First Pitch: The Biggest Problem With the Pirates This Year

If you want, you can find a lot of problems with the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. You can look at certain spots in the rotation which don’t feature an ace. You can look at the struggles from Aramis Ramirez since being acquired in a trade. You can even go back to certain points of the year and focus on when the bullpen was struggling, or when Gregory Polanco wasn’t hitting, or any other thing that was going poorly at the time.

Every team has problems, and the Pirates are no exception. But their one problem all year has been simple: The Cardinals have been too good.

After losing their second straight game to the Cardinals, the Pirates have dropped to 65-46 and seven games back in the NL Central. That second number is a bit misleading, as it just ignores how ridiculously good the Cardinals have been. To give some perspective on how good the Pirates have been, let’s see how their record stands against the other two divisions in the NL.

In the East, the Pirates would be leading the division by 4.5 games over the New York Mets, who currently sit three games ahead of the Washington Nationals. Those are the only two teams with hopes of making the playoffs in the East.

The NL West is a bit more competitive, but the Pirates would still be winning the division right now by three games (not counting tonight’s matchup for the Dodgers). They would be leading San Francisco by six games. And for more perspective, Arizona is seven games out of first place in the West, and currently has a 56-57 record after losing to the Phillies tonight.

You could do the same with the AL East (four game lead) and the AL West (five game lead). The Pirates wouldn’t be in first place in the AL Central, but would be two games behind the Royals.

The Cardinals have been ridiculous this year, while the Pirates have consistently been one of the best teams in baseball. Their only problem is that the team ahead of them in the division has been the best in baseball. Sure, you could point out other problems they have. For example, consider the following:

**The Pirates have been without Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer since July 20th. Aramis Ramirez has done a horrible job filling in at third base in this time. Meanwhile, the team has gone 12-8 in this stretch.

**The starting pitching this month has been without A.J. Burnett, and has seen poor outings from Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole. J.A. Happ struggled in his first start, and Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke haven’t been great. Yet the xFIP of 3.42 (not counting tonight) ranks sixth in baseball and third in the NL. Granted, the 5.71 ERA is the fifth worst in baseball during this time, but even with those results the Pirates have gone 5-4, and the xFIP says this won’t continue.

**The Pirates’ fielding has ranked middle of the pack at best, and bottom third in some advanced metrics. This isn’t getting better lately, which might be a big reason why the Pirates’ starters are performing well below their advanced metrics.

But despite all of this, the Pirates remain a winning team, and one of the best teams in baseball. And if you look around the game, you’ll see why. Every team has problems, even the best teams. We saw that over the weekend. The Pirates just swept the Dodgers because, despite their endless amounts of money, the Dodgers have a horrible bullpen. And that’s not even considering the fact that they have 20 starts this year combined from Carlos Frias, Alex Wood, Brandon Beachy, Mat Latos, and Scott Baker, plus a total of 16 pitchers making at least one start.

The reason the Pirates keep winning, despite their flaws, is because baseball is a team sport. Sure, a lot of it boils down to individual battles and individual performances, but you need a lot of people performing well to win. What you don’t need is everyone performing well. You can still have a winning team with flaws. That’s why the Giants won the World Series last year with Travis Ishikawa as a starter throughout the playoffs and Jake Peavy bombing in almost every playoff start (the same thing happened with Boston and Peavy in 2013).

The problem is that the Pirates aren’t good enough this year to keep pace with the Cardinals. Don’t mistake that as a weakness for the Pirates or a shortcoming. Some of this is because the Cardinals are a really good team, but some of it also has to do with luck. The Cardinals rotation has a 3.51 xFIP and a 2.77 ERA. The Pirates rotation has a better xFIP at 3.44, but an ERA at 3.51. Once again, fielding might be a factor here, as the Cardinals rank 8th in Defensive Runs Saved (Pirates are 16th) and 9th in UZR (Pirates are 25th). But if fielding played this much of a role in the results, then the Pirates would have a much lower ERA on the season, as their fielding has been poor all year.

Then there’s the fact that the Pirates have been just as good as the Cardinals for several months. Since May 22nd, the Pirates have gone 47-24. During that same stretch, the Cardinals have gone 46-26. Both results are outstanding. Unfortunately, the Cardinals had a much stronger start to their year, which means they’re still way ahead of the Pirates, despite slightly better results from Pittsburgh over an almost three-month span.

 

Even after two straight losses to the Cardinals, the Pirates remain the third best team in baseball on the season. In any other division, there would be far less panic about every little problem on this team, and they’d be recognized as a strong team and a serious World Series contender. Unfortunately, the Pirates are in a division with the best team in baseball this year, which allows people to forget how good this team is, and ignore that they’ve been just as good as the Cardinals for three months.

