Pirates Notebook: An objective look at the hot start

The 11-7 start to the season, complete with a sweep of the Florida Marlins, and a 2-1 series win against the San Diego Padres, had a lot of Pirates fans with high hopes for the 2009 season. The last two games against the Brewers have put those hopes in a free fall.

A question that needs to be asked is: was the 11-7 start legit?

The Pirates split a four series against the Cardinals to start the year. The same result came in a shortened two game series against the Reds. The Cardinals sit at the top of the NL Central, while the Reds are at 10-10 on the season. Two of those three losses were mostly due to poor offensive support.

In the next series the Pirates lost two of three to the Houston Astros, who sit at the bottom of the NL Central with a 9-12 record. That certainly doesn’t provide a strong statement for the legitimacy of the 2009 Pirates.

The hype kicked in when the Pirates swept the Florida Marlins, owners of an 11-1 record when they came to town. Were the Marlins really that good? They had a 6-0 record against the Washington Nationals at the time, inflating their record. Following their series against the Pirates, the Marlins lost four straight before winning tonight. Not counting games against the Nationals, the Marlins are 6-8 on the season, which really doesn’t look that special.

The Padres are another team off to a hot start on the year. San Diego had a 9-6 record before playing the Pirates, and after a win tonight, the Padres sit tied with the Pirates at 11-9. However, the Padres have been outscored 100 to 86, a trait not common amongst winning teams. In fact, the Padres are the only team in the majors with a winning record and fewer runs scored than runs allowed. That suggests that their winning record won’t last.

Take out the Marlins and Padres games, and the Pirates are sitting at 6-8 on the season right now. That’s not an impressive record, especially when you consider how they’ve been playing the past two days against a legit contender in the Milwaukee Brewers.

Tomorrow the Buccos avoid the sweep, with Ian Snell taking the mound against Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo. Snell will look for a solid outing for the third time in a row, and the Pirates will hopefully find a way to win in Miller Park.

Poor Managing

Tonight was just a poorly managed game by John Russell. For starters, Paul Maholm doesn’t have the best history against the Brewers. He was struggling tonight, but managed to make it through five innings, with the Bucs holding a 5-3 lead. The decision to send Maholm back out in the sixth inning, when he was already over 100 pitches, was very questionable.

The first batter Maholm went up against was Bill Hall. After tonight, Hall is a career 14 for 25 (.560) against Maholm with two homers. Of course one of those homers came in the at-bat against Maholm in the sixth inning.

Maholm continued to struggle, and the Bucs blew the lead, never getting it back.

The second questionable decision came in the 9th inning. Ramon Vazquez reached first base with no outs, down by one run, against Trevor Hoffman. The Pirates had Nyjer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez, and Brandon Moss due up. The smart play would be to bunt Vazquez over, giving Sanchez or Moss the chance to bring him in. However, the Pirates didn’t bunt with either Morgan or Sanchez, with Morgan striking out, and Sanchez grounding in to a double play.

Against a closer like Trevor Hoffman, you can’t expect to string a bunch of hits together. You have to take what is given. The Vazquez single, with no outs and the top of the order up, is a gift. If Morgan bunts him over, the Pirates have two chances to single Vazquez in and tie the game.

Poor decisions by Russell tonight not only caused the Pirates to blow the lead in the 6th inning, but prevented them from capitalizing on an opportunity in the 9th. The worst part about the last two games is that they are both games the Pirates could have won. Maybe that says something about the legitimacy of the 2009 Pirates. I’m just not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

The MVP Tracker

The updates to the MVP tracker after tonight’s loss…

-One negative point for Paul Maholm for the poor start.

-One negative point for Freddy Sanchez for the game ending double play.

-One negative point for Nyjer Morgan for leaving three runners on base, including Vazquez in the 9th.

-One negative point for Jesse Chavez for allowing two hits, one homer, and one earned run (along with allowing an inherited runner to score), and only getting one out.

Other Stuff

-The Draft Prospects Tracker is updated. Grant Green was the only player who played today.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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