Pirates Notebook: Top of the Lineup Heating Up

Wins are for the most part an antiquated statistic in baseball, but sometimes a win can carry a bit of significance.

A.J. Burnett got his first one of the 2013 campaign Wednesday night at PNC Park, but that was not what people will remember about the game. Burnett not only got strikeout No. 2,000 for his career, he flirted with perfection and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before allowing a two-out double to Carlos Beltran. It was the only hit St. Louis would get after Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jason Grilli combined to keep the Cardinals off the bases in the final two innings.

Photo Credit: David Hague

Neil Walker is 10 for 22 with six RBIs and a home run in the Pirates’ last five games. Photo Credit: David Hague

Burnett has pitched well in his previous three starts this season, but had zero wins to show for it. The offense, unlike in his other appearances, had enough pop to keep the Pirates in the lead while Burnett worked later in to the game than he did in any of the other starts.

Much like most of the Pirates’ wins this season, it all started at the top of the lineup.

Starling Marte, as you might have heard, has been quite the ballplayer so far in 2013. Wednesday was no different as he extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a first inning triple over Beltran’s head in right field. Marte also hit another ball hard toward Beltran, but the veteran outfielder was able to make the play near the warning track.

“He’s banging the drum,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s fun to watch. To hit another ball — the way he’s just driving the ball to right field — a ball off the wall. Another ball to the track.”

Travis Snider extended his hitting streak to five games with a first inning single that scored Marte (and was the difference for a large chunk of the game). Neil Walker helped pad Pittsburgh’s lead in the sixth with a ground ball up the middle that scored Andrew McCutchen. Walker also doubled in the first.

“Neil’s been throwing up some really good at-bats, really from the start to now with more results now,” Hurdle said. “For him to take a ball to left field for a double then to bang the other ball out. You know it’s a line-out but it’s hit hard that way. Then to battle and fight a ball up the middle like that. He’s getting to a good place offensively as well.”

Combined with Garrett Jones and McCutchen, the trio of Marte, Snider and Walker (primarily the Nos. 1 through 5 hitters) have helped pace the Pirates during the current home stand which has seen the team win 4 of 5 games (including a weekend sweep of Cincinnati). Those five have combined to go 29 of 98 (an average of .398) with 19 RBIs, 16 runs scored and three home runs.

When asked specifically about the production of Marte and Snider at the top of the order, McCutchen said their recent work at the plate has made things easier for the entire team.

“It makes it easier for everybody, not just myself,” McCutchen, who has been hitting No. 3 behind Marte and Snider, said. “It makes it easier for the coaching staff all around. They’ve been doing a good job at the top of the order just getting on and doing their job. They’re putting themselves in a position to score runs. That’s all you can ask for and hopefully they can continue that.”

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Getting into position to score runs will be high on the to-do list for the Pirates this weekend as the club welcomes the most impressive team in Major League Baseball to this point, the Atlanta Braves, to PNC Park for a four-game series.

The Braves have been winning with pitching but also has been among the best teams in baseball with a bat in its hands. Atlanta’s 25 home runs leads all of baseball and its team OPS is .805 (fourth in MLB).

The pitching has been led by Paul Maholm of all people. As a staff the Braves have allowed a Major League-best 24 earned runs — and it’s worth noting that the team that is second in that category allowed, Boston, has given up 34. Maholm is 3-0 with zero earned runs allowed in 20.1 innings and has 20 strikeouts compared to just five walks and is scheduled to start this weekend in Pittsburgh.

Oh, and the Braves have outscored opponents 68-27.

The Pirates will go with Jeff Locke on the mound and will face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran, who has been one of the few weak spots in the Braves’ arsenal. Teheran, ranked by MLB.com as the club’s top prospect, has a 7.36 ERA in 11 innings but did bounce back from allowing four early runs against Washington to go six innings and strike out six Nationals.

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It’s early still, but the Pirates are in the bottom third of baseball when it comes to average home attendance.

Pittsburgh has played seven home games and averages 22,520 in attendance — good enough for 23rd in baseball. They are followed by Houston (22,267/six games), Kansas City (20,948/six games), the White Sox (10,790/six games), Oakland (19,733/nine games), Seattle (19,324/eight games), Miami (19,247/eight games), and Cleveland (16,390/six games).

The top five teams in average attendance so far have been the Dodgers (46,451/eight games), San Francisco (41,638/six games), St. Louis (41,637/six games), the Angels (40,146/six games) and Philadelphia (39,411/six games).

It is way too early in the season to pass any judgement on the attendance figures. This is just some food for thought.

 

 

Author: Tom Bragg

Tom Bragg is a beat writer and analyst for PiratesProspects.com. He is the former sports editor of the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and has worked at the Charleston Gazette, Charleston Daily Mail and the (Ashland, Ky.) Independent. His freelance work has appeared in newspapers all over West Virginia and he has written for The Associated Press with stories posted to several major media outlets (ESPN.com, SportsIllustrated.com, FoxSports.com). Tom graduated from Marshall University in May 2010 with a degree in Print Journalism. Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomBraggSports

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