Pirates rightfully stay put at deadline

Trying to navigate a city is sometimes a downright mess. Trying to navigate a city during rush hour adds to that maelstrom, and having somewhere to be, having a deadline, is about as stressful as it gets — right? Nope, it can get worse. Like, for instance, if you’re without a car and have to rely on outward sources to get to that all important destination, to meet your deadline. Waiting for the bus during rush hour trying to get to work, which is a good bit away from the city, is possibly as frustrating and tense a moment as it gets in traveling.

You strut to the bus stop, knowing there’s some time before your shift starts. But, you foolishly don’t realize that lightly jogging, or wind-sprinting, to the bus holds more value than looking like a normal part of society. That is, you don’t until the bus you need whizzes past just before you arrive.

That’s a missed chance, and now you wait and wait, but each bus that passes is going a different route than the one you need. Stupid port authority; I’ve got places to be. More busses crawl up to the stop and blows of air sigh out from, like, every part of the vehicle. Then people get off the bus, smiling because they’ve reached their destination and you’re standing, pouting. And now you’re the one sighing because you happen to work at this distant location, with the chances of you reaching there in due time now thinning.

So now you ponder your options since you’ve been waiting so long, way longer than you could’ve even estimated accounting for rush hour. Look, you begin rationalizing to yourself. If I just take this next 61A to Main Street, then I can get off at 2nd Ave. and hop on the 71C. Then you see that 61A and begin to shuffle towards the stop — but so does everyone else. You’ve been squeezed out of a spot for your back-up plan.

That’s it. I’m calling a cab. I don’t care how much it costs, as long as I’m on time to work.

And this all relates your Pittsburgh Pirates… how? The trade deadline. The tease of past two seasons. The depression of the previous 20. The trading market.

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By tyle23r

Unofficial second half of baseball starts… Now!

Commentary coming shortly. Until then, lineups!

Pirates (56-37)

1. Starling Marte LF

2. Jose Tabata RF

3. Andrew McCutchen CF

4. Pedro Alvarez 3B

5. Russell Martin C

6. Garrett Jones 1B

7. Jordy Mercer 2B

8. Clint Barmes SS

9. Francisco Liriano P

 

Reds (53-42)

1. Chris Heisey LF

2. Shin-Soo Choo CF

3. Joey Votto 1B

4. Brandon Phillips 2B

5. Jay Bruce CF

6. Todd Frazier 3B

7. Zack Cozart SS

8. Devin Mesoraco C

9. Mike Leake P

By tyle23r

A few notes on the home run derby participants

When Pedro Alvarez hits the ball in the air, it goes far. That’s not too tough to tell just by watching him hit. And players who strike baseballs so forcefully with a piece of wood that they land farther than if the average human — OK, the average, really gifted MLB human –batted them usually end up in an annual contest that puts such power on display.

Among those other contestants — David Wright, Michael Cuddyer, Bryce Harper, Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Davis — Alvarez hits the ball the farthest on average.

In fact, according to Baseball Heat Maps, when Pedro Alvarez hits the ball in the air, he hits it farther than anyone in baseball does. The average distance of Alvarez’s homers and fly-balls is 315.82 feet, which is a hair above second-place Carlos Gonzalez‘s 315.10-foot average.

The rest of tonight’s hitters’ average HR+FB distance:

  • Davis: 313.01 (4th in MLB)
  • Harper: 307.63 ft. (8th)
  • Cespedes: 296.91 ft. (26th)
  • Cano: 295.65 (35th)
  • Fielder: 292.48 (51st)
  • Wright: 290.20 ft. (71st)
  • Cuddyer: 286.42 ft. (101st)

Chris Davis, his rippling forearms grasping the bat and wad of chew making his lower lip protrude beyond the limits of his face, is entering as the major league leader in home runs, with 37. Yeah, 37 bombs. That’s obviously going to boost certain stats, ones like BABIP, home run/fly-ball ratio, isolated power and really everything other power stat. Let’s focus on HR/FB% and ISO.

Davis sits at 35.6 percent for his HR/FB rate, but Alvarez, despite hitting 13 fewer homers, is barely behind, at 32 percent.

