Pittsburgh Pirates: Year in Review

Another year of baseball has come and gone for 22 cities. This one was a very noteworthy one for the beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. They gave their fans a taste of first place in July for the first time since 1992. Although they completely collapsed down the stretch, they finished with their best record (72-90) since 2004.

Instead of focusing on the huge negative that is the team’s 19th consecutive losing season, I’m going to take this space to focus on the memories that this season left me with by thanking the players. There were plenty.

Joel Hanrahan- Thank you for being the shut-down closer this team envisioned you being when they traded for you in 2009. I’d take you over Nyjer Morgan in a heartbeat.

Pedro Alvarez- Thank you for keeping it cool this year, even though it was a lost year. You took a nearly radioactive situation with your struggles and the reaction of the fan base and kept it from getting out of control. Clear your head up and come back ready in 2012. We need you.

Jose Tabata- Thank you so much for having a love for the Pirate franchise. It showed when you signed your extension this summer. You know the great history of this team and want to be a part of it. How can you not like that?

Paul Maholm- Even though this was most likely your last year with the club, thank you for being a great pitcher to watch during your time here. No matter what kind of crap you were faced with, you took the ball and tried to do your job to the best of your ability every time out. Not one complaint or excuse. It’s something I feel the younger pitchers fed off of.

Jeff Karstens- Thank you for showing in this era of obsession over power arms that a pitcher with control can get the job done too. Keep up the good work.

Michael McKenry- Thank you for making grown men cry on the night of July 8th, 2011 just by hitting a home run. Seriously.

Charlie Morton- Thank you for not giving up when it seemed everyone else had done so. One of the best stories of this season.

James McDonald- Thank you for being the lighthearted guy on the team. Your goofing around even made the 10-0 losses watchable when they cut away to you and the other guys in the dugout.

Neil Walker- Thank you for carrying this team at times when no one else could get it going. You were a catalyst all year with clutch hitting. You are a fun player to cheer for.

Andrew McCutchen- Thank you for having the breakout season that we were waiting for. You are a true “star-level” talent and it showed this year. While you faded down the stretch, you are quickly turning heads in the baseball world.

Clint Hurdle- Thank you for coming into what many consider an impossible situation and bringing hope back to this fan base. Your interactions with fans and players have meant a lot and went a long way to bringing back the positive vibes this young team desperately needed. You believed, so then we believed.

 

187 days until Opening Day 2012.

 

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Halfway home

It seems like yesterday that the Pirates were beginning the 2011 season. After Friday’s game, they reached the halfway point of the season. At the time I am typing this, they hold a 42-41 record that is lightyears beyond what anyone expected. Time to give some mid-season grades.

Offense

A main goal for the Pirates in 2011 was to improve their pathetic offense that averaged just 3.62 runs per game last year. Adding Matt Diaz to platoon in right field with Garrett Jones along with Lyle Overbay to add pop at first gave the team hope that they would be able to score more and take pressure off the pitchers.

So far in 2011, in 83 games the team has averaged just 3.87 runs per game which ranks well in the bottom third of the league. The problem is the team still has poor on-base and slugging numbers.

In 2010 the team had an on-base percentage of .304. This year the number is .310. While it is a slight improvement, it is still well below the league average. The hitters are not staying patient enough to draw walks along with hits. The strikeout numbers are very alarming too. Pirate batters have struck out

The Pirates lack power too. Their team slugging percentage of .354 is 14th in the National League and down from the .373 in 2010. They have hit just 53 home runs, which puts them on pace to have less than they did in 2010.

The general guide for all-around hitting, on-base plus slugging percentage is .664 which is also 14th in the National League. What this stat shows is that the team has some of the worst offensive production in the league.

Obviously, Overbay and Diaz have been disappointments. The fact Pedro Alvarez has done very little this year along with regression from Neil Walker hasn’t helped. With the offense banged up, the team will hopefully see more production when healthy. But to this point in the season, it has been pretty awful.

