First Pitch: Pirates Have a Good Opportunity to Take Over the NL Central

It hasn’t been a good day for the other NL Central contenders. A quick recap of the day’s events below:

St. Louis Cardinals – Yadier Molina went down last night, and today it was announced that he would miss 8-12 weeks after having surgery on his thumb. That will put him out for most of the remainder of the season, if not all of it. Here is a feel for the impact that Molina provides for the Cardinals.

Cincinnati Reds – Brandon Phillips will also need surgery on his thumb, and is expected to miss the next six weeks. Joey Votto was also recently placed on the DL.

Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers lost to the Phillies 9-1, and are now 1-9 in their last ten games.

The Brewers are in a massive slide. The Cardinals just lost arguably their most valuable player, possibly for the season. The Reds lost their second baseman for the next month and a half. The current NL Central race is tight, with the Pirates sitting 3.5 games back after their win tonight. They’re only a game behind Cincinnati, and 1.5 games behind St. Louis. The Pirates finish the first half of the season with three games against the Reds over the weekend, and with no Votto or Phillips, now is a good time to play them.

The Pirates just wrapped up an amazing month of June, going 17-10. The start to the month of July has seen a 6-4 record. The problem they’ve seen is that they’ve been beating up on weak teams, and losing against other contenders.

After tonight’s win, the Pirates are 6-7 against the Cardinals. They’re 3-7 against the Reds this year. They’re 3-10 against Milwaukee. Their success since the start of June has largely been due to weak opponents. Here is a look at the series the Pirates won, the series record, and the standings for those opponents.

Padres (2-1) (.440)

Cubs (5-2) (.429)

Marlins (2-1) (.484)

Rays (2-1) (.447)

Mets (3-1) (.457)

Diamondbacks (2-1) (.419)

Phillies (3-0) (.446)

Now here are the series that the Pirates have lost since the start of June.

Milwaukee (1-2) (.559)

Cincinnati (1-2) (.538)

St. Louis (1-3) (.533)

Eventually the Pirates are going to have to defeat these division opponents to be contenders. But after this weekend they get a bit of a break. They don’t play any division opponents until August 22nd, at which point they have a series against Milwaukee, followed by a series against St. Louis, one against the Reds, then back to St. Louis.

The Pirates have a 36-20 record (.643 winning percentage) against the rest of the teams in baseball. The upcoming month will give them a chance to try and add to their winning percentage. Meanwhile, the Brewers are slipping, and the Cardinals and Reds are dealing with major injuries.

It’s not exactly a good situation when you’re hoping that other teams beat your competition, while celebrating a break against those teams. I think the Pirates are a team that can at least be evenly matched with their NL Central rivals, but so far we haven’t seen that this year, with the possible exception of St. Louis. For now, they’ve got a good opportunity to make up some ground on those teams, and possibly jump to the top of the NL Central standings.

Links and Notes

**Tony Sanchez endures month-long slump

**Thoughts on Yesterday’s Pirates Roster Moves

**Prospect Watch: Gems From Jason Creasy and Nick Kingham

**Minor Moves: Matt Curry Promoted to Indianapolis

**Minor Moves: Shane Carle and Yhonathan Barrios Promoted to Bradenton

**Pirates Call Up Jaff Decker, Option Brandon Cumpton

**Prospect Highlights: First Look at Big Bonus Third Baseman

**Minor League Schedule: Tyler Glasnow Tries to Get Back on Track Tonight

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.

Share This Post On
  • Dave

    Looking at the difference with and without Molina, really makes me hope that Russell Martin resigns with the Buccos

    • csnumber23

      Absolutely!!! That is a must resign!

