After a game like today, and a slump like the Pirates have been on, you get the feeling that this team is totally hopeless, and that nothing will help the team improve. I actually waited several hours before writing my game recap, then went back to look at the box score before I sat down to write this. I can’t say that I’m optimistic for the team over the next month, but my optimism is still there for when Pedro Alvarez and company start to arrive in June.
The biggest thing I noticed today was that the Pirates had 14 hits. 14! The Astros had ten hits, and scored 10 runs. It also helped that Houston walked eight times and stole six bases. Still, you’d think the Pirates could do more than get three runs with 14 hits. Unfortunately, out of their 14 hits, only one went for extra bases, and that was a double by Jeff Clement. I don’t think it’s by coincidence that Clement scored right after that double.
The Pirates were averaging over a hit per inning, but they were playing station to station baseball. The problem with hitting nothing but singles is that you need at least three hits to score a run, because it’s not very likely that someone will score from first base on the second single. Now a starter could allow three hits in an inning, but what starter is going to allow that every inning? Even if it happens twice, you’re talking about a 2-0 lead.
The Pirates need someone who can clear the bases in a situation where the bases are loaded and the inning could be broken open. The Pirates had two chances today with the bases loaded. The first opportunity came with two outs. Bobby Crosby singled with runners at first and second, then Akinori Iwamura struck out with the bases loaded.
The next chance saw three straight singles to start the inning. Ryan Church hit a shallow fly ball, which didn’t bring a run in, Bobby Crosby hit a shallow fly ball which dropped in to center, but left Andy LaRoche stranded unsure between first and second, and caused a force out at second. Iwamura grounded out to end the threat. The Pirates should have scored more than one run with the bases loaded and no outs, but at the same time, they probably should have scored at least one run before getting in to the bases loaded situation. All it takes is one extra base hit and you’ve got your run.
The Astros had ten hits, with four extra base hits, including a solo home run. They also reached first base 14 times between the walks and the singles, and turned five of those instances in to extra base opportunities with steals off of Ryan Doumit and the Pirates’ pitching staff. It kind of helps that they have Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee in the middle of their lineup. That changes the whole game.
When you’ve got Berkman and Lee coming up, it changes the whole approach. You’re more conservative with the batters in front of them, because you don’t want to set the table. You certainly don’t attack Berkman and Lee. You’re more selective. That’s something that the Pirates’ hitters don’t see. No one is afraid to pitch to the Pirates hitters because there’s no threat of a big inning. Where’s the feared cleanup hitter? Andrew McCutchen? Amazing player, but he’s not a power hitter. Ryan Doumit? Again, not a power hitter, more of a number six hitter batting cleanup.
How about Garrett Jones? No question he’s got power, although he’s not hitting for as much power this year as he was last year. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Jones is being pitched around. So far this season Jones has seen 41.6% pitches thrown in the strike zone. The league average is 48.3%. Last year Jones saw 45.5% pitches thrown in the zone, which is still below average, but more in the area that power hitters see (Berkman also sees around 45.5% in the zone).
That’s why I’m hoping things will change when Alvarez arrives. That puts a power threat right in the middle of the lineup. It makes opposing pitchers take a more conservative approach to guys at the top of the order like Iwamura and McCutchen. It gives a better chance of a big inning, with a bases clearing double, or maybe a home run with runners on base. It moves Ryan Doumit down in the order. It makes it where people actually have to pitch to Garrett Jones, either because Pedro Alvarez is up next (Jones batting third) or because Pedro Alvarez is in scoring position (Jones batting fifth).
So like I’ve been saying all off-season, I’m waiting for mid-season until I start grading how the future will turn out. I think Alvarez will make a big difference to this team. And that’s not even factoring in Jose Tabata to the mix. I’m one of the few people who still thinks he can develop power. Worst case, he’s looking like he could be an Andrew McCutchen clone, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Add him and Alvarez to McCutchen and Jones and you’ve got a much improved lineup.
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