Here is a table with each player’s home run and power stats:

Player HR HR/FB% ISO HR+FB DIST.
Bryce Harper 13 23.2 0.259 307.63
Chris Davis 37 35.6 0.402 313.01
David Wright 13 12.5 0.203 290.2
Michael Cuddyer 16 20.8 0.239 286.42
Pedro Alvarez 24 32 0.266 315.82
Prince Fielder 16 13.6 0.190 292.48
Robinson Cano 21 21.6 0.229 295.65
Yoenis Cespedes 15 13.6 0.195 296.91

Completely unbiased prediction: Chris Davis defeats Pedro Alvarez in finals.

By tyle23r

Game 90: Pirates receiving a dose of their own medicine

The highlight in last night’s 2-1 Pirate loss was Pedro Alvarez‘s 440-foot homer, which conked off the batter’s eye in center field.

Well, the spotlight really wasn’t focused on Alvarez or anything pertinent to the game. Rather, Pirates announcers Greg Brown and Bob Walk stole the show with their absurd diatribe about David Wright‘s supposed snubbing of Alvarez for passing on him to partake in the homerun derby.

It would be cool to see a Pirate in the derby for the second straight year, and Pedro’s the exact guy I’d love to see as a representative, but c’mon, Brown and Walk. David Wright picked legitimate sluggers in Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper, and he also rewarded a longtime friend in Michael Cuddyer for an outstanding season to date.

Brown and Walk took grievance with the Cuddyer selection because of his friendship with Wright, and they resented Harper’s inclusion because he has fewer homers than Pedro on the year. The issue with both of these complaints is that they’re ridiculous double-standards.

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By tyle23r

Bartolo Colon: Father-like ace

I watched tonight’s game with my dad, who’s now in his mid-50s and has long struggled to stay awake past 9 or 9:30 p.m. on a nightly basis. It makes sense that he’s typically an early-snoozer since he’ll wake up sometime just after 4:30 a.m., head to work in blistering heat and repeat the process. He sleeps peacefully at night because he works his butt off in the day.

He’s sleeping as I’m writing this, and he’s been that way — both legs crossed and perched on the top of the couch’s backrest — since about the seventh or eighth inning of the Pirates’ 2-1 loss to Oakland tonight.

Tomorrow at work my dad will ask me what happened, how they lost, who was to blame. And after I mutter some basics — Bucs couldn’t score, Locke walked the go-ahead run in the seventh, Coco Crisp — he’ll go back to straight-edging the piles of concrete around him that I’ve dumped from my wheelbarrow, eventually finishing the process and turning the piles into a beautiful basement floor or garage. His work ethic is the reason he is still more fit than I am, and the reason  a younger guy on the job once told his dad, who then told mine, “Hey, Dad, check out that old guy’s eight-pack.”

Rather than take it as a compliment, my dad was chapped the kid called him old. “Who’s he calling old?”

I’ll marvel at his ability to accomplish all of this — the concrete work, the physical shape — at such an old age, much like how Pittsburgh probably feels about Bartolo Colon right now.

Tonight, Colon threw seven innings, yielding just one run on eight baserunners — the majority of whom reached via base-hit. He struck out five.

Bartolo Colon is also 40-years-old, one of the 10-oldest guys in baseball this season.

What Colon did tonight is microcosmic of his season to date. One walk in seven innings translates to 1.29 BB/9; that rate is actually higher than his season mark of 1.12 BB/9.

Colon is clearly making do with what he has, which in this world is impeccable control. In his 2,513 2/3 career  innings, he’s walked 2.82 per-nine. Yet, he’s managed just 6.78 K/9 in his career, which started in 1997, and 4.94 strikeouts-per-nine in 2013.

The point is that Colon has never been a strikeout pitcher. He has, however, limited free passes and induced grounders on about 42 percent of all the balls put in play against him. That’s why, even at 40, Colon is still a highly effective, aging pitcher.

Watching him tonight reinforced both descriptors.

The 5-foot-11, 265-pound righty even physically resembles someone’s dad. His hair sits a bit higher on his head than, say, Jeff Locke’s mop does. He’s lost some of his baseball physique (if such a thing exists) and there’s aging lines on his face.

But his performance tonight proves that Colon is not some junkballing, wily vet who relies on a newfound knuckleball or what have you; dude was lighting up the radar gun. In particular, Colon’s third-inning matchup against Andrew McCutchen was a fastball clinic.

Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here are some linked graphs of the at-bat, which ended in a swinging strikeout. Colon threw McCutchen four fastballs, averaging 95.53 mph, and pounded the upper, outside part of the zone after shoving strike one up-and-in.

Colon threw a two-seamer and a four-seamer tonight, averaging 91.65 mph and 94.13 mph on each respective offering. He also mixed in two change-ups and 14 sliders. Of his 106 total pitches, just 16 were off-speed. Colon had remarkable command of his fastballs and that really thwarted the Bucs offense.

In his other at-bats against the A’s starter, though, McCutchen roped the ball — once for a single that whizzed by Colon’s dome and the other for a disheartening line-out to center fielder Coco Crisp that would’ve (at least) tied the game.

The Pirates hit Colon well — contact wasn’t really the issue. Before tonight, the Bucs averaged 8.2 hits-per-game. Tonight, they  recorded nine knocks. It’s just that Colon and his defense made sure that was all the opponents got. Colon didn’t clog up the bases with walks and the rest of the Athletics turned batted balls into outs when needed.

Jeff Locke pitched well for the Pirates, going seven innings and allowing just three hits and three walks while punching out four Athletics. You could argue that Locke actually out-pitched his mound opponent, but the matter of the fact is that Jeff Locke walked someone when he shouldn’t have.

Derek Norris, up with the bases loaded and two outs, walked on a full-count in the seventh to give the A’s the one-run lead that ultimately won them the game. Norris was probably going to walk (10.9 percent of career at-bats) or strikeout (26.1 percent career), and Locke just happened to miss inside to the burly catcher.

The only other run scored by the Athletics came on a Josh Donaldson sac-fly to center that scored Jed Lowrie.

Grant Balfour came in for the ninth and Starling Marte nearly had his second game-tying homer in as many days, but he just got under it and flied out to Yoenis Cespedes in left. In addition to retiring Marte, Balfour got the save by retiring Travis Snider (75 wRC+ in 2013) and Michael McKenry (59 wRC+). In other words, I could’ve probably gotten this save tonight, and I last pitched in Little League in 2002 — or, Colon’s sixth season in baseball — with the same luck on Marte’s fly-out and the other guys’ performances.

There shouldn’t be an excuse for that last-ditch lineup. Even if the bookend hitters around Marte entered the game because of a double-switch, it should not have to be Snider and McKenry — or Jordy Mercer and Gaby Sanchez. This should be an alarming issue: The Pirates have a completely punchless bench. And with a Brandon IngeClint Barmes-pitcher lineup at 7-8-9, there was effectively two-thirds missing from Pittsburgh’s lineup tonight.

One of my links before the game was about the Nationals acquiring Scott Hairston from the Cubs. Hairston is solely a bench bat, and — in a more refined role — platoon option against lefties. The Pirates don’t have to go after Giancarlo Stanton right now — a Hairston-type bench guy could help out plenty.

But the story is that the Bucs got A’s’d to death tonight, losing to the pitching trio of Bartolo Colon, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour, who were supported by a sac fly and bases-loaded walk. Oakland is a remarkable story yet again, as the organization is still among the cream of baseball’s crop.

Tonight was just Bartolo Colon’s turn to star as a possible subject of Moneyball 2: The A’s are Still Freakin’ Good.

So when my dad asks tomorrow what happened, who’s to blame, etc., I have to explain why the Pirates have now fallen to second-place in their division. Maybe I’ll reply like, “That old guy, Colon, dominated the Pirates with his fastball.”

Rather than take the compliment for something he’s done his whole career, I think Colon would have a familiar reaction: “Hey, who ya callin’ old?”

Business as usual.

By tyle23r

Links & Lineups, Game 88: Pirates vs. Athletics

  • In prospect news, Baseball America released its mid-season top 50 list, which included three Pirates’ farmhands.
    • Jameson Taillon is BA‘s 11th-ranked prospect at the half-way point, up eight spots from No. 19 at the start of the season. Of course, guys like Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers, Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller and Gerrit Cole have exhausted their eligibility on prospect lists (or are near such limits), and no 2013 draftees or international free agents are included, so Taillon was inevitably going to be bumped up a bit. And that’s great because it means so far he’s held his own as a 21-year-old in Double-A.

