Pirates Prospects » Game Recaps http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Sat, 26 Jul 2014 13:00:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Polanco Debuts to Warm Reception, Lukewarm Start http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/polanco-debuts-to-warm-reception-lukewarm-start.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/polanco-debuts-to-warm-reception-lukewarm-start.html#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 05:11:05 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=81316 Gregory Polanco standing ovation

Pirates fans greeted Polanco with a standing ovation. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pirates fans’ spirits would have been lifted if Gregory Polanco threw out a Cubs baserunner at home plate, swiped a base or two, or… I don’t know… hit a baseball into orbit.

None of those happened, and that last one has probably never happened. Instead, Polanco ended his Major League debut 1-for-5, striking out once and scoring on Andrew McCutchen’s 3rd-inning home run. It was a regular-sized box score result for the prospect with super-sized expectations.

The most noise came via a 20-second standing ovation from most of the 31,567 fans who gathered for Polanco’s Pittsburgh coming out party.

“I was a bit nervous, excited, emotional,” Polanco said.

Heck, he even got cheers after that first at-bat ended in a pop out to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. The Christmas morning good feelings were still strong.

“You could tell, some of the pop-ups he hit, he just missed,” Josh Harrison said. “He’s got some pop, short swing. He’s gonna be fine.”

Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte

Polanco and Marte are ready to man the corner outfield spots for the Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

That swing generated Polanco’s first Major League hit in the 3rd inning, as he turned on a Travis Wood fastball and dropped it into left field for a single. It was a nice peek at the hitting skills that have put the 22-year-old Polanco into the bigs. What was even nicer for Pirates fans was seeing  McCutchen follow it up with a two-run homer into the bullpens.

The sequence was the left-hook-right-hook combo that a general manager dreams up, and its fruition was satisfying to watch.

But the night was marred by a 7-3 losing Pirates effort, and more so by the potential loss of starting pitcher Francisco Liriano, who exited after 55 pitches with a left oblique strain.

“It’s never good to see one of your guys walk off like that,” Harrison said. “Frankie will bounce back. We hope he gets back soon.”

Then there was Polanco’s miscue — a tough route to the right-center-field wall that ended in an RBI double bouncing off the heel of his glove.

“I just was running,” Polanco said. “I couldn’t catch it.”

It wasn’t Gerrit Cole shutting out the Giants for six innings and hitting a two-run single. It wasn’t Starling Marte homering on his first Major League pitch. It wasn’t Andrew McCutchen scoring three times in an 11-6 win.

Gregory Polanco in right field

Polanco’s first efforts in the PNC Park outfield were not perfect. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Man, Pirates fans have been spoiled in hyped debuts of recent years.

There would be no beginner’s luck for Polanco on Tuesday. The luck comes in baseball’s knack for giving you another chance the next day. For his part, Polanco looked relieved to get through the first-game nerves.

“I think it was good. I was very excited,” Polanco said. “I know we lost, but it was my first game. I was so excited to play.”

A space-bound home run will have to wait until tomorrow.

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Pirates Take 2-1 Lead Over Cardinals: Five Key Moments From Tonight’s Win http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pirates-take-2-1-lead-over-cardinals-five-key-moments-from-tonights-win.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pirates-take-2-1-lead-over-cardinals-five-key-moments-from-tonights-win.html#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 01:16:10 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=67519 The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals tonight 5-3 in a game that featured a lot of resolve from the Pirates. They had to overcome a lot of obstacles, from Francisco Liriano’s struggles with command, to the Cardinals coming back twice, to a few tough breaks and base running mistakes. In the end they won and took a 2-1 series lead in the best of five NLDS. Here are five instances when the Pirates overcame a tough situation to eventually go on and win.

Francisco Liriano didn't have his best stuff tonight, but still managed a good stat line. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Francisco Liriano didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but still managed a good stat line. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

1. Francisco Liriano Lacks Command

The stat line won’t show it, but Francisco Liriano wasn’t sharp tonight. He ended up with two runs on three hits and two walks in six innings, striking out five. Those are good numbers, although they hide the lack of command that Liriano showed on the night. Even with the lack of command, he managed two runs and less than a base runner per inning.

The problem was that Liriano needed 101 pitches to get through the sixth. Only 58 of those were strikes. He also had a lot of hard hit balls which went right to his fielders in the outfield. Had some of those gone to the gaps, or gone over the head of a fielder, then this could be a different recap.

“We had a couple of real good opportunities,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “You look at the situation, guys in scoring position, and Holliday up hitting the ball hard to right field.  When it came off the bat, I thought it would have a little more carry than it did.”

Matheny was talking about the play to end the fifth inning. After giving up a two RBI single to Carlos Beltran, Liriano got a hard liner to right field against Matt Holliday. Marlon Byrd hustled back and made the catch, although if he didn’t have as good of a break, or didn’t hustle for it, the ball might have fallen in and scored a run.

“He didn’t have his best stuff tonight,” Clint Hurdle said. “In the numbers situation, he had to go in there and make sure that he made pitches where we have to make plays.  There were a few walks involved.  I think just two walks, one hit batter.  Many three-ball counts.  I think eight on the night.  So that was challenging in and of itself.”

Liriano had some good luck with balls hit directly to fielders. He also had some bad luck due to bad calls. The two run single by Beltran in the fifth came one play after a double steal. However, replay shows that Jon Jay was out at third base, as shown here in GIF format via @BuzzFeedSports.

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There were also some bad calls from the home plate umpire, with a lot of strikes called balls, and a lot of balls called strikes. That didn’t totally lead to Liriano’s low strike percentage, but it didn’t help.