Grade: D+

Defense

Another goal for 2011 was better defense. The Pirates committed the most errors in the majors in 2010 and looked like a team of little leaguers most nights. That has changed quite a bit in 2011. Take Ronny Cedeno for example. In 2010 his Defensive Runs Saved Above Average (a metric that measures how many runs above or below average a player was worth to his team based on the number of plays made) was -15, meaning he cost the team 15 runs. In 2011, turn that around to a +8 so far, meaning he has saved the team 8 runs. This is very important since the Pirates don’t score much. Ronny has been one of the best defensive shortstops in the game so far this year and has taken a ton the pressure off the pitchers. Andrew McCutchen has also seen a tremendous increase as and many members of the team have improved as well.

There still have been some flaws that these metrics don’t cover. The defense from Lyle Overbay at first has been pretty terrible, and the Pirates still don’t have a catcher that can consistently play good defense behind the dish. The outfielders, primarily Andrew McCutchen, have had a devil of a time remembering what bases to throw to and how to hit cut off men. The addition of Xavier Paul has helped out in that regard. Either way, the defense has been tremendously better than in past years.

Grade: B+

Starting Pitching

Now we’re getting into the good stuff. Gone are the days of embarrassing outings with double digit runs allowed. Gone are the days of the revolving door of starters brought in for the heck of it. The Pirates rotation has established themselves as dependable thanks to the work of Pitching Coach Ray Searage and some pleasant surprises.

Kevin Correia was signed to be a serviceable starter that would just be average and round out the rotation. He has been anything but great, keeping the team in just about every game he has pitched and is one of three pitchers in the NL with 10 wins.

Jeff Karstens wasn’t in the rotation to start the year but an injury to Ross Ohlendorf gave him a chance. He has done more than take advantage of it, as he has an ERA that ranks in the top-10 of the league. By pounding the strike zone and a little luck, he is having a breakout season.

Charlie Morton was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2010. With the help of a tweak to his motion and a new sinker, he has made a complete 180 degree change. By keeping the ball on the ground and good defense, Charlie has established himself as a good pitcher night in and night out.

Paul Maholm, my pick to disappoint this year, hasn’t done so. A lack of run support during his starts has kept his record down, but for the most part he has shown up when he takes the mound.

James McDonald was picked by many to be the breakout pitcher for the Pirates. Unfortunately, he has been inefficient during starts and has control issues from time to time. Luckily for him, he has done a very good job limiting the damage. His stats are still much better than the average fifth starter.

All in all, the rotation is the reason this team is competitive. As long as it holds up the way it has, the team will be in the thick of things in the NL Central.

Grade: A

Bullpen

Another bright point for the team. We all know how dominant Joel Hanrahan has been converting all of his save opportunities. But credit is also due to the middle relief corps. Chris Resop and Jose Veras have been very good in set-up, and Daniel McCutchen has been a pleasant surprise in his move from starter to reliever. The team still lacks a true lefty that can get outs from those batters consistently, and Evan Meek’s arm troubles have led to a subpar campaign from him. But the good has outweighed the bad, and the team’s ability to shorten games has been invaluable to their success.

Grade: A-

Management

One of the big questions for 2011 was how this team would perform under new manager Clint Hurdle. The team has looked more motivated with the new skipper, and Hurdle holds the players accountable for their mistakes much more than John Russell. There are some parts to Hurdle’s strategies that baffle me. He likes using the sacrifice bunt, a lot even though it has been proven that bunts hurt more than they help in a lot of cases. He also has a weird way of managing his bullpen. He’ll put in left-handed pitchers to face left-handed batters, but then he’ll refuse to replace them when righties come to the plate. The team has also been reckless on the bases (as Hurdle likes having runners try to take the extra base), as only the Arizona Diamondbacks have been caught stealing more. Despite this, you can’t argue with results. The Pirates are still having their best season since 1999.

Grade B+

Summary

As mentioned before, the Pirates are having their best season in over a decade despite numerous injuries and holes. It certainly made for a fun first half of the season. If the pitching can hold up, and the offense comes around, I don’t see why the Pirates can’t keep competing in the weak NL Central. The only problem I have is thinking how good this team would be if they had close to a league average offense.