       In 17 starts for Altoona (technically 16 starts, since he took over in a suspended game that was two outs deep)      spanning 95 innings, Taillon sports a 2.94 ERA and 3.44 FIP. His strikeout rate (8.6 K/9) is an improvement over last year (7.4 K/9) but the walks haven’t alarmingly risen. Sure, there’s a slight increase (2.4 BB/9 in 2012; 3.1 BB/9 in 2013) but Taillon’s encountering more patient hitters at a higher level, ones who also force pitchers to rely more on their ancillary offerings. The one bugaboo for Taillon has been surrendering hits. He’s allowing almost one more hit-per-nine than he did last year, but it’s still not reason to panic. The former second-overall pick is handling himself quite well at an advanced level for his age, and there’s no reason to suspect he won’t join Cole in Pittsburgh by next summer.

    • Gregory Polanco is the next Pirate prospect to appear on the list, as he’s ranked 13th. This is a huge jump for the 21-year-old outfielder. After starting the year ranked 51st by BA, Polanco raked at High-A Bradenton, slashing .312/.364/.472 in 57 games and 241 plate appearances.

The Pirates’ player development decided the Dominican-born outfielder deserved a promotion to Double-A — and he has yet to make that move seem rushed. Albeit in a small sample, the power has dipped the tiniest bit. But Polanco has managed to strengthen his approach; he’s cut down his strikeout rate to below 15 percent and boosted his walk rate to above 10 percent, all the while posting a .301/.386/.438 line.

    • Alen Hanson, like Polanco, has made a pretty rapid rise up the ranks, moving from No. 61 in the pre-season to a mid-season  No. 39 billing. Hanson is nearly 13 months younger than his Dominican-counterpart Polanco, and has remained in Bradenton all year. Keep in mind that Hanson has played shortstop all season and that he’s just 20-years-old and his .291/.347/.449 line seems much stronger — not that a .797 OPS isn’t impressive in the first place. He is walking less and showing less power, and it looks as though he’s having series trouble as a righty facing lefties. A switch hitter, Hanson has a .952 OPS against righties and a .552 OPS against southpaws. There hasn’t been as glaring of splits in his past, so perhaps this is something that will work itself out in more than the 73 games he’s played in 2013.
  • This one’s for subscribers only, but BA also has Pirates’ minor-league pitcher Tyler Glasnow as a breakthrough prospect so far. Glasnow, who was drafted in the fifth-round in 2011, is just 19 yet stands at 6’7″, 195 lbs. His fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s, which is the likely reason for his 103 strikeouts in just 70 1/3 innings pitched at Low-A West Virginia. The sizable righty has a tendency to issue walks (5.4 BB/9), but essentially all other numbers Glasnow’s posted have been ridiculous, especially his 4.7 H/9.
  • With Taillon, Polanco, Hanson, and presumably Glasnow already a lock to fit into to BA‘s top-100 prospect list — and 2013 first-rounders Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire sure to appear — it’s a great time to be a Pirates fan. Pittsburgh is one of BA‘s “five organizations on a roll,” a title that comes after the above-mentioned prospects — plus a few more! — and incredible first-half success in the major leagues. The article is subscriber-only.
  • The Pirates have signed their seventh-round pick from the 2013 draft, Buddy Borden, for $180,400 according to Jim Callis. Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects has the info on Borden and all of the other draft picks. The Bucs have now signed all of their first 19 picks, and 23 of their first 25.
  • The Oakland Athletics have promoted Grant Green from Triple-A Sacramento, where he was hitting .318/.374/.500 and playing at second base. Green, 25, was selected 13th overall by the A’s in 2009, the same year the Pirates took Tony Sanchez third overall. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if both players compiled similar WAR numbers when all’s said and done.
  • Scott Hairston is now a National after a series against the Pirates in which he batted five times and homered twice.