      • mam995

        CSNUMBER23, – Besides, Martin, what do you do if Volquez ends up with say, 17 or 18 wins…do you resign him? There was a wonderful article in the Pittsburgh Post-gazette last week,written by Jenn Menedez, where Hurdle is quoted as saying that they had to teach Edison basically EVERYTHING as a pitcher from the GROUND UP. Hurdle went on to say that, ” You would think that someone who’s been in the league this long and at his age, would KNOW such basic things as a pitcher…but apparently not”. I know that nearly everybody on this site was AGAINST this signing, especially after they let Burnett go. But the Pirates believed that they could FIX this kid, just like they believe that they could fix Worley. Everytime I write about how the Pirates have a core competency with fixing pitchers, (like Burnett) someone shoots that contention down. Of course, it’s not absolute.The player has to WANT the help too. Jonathan Sanchez arrogantly refused help and James McDonald was a head case who lost his will to compete. But if you look at what this organization does on a consistent basis, it is not a knack…it’s not luck…it’s a nice program that I think gives them an advantage over most teams. By the way, I think that if Jeff Locke stays healthy, he may end up being as valuable as Gerrit Cole. He could end up being a legitimate # 2 starter in the big leagues. He looks like the Pirate’s version of Tom Glavine. So WHAT do you do if the Pirates have turned Volquez into a winning starting pitcher (something that Bud Black a former pitcher couldn’t do) do you resign him or do you trade him or do you just let him walk away for nothing? If he keeps pitching like this in the second half of the season, he’s going to be a hot free agent commodity in the off-season.

        • Travis Persinger

          Well a trade is out of the question since that cant happen after July 31st & there’s no way he would get through waivers. So its either he walks or you resign for probably a 2 year deal around 12-14 mil for the length of the contract…we will see though what they’ll look at doing for their 2 empty rotation spots going into next spring.

          • Dave

            2 words…..qualifying offer

            • Travis Persinger

              So in your opinion he should be offered a qualifying offer that is the avg salary of the top 125 players? Over 14 million… for one yr of Volquez. Really?

        • Andrew

          Volquez hasn’t actually been that good, I think Tim pointed this out before but by FIP and xFIP Volquez ranks 59th and 65th in the NL (out of 74 starters who pitched 50 innings), that is a number #5 starter. He has the 13th highest ERA – FIP gap in the NL, and hasn’t exactly been a FIP beater.

          Yes the Pirates have worked on his control and his walks are down, but so are the strikeouts, his K% -BB% is the lowest of his career. His first half performance mirrors Locke in effect, though certainly not magnitude, Volquez has benefited from a low BABIP and an above average strand rate.

          Pitcher: K% – BB% / BABIP / LOB% / ERA / FIP/ xFIP

          Locke: 6.0% / .228 / 83.3% / 2.15 / 3.80 / 4.21
          Volquez: 7.5% / .255 / 75.1% / 3.72 / 4.41 / 4.32

          I like the recent results, but I think you are making too much of Volquez. I agree on Locke, not sure about #2 but he certainly has something with that change up.

          • pilbobuggins

            Just goes to show that numbers are not the be all end all, they are very usefull tools as indicators, at the end of the day the game Is played by real people not numbers. As in any sport the outcome is usually determined by who makes the most mistakes and who takes advantage of them when they happen

        • csnumber23

          I was actually one of the few on this site that liked the Volquez signing. If he continues the rest of the year this way, I would make a 2 or 3 year offer similar to Morton’s deal. I wouldn’t go higher and I wouldn’t offer a QO because Edinson could implode over the life of the contract and 14 Mil is too much. If it gets to a bidding war then let him go.

          As for Locke, you are higher on him than me. I like Locke and think he could be a good 3-5 starter. That is my opinion but I hope your ceiling for him is more accurate than mine.