Overall Grade: B+

Four Games in Four Days: Pirates-Mets series

After turing in the dreaded Precision Language final early Thursday morning, I was free for the summer. After packing up and heading home, it was time to start enjoying my summer.

Lucky for me, the Pirates were wrapping up a season-long home stand with a four game series against the New York Mets. I have attended all games in a three game set before, but had never completed a four-game series. Here is a recap.

Friday

Back in the friendly confines of PNC Park for the first time in nearly 50 days (that’s a long time for a season ticket holder). It felt good to be back at my summer home. There was no one that I would rather have pitching my first game back than Charlie Morton.

He has been dynamite in 2011 for the Pirates, and he is always fun to watch. This night, however, the luck wouldn’t be on his side. The Mets took control early, and scored five runs in the fourth where every ball seemed to either drop in for a hit, or cause the Pirates to make an error. The offense that is suffering from many injuries couldn’t get anything started, and the Mets cruised to an easy 8-1 victory.

Despite that, it was a great night for a game

This guy, however, was put to sleep by the Pirates offensive woes.

Saturday

The next day’s game would be much more event-filled. I hadn’t gotten to see much batting practice so far in 2011, but today I got my chance. The gates opened at 4:30 for season ticket holders, and unlike other days, STHs get access to the whole bowl rather than just the bleachers. Since many had their sights focused on getting home run balls in left field, I picked the deserted seats down the third base line to get some snags.

I got my first ball shortly from pitching coach Ray Searage. Since the ball was close to where I was standing, and there was nobody else around, he had no choice but to throw it to me. At the same time, Jeff Karstents was trying to chuck some balls up to a kid with his mom in a suite in the upper deck. Since he came up short, the ball made it’s way down to me. I was able to throw it up to them. unbeknowst to me, there were some other kids up there too who also wanted balls. This is a nightmare for a ballhawk. Since I didn’t have any emotional attachment to the Searage ball I had a minute ago, I sent that one up. Pedro Ciriaco hit a ball into the 100 level seats down the line. A usher directed me to it, and it was ball number two on the day.

The Pirates ended practice shortly after, and the Mets came out to hit. I was still the only person down the baseline. Jose Reyes was the first to hit, and sent one of the first pitches he saw just over my head down the line. It landed in a seat a few rows back and I was able to pluck it up for ball number 3. Since the Mets players were ignoring the kids up above me, they began to call on me to throw yet another one up. Thinking on my feet, and not wanting to look like a jerk, I reached into my bag and threw up the Ciriaco ball. I didn’t want to get rid of the Reyes one I just got, he’s one of the best players that I’ve snagged a ball from. Jason Pridie of the Mets saw my act of goodwill and hooked me up shortly after.

With four balls on the day snagged, I got closer to the hitters to get better shots of them hitting.

After a little while, sluggers Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran were due up. I went out to the outfield seats to attempt to tie my career high of five baseballs. I played the less crowded right center field seats and waited for Beltran to hit one my way. He crushed a ball that I began to break back on toward the Riverwalk. I had overrun it and it was dropping short of me. A man with a glove dropped it into a handicapped seat at the top of the section. Another guy grabbing it pushed it to the seat where it rolled out. I got down and trapped it with my glove. A crazy fumblerooski to get my 5th ball.

I went to the bullpen to watch the pitchers warm up. The game featured an intriguing pitching match-up with the hard throwing James McDonald of the Pirates going against Met knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

I went to my seats to watch the game. It would be the first that Jason Bay had played in Pittsburgh since being traded in 2009. I could not understand for the life of me why Pirate “fans” booed him. He was always a class act and an all-star here. He never really did anything that ticked me off.

Later in the game I moved to seats closer to my parents who were attending the game. The third largest crowd in PNC Park history was on hand, primarily to see the post-game Skyblast show featuring the band Huey Lewis and the News.

The Pirates were able to get just enough offense. A two-run double by Andrew McCutchen was the difference. Despite getting hit hard, and struggling with his control at times, McDonald was able to keep the Mets in check.

Since all of the 39,000+ were sticking around, the atmosphere was really electric as Joel Hanrahan mowed down the Mets in the 9th to preserve the 3-2 victory.