Personally, I’m not worried about the Pirates, even after the last two games. I think it would be impossible for them to win the division without a big slump from the Cardinals (once again, unreal play by the Pirates the last three months, matched by the Cardinals every step of the way). They’ve got Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer returning soon, which should help the defense and the overall team. A.J. Burnett could also return within the next month, and I’d expect the pitching to perform closer to the xFIP numbers than what we’ve seen lately. And the offense has been heating up for some time, and doesn’t show signs of stopping.

I think the Pirates are bound for a Wild Card game once again, with a strong chance that this is hosted at PNC Park. I think they match up well there, considering they’ll have Gerrit Cole available, plus a much better offense than last year. You can’t change their slow start, which was hard to avoid, considering it was team-wide and included struggles from guys like Andrew McCutchen and Mark Melancon, who have been among the best at their positions since. You also can’t ask for more than what you’ve gotten in the last three months, without having totally unreasonable expectations.

At this point, the best approach would be ignoring the Cardinals, realizing that the Pirates are going to the Wild Card game (unless they drop a six game lead over the Giants in the final two months), and hoping that they maintain home field advantage over the Cubs in that game.

**Prospect Watch: Chad Kuhl Returns With Success in Shortened Outing. Good to see that he’s still pitching well, even if the Pirates are limiting his innings.

**Starling Marte Leaves With Left Hand Discomfort. This would not be a good thing if Marte goes down, although the Pirates could negate his loss when Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer return. Hopefully it’s not a serious issue.

**Tyler Glasnow Shows Some Improvements After Slow Start in Triple-A. Ryan Palencer with the report on Glasnow’s latest start.

**Glasnow Named Best EL Pitching Prospect, Bell Named Best Hitting Prospect. Generally it’s a good thing to have the top hitter and the top pitcher in a league.

**Morning Report: The End of the Line For a 2009 Draft Pick?

 

  • Just heard ARam is going to move to 1b soon…

    Color me surprised. Might as well color me dubious while you’re at it. Given the lack of range ARam has shown at 3b, I’m not sure his moving to 1b is an improvement over status quo.

    • I wonder how Morse is feeling about that. It really is insane, this isn’t Sunday softball. Cole and Liriano are taking more reps in the batting cage as well. Brain trust has decided they might be better pinch hitters than Rodriguez, Ishikawa, Floriman and company.

  • Despite their superior record, the Cards are not the better team. The FanGraphs ROS projection has the Pirates outperforming the Cards. The Pirates have a better offense but the Cards have outperformed their base pitching metrics. The Cards had a crazy high BARISP a few years back.

    Que sera.

    Better defense would help. But improved fielding will come next year.

    Also, the injuries to McPherson, Taillon, Kingham, Sadler and Cumpton have definitely harmed the team. Morton also cannot stay healthy. Not only have these injuries diminished the organization’s depth, they have eliminated one top of the rotation starter and three middle rotation starters. And, since the Pirates expect to contend each year, the front office — plus team fans! — prefer using veterans to throwing rookies into the grinder. Vets are Proven™, after all. So, the Pirates acquire Happ instead of giving Sanchez a shot. Risk averse behavior need not eliminate risk. It can merely substitute one kind of risk for another.

    In any case, injuries have hurt the team this year.

    • Pirates are now ranked by odds makers as 16-1 to win the World Series, dropping to 11th most likely to do it. Bucs are behind non-playoff teams, despite having third best record. Vegas sees a bad trend.

      • Hmmm, bookmakers are more likely to predict a WS winner than a projection system based on data compiled for more than a century? I don’t think so. Bookmakers set the odds so that an equilibrium exists between the various outcomes. Bill Gates could alter the bookmaker’s odds simply by placing a massive bet. The odds would then adjust to reflect the Gates bet and the effort to achieve an equilibrium. None of that has anything to do with with the analysis of MLB and the goal of projecting a WS winner.

  • Assuming they make the WC game a big thing will be their mindset going into the game. Are they disappointed to be playing in it and doubt their ability to advance past the Cardinals even if the win? Or will they view it as a stepping stone to get another shot at the Cardinals and ultimately the WS like the Giants did last year. Every indication is that it would be the latter.

    This series also makes the upcoming series against the Mets and Giants, two teams chasing them for the WC spot, more important. (I know the Mets are in 1st, but the Nats might catch them.)

  • Tim, prior to this second injury wasn’t Tallion supposed to be one of our
    starters by now. Didn’t it seem that Burnetts role at the beginning of the
    year was probably be the “bridge” until Tallion?

    If so you can add that situation to our injury circumstances.

