First Pitch: The Texas Sweep Puts the Pirates in a Good Position

Justin Morneau, John Buck, Marlon Byrd Pittsburgh Pirates

Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd helped power the offense to a sweep over the Texas Rangers. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Things looked pretty bleak for the Pittsburgh Pirates coming out of the weekend. They had lost four in a row for only the fourth time this season, including a three game sweep against the St. Louis Cardinals. There was the upcoming eight game home stretch to look forward to, but first there was the Texas Rangers, on the road. If you were thinking sweep after watching the Cardinals series, then you probably weren’t alone. But I don’t know if there was anyone who predicted that the team doing the sweeping would be the Pirates.

That series sweep was huge, especially with the upcoming schedule. The Cardinals won both of their games against Milwaukee since sweeping the Pirates this weekend, so the Pirates could only pick up half a game. Going forward the Pirates have an easy schedule. Their next eight games are at home against the Cubs and the Padres. That’s a good thing, because the next eight games for the Cardinals are against Milwaukee, Seattle, and Colorado.

The Pirates may be able to pad the win column, but it’s going to be tougher to make up ground against the Cardinals. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means it’s going to remain a tight race over the next eight games. The one advantage for the Pirates is that the Cardinals have to play four games at Coor’s Field, where the Rockies have a great home record, despite being a bad team. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are just 39-35 on the road, so they’re bound to lose 1-2 games during that series.

As Nate Barnes wrote yesterday, winning the division is important, but winning second place in the National League would be even better. The Pirates are a lock to make the playoffs. Winning the division will be tougher. I’m not so sure that winning second place and winning the division would be two separate goals. With the Pirates and Cardinals both having easy schedules coming up, they should both pad the win column and move toward the second best record in the NL in the process.

This will be an important stretch for the Pirates. They can’t afford to slip up, and they need to hope that the Cardinals do slip during their easy stretch. The division is separated by one game, so there is very little margin for error. Fortunately the Pirates do have an easy schedule, and have one of the best home records in baseball. On paper, it looks like the Pirates are set to add a lot of wins in the next week and a half. And thanks to the recent sweep over Texas, that leaves very little room for error with St. Louis, especially in their games in Colorado.

Links and Notes

**The latest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast is out, featuring special guest Rocco DeMaro: P3 Episode 19: Catching Up With Rocco DeMaro

**Here is Nate’s article looking at how important home field advantage would be for the Pirates: The Pittsburgh Pirates need to not only win the NL Central…

**If you missed it: The Fall and Rise of the Pittsburgh Pirates: 100 Moments From The Streak

**Wilbur Miller has a great look at how this team was built, looking at how it was built using the same methods the Pirates have used for years: The More Things Stay the Same, the More They Change

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • https://profiles.google.com/100508923100437214310 William Beckley

    The Pirates upcoming home stretch is 11 games, not 8. Though perhaps you meant we’d only be looking forward to the first 8 of those 11.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ian.rothermund Ian Rothermund

      Well, it’s 8 games in a row before a day off next Thursday. That’s also the perceived ending of the easy stretch of those games, with next weekend being against Cincinnati. This next 8 game stretch is just really where the Pirates need to stack some wins together. I’d love to see a good 12-5 run to finish the season.

      • Y2JGQ2

        I’d love to see a unicorn and a pegasus playing together outside my office window as well- its equally as likely.

        • http://MultiMatchupSports.com Stephen Stasa

          You really think 12-5 is that ridiculous? 11 games at home, 7 games against a team that’s 21 games under .500, 4 games against a team 12 games under, and the last 6 against a team we’re 11-8 against so far? If you asked me to bet over/under on 11.5 wins, I’d say under. But as far was what “I’d love to see” that sounds very reasonable to me. 11-6 would still be good too but probably doesn’t get you the division (at least without a tie-breaker game) and 10-7 would be borderline disappointing and likely mean the second wildcard (depending on which games those 7 loses are).