One of the characteristics of an ace might be overcoming the lack of stuff to keep putting up strong results. Liriano didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he still put up a great performance. He wasn’t responsible for the luck factor where the hard hit balls went to his teammates. But he was responsible in part for limiting the damage tonight, despite the command problems.

2. A Chance to Pull Away

Joe Kelly benefitted from a hard hit ball right to a fielder tonight. In the third inning, with the Pirates up 2-0, Kelly gave up a one out single to Andrew McCutchen. That brought up Justin Morneau, who lined one down the first base line. However, that went directly to Matt Adams, who was able to then step on first base and double off McCutchen.

The key here was that the Pirates had Joe Kelly on the ropes after two innings. He threw 29 pitches in the first inning and 13 pitches in the second inning. But he only threw five pitches in the third, thanks to a first pitch ground out by Neil Walker, and the double play to Morneau, which came on the first pitch. That allowed him to settle down, and put Kelly in a situation where he had one less pitch than Liriano after four innings, despite the 29 pitch first.

3. Pirates Keep Bouncing Back

It didn’t take long for the Pirates to bounce back after the Cardinals tied it up 2-2 in the fifth inning. Russell Martin came up in the sixth inning with the bases loaded after an intentional walk to Pedro Alvarez. He responded with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Andrew McCutchen from third base to take a 3-2 lead.

“The quality of our at-bats has shown up the last two nights throughout the lineup,” Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve given ourselves opportunities and chances, whether it be by a walk or a situation where you extend an inning.  We’ve had some two-out RBI’s.  We’re just playing a much better and solid offensive game the last two nights.  It’s pretty simple.”

The Pirates lost the lead again in the 8th inning. With Mark Melancon on the mound, Carlos Beltran hit a solo homer to make the score 3-3. Beltran also had the two RBI single in the fifth. That sent the game to the bottom of the 8th, where the following two events happened.

4. A TOOTBLAN by McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen came up to lead off the top of the eighth inning, and he did what any MVP would do: he hit a double. That was followed by something that an MVP wouldn’t do: a TOOTBLAN.

McCutchen broke for third on a grounder to shortstop Pete Kozma. Kozma threw to third, and got McCutchen out by a mile, which is to be expected when a runner breaks for third on a ball hit to the left side of the infield. That put Justin Morneau on first base with one out, instead of McCutchen on second with one out. But the Pirates made up for it on a key at-bat by Marlon Byrd. The right fielder drew a walk on an eight pitch, full count at-bat to put runners at first and second with one out. That’s the exact same situation they would have been in had McCutchen stayed. The Pirates swapped in Josh Harrison for Morneau, so they still had speed on the bases.

Pedro Alvarez came up with the clutch hit against left-handed pitcher Kevin Siegrist to give the Pirates a lead. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pedro Alvarez came up with the clutch hit against left-handed pitcher Kevin Siegrist to give the Pirates a lead. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

5. Pedro Clutch vs a Left-Hander

After the Pirates put runners on first and second with one out, the Cardinals responded by bringing in left-handed pitcher Kevin Siegrist. Here were the numbers of each player on the season:

Pedro Alvarez vs LHP: .180/.252/.286, 38% strikeout rate

Kevin Siegrist vs LHH: .118/.241/.147, 40% strikeout rate

A left-handed hitter who gets dominated by left-handed pitchers. A left-handed pitcher who dominates left-handed hitters. Nothing about that matchup suggested that the Pirates had any sort of advantage. The advantage was all in favor of the Cardinals. Yet Alvarez came through with a single through the right side of the infield, allowing Harrison to score, and moving Marlon Byrd to third base.

“Kevin Siegrist has done such a great job for us, especially as a young guy,” Matheny said. “Hasn’t been in this league before.  You put him in a big situation and all season long he’s done a terrific job for us.  That’s the match-up we wanted.  And today they won.”

Alvarez has been huge for the Pirates so far in this series. He went 1-for-3 tonight with an intentional walk, and is hitting .400 with two homers in the three games so far.

“I just knew it was going to be a tough match-up,” Alvarez said. “I seen him a couple of times before.  I haven’t had much success.  He’s a pitcher, good stuff, great stuff.  Threw me a couple of fastballs out over the plate.  I was able to make good contact on the ball and drive it into right field.  But I just knew that I was going to be a battle.  It was going to be a grind.  In the past the few times I’ve faced him, they’ve been very tough at-bats.”

The Pirates later added another run when Russell Martin singled to left field, putting the Pirates up 5-3, and allowing Jason Grilli to close down the game in the ninth.

“When the score is tied, you have to score,” Hurdle said. “You’re not always able to do that every night.  But you have to find a way to get on, make something happen.  We’ve been road blocked ourselves late in the eighth.  We were able to push through that and create an opportunity and still plate two more runs.  It’s not like we’re trying harder than the other team.  Sometimes it does come down to execution, it comes down to pitchers.  You’re getting a handle at the plate and what you’re able to do with them.”

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Pirates Beat the Cardinals 7-1 to Even the Series http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pirates-cardinals-nlds-game-2-liveblog.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pirates-cardinals-nlds-game-2-liveblog.html#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2013 17:24:29 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=67372 1380127_557902740931642_549484123_nIn a noble quest for more pageviews, we present our Pirates Prospects liveblog of NLDS Game 2.

Wait, let me try that again.

To better serve our wonderful readers who may not be able to watch this playoff game due to: not having MLB Network, working, not having MLB Network, etc., we present our Pirates liveblog of NLDS Game 2.