  • BallHeadWonder
    August 13, 2015 9:06 am

    Ramirez and Pedro have been AWFUL……when Cole and Liriano pitch, I would go with Rodriguez at 3rd and Ishikawa at 1st, Kang at Short and Neil at 2nd. That is the best defensive team we have. That will give us a shot to stay in the game. Let Kang bat in the 4 spot for the rest of the season, because Freakin Ramirez is a Pop Up or Ground out to 3rd or Short!! Then what pisses me off is the Ho-Hum walk back to the dugout like Cerrano in Major League!!!

    Locke needs to be Platooned with Blanton!! Jeff can give you 4 innings and let Joe come in to get you to the 7th. Or make the change and bring Liz up from Indy!! Hell, why not….Can’t be worst than Jeff right?? This is Season number 3 that we have seen this with Jeff. 2nd Half regression!! We know what we have and we know what we will be getting the rest of the way!! What movie is that?? Groundhog Day!! So give Liz a shot!!

    Ground Chuck needs his ass whooped!! He teases us with 7 shutout innings and then comes back like he’s in a damn Softball Charity Game to save Pedro’s job!!!

    Happ…..I will hold my tongue on him right now, I need to see 3 starts to give my opinion on him!! I am throwing his 1st start out the window. I get it, being traded and thrown into a race has to be taxing on him and his family moving east. All plays a part. Great decision to skip a start and work with Uncle Ray!! I’m cool with that. Looking forward to seeing him this weekend!! So welcome to Pitt JA!!

  • we may have the third best record in baseball but at this point in time it’s looking like we are the third best team in our division and I would not want to have to play the Blue Jays right now

  • I agree with your points but I think Hurdle went to sleep with keeping a very ineffective Locke in when we walked the first two batters. I also think that they have made too many senseless errors the past two nights.The Cardinals have had a number of injuries and they keeping on rolling. They do not fill their holes with Isikawa, Morse and other slugs. They seem to have solutions from their AAA system. If you play for the Wild Card spot then it may take a different mind set then what is currently going on. The most important issue right now is that we Pirate Fans think we should win every game we play. That is what is great. That believing you should win every game you play makes any loss tough to swallow.

  • It never made sense to me that the Pirates play in the NL Central, especially when there is another NL team from the same state in a different division. A lot of the Braves TV fan base is in Alabama and Mississippi which is in the central time zone. I think the Pirates chose to be in the NL Central to get away from much larger markets like NY and Philly, but unfortunately a smart organization with a huge multi-state regional fan base like the Cardinals is a more difficult opponent than big market teams who where once able to buy steroid infused vets. Now, smart beats money and I wish the Pirates were in the NL East. I’d also rather have a 7pm start to night games.

  • On the fence about this article. It seems like it’s suggesting to not be concerned about finishing second, and I’m not sure that’s the right message.
    In some ways it’s surprising we’ve sustained this position in second with as inconsistent a performance as we’ve played with. Poor defensive and baserunning has been worse than most years, and veteran players (Walker, Mercer, Alvarez, Ramirez) have been playing poorly for most of the year.
    Our rotation has been inconsistent as well, particularly the back end but even Frankie has blown up. To think we are clearly in the playoff picture at this point is not logical to me. What needs to happen to make that playoff picture a reality:
    1. The Real Deal Neal Walker needs to show up
    2. Frankie needs to be healthy
    3. Harrison needs to get back to the team and be the Ben Zobrist of the Bucs
    4. Morton or Locke need to get hot
    5. Hurdle needs to wake up with the lineup – Ramirez is not a 4 hitter anymore he’s dragging the team in that spot
    6. Hurdle needs to manage the pitching staff more agressively, it getting to the point where we have to pull guys if needed. September call ups are right around the corner for depth
    7. It may require a spark – Like Liz in the rotation, as I doubt Glasnow will be allowed to see the show this year. Liz is already signed and could be just as dominant in a starting role as his velocity has been higher than Glasnow.
    8. NH still has a chance to acquire a legit player in the August waiver trades – he’s done it before and this team seems to still need help. OK so Shields may be out of range – but some other player may be able to play a key role.
    9. Marte needs to be healthy – long term injury would be kiss of death
    10. Cole needs to do what a stud does, shut somebody out. Step up and take it.

    • And Marte may be out for a few, or less effective due to the pain. See my post above. If Happ fails tomorrow we need to turn to Liz immediately, just as you suggest. This team is in no way safe in a wild card spot with 50+ games left.

  • What does this even mean? You can look at certain spots in the rotation which don’t feature an ace.

    Is this supposed to insinuate that those who have issues with the rotation wanted to add an ace like Cueto/Hamels/Price or go bust. There is a wide, wide gap between an ace and what you have in the 3,4,5 slots with Locke,Morton and Happ. They should have found some medium ground there to improve upon that. Kazmir would have been a guy to target among others.