        • Greg7373

          Based on history, the Pirates will NOT sign Volquez if he wants a salary comparable to a qualifying offer. The real question is whether they will even make a qualifying offer to him – they didn’t with AJB and then traded away Morris to get the same pick, approximately, that they would have gotten if they had just made a qualifying offer to AJB (which he probably would not have accepted anyway). In sum, because of the failure to make a qualifying offer to AJB we lost him and Morris in exchange for Connor Joe! Shrewd! Meanwhile, the Pirate bullpen has lost three out five games the Pirates have played this week. The Bucs still haven’t solved their season long problem at 1st base – where do we rank in the league for offensive production at that position, last, next to last? Third base is another disaster – when you subtract the unearned and tainted runs caused by errors and poor play at third from the offensive production at that position we must be near the bottom of the league at that position as well – a position that is suppose to provide offense. With Pedro, bless his heart, its always going to be a race between runs he drives in and runs he lets in. Nothing against him personally, he plays hard and I understand he works hard to try to get better, he just shouldn’t be playing third base and the Pirates should have admitted that and addressed that long ago. An obvious move since most of Pedro’s errors are throwing errors and he’s a pretty good fielder, would be to try him at first and let Harrison play third. Of course, that would be a tacit admission that the Ike Davis trade was a bust.

  • csnumber23

    The Pirates are going to take this division. I knew Milwaukee would come back to the pack. I think they will fade even more as the 2nd half heats up. The Bucs will need to play better against the 3 and I think they will but we need Cole healthy and Liriano healthy. Francisco is a big key, I think he was hurt the whole first half, if he can return to even close to last year it will be like adding a big time starter. I think the Bucs win 90 games and that will be enough in this tight 4 team race. Need to go 42-28 to get 90 wins. I like the 2nd half schedule and Cards and Reds are hurting with the Brewers fading.

    • xHoratiox

      I don’t really see the Brewers fading too much. Their pitching is deeper than people think. If their starting pitching falters, they still have Mike Fiers dominating AAA, and he has already had a year of major league success before his injury. They also have Jimmy Nelson, who is arguably the most major league ready SP in the minors. Don’t get me wrong, they are still overplaying a bit, but I just don’t see the dropoff many are predicting. Am I alone in this thinking? They also have Estrada struggling more than usual as he is usually a very capable pitcher.

      • leowalter

        ” Arguably ” is the key word in that comment. Does any organization want to pin their playoff hopes on a rookie starting pitcher like Nelson ? I doubt it, Kershaw he isn’t. Estrada has always been regarded with some suspicion, he is a HR waiting to happen and Peralta is mediocre at best. Matt Garza or Lose an ACE leading a rotation ? Ask the Ranger of Cardinal people. And not only is their rotation mediocre over all, their first base situation is worse than the Pirates. Gomez, Braun,Lucroy and Ramirez are all threats, every one else ? Outside of that, the Brewers are in good shape.

        • xHoratiox

          Good points all of them, and I do agree that the Brewers do not have the top heavy rotation usually required to ADVANCE in the playoffs, but feel that Fiers or Nelson could give them the depth that they need in some pinches leading up to the playoffs, similiar to what Cole did for us last year. Not to mention that if that does happen, the replacements could be stronger than their current options, just less experienced.

          • pilbobuggins

            If you want insight on what the brewers are going to do this year look at the 2012 pirates, no depth to speak of and a fade to obscurity in aug . and sept.,

          • leowalter

            My reply ? See pillobuggins. Im not sure the Brewers fade quite that badly ,but it might not take them till August and September either.

        • kelso

          Yeah but it’s not like the Pirates rotation is stocked with Aces either. Brewers are definitely the team to beat right now.

          • leowalter

            Really ? Not the Cardinals or the Reds ? That one win in the last 10 has sort of knocked their odds back,don’t you think ?

  • bmcferren

    Bring in Burnett and Papelbon for Tabata and friends and lets take this thing!

    • Bryan Graham

      They would have to be some pretty good friends.

    • Mike C.

      Not sure if serious or a sarcastic joke…..
      But papelbon…really?

  • Bryan Graham

    I will feel even better when Cole proves he is back injury free, Liriano gets healthy and gets back some kind of form, and the bullpen gets strengthened. I have faith Cole will come back strong and they will make some changes in the pen. I just wish I felt as confident about Liriano.