It’s me, James Santelli, and Tim Williams providing updates throughout the afternoon when 140 characters will simply not suffice.

We join this game already in progress…

12:22 pm CT - (James) In a bit of breaking news, Carlos Beltran is good at hitting baseballs. The man who hit the three-run homer yesterday just collected St. Louis’ first hit on a long double off the right-center-field wall.

12:25 pm CT - (James) Gerrit Cole gets out of the first inning with a pair of fly-ball outs. If Cole is over-excited by the setting and magnitude of his first playoff start, it’s not showing up in the velocity. At times he could start games in the high-90s, but Cole began today around 95 mph before cranking it up to 97 later in the first.

12:34 pm CT - (James) I noted earlier on this site that Cardinals starter Lance Lynn does not get a huge number of whiffs on his breaking balls. And then he goes and strikes out four of the first seven Pirates hitters on curveballs. Okey-doke.

12:35 pm CT - (Tim) It’s going to be a tough day for the outfielders, as we’ve seen early on. Jon Jay had trouble with Pedro Alvarez’s double, and Yadier Molina had issues with a pop up behind home plate. The sun is overhead and slightly behind home plate, while the sky is a light blue/white mixture. It’s going to be tough to pick up the ball with that going on.

12:39 pm CT – (James) PIRATES 1, CARDINALS 0. Lance Lynn intentionally walked Jordy Mercer to get to Gerrit Cole with two outs. Big mistake. Well, a moderately-sized mistake. Cole grounds an RBI single up the middle to score Pedro Alvarez, who reached on a double/Jon Jay route screwup.

12:45 pm CT - (James) Gerrit Cole is throwing a lot of cutters to left-handers, and he relied heavily on it against lefty Jon Jay. Perhaps Cole is hoping the action on the pitch will run into lefties and get weak contact. It’s working so far — two shutout frames for the Pirates starter.

12:55 pm CT - (Tim) PIRATES 3, CARDINALS 0.  Pedro Alvarez hits a two run homer to center, two batters after Justin Morneau hit an opposite field single. That’s the second homer of the series for Alvarez, who many said was the key to this series for the Pirates, due to the lack of left-handed pitchers in St. Louis. In the last two years, Alvarez has 32 homers during the day, which ranks second in baseball to Miguel Cabrera.

12:57 pm CT - (Tim) After Pedro’s home run, the Cardinals went to the bullpen and got Shelby Miller warming up. Lance Lynn got out of the inning with no further damage. That’s the point I was making last night about Burnett. You need to have a guy warming up in that situation. Best case is what we saw: Lynn gets out of it and you sit Miller down. But if Lynn continues to struggle, you can bring Miller in to pitch and limit the damage while keeping the game close.

1:02 pm CT - (James) While Tim provides substantive analysis, this is my contribution:

Enjoy Costas on the play-by-play, everyone.

1:06 pm CT - (James) Gerrit Cole is playing with fire right now, in more ways than one. His fastball is being elevated, which was common for Cole in college and the minors. That can lead to Cole being smacked around, but he has gotten lucky in that all of the hard hits (save Carlos Beltran’s double) have found gloves in the outfield. But the high heat can also turn hitters around, like the 98-mph fastball to get Matt Carpenter at the end of the 3rd.

1:12 pm CT - (James) Don’t let it be lost that Lance Lynn is actually pitching pretty well. He has five strikeouts through four innings, is locating pretty well and the first run he allowed was really a seeing-eye single from Cole. But one mistake can be enough to ruin a start, and Lynn’s was elevating a 1-0 fastball to Pedro Alvarez.

1:18 pm CT - (Tim) Gerrit Cole just got Matt Holliday looking on a 97 MPH fastball below the knees. It looked like a ball, but Russell Martin quickly brought it back up to the strike zone. Looks like the Pirates benefitted from Martin’s frame work there. Cole has allowed one hit through four innings. In those four innings he has thrown 51 pitches, while Lance Lynn has thrown 70.

1:26 pm CT - (James) PIRATES 4, CARDINALS 0 Justin Morneau gets things going in the 5th inning with a double off the left-center-field wall. Justin Morneau will never be allowed to homer as a Pirate. Then Marlon Byrd knocks him in with a ground-rule double.

1:31 pm CT - (Tim) PIRATES 5, CARDINALS 0 Seth Maness came in to replace Lance Lynn after Lynn worked around Pedro Alvarez with a four pitch walk. Then Maness gave up an RBI single to Russell Martin. The Cardinals had Shelby Miller warming up in the bullpen, and he could come on next.

1:41 pm CT - (Tim) PIRATES 5, CARDINALS 1 Yadier Molina hit a solo homer to put the Cardinals on the board. This is looking like the opposite of yesterday’s game. One team gets out to a big lead and their starter dominates. Other team counters with a solo homer in the fifth inning.

1:45 pm CT - (Tim) Coming into this game, my biggest concern was that Gerrit Cole was beating up on bad teams in September. So far today: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR. He’s definitely holding his own against the Cardinals. He’s also making a strong case to be the game five starter, if there is a game five.

2:03 pm CT - (James) Sorry for the delay in updates. Tim has been clicked into it for a while and I thought he was writing. Silly me.

Please don’t fire me.

2:05 pm CT - (James) Large Adron Chambers flies out to the warning track. Again, Gerrit Cole has been elevating fastballs all game long, but the Cardinals still only have two hits. There is some luck there mixed with effectiveness. Pirates’ bullpen starting to move as Cole is past the 70-pitch mark in the 6th.

