was excited because I came into this league, a mecca, if you will, for the 4-3 defense in the Tampa 2, working with Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin," Tomlin said. "Now, I'm working every day with what I believe to be the mecca for a 3-4. If you look at my growth development as a coach, man, it doesn't get any better than that. To be around Monte Kiffin and Dick LeBeau, I think you guys will agree with that. It doesn't get any better than that."
Any coach who inherits a team with Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu and switches to a 4-3 is, to be blunt, an idiot. There are fewer than ten nose tackles in the world capable of making the 3-4 work, and the Steelers have one of the best, if not the best. While Hampton does the work of two men, Polamalu does what he does.
That's how I understand it. Maybe I'm the idiot. No wait--listen to Coach Tomlin. Maybe I'm right about that.
I learned a lot about life and baseball playing fantasy baseball fairly intensively in the late 90s and early 00s. One thing I learned, and one thing I now remember, is that Jose Hernandez does not hit well in cold weather. I even recall him saying something to that effect in a published report somewhere.
Is this true? Are his hot-weather/cold-weather splits dramatic? Does he still talk like he's not The Man for 40-degree baseball?
... ok, so lots of players don't like playing in cold weather. Back in I think 2001 and 2002 there was some bitter cold weather in the midwest into May, and Hernandez was not starting those seasons strong. Still, if he made that comment back when he was with the Cubs or the Brewers, it may not have been all that signficant.
John Perrotto summarizes the spring.
Is Freddy's footwork that bad at second? I have always brushed off the suggestion that he's unqualified to play second base, and the talk of taking unnecessary risks has struck me as silly hand-wringing. Now Perrotto's article has me wobbling on the issue.
But heck, let's see if Freddy can play tomorrow.
Paul Lukas writes down everything you need to know, and some things you did not need to know, about the uniform changes around the league.
Be sure to click through for the picture on the "embarrassing new batting practice hats." It's worth it.
No more wool caps? Only polyester ones? Did I read that right? That's a stunner.
I'm sure the polyester hats will be much cheaper to make. And I'm sure the price will stay the same or go up. When they say that "wool is not a performance fabric," that's like saying, "oak is not a performance lumber." These people think you are stupid.
No more wool hats. Is nothing sacred?
Danny Kolb will make the team.
Dejan Kovacevic reports on the cuts.
The best-case scenario for Danny Kolb is something like Rick White 2005. I will not forget opening day 2005. Oliver Perez in trouble, Pirates down by only a few runs, and McClendon brought in Rick White. Play to win these games, I thought at the time. April offers the most valuable opportunity in all the season for a team with so many consecutive years of losing. White, true to spring from, stank it up and the Pirates lost 9-2. Then he went on to be one of the better relievers that season.
Welcome back, Dejan Kovacevic. DK writes:
This is how they will set up, in order, for the Pirates' first two series: Duke, Snell and Gorzelanny will pitch in Houston. Maholm, Duke and Armas will pitch in Cincinnati. And Snell will have the home opener April 9 against St. Louis.
Tracy said Gorzelanny was moved ahead of Maholm because he matches up better with Houston. Gorzelanny is 0-3 with a 5.19 ERA against the Astros, Maholm 1-2 with a 6.53 ERA."
The first sixteen games of the season will go a long way toward setting the tone for the 2007 season. If the Pirates start out 10-6, they can play .450 ball for a month and folks will still be moderately satisfied. If they start out 0-6 or, God help us, 5-11, then we're going to be pissed if Gorzelanny lost two or three of those games pitching like the non-beer-drinking self we've seen this month.
Bob Walk went on and on at the end of the broadcast how there's never an open competition for anything going into Spring Training, how year after year teams say this, how year after year they more or less bring the team they decided they would bring in mid-February. We'll see what happens.
Once a year the Pirates have a chance to establish themselves as a competitive ball club. The only sign that a team is competitive is the standings. Once a team falls six or ten games below .500, they are deluding themselves if they think they are regarded as a competitive team. The Pirates screwed up 2006 with the 0-6 and 30-60 (!!) start. They have been kidding themselves, or simply selling tickets, when they talk like the .501 second half did anything to improve their reputation nationally.
So here's to hoping they bring their very best for the first half of April. It's important if this team wants to establish some credibility as a competitive ballclub.
Tom Gorzelanny will face Wiggy and the D'Rays at one.
... word from the broadcast booth is that Freddy Sanchez could open the season on the DL. Jose Castillo would start at second in that case.
... and Littlefield said (the booth reports) that the team has not decided to carry two or three catchers. Doumit has an option left, he said.
... and Littlefield also said (the booth reports) that Castillo will make the team either way. If he is not starting for the injured Freddy Sanchez, then he makes the team as a utility infielder.
... Pirates have played awful today. At the plate, they have made Jay Seo look like Greg Maddux. In the field, they have played like clowns.
... Pirates still have 35 players in camp after DeCaster, Brower, and McCutchen were cut today.
... Eldred 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.