  • The Pirates are going to have a tough time winning the division for reasons beyond the Cardinals simply being “ridiculous”. At worst, at the VERY worst they should be playing to cut Cardinals lead to 4 games tonight, possibly 2. We didn’t lose because of anything extraordinary the Cards did last night. We lost because we insist on playing a corpse at 3b who is HORRIBLE defensively. The groundball by Wong completely changed complexion of that inning and should have made the Walker/Pedro F up a non issue. Ramirez has brought nothing with his bat yet night after night he bats cleanup. You are a pitching staff that thrives off groundball. Either put Srod in at 3b or put Florimon in at SS and move Kang to 3b. It’s not as if you are losing anything offensively with Aramis out of lineup.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 13, 2015 8:24 am

    This team should be in first, but is its own worst enemy:
    – terrible fundamentally – especially in base-running
    – defensively, one of the worst teams in baseball
    – cannot throw out runners stealing
    – first base is a train wreck and has been for 2 years running
    – the rotation, beyond Cole and Liriano, is mediocre at best, probably less
    – very weak bench, especially in regards to hitting

    Now the positives:
    – this team is resilient – every time it appears they may fold, they bounce back
    – despite the occasional lapses in RF, an outstanding outfield defensively
    – three extremely good bullpen arms – Hughes, Melancon, and Watson
    – an emerging superstar and team leader in Cole
    – three very versatile players who can play multiple positions pretty well – Kang, Harrison, and Rodriguez

    • I couldn’t agree more…our fundamentals/mindset has been very disappointing. All the losses in division to subpar teams, the constant baserunning and fielding errors, other teams running on us like it’s their right…it’s just not a sharp team in a lot of ways.
      All that said, there is certainly enough talent to beat anyone. I just hope we don’t continue to beat ourselves so often.

  • Here are the ratings defensively per runs saved this year in our infield

    Walker 31st at 2b I can find maybe 3 guys worse Kendrick, Utley and 1 or 2 more
    Ramirez 31st at 3b
    Pedro 35th at 1b

    Keep those groundballs coming

    • Tim,
      I get it if the theme of this article is to put things in perspective and to stay positive because the Cards are playing great. However, I don’t know how you can watch this team post AJ, Harrison and Mercer injuries and say you are not worried. Last night we lose Marte, our very best defender, to injury and nobody is talking about what a disaster that could be for this team. The Pirates five losses in St. Louis do not bode well for how this team handles pressure on the road. All five were winnable, all five lost. I am going to enjoy the growth of Polanco to stardom as much as anybody, but his fielding and base running gaffes have cost us wins. The Cubs are red hot, and at this point it is more likely we will be playing a one game playoff on the road, under pressure that we have not handled well. Ishikawa, Rodriguez, Floriman, Lambo, Morse, and Hart collectively have a stunning .201 batting average. There have to be better options out there.
      At this point I am not confident our great bullpen is going to be enough.

  • Here’s one more thing. We are a groundball team with an infield with 3 of the worst fielders in baseball according to BIS runs saved. Walker, Ramirez, and Pedro all are near the bottom in runs saved at their position. Why are we surprised the infield defense stinks?

    • Might I add, too many Sean Rodriguez ABs. Gloves okay, but was asked to do much more offensively than they originally planned and failed miserably.

    • and meanwhile people want to bench the only plus defender we have up the middle because he doesn’t hit enough when he comes off the Dl……

  • Our rotation after Cole and Liriano consists of

    A. A guy who can’t get lefties out. Does not stand a chance against lefties this season and has reverted to his pre2014 ways with them. A wOBA of 385

    B. A guy who can’t go through the order 3 times so you’re lucky to get 5 innings from most nights

    C. J. A. Happ

    Why in the world would anyone assume, let alone NH that you would not have injury issues to your rotation? Let alone when 2 of the main cogs are old(AJ) or have an injury history(Liriano). How many rotations ever go full season with the same 5 guys? We knew by July we had zero rotation depth. Should have moved early on someone like Kazmir.

  • Trade deadline deals losing some of their “shine”. Aramis stinks and is complete liability defensively. Morse’s swing looks LOOOOOOOOONG. Happ has been kept under wraps. Although Soria had very poor peripherals he has looked decent. Rotation should have been addressed. This isn’t hindsight but should have been foresight.

    • If they knew AJ was going to be injured I’m sure they would have been more active pursuing a SP. Happ was entirely a last minute thing. Hopefully the Pirates’ pitching mavens can elevate his game.