2:15 pm CT - (Tim) Gerrit Cole froze Carlos Beltran on a 3-2 pitch with a 98 MPH two seam fastball that cut back on the inside part of the plate. Second time he’s frozen a Cardinals hitter today on a 3-2, 98 MPH pitch. He’s at 86 pitches and Tony Watson is warming up, so he could be done. If he is, Cole leaves with 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR.

2:24 pm CT – (James) PIRATES 6, CARDINALS 1 on a sacrifice fly to score Marlon Byrd. And leave Cole will. Gaby Sanchez bats for Cole in the 7th, and Tony Watson will come on in relief.

2:35 pm CT - (James) I’ve poked fun at St. Louis fans on Twitter this afternoon, but I’ll give them some props. The Cardinals are down five runs in the 7th, but the ballpark is still packed and pretty loud, and the noise amps up with any run-scoring opportunity. The “best fans in baseball” meme is overdone, but these people know how to treat the playoffs.

2:38 pm CT - (James) Tony Watson gets in a little bit of danger in the 7th on a single and a walk, but he escapes by taking a ground ball himself and tagging out Daniel Descalso. The Pirates are six outs from evening the series.

2:44 pm CT - (James) PIRATES 7, CARDINALS 1 Hey, cut Shelby Miller a slice of that run allowance! Miller leaves a juicy high fastball to his first batter, Starling Marte, who clobbers it 413 feet for a solo homer.

2:57 pm CT – (James) And now they are three outs away, said Mark Melancon.

3:08 pm CT - (James) Jason Grilli gives up a one-out double off the wall to Matt Adams, who is a large human being. Now the tying run is… still very far from being important.

PIRATES WIN PIRATES WIN 7-1

The Bucs and Cardinals will go back to Pittsburgh with the series all tied up. More to come from Busch Stadium.

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Nothing Goes Right For the Pirates As They Drop Game One 9-1 http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/nothing-goes-right-for-the-pirates-as-they-drop-game-one-9-1.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/nothing-goes-right-for-the-pirates-as-they-drop-game-one-9-1.html#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2013 01:36:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=67281 Coming into this game, you expected Adam Wainwright to be his dominant self. He was. Wainwright threw seven innings, giving up one run on three hits, with no walks and nine strikeouts. The lone run came off Pedro Alvarez, who hit a solo homer in the fifth inning.

“We’ve seen him along those lines before,” Clint Hurdle said. “You know, the curveball plays so well.  Every once in a while they get me over for strike, then a put-away down low, the back door to left-hander, different angles, different options with it.  Spotted up the fastball command as well, and that’s where he’s been very effective.  When he throws that curveball as effectively as he did tonight, it just makes the fastball play that much better.”

Wainwright did throw the curve well, leading to six of his nine strikeouts on the night.

“He pitched a good game,” Andrew McCutchen said. “I wouldn’t give you excuses, but it was a little difficult to see those first couple innings with the shadows and all. He was definitely working that curveball, taking advantage of it…A lot of swing-and-misses at curveballs out of the zone. If we could’ve not swung at those pitches, let those pitches go, it could have definitely been a different ballgame, because that was a utilizer for him. That was the difference maker for his outing. We just have to show up, do a better job of that, not chase anything out of the zone, stay within ourselves and just play good ball.”

There were also concerns prior to the game that A.J. Burnett could struggle at Busch Stadium, which has happened in his four previous starts at the venue over the last two years. Burnett did struggle, giving up seven runs in the third inning.

ANALYSIS: What Led to A.J. Burnett’s Seven-Run Inning?

The right-hander didn’t look effective the first two innings, but got out of the frames with zeros on the scoreboard. That was despite putting the first two runners on in the second inning. In that case, Burnett was aided by a great play by Neil Walker, and a double play started by Clint Barmes to end the inning and strand a runner at third base.

Then came the third inning. It started with a walk on a full count to pitcher Adam Wainwright. Jon Jay followed that up with a single. Then Carlos Beltran put the Cardinals on the board with a three run homer, making the score 3-0.

“All year long we’ve faced A.J. and he has pitched good games against us,” Carlos Beltran said after the game. “Today was a game where he wasn’t locating pitches.  He was falling behind, and we were able to put ourselves in a hitter’s count. So every time as a hitter you put yourself in the hitter’s count, you’re going to get something to hit.  So it all depends about trying to be able to put in a good swing, and that’s what we were able to do today.  We put good swings on the ball and we were able to score early for this guy who was able to pitch a good game for us.”

The damage didn’t stop there. Burnett gave up a double to Matt Holliday, hit Matt Adams, then walked Yadier Molina to load the bases with no outs. A walk to Jon Jay made the score 4-0. A double by David Freese cleared the bases, and put St. Louis up 7-0. It was at that point where the Pirates pulled Burnett for Jeanmar Gomez.

ANALYSIS: Why Did Clint Hurdle Delay Pulling A.J. Burnett?

“I was able to execute a pitch here and there, but never to repeat my delivery,” Burnett said. “I was anxious, and just wasn’t able to stay back [on my back leg] one bit today. You come in here to get momentum, and you give them momentum in the third. It’s tough to push back after that. We’ve got another one tomorrow, that’s a good thing.”