The show after the game didn’t disappoint either. If you have never been to a Skyblast show before, I highly suggest you check one out. It is a big pyrotechnic extravaganza featuring fireworks and live music.

There were fireworks from every place you could imagine including the field, the barges on the river, the Roberto Clemente bridge, and the scoreboard.

Some were even fired off of the skyscrapers across the river.

Huey Lewis had a good show, though I wouldn’t rank it at the top of the ones I have seen. I must say I am really looking forward to when Train comes in August. There aren’t many better ways to spend seven dollars.

Here is my pull. I noticed how the balls the Mets used had the logos way off center and crooked.

Sunday

Yeah it was another forgettable game after a very good one the night before. Kevin Correia pitched very well, but came unglued in the 8th inning when the Mets blew the game open. The only excitement for the Pirates on offense came when Lyle Overbay flew out to deep center field. The firework controller thought it was a homer but it wasn’t even close. He launched them by mistake. Clint Hurdle was ejected after arguing that the center fielder Angel Pagan trapped the ball against the wall. It was yet another great day for baseball so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Monday

I could see the finish line. Attending four games in four days is quite a grind, and Monday’s would be the last one needed to complete the task. I wasn’t feeling batting practice, so I headed to the stadium for first pitch. It was a cool night that was dominated by another great outing from Pirate pitcher Paul Maholm who mowed down the Mets. I was also very impressed by the play of new catcher Mike McKenry who was acquired from the Red Sox just hours before the game. There were a couple of crazy plays including fielder interference that led to the first Pirate run, a home run by Brandon Wood, and a near triple play. Hanny shut it down for the 17th time in 17 chances. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorites. The game went very quick as it wasn’t even dark yet when the game was in it’s late stages. The city had a weird orange tint as the sun set.

I saw some good and saw some bad in my first game back, and I am looking forward to spending many more summer days and nights at the ballpark.

The Ecstasy and the Agony: Home Opener 2011

Picture this.

You’ve heard many great things from your friend about a certain girl or guy. They sound like a perfect match for you. You then finally get to meet this certain someone and they are far from what you have learned. You go running in the opposite direction.

I feel like the Pittsburgh Pirates are like that girl/guy you hear about.

They did great things on the road, starting the season 4-2. But when we get to see them in person, they laid an egg.

I was one of the 39,000+ that was at PNC Park today that witnessed the 7-1 whipping at the hands of the Colorado Rockies, but rather than focus on the negatives, like so many will, there were many great things that happened that made the day worthwhile.

I got to the stadium at 10:30. PNC gleamed in the morning sun.

I got into line and at 11:00 got into the stadium.

If you haven’t read my old blog much, you should know that I like to frequent batting practice at baseball games. There is nothing better than watching a 400 foot home run into your glove in the bleachers. Plus you get to have some cool experiences with the players in the meantime.

I’m usually worried about “getting on the board” early. However, I wouldn’t have to wait long. Just 8 minutes in, Matt Diaz bombed a home run that landed on the concrete area between the first and second deck of bleachers in left field. It took a high bounce landed halfway into the second deck and I ran up and picked it up.

(Photo taken after the fact)

Now that the pressure was off, I was able to loosen up. When the last group was up, Neil Walker hit a drive into left-center field. Though a lot of people played it in the front row, but it skipped past them. It came right to me. Two balls in 15 minutes! Couldn’t ask for a better day. I spent the rest of Pirates BP getting pics.

Josh Rodriguez

Steve Pearce (who would send the pitch .5 seconds afterwards right at me, almost breaking my camera)

It was also nice to catch up with the other batting practice regulars about what they were up to in the winter.

The beginning of the Rockies BP was quite boring, and my dad and brother met me. We then went to share the obligatory Opening Day feast of Primanti Brothers sandwiches. It could not have been a more beautiful day for baseball.

The pre-game ceremonies began with a nice tribute to former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner. Leading the Pirates to a World Series victory in 1979, he was beloved by all Pirate fans. Many members of that team were on hand, and an emotional Kent Tekulve gave a great speech. The scoreboard played this video montage.