      • It should never have been a last minute thing. That’s entirely my point. Even if AJ was never injured a strong argument existed about the need for depth for an injury post 7/31 as well as for simply upgrading rotation(ie moving Morton out or maybe Locke)

    • Morse has been hitting the ball very hard everytime i’ve seen him. Not sure what you are worried about with him

  • I agree, completely, that the Pirates should not even worry about the Cardinals. They should worry about finishing the season with the 3rd best record in baseball and getting the home playoff game. Do we want to be in the WC game? Hell no. And that is what really sucks for us and the situation we are in, but it would be much, much worse if we had to go on the road for that game. We only have a 1.5 game lead over the Cubs for the top WC spot. We need to buckle down and match the Cubs win-for-win and get that WC game at home.

    I also find it a little interesting that everyone is saying it would/should be Gerrit Cole in the WC game. I like looking at matchups and I wonder if it would not be better to pitch Frankie. The Cubs are a young, young lineup with a TON of swing-and-miss(ers). At PNC I like Frankie’s chances against that lineup. He has some of the best swing-and-miss numbers in the game and the Cubs are not a patient team who will take many pitches. I think Frankie could/would neutralize Rizzo and his dynamic slider/changeup combo would keep Bryant at bay…who knows what we will see from Schwarber at that point. Anyways, I am not saying I dont trust Gerrit…I am only saying that from a matchup standpoint, maybe Frankie is actually the better option.

    • I agree it’s not optimal..it also guarantees a matchup with the cardinals in the nlds if we win. But we are still in and anything can happen in October.

    • If Liriano is healthy at the end this is a valid point of discussion. Cole challenges and pitches to contact with his 2 and 4 seam fastballs most of the time. He gives up solid contact and depends on solid defense, which the Bucs are not displaying. When his defense gets him in trouble he goes into strikeout mode. Odds are Cole will get the nod, and it will his strength against some great young bats. Hurry back Mercer and Harrison, tighten up this defense.

      • Harrison is arguably just as bad as Ramirez defensively.

        • Arthur with all due respect I completely disagree. He has not been as good this year as last and had some early season issues but there is no comparison based on BIS stats.

          • -0.2 dWar?

            • He was bad beginning of year but ranked 8th last year in terms of runs saved and is 19th this year but I think he was much better after poor start. Aramis is clearly horrendous anymore.

        • His range is clearly better than Ramirez.

          • Lol. Okay.

            Hey, I think Sean Rodriguez is a better hitter than Ishikawa while we are debating which player has the superior below average skill.

            • So you really think Ramirez has as good of range right now than Harrison?

              As Pirates, Fangraphs has Ramirez at -.7 RngR (so range above or below average) and Harrison at 1.

              Harrison rates better in DPR, DRS, etc. He’s got more range than A Ram.

              • Luke, did you even read my original comment? I said, defensively JHay was almost as bad as Ramirez.

                And spare me the Defensive Runs saved nonsense. At 3, its barely above average.

                I do not believe Harrison is that much better of a 3rd baseman than Ramirez. Thats just my opinion.

                • Which is fine. Its wrong based on nearly any stat you look at, but its an opinion. You start to strawman it with “barely above average” when the issue wasnt that, but how much better J Hay is to A Ram.

                  • You’re fine with Jhay everyday at 3rd moving forward?

                    • Again, thats not what i was arguing. Thats a strawman. You originally stated that you thought A Ram and Harrison were similar on defense. To that, i said thats just false. The range of those two isnt close.

                      Im fine with Harrison at 3B over A Ram. Would i like a better option? In the sense that id love Cutch at 8 spots yes. I dont worry over Harrisons defense, he’s average. He wont play at 3B full time, so its meh. Kang/Harrison at 3B, Kang/Mercer at SS is fine for me.

                    • For the record I am. Kang is a better defensive 3rd baseman, but they are both above average. We haven’t had two decent options at 3b for a very very long time

            • Just because a player struggles at something for a period of time, doesn’t make them below average skill. Ramirez is old, he isn’t getting better. Harrison had a defensive slump earlier in the year that he’s never displayed before. He didn’t just suddenly forget how to play 3b dude

        • You need to reword that statement. Harrison has been playing defense this year as badly as Ramirez. Quit overreaching.

    • The Cubs are one of the better teams against lefty’s. The Pirates defense as let them down. Playing too deep in the OF, everyone going 1st to 3rd on hard hit balls is not good. Baserunning is not good. Two teams scored 2 runs against the Pirates on a infield grounder. I think the bucs have only done that one time this year (palonco)Our catchers are hitting, but only throwing out 15% of runners, with the same pitchers they had last year.
      All that said, The Cardinals are having a year for the ages, playing fundamental BB and great pitching.

      • Liriano has some really good/decent numbers against the Cubs the last couple years too. I mean, I think if I remember correctly, he averages like 9 K’s against them between starts last year and this year.