Jeanmar Gomez threw four innings, but that’s when the defense fell apart. Clint Barmes threw in the dirt to first base on what would have been a double play in the fifth inning. That would have left the Pirates with two outs, a runner at third, and Adam Wainwright at the plate. Instead the error allowed another run to score. Then in the sixth inning Gomez had two outs and a runner at first base when he gave up a double to Yadier Molina. Andrew McCutchen tried to backhand the ball, but it bounced off his glove, allowing Matt Adams to score from first and putting the Cardinals up by the eventual winning 9-1 score.

“You’d rather be crisp every single day you go out there. We weren’t able to really have that, but that definitely wasn’t the reason why we lost tonight,” McCutchen said on the errors. “We lost because we didn’t pitch too well and we couldn’t get any guys on base. Couldn’t get anything going…. We’ll shake it off. We’ve done it all year.”

The lone run on the night for Pittsburgh came on a Pedro Alvarez home run off Adam Wainwright. The pitch was a mistake changeup that Alvarez crushed 437 feet into the right field seats.

The Pirates play the Cardinals tomorrow at 1:07 PM EST, and will look to bounce back and even this series in a crucial game. Gerrit Cole takes the mound for the Pirates, going up against Lance Lynn of the Cardinals. Check back later tonight and tomorrow morning for analysis on the game.

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The Pirates Bought a Wild Card Win Against the Reds http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/the-pirates-bought-a-wild-card-win-against-the-reds.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/the-pirates-bought-a-wild-card-win-against-the-reds.html#comments Wed, 02 Oct 2013 05:50:14 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=67059 The Pittsburgh Pirates might as well be the New York Yankees right now. They just bought a playoff win. Over the off-season they signed Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin as free agents. At the August waiver trade deadline they added Marlon Byrd for a playoff push. Tonight that trio led the Pirates to their first playoff victory in PNC Park history, and sent them to the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Russell Martin hit two home runs tonight. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Russell Martin hit two home runs tonight. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The biggest performance tonight came from Liriano. The Pirates signed him to a two-year, $14 M deal over the off-season. The deal hit a snag when Liriano broke his right arm, but was later adjusted to a one year, $1 M deal with a vesting option. In the end, the Pirates will get Liriano for about two years and $12 M, and he was worth every penny of that in 2013. That continued tonight when he showed that he was the team ace, pitching seven innings and giving up one earned run, even though he admitted after the game that he was under the weather. He ran into a jam in the fourth, but got out of it by striking out Joey Votto, getting Brandon Phillips to pop out, then striking out Todd Frazier to end the inning with just one run allowed.

READ: Fourth Inning the Key to Liriano’s Outing, Pirates’ Wild Card Victory

The Pirates also added Russell Martin as their other big free agent over the off-season. Martin was signed to a two-year, $17 M deal, with the Pirates out-bidding the Yankees. All year he has been a huge value due to his defense. Tonight, it was his offense that was the key. Martin blasted two home runs, including one key moment when he put the Pirates up 2-0 after the fans at PNC Park started a “Cue-to” chant.

READ: Cue-to, Cue-to — The Value of Home Field Advantage

Marlon Byrd homered in the second to put the Pirates on the board. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Marlon Byrd homered in the second to put the Pirates on the board. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Finally there was the big splash at the trade deadline. The Pirates traded top prospects Dilson Herrera and Vic Black in exchange for Marlon Byrd. That’s two months of Marlon Byrd for two prospects who ranked in their top 10-15 guys. It was a total rental. And Byrd was worth every penny of that move tonight when he started the scoring, hitting a solo homer to lead off the second inning.

“I saw Cueto was having a hard time with his fast ball location,” Byrd said. “I knew at some point he was going to use a slider or changeup. My first at-bat, I tried to sit soft. He threw me a changeup.”

Byrd and Martin gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead in the second inning. They added another run in the third on a Pedro Alvarez sac fly. That came one play after Zack Cozart booted what could have been a double play ball, and would have been the second out. Instead, it allowed Andrew McCutchen to go from first to third, leading to the third run of the game.

Two more runs were added in the fourth inning. Starling Marte doubled, knocking Cueto out of the game. Neil Walker followed that up with an RBI double, giving the Pirates a 4-1 lead at the time. Byrd brought in another run with a ground out, scoring Neil Walker from third and making it 5-1. Russell Martin later added a solo homer to make it 6-1, and the score was cut to 6-2 on a Shin-Soo Choo home run against Tony Watson.

The three acquisitions came up huge for the Pirates. Liriano set the tone on one side of the ball, while Martin and Byrd led the offense, combining for four of the six runs. There was also the home field advantage. The fans came dressed in black for #PNCBlackout night, and were as loud as PNC Park has ever been. They taunted the Reds. They cheered the Pirates. They chanted for Liriano after Travis Snider came on to pinch hit for him, even with Liriano in the dugout at the time. They sang “Don’t stop believing” after every Clint Barmes intro, including one where he recorded his first playoff hit.

“That was my first post-season hit. I went to the post-season in 2009, and unfortunately went 0-fer,” Barmes said. “It definitely meant a lot stepping in, and to hear the crowd as electric as they were all night from the first pitch on, was a lot of fun. I think anyone in that clubhouse can tell you how many chills, the chills that lasted all night from the crowd, and just how much they were in the game. It made it exciting from the first pitch to the last.”

Jason Grilli came on to close out the game, even though the Pirates had a four run lead and it wasn’t a save situation. The crowd was on their feet waiting for Grilli to come out, and exploded when Grilli got the final out of the game.

“I’ve never had so much love in my career, attention, respect,” Jason Grilli said. “When you have that backing, it’s easier to put success in front of you and achieve the things you want to, to contribute to winning. I’m so grateful for these fans. I think every guy in this room is for sure. They listen to a tweet by a few guys. Dressed in black. They were on their feet from pitch one to the last one.”