They then unveiled a memorial in right-centerfield that will remain on the fence all season.

After the rest of the usual ceremonies it was time for the team introductions. The Rockies took their place along the first baseline, with plenty of boos for former Pirate manager Jim Tracy.

They along with the Parrot were looking in awe at this ridiculously stupid video that played before the Pirates introduction.

As Greg Brown introduced the Pirates one by one, I must say, it was the most electric of any Opening Day I have ever been to. Most of the stadium gave the team a standing ovation, giving every player from Andrew McCutchen to Michael Crotta a huge ovation. Unlike past years, the fans believe.

There are few things better in sports than the national anthem at a baseball team’s opener.

Paul Maholm throwing the first pitch at PNC Park in 2011

We all know how the game ended up, so I’ll share some photos. Here’s Jose Tabata.

Neil Walker

Lyle Overbay

Pedro Alvarez

Ryan Doumit

Garrett Jones

Cutch in centerfield

Esmil “Next Cy Young” Rogers

I had no idea Todd Helton still played baseball

Troy Tulowitzki

The Pirates are like the CBS of baseball when it comes to montages. This one aired before the team came to bat in the first and features the one of the new and always entertaining at bat pictures for 2011 at the end. Very cool.

Yesterday, the best and worst of baseball was seen at PNC Park. Yes, we could all rejoice that baseball had returned to the North Shore, but the harsh reality that the team can’t keep up the pace of their first week of play showed. Good thing for them is that there is a game tomorrow and the team is 4-3. I have a feeling that Clint Hurdle will do his best to get the team’s heads back in the game, something that wouldn’t have happened with John Russell at the helm.

Previewing the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates

A week from today, the Pittsburgh Pirates will set sail on another season, looking to get the elephant that is their 18-season losing streak off their backs. The team made some improvements to what was a disaster of a 2010 squad that finished 57-105. Is 2011 finally the year they reach the magic number of 81-81? Let’s take a look at how the 2011 roster is shaping up.

Pitchers

Player 2010 IP 2010 Win-Loss 2010 ERA
Kevin Correia (With SD) 145 10-10 5.40
Paul Maholm 185.1 9-15 5.10
Ross Ohlendorf 108.1 1-11 4.07
Charlie Morton 79.2 2-12 7.57
James McDonald 71.2 4-6 4.02

The Pirates are trying to improve on what was a complete and unmitigated disaster in 2010. Manager Clint Hurdle announced these five as the rotation that the team will begin the season with today. As you can see, the numbers last year weren’t pretty.

When Kevin Correia was signed in December, the Pirates figured him to be the guy rounding out the rotation. However a good spring showing by Correia has given him the opportunity to take the game ball on March 31st at Wrigley Field. While he should be serviceable, he has only pitched more than 140 innings in a season twice. He isn’t the guy you can count on to be an ace.

Workhorse Paul Maholm did what was expected in 2010: Eat up innings and keep the ball on the ground. However teams starting teeing-off of Paul more often last season and have caught on to his less than overwhelming stuff. A less than stellar spring has me thinking his days as the best of the Pirates rotation are coming to an end.

Ross Ohlendorf may have been the unluckiest pitcher in baseball last season. Despite having the best statistics on the staff, he had only a 1-11 record to show for it. To top it off, he spent a good chunk of the season on the disabled-list. He has gotten bombed this spring (0-3 10.24 ERA) which throws up a red flag in my opinion.

Charlie Morton had one of the worst seasons by a pitcher in history in 2010. After trying to regain his focus in AAA, he came to spring remarkably better and won the last spot in the rotation.

James McDonald looked stellar after coming in a trade from the Dodgers last July. He definitely has the best strikeout pitches on the staff and should rack up decent numbers. The key will be limiting the walks and staying healthy of course.