    • If Frankie is pitching with command at that point, I’d agree. Problem with Frankie, is when he’s off, you lose. When Cole is off, he still goes 5 or 6 innings and gives up 3 runs. They have the same up side.

  • I would like to point out that both the royal s and giants won the wild card games prior to going to the world series. I understand it’s only one game but it sure beats the losing. I’m tired of people acting like the wild card is a death sentence.

    • No, but it is hard to deny that it does suck, a lot, to have happen what the Pirates have had happen this year.

  • Its injuries, for me. Earlier in the year, Marte was on pace for 30/30 almost easily. If he gets to 20 now, I’ll be surprised. McCutchen has gone from white hot to ice cold off and on all year. Some of his play seems injury related, especially the SB numbers. Burnett, Harrison, and Mercer absences created roster flux. Corey Hart early on…

    And sorry if im beating a dead horse, but Taillon, Cumpton, Sadler, and Kingham injuries hurt. Not only would they have helped on the backend of the rotation and long relief, but might have been more chips for NH to use in a trade.

    • You cant claim injuries at all…The Cards are missing Holiday, Adams, and Wainwright. We have not lost anything comparable to those players.

      • Sure you can. Who did the better job of filling the holes and overcoming them?

        • Then the problem isn’t injuries, it’s something more along the lines of depth.

          • Then how do you explain Marte’s drop in power since May and the fact McCutchen flat out doesnt steal bases anymore? Or how JHay and Mercer fare when they DO return?

            Maybe I should rephrase it. Like in Little League, maybe Marte and Cutch arent “injured”, just hurt. Does that make sense?

            • I doubt Cutch not stealing is only directly related to him playing hurt, but the team telling him he’s gotta be careful to avoid injuries for no reason. This season isnt the first sign of Cutch stealing less. They seem content, if not supportive, of the idea that its okay he only steals 15-20 a year with a high rate of success. Lower totals this year (likely around 10-12) can be chalked up to the early season injury.

              • Thats completely offbase, in fact it’s one of the most off-base things you’ve ever said if we take it beyond the injury issue. The coaches have been trying to get Cutch to steal more for YEARS, trying to get him to take bigger leads, and he just won’t do it, and now he is slower (age or injury who knows) and can’t steal with those small leads so he isn’t going. He got thrown out against Lester- Lester! …and it wasn’t even close. First thing the Cubs announcers said was……wow, that was the smallest lead i’ve seen against Lester all year on an attempted steal.” He’s gunshy out there

                • If you prove to me that anything you just said is true ill be fine with it. If you prove that the coaches have been trying to get him to run more thats one thing. But its baseless to assume that unless you have a quote where Hurdle says that exact thing. The first half of that paragraph smacks of speculation unless you back it up.

                  You basically just insinuated that Cutch ignores coaching when he wants to.

                  • I don’t really have the time to waste looking up articles right now, but I assure you multiple articles and interviews from 2012 and 2013 and television interviews in spring training had it as a highly publicized part of his game he and the team were focused on. It was on “inside pirates Baseball” for goodness sake. I The one thing I can give you, is that this year, with the injury, you are probably right- i doubt they care about him running when he has a bad leg, but the decreased running even last year was not team based. Personally, since he refuses to take a decent lead at first base, and he is about a 1/2 step slower, I don’t want him running, he can’t steal anymore. I’m preparing for a move for the next couple weeks, so I don’t want to make it seem like I can’t back up what i’m saying, I really just took a two minute break from boxing stuff up to write this.

                  • I found this real quick, I can find more but again I don’t have the time. This isn’t a direct “stealing bases” thing, but the quote comes from Cutch himself in the Chicago Tribune. ”

                    The Pirates center fielder arrived at spring training vowing to have a
                    better season than last year when he became the first Pirates player
                    since Barry Bonds in 1992 to win MVP honors. McCutchen hit .317 with 21 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 157 games.

                    “I’m just trying to continue the things I’ve been doing, every facet of the game,”
                    McCutchen said. “I’m going to focus even more on baserunning, because I
                    know I can get better at it. I’ll get on base, and everyone will know
                    I’m going to second, but I’ve still got to do it. You’ve got to work on
                    it. Being consistent at the plate, being consistent with my throws and
                    defense, all of that.”

                    McCutchen actually regressed a bit last
                    year from his 2012 season when he had a .327 batting average with 31
                    homers and 20 steals in 157 games while also winning an NL Gold Glove.
                    The difference last season was team success as the Pirates had both
                    their first winning season and postseason appearance since 1992.

                    “He usually comes to spring training with a couple focus points,”
                    manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ll get his thoughts on the work he’s done
                    this winter and where his focus is this spring, and we’ll see if it matches up. Every year I’ve been here, it pretty much has. His game continues to get better and more consistent. He sets the bar pretty high for himself.”