The Pirates will go to the NLDS where they play the St. Louis Cardinals in a best of five series. Game one will be in St. Louis on Thursday at 5:07 PM EST, followed by Game two on Friday at 1:07 PM EST. They return to Pittsburgh for games on Sunday, and Monday if necessary. Those times haven’t been announced yet.

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The 94th Win Providing Some Questions For Next Year http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/the-94th-win-providing-some-questions-for-next-year.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/the-94th-win-providing-some-questions-for-next-year.html#comments Sun, 29 Sep 2013 23:52:46 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=66891 Today’s game was meaningless. The Pirates won 4-2, but their standings wouldn’t have changed regardless of the winner. Since the game was meaningless, the Pirates went with a different lineup, giving some regulars the day off. The Reds took the same approach, so the Pirates didn’t necessarily have any advantage.

So what do you say about a meaningless game that has zero impact on the 2013 season, and didn’t feature many players who would be on the playoff roster? How about looking at some of the performers in that game, and looking ahead to their possible roles in 2014?

Brandon Cumpton could be one of the top depth options for the Pirates next year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Brandon Cumpton could be one of the top depth options for the Pirates next year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Brandon Cumpton

First up is Brandon Cumpton, who threw five shutout innings today, giving up a walk and two hits. This was Cumpton’s sixth game of the season, and his fifth start. It was the second start against the Reds, with the last one seeing him go five innings, giving up one run on five hits on the road in June. That also came against a much better lineup.

Cumpton finished the year with a 2.05 ERA in 30.2 innings, with a 22:5 K/BB ratio. His performance this year isn’t going to be enough to get a rotation spot next year out of Spring Training. However, he has proven himself to be a top depth option out of Triple-A, and possibly one of the first players who could be called up if the Pirates need a starter next year. In a weaker rotation, he’d be a sure bet to make the majors as a back of the rotation starter.

Stolmy Pimentel

He’s in his final option year, and will have to be in the majors next year. Pimentel had success as a starter this year in the minors, but worked in relief in the majors. Today he threw two shutout innings. In his one month in the majors he had a 1.93 ERA in 9.1 innings, with a 9:2 K/BB ratio.

Pimentel probably won’t have a spot in the rotation next year, so he should move to the bullpen. He could serve in a Jeanmar Gomez role next year, moving to the rotation for depth or spot starts. He’s got number one stuff as a starter, although his lack of consistency projects him as more of a strong number four starter. As a reliever he profiles as a potential late inning reliever, but he can also serve as a multi-inning reliever if needed.

Garrett Jones

In his final at-bat, Jones hit a solo homer, going 1-for-4 on the day. The home run was the 100th in his time with the Pirates, giving him a clean average of 20 homers per season. It’s possible that could be his final regular season at-bat with the Pirates.

Jones has struggled this year, and will be due for a raise in arbitration over the off-season. That could put him at around $6 M, and he would also need a platoon partner, which would make the combo around $9 M total. Jones might not be bad if brought back under a much reduced deal as a bench player, but his age and his 2013 season make him too much of a risk as a starter next year.

Jose Tabata

He went 2-for-3 today, then was replaced by Andrew Lambo, who went 1-for-2. In the last few years Tabata has gone from signing a contract that looked extremely team friendly, to performing at a rate where that contract looked like a waste of money. And now?

Tabata finished the season with a .282/.342/.429 line in 341 plate appearances. He didn’t provide the best defense in right field, but overall he was a one win player. Next year Tabata’s salary goes up to $3 M. His .771 OPS this year isn’t great from right field, but it’s good as a fourth outfielder. In half a season he was a one WAR player, which gives him positive value under the next three seasons. I’m not sure that Tabata has earned a starter role, but he definitely looked good enough this year to return next season as a backup.

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Pirates Power Their Way to Home Field in the Wild Card Game http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/pirates-power-their-way-to-home-field-in-the-wild-card-game.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/pirates-power-their-way-to-home-field-in-the-wild-card-game.html#comments Sun, 29 Sep 2013 01:10:31 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=66840 Neil Walker homered twice today. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Neil Walker homered twice today. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

If the last two games are any indication of how the Wild Card game could go, then the Pittsburgh Pirates are putting up some good signs. Yesterday they won 4-1 in a game where A.J. Burnett dominated the Cincinnati Reds, and Pedro Alvarez and Marlon Byrd led the offense. Today the offense destroyed the ball, launching six homers en route to an 8-3 victory. That win sealed home field in the Wild Card game, which will be played against the Reds on Tuesday.

Today was the first time the Pirates hit six homers in a game since the 2007 season. Neil Walker connected for two, and Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Marlon Byrd, and Andrew Lambo all had one each.

Walker and McCutchen went back to back in the third inning, putting the Pirates on the board and up 2-0. The Reds quickly came back in the bottom of the inning, getting three runs on an RBI single from Brandon Phillips, followed by a two RBI double by Jay Bruce. Pedro Alvarez quickly tied the score at 3-3 in the fourth, hitting his 36th home run and 100th RBI of the season.

The Pirates took the lead in the fourth inning, getting three more runs off homers. Neil Walker hit his second of the game, breaking the tie. Marlon Byrd later hit a two run shot, putting the Pirates up 6-3.