Lineup

Player 2010 Average 2010 HR 2010 RBI
Jose Tabata (LF) .299 4 35
Neil Walker (2B) .296 12 66
Andrew McCutchen (CF) .286 16 56
Pedro Alvarez (3B) .256 16 64
Lyle Overbay (1B) w/TOR .243 20 67
Garrett Jones/Matt Diaz (RF) .247/.250 21/7 86/31
Chris Snyder (C) .229 15 48
Ronny Cedeno (SS) .256 8 38

Jose Tabata showed why he was such a highly touted prospect during his half-season in the bigs in 2010. His pop and speed will make him a nice catalyst at the top of the order.

After coming out of nowhere last year Neil Walker put together a fine season in relief of Aki Iwamura at second base. It will be very interesting to see if he can keep it up and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

Speaking of sophomore slumps, Andrew McCutchen certainly avoided it in 2010. Hurdle seems to like batting him third (a move I along with many others don’t agree with), but I guess Clint is feeling that Cutch’s power is coming along. This is the year he becomes a star in baseball.

Arriving in June as the most hyped Bucco prospect since Barry Bonds, Pedro Alvarez showed why sometimes, and completely frustrated fans at other times. His power output will be appreciated for a full season, however he continues to swing at a lot of bad pitches, and a large number of strikeouts are inevitable.

Lyle Overbay was signed in the winter to solidify first base. I didn’t like this signing at first, but this spring I’ve noticed his bat and steady defense should help this team out a lot.

In his first full season in the bigs, Garrett Jones didn’t put up crazy numbers like his debut in 2009 suggested. He struggled so much against lefties that the Pirates went out and got Matt Diaz for a platoon in right field. Jones excels against righties, and Diaz kills lefties. This should lead to some increased production.

Sick of Ryan Doumit’s overall incompetence, the Pirates brought in Chris Snyder to get control behind the dish. Though he was offensively challenged at times, and his defense wasn’t much better, he seemed to handle the pitching staff much better. Don’t really expect anything too special from him in 2011 as he’s really a stop-gap until Tony Sanchez is ready for the MLB.

Ronny Cedeno is about as non-descript a player as you get. Not much offense. Doesn’t exactly dazzle with the glove. The Pirates tried getting in another shortstop to replace him through free agency, but failed to. He’s a cheap option that doesn’t really help the team, but doesn’t hurt them too much either.

Bench

Player 2010 Average 2010 HR 2010 RBI
Ryan Doumit (RF/C) .251 13 45
Pedro Ciriaco (IF) .500 (2 for 4) 0 1
Jason Jaramillo (C) .149 1 6
Diaz/Jones (OF) .247/.250 21/7 86/31
Steve Pearce (IF/OF) .317 0 3

After failing as a starter in right field, first base, and catcher, Ryan Doumit will begin the season on the bench. After trying desperately to trade him, the Pirates appear to be on the hook for his $5 million salary in 2011. Being defensively challenged all around the diamond, I don’t figure him being more than a situational bat.

Pedro Ciriaco who was brought over in the Church/Crosby for Snyder deal looks to be in position to make the team as a backup middle infielder. If Cedeno scuffles, look for some extra time for Pedro, as the team will try to see if he can figure into the team’s future plans.

Despite an atrocious 2010 at the plate, Jason Jaramillo is in position to make the team as a backup catcher. Nothing really special about him, as the catcher position has become a sort of black hole for the team.

The platoon of Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz will ensure that another situational pinch hitter will be on the bench late in games.

Though the 25th man may be a toss-up, I have a feeling Steve Pearce will be the one who gets the last spot. He showed some promise before an injury sidelined him most of 2010. He has been getting reps at 3rd this spring, and if he does a good enough job, he could give Alvarez some relief against left-handed pitchers.

Bullpen

Player 2010 Appearances 2010 ERA 2010 Holds/Saves
Evan Meek 70 2.14 15/4
Joel Hanrahan 72 3.62 18/6
Jeff Karstens 26 (19 starts) 4.92 0/0
Brian Burres 20 (13 starts) 4.99 0/0
Joe Beimel (with COL) 71 3.40 20/0
Scott Olsen 17 (15 starts) 5.56 0/0
Chris Resop 23 3.86 5/0
Garrett Olson 35 4.54 1/1

Evan Meek was the team’s All-Star in 2010, however the team thought it would be better if he would be the set-up man instead of closer. His durable arm makes him a wise choice for that role.