                    McCutchen also set the bar pretty high for any guy thinking of
                    proposing to his girlfriend. In December, he popped the question in
                    front of a national television audience on “The Ellen Show.”

                    The proposal caused McCutchen to gain more national notoriety than his considerable baseball exploits.

                    “I knew that after I proposed, people would totally forget about the MVP award,” McCutchen said with a smile. “That’s as it should be.”

            • No, I just meant that with the season the Cards have had, you can’t say that OUR injuries were a deciding factor. They’ve had more serious issues with more important players and it hasn’t slowed them down a bit.

              • I watched yesterday with my dad, who’s probably more of the casual fan than the astute guys on here. And he said “The Cardinals always seem to have good players, huh?” Absolutely. I think one of the ESPN guys said they may still get Wainwright back. Go figure.

  • Will the Pirates lick their wounds in the next 4 games and rebound or will they go quietly in the night? Somehow they need to overcome the stigma of close but no cigars when playing in StL. Then they have to man up in NY vs their fine young SP. And down the road they have to beat the Reds and the effing Brewers. That is what has been so costly this season.

    They have been a little unlucky in respect to injuries, but roster management IMO has also hurt. Maybe the trade for Happ will turn positive, but isn’t Volstad essentially the same pitcher and Volstad would not have cost your only young SP in AAA. ARam was a nice sentimental move but he hasn;t exactly been lighting it up since he came aboard. I realize few teams have capable AAA replacements available, but Morel, Gorkys and Lombordozzi (to a lesser extent) aren’t high quality players.

    Currently the Pirates don’t have any OF replacements for Marte. SRod or Ish, take your choice. Maybe one or the other stands tall, hopefully filling in for a short term. And until the left side of the infield is bolstered, the defense will continue to be below par.

    As things stand, I think the F.O. has it’s hands tied till everyone is back on board. Unfortunately, we all have to cross our fingers and hope Cole and Liriano deliver and the other 3 starters won’t hurt too bad.

    The climb back starts in StL. Good luck Bucs.

  • The Cardinals have been great but I don’t think that is the main reason we trail them by 7 games . I’m gonna go the should route because in this case it’s warranted . The Pirates should be leading the Cardinals. They are or were imo the better team before AJs #’s started looking like CFM’s That series in early may where they got swept. They looked like the better team and more opportunities to win those games than the Cards. Every game they were leaving ridiculous amounts of men on base. This team WAS NOT 0repared the way they should have been in ST. THEY actually scored the Winning run in one of those games when Pedro hit a ball down the line to score Marte but a (cardinals) fan interfered. They easily could have swept that series but let themselves get swept. Much like this series GM 1 Locke blows a 3 run lead Game 2 the defense commits about 4 horrible plays a spoils what would have been a nice start from Cole. When the fundamentals are as bad as this teams is it has to fall on the manager somewhat. Has to. There’s at least 4 games the Pirates Should have won we get those 4 and we’really leading this division. Charlie Morton And Jeff Locke have beem downright HORRIBLE. EVERYONE including some writers in this site claimed we did not need a top 3 starter. I was in the group that said we desperately did.yes we’re #2 in baseball in ERA but you match this rotation up with the likes of STL and some other playoff contenders we are in trouble. You need that solid 1-5 depth like STL. Rotations and defense win in pennant races not head cases like Morton and Locke

    • I’m so tired of Charlie Morton. I can handle watching Locke as the 5 man because he is the definition of a #5 . You know what you are getting with him. Morton is god awful and he’s had WAY to many chances. He totally inconsistent with his delivery and he doesn’t know how to fix it. If he’s off he not going to turn it around. He’s a scatter brain I listen to pretty much every pre and post game interview with the Pirate players and he can’t even figure out what he’s trying to say. He’s clueless. I hope the will end this ridiculous engagement soon. Morton and Locke . Both acquired in the Nate McLouth trade. Is he holding on with these guys too long be a use of that?

      • When we signed Charlie for 3 years/$21 mil we thought we were signing a 2/3 SP, and instead we have an $8 mil SP who has been pushed down to #4 – from better pitchers above, and from his own inconsistencies in 2014 and now 2015.

        I disagree with having to “buy” a SP to follow behind Cole and Liriano – that would mean a 2 month rental for a guy like Cueto for whom the Royals overpaid – he would have been about the cheapest option available. And, Cy Young himself could not have been any better trying to pitch through that many defensive blunders last night.