Lineups:

Athletics (52-37)

1. Coco Crisp, CF

2. Jed Lowrie, SS

3. Josh Donaldson, 3B

4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF

5. Nate Freiman, 1B

6. Chris Young, RF

7. Derek Norris, C

8. Grant Green, SS

9. Bartolo Colon, P

Pirates (53-34)

1. Starling Marte, LF

2. Jose Tabata, RF

3. Andrew McCutchen, CF

4. Pedro Alvarez, 3B

5. Russell Martin, C

6. Garrett Jones, 1B

7. Brandon Inge, 2B

8. Clint Barmes, SS

9. Jeff Locke, P

By tyle23r

Pirates drop 3-1 decision to Phillies (feat. Enrique Iglesias)

Yes, Enrique. I know what it feels like, loving some team that’s in a rush to throw things away. I’m not referring to the start of yet another second-half collapse that’s clearly underway (kidding!).

But now I know what it feels like, to be on the reverse side of such a game.

This must have been what Phillie fans felt when the Pirates managed 12 wins in 30 games from 2007-2011, a span in which Philadelphia collected five straight division titles. That’s obviously not a strong winning percentage at all, but the Pirates were bad while the Phillies were dominating.

Although the talent differential isn’t quite where it was in 2007-2012, the Pirates now have three wins in five tries against their intrastate foes in 2013 after tonight’s 3-1 loss.

Brandon Cumpton got the nod for this game in place of Jeff Locke, who was scratched after warming up in Sunday’s 14-inning marathon, and pitched as you would hope the Pirates’ No. 12 or 13 option at starting pitcher would pitch. The rookie righty kept the Pirates in the game, exiting after 5 2/3 innings of a six-hit, one-walk outing. Cumpton allowed three earned runs and struck out three.

The game was flowing along without a score for either team, but the Pirates’ fun ended in the sixth after Ryan Howard ended an 0-for-22 streak with an RBI single. A Domonic Brown sac-fly and Delmon Young RBI double later, the Pirates trailed 3-0.

In the bottom of the sixth, Garrett Jones supplied the only run for the home team when he crushed a 92-mph Jonathan Pettibone fastball that was left over the heart of the plate to center for a solo homer.

The Phillies made several nice defensive plays in this game to keep the Pirates off the board, including Chase Utley‘s spearing of a would-be Andrew McCutchen RBI single in the third that kept Starling Marte from scoring from second. With the bases loaded, Jones struck out as the following batter.

Then Brown made a nice play in the seventh to cut off Jordy Mercer‘s lead-off, roped hit to left. Brown got the ball well before the warning track, but his momentum carried him a few steps onto the dirt and toward the foul pole. He set his feet as best as possible, spun and threw a one-hopper right to Utley’s glove to nail Mercer at second.

The only other true scoring opportunity arose in the eighth, with Mercer again at the plate. The bases were loaded for the rookie shortstop, but Justin De Fratus got him to chase an 84 mph slider that fell far out of the bottom of the zone and nearly into the dirt.

Going back to the Enrique Iglesias track, we hear him tug at our heart strings and croon us with these lyrics:

Looking at the last 3 years like I did
I could never see us ending like this

Enrique’s right. The last three years would not leave me with the same disappointment as tonight, the end of a nine-game winning streak and a lost game on Cincinnati and perhaps St. Louis (which plays in Anaheim tonight) in their lead on the division.

The Pirates can rebound — as I’m sure Iglesias did after this heartbreak — tomorrow when they face John Lannan (4.83 ERA/ 3.50 FIP/ 4.29 xFIP) and run Jeff Locke (2.06/3.84/4.11) through his turn in the rotation.

By tyle23r

Back from vacation, but back to reality?

Before this story, the last time I posted here was June 18. But what seemed like a meager two weeks off for a serene vacation in Maine and Massachusetts (and New Jersey, for a sweltering day at Six Flags) turned out to be a lifetime in waiting for these words: The Pirates are the best team in baseball.

Back on the 18th, when I wrote a recap about the Pirates finally sticking it to the Reds by beating them instead of involving themselves with a childish beanball war, the Buccos were 3.0 games behind the Cardinals for first place and 1/2 game behind Cincy for second in the Central. Pittsburgh’s record was 42-29. Since then, they’ve rattled off nine victories in 10 games.

Once my vacation kicked off on Friday the 21st, the Pirates swept the Angels in Anaheim, the Mariners in a mini two-game set in Seattle and returned to beat the Brewers at PNC. The latter series is hopefully the start of a change in the next several years where the Pirates absolutely demolish Milwaukee, perhaps romping them, say, 20-0 in a game. In the time I was away, the Pirates certainly paralleled my magical experiences. I’m back from vacation now, but am I returning to reality?