  • S Brooks

    While the season series numbers look bad – particularly against the Reds and Brewers – an incredible number of games have been lost in the last AB.

    2 walk-offs against the Cards in this series
    the Grilli blown save and loss against the Reds June 17
    the Melancon blown save and loss against Milwaukee May 15
    the back-to-back Grilli blown saves against Milwaukee April 19-20
    the Melancon loss at Milwaukee April 12

    For the record, the Bucs have won 2 games in their last AB against these three, and lost 7. These were all toss-up games, and could very easily have gone the other way. Save all 3 of the games with Milwaukee that the Bucs were leading in the 9th, and the Pirates are in first place by 1.5 games over St. Louis, 2 games over the Reds and 2.5 over the Brewers. And their record vs. Milwaukee would be a more respectable 6-7.

    It’s not like the Bucs are just hanging around and the other shoe is bound to drop – they belong in the race, every bit as much as the Reds, Cards and Brewers do.

    • Andrew

      To echo this sentiment, just looking at run totals on the year the series against the Brewers and Cardinals have been close, the Reds not so much.

      Team: Record, Runs Scored / Runs Against.

      Reds: 3-7, 36 / 54
      Brewers: 3-10, 55 / 54
      Cardinals: 6-7, 51 /44

  • pilbobuggins

    Like tim said the pirates can be in the drivers seat for a little over a month. Eventually though they are going to have to win within the division, like I always say, if you can’t beat your division you can’t win your division. With that in mind there are going to be quite a few pitchers available, the pirates do not need a 1 or 2 ( although it would be nice I don’t see the fo paying for a 1-2 starter) they do need and can afford a 3-5 starter to solidify the rotation, extra arms are going to win this division, consequently that is why I do not see the brewers in it for the long haul, all they have is their front five, after them the cupboard is pretty bare. Even if those five stay healthy they are going to be mighty tired come august,september.

    • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

      I’m all for Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy. But, I’d like to see Tim or someone suggest what one of them would cost.

      • jaygray007

        Ian Kennedy, please!

        Every pitcher likely to be moved is either an ace (Price) or close to it (Lester) OR is not even worth acquiring. Except Kennedy. He’s probably the only middle of the road option that i’ve really heard was available. Plus he’s under control for 2015 to bridge the gap until Taillon and Kingham are ready and effective and almost to when Glasnow is ready.

        Either that, or pony up for Price.

        • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

          Kingham, Bell, Hanson if needed for Tulowitzki. Do the deal, seal the pennant – We have plenty of SP depth and need no closers. Frankly I like the AAA depth there too in Oliver and Obisbo.

          • Lukas Sutton

            No way they deal Tulo for a group that doesnt have Taillon in it. They wont deal a guy that hot and that good for a “decent” return. They will want an over the top return.

          • jaygray007

            it’ll take more than 3 prospects for Tulo because he is locked up for like 6 more seasons. that’s a fair price for Tulo if he had like… 1 year left on his contract.

            you gotta think a big already-in-the-majors piece like Marte would have to be in any Tulo deal in addition to a few big prospects.

            • moose7195

              That’s exactly why he isn’t worth it. 3 of this teams top 6 prospects and the prime years of Starling Marte career aren’t worth the back end years of Tulowitski. Do you think he’ll be the same level of good at age 34-36. Probably not. And all the while the team suffers because the farm is now empty

          • pilbobuggins

            If tulo was healthy he may and I stress may be worth the farm. There’s no doubt this guy is great when he is on the field, he has a somewhat team friendly long term deal,is a plus on offence and defence when I say again he is playing. For that reason alone he is not worth the farm.

          • csnumber23

            Not sure why people keep posting this same offer. There is no way that is enough to get Tulo!