        • Happydude1

          You just compared something the Pirates have actually done multiple times this season (win at least 12 in a 17 game stretch) with the existence of imaginary creatures. Well done.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

            A better comparison might be a bear eating a cardinal outside his office window. That is possible however unlikely. Although I’m not sure how unlikely it really is. 12 and 5 is 5 series wins. 3 and 1 against the Cubs, 3 and 1 against the Padres, 2 and 1 against the Reds, 2 and 1 against the Cubs and 2 and 1 against the Reds. Certainly possible, but it would mean the Pirates would have to click on all cylinders (and perhaps a little bit of luck to go their way).

  • rohabi

    What is it about the words “easy schedule” that make me cringe every time I read it? I know the Cubs and Padres are not exactly stellar teams, but I hope McCutchen and the boys aren’t coming into this home stand thinking these will be “easy” games. The Cubs just took 2 of 3 from the Reds in Cincinnati. They had better come to play or we’ll be reading on this site how the Pirates blew a golden opportunity to make a major move in this division. I repeat, they had better come to play!

  • CalipariFan506

    This website loves to remind us that last year doesn’t matter. So I will do my best to forget the Cubs swept the Pirates at PNC last September or that San Diego has won 5 of their last 6 here. Or even that the Cubs have won two of the four series against the Pirates this season.

    This won’t be easy. It won’t even be easier.

    • Cato the Elder

      Alternatively, you could just enjoy having meaningful baseball to watch in September and employ your concern elsewhere.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

        Cato….agree with both your sentiment and Calipari’s. The Cubs just took two of 3 from the Reds. No easy games.

    • leadoff

      There is not a blog site, newspaper or tv show that does not remind us on a regular basis of last year or the the last 20 years. Reminding us that the Cubs and Padres can beat the Pirates should not be new news to any Pirate fan following the Bucs closely for the the last 60 years.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Calipari- I can definitely agree with others that you are usually way too negative, but in this case, you make a valid point. Bullpens can collapse at any time (ours just did twice) bats can fall silent against any pitching staff, and a good play from a mediocre player or an error from a star can make the difference on any day, in any series. There are no easy games, especially when we’ve been playing .500 ball for the last month ourselves

    • http://www.facebook.com/ian.rothermund Ian Rothermund

      That’s because last year doesn’t matter. It’s completely idiotic to get hung up on something like that. Omg! Completely different players in the same uniform playing completely different players in another uniform; both teams in completely different situations as last year. Yeah, totally relevant. If you hate your life, that’s fine, but stop projecting. What’s relevant is this year, right now. Yeah, the cubs took 2 of 3 from Cincinnati. But how about the fact that before that, yes, Cincinnati beat LA in 3 straight, but they were all 1 run games. Cincinnati is the team playing poorly right now.

      • buster09

        Ian : Plus 1 ! I am not even going to waste my energy typing a rebuttal to some people…….waste of time.

  • leadoff

    “where the Rockies have a great home record, despite being a bad team.”

    There are no “Bad Teams” in major league baseball, just starting pitchers that have bad days.
    I look at this type of column as a direct put down to the Bucs, it comes across as the Pirates should win the division or finish 2nd because the teams they are playing are a bunch of chumps.