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By tyle23r

Now that’s how you stave off the bully

Behind 5 1/3 shutout innings from starter Charlie Morton, the Pirates went from being the victim of bullying to the ones grabbing their opponents by the ankles and shaking out the loose change or pushing their faces in the dirt or whatever seems to be the modern torment.

Though the inversion of roles had less to do with Morton’s first-pitch drilling of Shin-Soo Choo above his right ankle and more to do with him keeping batted balls jammed in the dirt, the Bucs conquered the division rival, 4-0, and hopefully refocused conversation on performance — not petty plunkings.

Morton’s 7:2 GO/AO highlighted what was an overall crucially successful outing, one in which he also struck out two and allowed just three hits and no walks en route to his first win since May 12, 2012.

The possibility of the bad blood spilling over from last night — and past games — into tonight was thwarted after Reds starter Mat Latos didn’t throw at Morton to start the second inning.

Upon Choo’s leadoff hit-by-pitch, Latos perched at the top step of the dugout with a stern demeanor and hollered toward Morton.

After allowing a three-run first inning, though, Latos probably just wanted to take the easy out.

Starling Marte lead off the game by legging a double out into a triple, in what was a remarkable display of naturally gifted speed and stride. Russell Martin followed the three-bagger with an RBI single to third, and scored a run of his own after a bases-loaded single by Pedro Alvarez.

With the exception of Marte’s RBI single in the seventh, the Pirates didn’t do much hitting after the first, striking out a season-high 17 times (but also drawing six walks).

Instead, the Pirates shut down Cincy with smooth defensive plays and a dominating bullpen outing.

Gaby Sanchez had an over-the-shoulder basket catch in the third to get Devin Mesoraco; one batter later, Garrett Jones actually had a reasonably athletic, tumbling catch to retire Mat Latos; Jordy Mercer made a rangy throw to erase Zack Cozart in the fourth; and Martin threw out — and I mean absolutely gunned down — Choo at second base in the sixth, just before Morton was pulled from the game.

Though Morton had thrown just 61 pitches, Clint Hurdle opted for Tony Watson to get the last two outs of the inning against Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. Watson allowed a double to Votto, struck out Phillips and got Bruce to ground out, then went out for the seventh and sat the Reds down in order. He had three strikeouts on the night.

Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli did their usual thing, combining for two innings, five punch outs and no hits or walks.

You can argue that either or both of Melancon and Grilli shouldn’t have appeared in a game that seemed to be an easy win for the Bucs, but I’m fine with their presences as long as it doesn’t mean Hurdle won’t use them later this series or next. (And anyway, it was cool to see Grilli accomplish a rare feat and make Votto look bad at the plate.)

The best part of this game, though, is that the beanball and headhunting talk stopped after the second inning. Like I said yesterday, a win is the best way to shut up the Reds and silence the bully talk and they perfected that approach tonight.

It’s great to get one win under the belt already in this series/road-trip, and the Bucs have their hottest starter, Jeff Locke (6-1, 2.19 ERA), going tomorrow against former-Pirate Bronson Arroyo (6-5, 3.27 ERA). First pitch is slated for 7:10 p.m.

By tyle23r

%#@$%*!#^@!% (Pirates lose 4-1 in bandbox battle)

Tonight’s game was easily the most frustrating in recent memory — and it’s certainly no coincidence that this was also the first game the Pirates have played in Cincinnati this season.

Never mind the supposedly intentional bean-balling and brush-backs with which the Reds seem to literally be bullying the Bucs. (More on this later.)

Never mind that the Pirates lost the game 4-1 and now fall further behind their rivals in the Central standings.

It’s how they lost that was so aggravatingly, infuriatingly irritating.

1. Wasting the interim ace’s work

I wrote before the game that Pittsburgh should win this game if it wants to exit the Queen City feeling anything but crushed. The reason for that: Francisco Liriano is the most consistent — and peripherally excellent — starter left in the Pirates’ rotation, while two of the next three starters are essentially crap-shoots.

Well, Liriano certainly lived up to his billing, tossing six innings of five-hit, two-walk baseball while compiling six strikeouts.

