Pirates Notebook: The Unraveling of the Pirates?

The last time the Pirates won a game in Milwaukee was almost two years ago, on May 3rd, 2007. Last year the Pirates were 1-14 against the Brewers. If there’s anything that the Pirates desperately need to continue their hot start to the season, it’s a win against Milwaukee.

Jeff Karstens didn’t have his best stuff tonight, going five innings, and allowing five earned runs, thanks to three homers. The Brewers had a 5-2 lead after three innings, and a 5-3 lead going in to the 8th, with the Pirates offense struggling to get anything done.

If there’s one thing the Pirates have been good at this year, it’s not giving up. In the 8th inning the Pirates scored two runs, tying the score, and appearing to take the momentum in the game.

Then Tyler Yates came in.

Yates threw 15 pitches, with only five strikes. He walked Bill Hall to lead off the inning, then hit Jason Kendall with a pitch while Kendall was trying to bunt. Hall scored the go ahead run on a Rickie Weeks single to second. Freddy Sanchez dove to stop the ball, and made a poor decision to throw to home, rather than getting the out at first. Sanchez later missed a chopper by Prince Fielder up the middle, which could have been a double play to end the inning, but ended up scoring two runs, and leading to one more run a play later.

This is the kind of loss that can do damage to a streaking team like the Pirates. The Pirates are already missing three key pieces, with Ryan Doumit and Jack Wilson on the DL, and Nate McLouth expected to miss the series. Combine that with the disappointing loss tonight, and the poor history against the Brewers, and this could be the point where the Pirates unravel on their way to a 17th losing season in a row.

Tomorrow Paul Maholm takes the mound, with his first opportunity to really step up as the staff ace. Maholm has been great this season, but the Pirates need him to shut the door on the Brewers, and prevent a free fall from their early season success.

Pitching Issues

Today was the third start for Jeff Karstens, and a far cry from his last outing against the Marlins. Karstens looked good at points last season, with a 4.03 ERA in nine outings, but had four poor starts to go with his five quality starts. It looks like he’ll be hit or miss again this season.

Phil Dumatrait is expected to return in early May, and is out of options, which means he has to be added to the 25-man roster. I’d be fine with a bad start from one of the other pitchers in the rotation, but I have Karstens on a shorter leash.

I pointed out the other day that Karstens was the only non-ground ball pitcher in the rotation. As we saw tonight with the three homers, and the extra base hits, there’s a disadvantage to allowing a lot of fly balls and line drives. I don’t think Karstens was a fluke. In his first two starts he had a 53.1 percent fly ball ratio. Tonight he allowed a lot of fly balls, and it hurt him with the homers.

Dumatrait had a 42.3 ground ball percentage last year, which is right below the league average for starters. When he’s ready, I wouldn’t hesitate sending Karstens to AAA, and putting Dumatrait in the rotation to see if he can re-capture his success from the start of the 2008 season.

In the bullpen, Tyler Yates has been horrible this season. After tonight’s train wreck, Yates has allowed seven earned runs in 6.1 innings, walking four batters. Meanwhile, Jesse Chavez has been a pleasant surprise, with only one earned run, six strikeouts, and four walks in nine innings pitched. Until Yates gets his act together, I’d save him for the meaningless innings and stick Chavez in the late innings with Grabow.

The MVP Tracker

Here are the updates to the MVP Tracker from tonight’s loss:

-One negative point to Karstens for the poor start.

-One negative point for Yates for blowing up in the 8th after the comeback.

-One negative point for Brian Bixler for his 0 for 4 with 4 strikeout performance.

-One negative point for Craig Monroe for his 1 for 5 night with 3 strikeouts.

I was going to give Freddy Sanchez a negative point for his two poor fielding plays in the 8th, but I figure they off-set with his double in the top of the 8th that tied the score.

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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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