  • http://www.finner.smugmug.com finner68

    The Pirates are usually as good as their starting pitching. They don’t win many games like yesterday. I’m hoping they take care of business against the Cubs and Padres . Morneau looked great and I am hoping Marte is ready to play everyday soon.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Okay, since noone is talking about this, i’m going to- Why was Kyle Farnsworth closing yesterday? Grilli has yet to throw back to back games, he tossed 20 pitches (i’m guessing that was his limit the day before), so when is that going to change? We are at the point where he’s pitched 5 times between altoona and pittsburgh, and this is the pennant race, whether he’s going in the 8th or 9th, its time to be able to go back to back games. Melancon showed a chink, and regardless of what Tim thinks, Grilli (taking away the couple weeks before he went down with the injury) was way more dominant. When i say dominant, i’m talking about 3 pitch K’s, swing and misses, % strikes, and hits allowed. Its time to get Grilli out there in back to back games and get him back to the closer’s role, and get Melancon back to the 8th inning role where he is better suited. There should be no situation with a huge september bullpen where we need to use Farnsworth for a save- ever. We should not have Bryan Morris ever warming up as our closer is collapsing in the 9th inning either. Why do we keep putting him in high leverage situations when he has already 7 losses out of the bullpen? He has only acquainted himself well in 5th-7th innings and shouldn’t be used later in games. Gomez should be the pitcher warming up in the 9th or going in to extra innings, or maybe Mazzaro. It seems like this expanded bullpen- instead of giving some flexibility to keep pitchers from needing to pitch 3 days in a row, has instead led to Hurdle “un-defining” everyone’s roles and just making a mess of the pen

    • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

      I certainly agree with the broad view of what you’re saying here–this is no time to trotting out Pie in center and Farnsworth in the 9th inning of a close game. I know day games in Texas are brutal pretty much any day of the year (as Ron Luciano said about them “Game-time temperature: 100 degrees. Humidity: 100 percent. Chance of rain: none.”), but the ballclub is in must-win territory. This is the home stretch, and if you’re the jockey, you need to be using the whip.

      • buster09

        Who would you have ” trotted out ” ther wk ? If you can’t trust guys like that who have a lot of MLB experience,then you better begin thinking about having them on the roster. Man,I don’t know. It looks to me like a lot of people not only can’t handle losing,they don’t find winning very much fun either.

      • buster09

        By the way wk ,do you think that Jack Hannahan,Billy Hamilton and Zach Duke are worth Dusty trotting them out there when the Reds are in ” must-win ” territory ? I have a little news for you : Farnsworth, Pie and a Lambo or Harrison are much better bets to produce at the MLB level than the three Reds I mentioned,and Baker has no qualms in throwing them out there late in a game.

    • buster09

      Y2 : I am going to put myself in a somewhat uncomfortable position by defending Hurdle. What in the world would make you think that you know better than Hurdle,Searage and Bannister how to handle that bullpen,or anything else related to MLB ? You are more than slightly delusional if you think you can make better calls my friend ! When I see those sorts of comments I wonder how people like you think they have managed this team to 84 wins so far this season. Please ! Get a grip.

      • leadoff

        There are strategical moves that Hurdle makes on his own, some of them spontaneously, some with more thought. Letting A.J. go out to the mound for the 7th inning was not a good move, I called it a bad move before A.J. went to the mound, that does not say
        I know more than Hurdle, just says he made the wrong move and I knew it before he made it. He would not have let very many other pitchers go out there for that 7th inning. Putting Morse into the game in high leverage situations is not a good idea at this time because he has not gotten more than one hitter out the last two times he has been out, he is up in the zone far too much. knowing your players should be a managers strength, but in Hurdles case, I have to question it. His bullpen was built on pitchers pitching 2 innings of relief, they can’t do that at this time of year, he can pitch a pitcher for one hitter, he does not have to get 2 innings out of them. I agree with letting Farnsworth pitch the ninth, he is the freshest pitcher they have. IMO, this is a pennant race and what ever it takes to win a game is the way to go, worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
        I don’t understand his lineups either. Why play Pie, when Lambo is on the bench, Tabata is also a center fielder, Hurdles fascination with certain players is very noticeable.

        • buster09

          You can’t be serious ! Lambo in left and Tabata in center ? Lambo in LF ? He has enough problems playing RF,and Tabata is NOT a center fielder at this point in his career. He was borderline at best 2 years ago. And I will tell you this : if you think a Manager makes pitching moves all on his own with out any consultation with the people I mentioned,you don’t have one idea of how MLB orginizations work !