Charlie Morton ran into trouble in the fifth inning. He gave up two straight singles before striking out Jay Bruce. That was followed by a walk to load the bases, putting the lead in danger. Morton had struggled earlier, giving up three hits, four walks, and hitting a batter in his first four innings. After the walk, the Pirates turned to Vin Mazzaro, who came on to get Zack Cozart swinging and Ryan Ludwick to line out to center field, escaping the jam.

The Pirates didn’t allow the game to get close after that. Andrew Lambo hit a solo homer in the sixth, which was his first major league home run. That put the Pirates up 7-3, and created a funny situation where Lambo returned to the dugout and wasn’t greeted by anyone for 20 seconds. They added an eighth run in the eighth inning when Clint Barmes hit a sacrifice fly after three straight singles to start the inning.

The win was a huge statement for the Pirates. Not only did they take home field in the Wild Card, but they dominated the Reds for the second straight game. They also saw continued production out of Neil Walker, who has been on a hot streak lately. Pedro Alvarez also looks to be heating up, and Marlon Byrd remains productive since the trade. The one downside was that Charlie Morton had a bad outing, although the offense picked him up.

One benefit to winning the first two games is that tomorrow’s game has no impact. The Pirates will be turning to Brandon Cumpton for the start, which allows them to save Gerrit Cole for the Wild Card game. The Pirates have a huge advantage in that game, since Francisco Liriano will be starting, and has been lights out at home. They could also give their offensive players a day off, which would give them two off-days in a row.

The Wild Card game will be played Tuesday at 8:07 PM EST, and will be aired on TBS.

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Pirates One Game Away From Home Field Advantage After Win Over Reds http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/pirates-one-game-away-from-home-field-advantage-after-win-over-reds.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/pirates-one-game-away-from-home-field-advantage-after-win-over-reds.html#comments Sat, 28 Sep 2013 05:21:04 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=66818 A.J. Burnett is heating up at the right time. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A.J. Burnett is heating up at the right time. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds tonight 4-1, talking the first game of a three game series between the two teams. That’s an important win since whoever wins the series gets home field advantage in the Wild Card game. The win tonight means that one more win from either Charlie Morton (Reds killer) or Gerrit Cole (on fire lately) will put Francisco Liriano on the mound in PNC Park on Tuesday.

I didn’t see the game tonight. I’ve been driving up from Florida today to cover the Wild Card game (wherever it is) and hopefully more playoff games after that. I did listen to the entire thing, including part of the game on a Cincinnati feed I found on the radio after my MLB At-bat app crashed and started asking for log-in information. That gave me the unique experience of knowing that Pedro Alvarez absolutely destroyed a ball without having seen it, all because of the immediate excitement with the “drive to center”, followed by a quick but mellow “4-1 Pirates” as they realized that the majestic home run put the Reds further back.

Apart from that, I was listening for A.J. Burnett to have a bad inning. That has been an alarming trend for him in the last two months, but it didn’t happen tonight. He went out for the eighth inning in one of those “hold your breath and hope Hurdle didn’t go back to him one too many times” moments. But Burnett handled it well, getting through the inning quickly and finishing with 99 pitches. He didn’t have a big inning in his last start, and the time before that the “big inning” was two runs in the seventh. It’s good to see Burnett playing well heading into the playoffs. If Liriano wins the Wild Card game, that would set Burnett up to start games one and five of the division series. With the way he has been pitching lately, there’s a good chance he could get them off to a good start in game one.

It’s also good to see Pedro Alvarez heating up. Coming into this game, Alvarez had a .298 average and a .798 OPS in his last seven games. Getting a boost from his bat in the middle of the order would be huge, especially if Andrew McCutchen breaks out of his recent slump. As I’ve been saying, it’s not so much about who has the best team. It’s all about who gets hot at the right time. Between Burnett, Alvarez, Liriano, Neil Walker, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Marlon Byrd, and Starling Marte, the Pirates have a lot of players who are heating up at the right time.

First they need one more win against Cincinnati this weekend to improve their chances in the Wild Card game. Considering the pitching matchups, and how Morton and Cole have been pitching lately, I’d say there’s a good chance we could see that Wild Card game at PNC Park.

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Should Francisco Liriano Start the Wild Card Game on the Road? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/should-francisco-liriano-start-the-wild-card-game-on-the-road.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/should-francisco-liriano-start-the-wild-card-game-on-the-road.html#comments Thu, 26 Sep 2013 01:20:28 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=66748 Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano has been great at PNC Park, but not as good on the road. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Today Francisco Liriano struggled on the road against the Chicago Cubs. That’s not a new thing. Liriano has been much better at home this year than he has on the road. Prior to today’s game he had a 1.47 ERA at home, and a 4.15 ERA on the road. The FIP numbers are a little closer, with a 2.50 FIP at home, and a 3.29 FIP on the road.

This afternoon Liriano had 90 pitches through five innings. That was even after a short nine pitch fifth inning. He came out for the sixth inning and started off the frame with a single and a walk. The next batter, Darnell McDonald, hit a three run homer, which ended up being the difference in the 4-2 game.

As it stands, Liriano is the scheduled starter for the Wild Card game. If the Pirates take two of three this weekend against the Reds, that game will be at PNC Park. I don’t think there’s any question that Liriano should start the game if the Pirates have home field advantage. But there might be a question of whether he should start on the road, which will happen if the Reds win the weekend series.

On one side of the debate, there’s the home/road splits. On the other side, there’s the fact that the Reds have a lineup led by left-handed hitters Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce. Throwing a dominant left-hander against that group looks to be a smart move, no matter where the game is played.