Joel Hanrahan was named the closer at the very beginning of spring training. He has the stuff to hold down the role, and should be very successful.

Jeff Karstens figures to be the long man out of the pen. There is always the chance he could get yet another crack at the rotation if injuries and underperformance take over.

Though he was a spot starter in 2010, Brian Burres has been fairing well as both a starter and reliever in spring training. I expect him to see more time as a middle reliever in 2011.

Brought in to be a lefty specialist, Joe Beimel is back for a second go-around with the team that drafted him. Plagued with inconsistency and injuries this spring, I have my doubts about his chances for success in 2011.

Whether he likes it or not, Scott Olsen will start the season in the ‘pen. If he keeps it together, he definitely has a shot at seeing some starts. But in the short term, he’ll have to be a middle-reliever.

Chris Resop took advantage of a depleted pitching staff to put up decent numbers in 2010. He will get the chance to stick around by starting the year as a righty middle-reliever.

Finally, the Pirates got some more experience into the mix by claiming another lefty off waivers last week, Garrett Olson. He has bounced around the majors and minors, and really hasn’t done anything special with his career. However, he is the best option of the remaining relief candidates.

Predictions

Most Likely to Breakout- James McDonald. There are a lot of “ifs” but if the control comes around, he has the stuff to turn heads and make a name for himself.

Most Likely to Disappoint- Paul Maholm. He has become too hittable recently. It adds up to a recipe for disaster in 2011.

Most Likely to be All-Star Rep- Andrew McCutchen. Cutch becomes a nationally recognized star in 2011, not just that cult hero that only hardcore fans of baseball know.

Most Likely to be Traded- Joel Hanrahan. At 29, he is probably at his peak value for his career. Wouldn’t surprise me if Neil Huntington unloads him at the deadline.

Don’t Be Too High On- Pedro Alvarez. Yes he’s very good, but his hitting is still coming along. He’s not going to be bashing a ton of home runs this year or hitting for a high average.

Don’t Be Too Low On- Lyle Overbay. A lot thought this was another dead end free agent signing but from what I’ve seen in spring training, Lyle could be a nice addition to this team. His defense is much needed and the bat could have a little pop left.

Final Prediction

Using their PECOTA projection software, Baseball Prospectus projects the 2011 Pirates to a 71-91 record, 5th in the NL Central. If this were to happen the Pirates would win more than 69 games for the first time since 2004. While I like the outlook, I just don’t see the team making a drastic 14 game improvement in just one year. Certainly they weren’t as bad as their 105 losses indicated last year, but this is the Pirates. This summer will still be long, just not quite as long

Record: 67-95

What do you think the Pirates will do? Leave your predictions and what you think will happen as a comment.

 

Morning Briefing 3-22-11

Photo from postgazette.com

Penguins

-Despite blowing a 4-0 second period lead, the Pens were able to scratch out a 5-4 victory in a shootout last night over the Red Wings in Detroit. Pascal Dupuis had two goals, in addition to goals from Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz. James Neal had the lone shootout goal that was the difference.

Pens blow big lead, pull out shootout win (Trib)

Dupuis steps up, salvages shootout win (PG)

Pirates

The Pirates fell 4-1 to the Minnesota Twins in Bradenton yesterday. Paul Maholm pitched six so-so innings, giving up just two runs, yet allowing nine hits. He hasn’t had the best spring, and I have my doubts about his ability to anchor the rotation.

Twins get past Pirates, 4-1 (PG)

Ohio Basketball

The Bobcats take on Eastern Tennessee State in the quarterfinals of the Collegeinsider.com Tournament tonight at 7 PM.

Bobcats and Bucs to Meet in CIT Quarterfinal (OhioBobcats.com)

Duquesne

Pittsburgh’s last remaining college basketball team fell in the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene last night 77-75. Senior Bill Clark led the team with 19 points in what was his last game as a Duquesne Duke

Dukes’ Postseason Trail Ends at Oregon (GoDuquesne.com)