      • moose7195

        The cost is the most important part. Those 2 would be excellent pick ups as long as the farm remains mostly intact. I really don’t care who we’re trading for, 1 to 2 seasons of that guy isn’t worth 6 seasons of guys like Kingham, Taillon, Glasnow, Bell, or Hanson

        • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

          If the trades can be done with the likes of: Heredia, Barnes, Tabata, DiJhang, Joely, Lambo, etc then go for it!

  • bucsws2014

    Before we all get jacked up over thinking a healthy Liriano will automatically mean another postseason appearance, let’s remember that in his 14 starts this season, the team is 7-7. So the starting point is .500, not lower.

    If he stays healthy and performs to last year’s level, he’ll have 13-14 starts remaining. In 2013, his final 14 starts were 8-6 (not including playoffs). His best 14-game string was 11-3. So it’s possible the Bucs get a four game bump if he’s at his best. It’s also possible they only get a one game bump if he repeats his second half performance.

  • jaygray007

    i wonder if Yadier’s injury makes it more or less likely that the Cards make a big move like acquiring Price. Either saying “Oh crap we need to replace those wins so we need an ace instead of Peavy!” or “ehhhh we proooobably aren’t going anywhere without Molina… let’s just skip Price.”

    If Yadier’s injury knocked out another one of Price’s suiters…..

  • John Lease

    Pirates have to win their games, and as long as our pitching holds up, we’ll win our share. The Brewers tailspin has been GREAT to witness.

  • stickyweb

    And keep in mind those “without Molina” numbers are from when the Cards were one of the best teams in the NL. This year, even with him, they’ve been rather middling with a lot of problems of their own.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    Please do NOT trade any prospects for a closer with stuff that maxes out at 90 mph. NO NO NO… don’t care if he’s 21 for 21 either. Not interested. Trade for Tulo.

    • leowalter

      You do understand it would probably take both Taillon and Kingham, plus Hanson and possibly Meadows to make a deal like that ?
      If you think he is worth that much,you have a different perspective on the game than many do.

      • jaygray007

        Tulo is totally worth that!

        • jaygray007

          i mean… i don’t want to include Kingham in any deal since he is so close and could help the team this year. But Tulo is an elite player.

          using some WAR estimations…. lets say he avgs 5 war over the next 5 seasons. makes 20 mil per season. that’s 10 million of surplus value there per year. tulo is insanely valuable.

          • leowalter

            And you will guarantee he will be on the field for that entire period of time ? Lets guess that he probably won’t. Did you think the Tanaka signing was a great deal also ?

        • leowalter

          SMFH at that one.

          • jaygray007

            since 2007, Tulo has put up 5.2, 0.6, 5.5, 5.9, 5.6, 1.3, 5.5, and finally a 5.2 WAR so far in 2014.

            i don’t understand what’s wrong with my previous statements that made you S your FH.

            And it’s not like Taillon and Meadows are pictures of health either.

            And
            as far as Tanaka, how is that not a fair contract? even if this elbow
            thing turns into Tommy John, how can you blame the Yankees? i don’t think it’s a great deal by any means, but i sure think it’s fair.

            Tanaka never had elbow problems in Japan and has shown that he’s talented enough to become an ace. I don’t understand what he has to do with anything. you can’t just say a contract was stupid because a guy got injured. I would think the MLB’s recent strain of elbow injuries would be evidence that it can’t really be predicted or prevented (yet).

            • leowalter

              Suit your self. If you think trading 4 quality prospects for one hitter is going to win a team a World Series, that’s your your opinion, and you are certainly entitled to it. And,f you think signing a pitcher for $ 175 million dollars is the way to go, particularly with the epidemic of injuries,that is your opinion. But as a Pirate fan,I am sure glad you aren’t the Pirates GM.

              • jaygray007

                I’m not even saying that they SHOULD go after him. I’m just saying that the packages that people on this board have been posting for Tulo are probably not enough. probably. could be wrong.