Liriano has made two starts in Cincinnati this year. In the first start he limited the Reds to two runs in six innings. In the second start he gave up five runs in 4.1 innings. At home, Liriano has held the Reds to one run in six innings and two runs in eight innings in his two outings. I don’t think you can attribute all of those numbers to the home/road splits. Some of those performances, whether at home or on the road, have to be chalked up to Liriano against the Reds.

I think the decision would be simple if it wasn’t for the July 19th start where Liriano gave up five runs in 4.1 innings. So what happened in that outing?

It started when Chris Heisey hit a solo homer off Liriano in the first inning. After that, the left-hander was on cruise control until the fifth. With one out, Liriano gave up back to back singles to Shin-Soo Choo and Heisey. The second single brought in Mike Leake, who reached earlier on a fielder’s choice. Both singles were ground balls, so I went back to the video to see exactly what happened.

The first single by Choo was a ground ball that went under the glove of Jordy Mercer at second base. Mercer was ranging to the bag and trying to backhand it, but didn’t get his glove down far enough. Clint Barmes was on the bag, so there would have been at least one out from the play, and possibly two.

The second single was a bouncer to third that went off the glove of Alvarez. It looked like Alvarez was getting in position to try and go to second and start a double play. Looking back, I’m surprised it went for a hit, since it wasn’t a hard hit ball, and should have at least gone for an out. Also, if Mercer makes the previous play and gets an out, then Alvarez probably fields this differently, going for one out and ending the inning with no damage.

After that, Liriano walked Joey Votto, then left the game, and Justin Wilson came in. Wilson gave up a double to Brandon Phillips to clear the bases, and give Liriano three more runs.

So the one bad outing by Liriano against the Reds really had nothing to do with pitching at home or on the road. He got two ground balls that should have been played by his fielders, and if they had, then it’s a 1-0 game through five innings. Instead, he left the game at 2-0, then got three more runs when Justin Wilson took over. Without all of that, we would be easily point to his strong history against the Reds as a sign that he should be pitching against them, no matter where the game is.

Even with that start, I still think the best bet is to start Liriano against the Reds, even if it’s on the road. I think that his success against them this season makes more sense than whatever the theory is behind him starting on the road. Three of the best hitters for the Reds are left-handed, and Liriano has dominated left-handers this year with a microscopic .303 OPS on the season. That is why he should start against Cincinnati, even if it’s on the road.

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Gerrit Cole Continues His Ace-Like Month of September http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/gerrit-cole-continues-his-ace-like-month-of-september.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/gerrit-cole-continues-his-ace-like-month-of-september.html#comments Wed, 25 Sep 2013 04:07:29 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=66716 Gerrit Cole has a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings in September, with a 39:10 K/BB ratio and a 1.06 WHIP.. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gerrit Cole has a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings in September, with a 39:10 K/BB ratio and a 1.06 WHIP.. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

There weren’t many innings where tonight’s game was in question. The only time it was really close was in the sixth inning. Gerrit Cole had gone five innings, giving up just one run, but ran into trouble in the sixth and put the game on the line despite a five run lead.

The right-hander started off with two singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs. He got Anthony Rizzo to ground to Jordy Mercer, who misplayed what could have been a double play ball, and what would have easily been an out at second. That allowed a run to score, and kept the bases loaded for Cole with no outs. It also brought the tying run to the plate and got Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson warming up in the bullpen.

The biggest issue with Gerrit Cole earlier in the season was that he couldn’t get strikeouts in key situations. He did that in this situation. Cole struck out his next two batters, going from the bases loaded with no outs to the bases loaded with two outs in a huge swing in momentum. But he also got some help from Mother Nature. Donnie Murphy came up with two outs and hit a deep fly ball to right field. The ball was caught by Marlon Byrd, thanks to a strong wind that was blowing in from the outfield. With no wind, or wind blowing out, the game would have easily been tied. Instead, the game saw an animated Gerrit Cole exit after escaping the jam with minimal damage.

And that was it. Cole gave up three hits to start the second inning, but benefitted from a TOOTBLAN by Nate Schierholtz, thanks to Dioner Navarro’s slow base running. He got out of the inning with a double play ball, preserving a 3-0 lead, which quickly went to 4-0 when Jordy Mercer led off the next inning with a homer.

Cole finished the night with two runs on seven hits in six innings, giving up one walk and striking out six. This was his fifth straight game with six or more innings and two or fewer runs, and it was the seventh such game in his last eight (the other being a 7.1 IP, 4 R, 3 ER start). This was also the fourth start in a row where Cole struck out a batter an inning. In the start before this run he struck out five in six innings. In the month of September, Cole has been on fire. He has a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings, with a 39:10 K/BB ratio and a 1.06 WHIP.

Tonight he did more than just pitch well. He came up with two outs in the second inning, with runners at second and third and a one run lead. He helped himself out in a big way, hitting a two run single to give the Pirates what eventually became the go ahead run. The Pirates were also helped by Pedro Alvarez, who went 2-for-5 with two doubles and three runs knocked in on the night. Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, and Kyle Farnsworth each came on to pitch shutout innings to close out the 8-2 win over the Cubs. Combined with the Reds losing to the Mets, that put the Pirates one game up for home field in a Wild Card game.

The continued success from Cole is great to see, especially at this point in the season. Earlier today it was announced that Jeff Locke would be skipped this weekend against the Reds, which almost certainly means that Cole will make the final start of the regular season. Depending on how the next three games go, that matchup could decide home field advantage for the Wild Card game. The Pirates will need a big pitcher for that game, and Cole has been one of the best in the rotation this month.

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