But two of those five hits were solo homers by Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier. Like, legitimate, out-of-any-park homers. They were also the first home runs Liriano allowed as a Pirate (in 45 IP). Starling Marte made a ridiculously athletic catch — preceded by as efficient a route as humanly possible — in left, which staved off an early scoring chance for Cincy, but the effort was to no avail (other than some classic Greg Brown hyperbole).

That those long balls were the only run-scoring hits Liriano allowed, though, becomes all the more frustrating when you consider that’s how the Reds scored ALL of their runs tonight.

Which leads me to Pt. 2:

2. Bryan Morris and the long ball

Look, I like Morris and think he will be a valuable arm in the bullpen in the very near future. With that said, he should not have gone out in the bottom of the eighth — for his second inning of work — when Tony Watson was available.

This move isn’t so egregious and it’s certainly not what boiled my blood the most because Morris does have solid career splits against lefties and there was no guarantee he’d face more than one (Joey Votto hit third; Jay Bruce was due up fourth). But I feel like Clint Hurdle has used Watson in that type of situation probably eight-of-every-10 opportunities. (I didn’t research what his usage actually is, but that’s just my gut feeling.)

Of course tonight it bites Hurdle and the Bucs in the ass, as Morris surrenders two opposite-field, solo blasts to Votto and Bruce. Votto’s would have been an edge-of-the-grass/warning-track fly-out if the game wasn’t at Great American Ballpark.

The Pirates were playing in the same park at the same time, too, but they didn’t take advantage. But it’s tough to use a bandbox ballpark for its purpose when your manager prefers to have a hitter intentionally avoid a hit like Votto’s.

3. The #@$%*&! bunt

Here’s the scenario:

  • Top of the 7th
  • Pirates trailing 2-1 with nine outs left in the game to their advantage
  • Mike Leake still on the hill
  • Neil Walker leads off the frame with a walk
  • Jordy Mercer, who is just inserted into an everyday role for his bat and is 1-for-2 with a double against Leake so far, ……… bunts
  • Before going any further, I want that to sink in as much as possible. Hurdle (I’m assuming it was his decision) calls for a bunt with 2/3 of the Pirates’ given outs already exhausted. He gives Mike Leake a break after walking the leadoff batter. He takes the bat out of the hands of a guy who he wants to receive more at-bats. Hell, maybe the tough-guy Reds would’ve hit Mercer if Hurdle had given him more responsibility at the plate than Francisco Liriano.

    So after that backward thinking, let’s move forward with the remainder of the inning.

  • With Walker at second, Travis Snider pinch-strikes-out
  • Marte flies out.
  • END INNING: 0 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 1 LOB
  • 4. Mike Leake?!

    This one’s short. Leake’s line: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

    5. That this is even being discussed

    It doesn’t matter that Andrew McCutchen got plunked in the back by Leake in the fourth inning of a 0-0 game. It doesn’t matter that Neil Walker was blown over by a 100 mph Aroldis Chapman missile in the ninth inning of 4-1 game. And it matters even less that the Pirates didn’t retaliate.

    What would be the point of Liriano coming out in the bottom of the fourth and hitting Jay Bruce with his first pitch? Great — both benches are warned and now Cozart hits a two-run homer and the Pirates lose by more runs. Even worse, what if that stupid retaliation turns into an even stupider brawl and someone is suspended — say, like, Liriano! Now James McDonald is forced to start a game and you can already put that one in the loss column.

    I realize that that’s probably too dramatic of a chain of events, but it’s not entirely impossible. Major League Baseball is going to start restricting this type of play sooner than ever in light (or darkness) of all the Dodgers’ fracases.

    But even if nothing of the disciplinarian sort occurs, you’re still stuck with the fact that the Reds are outplaying the Pirates on the field and in the mind. I can’t say for certain that the beanings rile the team up as much as they do the fans/media, but I really don’t think Leake is hitting McCutchen there for the sake of being tough.

    I think Leake’s not afraid to pitch inside to the Pirates’ best hitter because, hey, even if he hits him, what’s the worst that can happen? A sacrifice bunt that MAYBE advances the runner 90 feet? The badass appearance Leake gets in return just becomes a bonus at that point.

    The easy way for Pittsburgh to remedy this slight — if that’s what it even is — is by hitting the crap out of Cincy’s batters. The tougher, better way is by beating the Reds.

    By tyle23r