                It’s so rare that star who is under team control for 6 years and is outperforming his contract goes on the market, so i understand why it’s easy to underestimate. just to illustrate…. these offers are just a little more than what people think it would take to get 1.5 years of Price! now multiply that by 4 to get 6 years of Tulo!!!

                and there’s a big difference in thinking that Tanaka’s contract was a good idea/decent value for the Yankees and thinking it would’ve been a good idea for the Pirates. The Pirates obviously have to be a little more careful (and have proven to have the ability to find pitching on a budget!)

                I think we do agree that Tulo is too expensive (prospects and $) for the Pirates. i think you just misunderstood my message.

                • leowalter

                  Yes,I am sure I did misunderstand what you were saying jay. And you are right,many don’t seem to understand what it would take,and why a franchise like Pittsburgh’s can’t make a deal that it would take to get a guy like that.

    • kelso

      honestly they should look at morneau

  • leadoff

    The Pirates can’t win, if they win it is because the opposition sucks, if they lose it is because the opposition is so much better.
    DEPTH will win in the end, the Pirates have more than anybody in their division, that is the bottom line, DEPTH, The Cards don’t have as much, the Reds don’t have as much and the Brewers don’t have as much. While the Pirates have had their share of injuries, no one was making excuses for the Pirates, now that the other teams are having their problems lets see how much DEPTH they have, we already know the excuses for these teams are flying all over the place, so if the Pirates beat one of these teams, we will know the reason why. The Pirates beat the Cards last night, of course Molina did not play, we would never have beat them with Molina there!
    They play 162 games, I don’t care how they get to the finish line, just as long as they get there. For all the beating up on the Pirates that 3 clubs in their division did to the Pirates, there is 1 1/2 games separating them. Seems like the cream puffs the Pirates beat up were the same cream puffs that beat up on the 3 teams that beat up on the Pirates, maybe the big 3 need to beat the cream puffs if they are going to beat the Pirates to the finish line.

    • leowalter

      Well said leadoff, well said.

  • https://profiles.google.com/102688850599440394897 craggy1000

    Losers lose games like they did tonight. They have scored as many runs as they have given up and they look to me to be an average to a little above average team. They are lucky that the Brewers have come back down to Earth and the Cardinals and Reds have a number of guys banged up. Until they spend some money and bring in some ESTABLISHED talent to fill the holes on this team they are going to tease but never win.

    • csnumber23

      Ok bud! They didn’t just win 94 games last year right?? They have the best farm system in baseball. Go away with that BS.

  • Bryan Graham

    The only thing I know is that if their bullpen doesn’t quit blowing games none of this is going to matter.

  • Greg7373

    Based on history, the Pirates will NOT sign Volquez if he wants a salary comparable to a qualifying offer. The real question is whether they will even make a qualifying offer to him – they didn’t with AJB and then traded away Morris to get the same pick, approximately, that they would have gotten if they had just made a qualifying offer to AJB (which he probably would not have accepted anyway). In sum, because of the failure to make a qualifying offer to AJB we lost him and Morris in exchange for Connor Joe! Shrewd! Meanwhile, the Pirate bullpen has lost three out five games the Pirates have played this week. The Bucs still haven’t solved their season long problem at 1st base – where do we rank in the league for offensive production at that position, last, next to last? Third base is another disaster – when you subtract the unearned and tainted runs caused by errors and poor play at third from the offensive production at that position we must be near the bottom of the league at that position as well – a position that is suppose to provide offense. With Pedro, bless his heart, its always going to be a race between runs he drives in and runs he lets in. Nothing against him personally, he plays hard and I understand he works hard to try to get better, he just shouldn’t be playing third base and the Pirates should have admitted that and addressed that long ago. An obvious move since most of Pedro’s errors are throwing errors and he’s a pretty good fielder, would be to try him at first and let Harrison play third. Of course, that would be a tacit admission that the Ike Davis trade was a bust.