          • leadoff

            I did not say Lambo would play LF, Byrd can play LF, if Lambo can’t play RF he should not be on the team, my sources claim he played a pretty good RF at AAA, he has to have a chance to play more than one game in the majors to declare him a defensive failure. Tabata and Byrd can play CF, maybe not like McCutchen, but to get by for one game, they can play CF. As far as consulting with the other coaches, Hurdle could talk to me, but in the end, he makes pitching changes based on what he considers total situations, for today and tomorrow and if he and his coaches think putting Morris in the game for a setup role is a good move, I am sorry, they all need to get on with their lives. I think moves in April are not necessarily moves that a manager should make in September. Hurdle does a lot of good things, but on field managing IMO is not one of them.

    • http://MultiMatchupSports.com Stephen Stasa

      First, Gomez was already in the game so he wasn’t an option in the 9th (and it didn’t go so well but you know, #TWTW). Second, don’t try rush Grilli back into anything and risk re-aggravating the injury going into the post season. His value there will be vastly greater than it is through the rest of the regular season. And in the three games since he’s been back, he has 2.1IP, 3K, 4H, 2ER, and 1BB so it sounds to me like he’s still getting the feel for pitching back. Yet, you want him in the high leverage situations. And what makes Melancon better suited for the 8th than the 9th? If you say closer’s mentality then I can just stop taking you seriously now. Finally, the flexibility of the expanded rosters means you will see guys pitch who otherwise wouldn’t have and likely won’t in the playoffs. If you’re going to use all the same guys, then the flexibility of the expanded roster is meaningless. Hurdle is right to use some of those lower tier guys to give his top guys a break while he can (which ties back to the Grilli comment). So the reason no one is talking about Farnsworth closing is because while it’s ideal (and a lot of people did say something along the lines of “uh oh” when he was said to be the closer for the day), it’s the right move given the standings and the point of the season (not necessarily that it was Farnsworth, but that he’s not over taxing his top guys for a slightly better chance to win now at the possible expense of playoff games).

      • http://MultiMatchupSports.com Stephen Stasa

        “the reason no one is talking about Farnsworth closing is because while it’s **not** ideal…”

      • buster09

        Plus 1 Stephen !

  • CalipariFan506

    What the bullpen is dealing with now is just a lot of unfortunate circumstances that I don’t think Hurdle could have forseen.

    Morris and Hughes appear to be toast for the season. Welker and Black were traded. Grilli just isn’t back yet. His velocity is 92 not 85, and he isn’t commanding his breaking pitch yet. I don’t put any of this on Hurdle.

    Things I put on Hurdle will be starting John Buck even one more time this season. Not platooning Morneau with Gaby, he mentioned something yesterday that REALLY concerned me when talking about McCutchen’s day off saying how it was his turn and Morneau was Tuesday. IMO that infers that Morneau is an every day player. That is absolutely not good.

    IMO his bullpen management this season is MUCH better than in years past. He is much less reluctant to allow guys to finish innings instead of burning through lefty/righty stuff and that’s all I wanted out of him.

  • CalipariFan506

    And there it is. He is starting Morneau at 1B and batting him clean up against a LHP. This is exactly why I despise Clint Hurdle.

    • buster09

      And I’ll bet Clint has done that all on his own,without even consulting with Bannister,Bell or any one else ! I guess I should have used the sarcasm font on that . My bad.

    • leadoff

      Clint makes up the lineup, he is ultimately responsible for all management game decisions.

  • https://www.facebook.com/brian.nuckols.31 Brian Nuckols

    I propose a managerial platton with Hurdle providing motivation and a Larussa like figure handling game management and overall strategy.

  • https://www.facebook.com/brian.nuckols.31 Brian Nuckols

    I propose a managerial platton where Hurdle provides motivation and a Tony Larussa like figure handles game management and strategy.