        We lost to 2 very young and very good pitchers in Martinez and Wacha – how did they get to St Louis? Wacha was drafted out of college in 2012 and then had 5 IP at GCL, 8 IP at Hi A, and another 8 IP at AA. In 2013 he pitched 85 innings at AAA and straight to the majors at age 22. Martinez was another guy who rose through the ranks fast and the Cardinals brought him up as a 21 year old reliever in 2013 – after 12 IP in AA, then 68 IP in AAA, and then the Cardinals for 28 IP. In 2014 he pitched 10 innings at AAA and then to the Cardinals for 50 relief appearances and 7 starts.

        The Pirates just do not have a fast track like this for pitchers. The Cardinals seem to promote based on quality of performance, not quantity of time/starts at a level. They keep exposing their young pitching prospects to challenges at higher levels and it seems to work. Glasnow is in his 5th year in our system – he has dominated at every level, but still had to get 24 starts at Lo A in 2013, 23 starts in Hi A in 2014, and another high number of starts at AA in 2015. So, he will be up at age 23 if all goes well; 24 for Taillon. Is it necessary to wait for a completely finished product, or to expose them to the challenges and see who wants it?

        • Glasnow and Taillon (as well as Kingham) were drafted out of HS, while Wacha played 3 years in college (and pitched in the College World Series). It makes sense for the Pirates to be keeping them in the minors longer. Not to mention the effect of losing time to injury.

          However, I do think you have a point in that there seems to be a philosophical difference between the Cardinals and Pirates. The Cardinals brought Martinez, one of their top pitching prospects at the time, up to the majors to play a significant relief role vs. major league hitting…I don’t see the Pirates doing that with any of the premier pitching prospects.

          • If STL doesnt re sign Martinez, they wasted a year + of his service time with him as a reliever. Thats fine since they had good depth, but it also means they had a potentially quality SP as a reliver while a good chunk of his service time rolled on.

            Id love to avoid Glasnow throwing in relief as a rookie over having him while he dominates at age 28

            • He isn’t ready. If he could theoretically be dominant out of pen right now I’d love to have him as weapon in playoffs and delay his Pittsburgh debut until mid July. But that isn’t going to happen anyway.

              • Id be on board with that idea, but like you said it wont happen. I think the only issue i have with that is it means they have 1 SP who doesnt hurt them a ton but is expendable enough to either move to the pen or release come July. Worley kinda makes sense, but he’s gotta perform better than he has this year.

            • Don’t forget the difference between Pittsburgh and St Louis and Chicago for that matter. With the Cardinals signing their huge local cable deal, it gives them even more resources to keep the players they want to keep. If Martinez continues his current trajectory, he will command well north of 100 million. The next time the Pirates commit 100 million to a player will be the first time!

              • Not just the cable deal. They also have a fat bank account from having an average ticket price $15 higher than the Bucs along with a million more fannies in seats. Even the current TV contract is estimated at $35 mill. So while not a “large market” team, they can certainly afford to make moves the Bucs can’t. Add in a winning culture that demands competing for the WS each year and I doubt they gave much thought to losing a year of Martinez as a reliever. Unfortunately, Neal can’t afford to start thinking that way until Frank gets a new media deal and fans start showing up in April/May while paying higher prices.

                • That’ll be a hoot when the team, logically, starts raising prices and fans start freaking out. Not all fans of course, but i guarantee some of the fans will get all in a huff over paying more.

        • Wacha was simply a more mature pitcher than either Glanow or Taillon. Look at the improvements they have made as they worked their way up the system. If they had been Wacha-like the Pirates would have promoted them faster as well. The best players play.

      • Morton is more painful to watch talk than he is to watch pitch, and that’s worrisome on both accounts. He is all out of sorts lately, that is true

    • You mean rotations from contenders like the Giants, Cubs, and Dodgers ?

      • So you think the Cubs don’t have better rotation than Pirates right now? Interesting.

        • SF is an even more curious one to throw out there. They have MadBum, and a list of guys that arent really all that inspiring. Injury to Leake gets them right back to “well shoot” territory.

        • They do, no doubt

    • Agree about being unprepared coming out of ST.
      The Bucs have the most talent that they have had in their entire Organization in 23 or more years, yet, unlike the Cardinals, the Pirates have been relying on their talent to win instead of fundamental execution. Sloppy base running & sloppy defense have cost them too many games. The Bucs are talented, but not talented enough to win a championship on talent — they must become a more disciplined team in executing the physical & mental fundamentals necessary to be champions.
      This needs to be addressed this off-season and demanded in Spring Training.
      Hurdle’s 1st Pirate team played the game as hard or harder than any team in Baseball. Many people in Baseball noticed this and complemented Hurdle on it. The Bucs just didn’t have enough good players to win. Each year since that 1st year they have gotten more talented but have played a little less hard. To his credit Hurdle identified a specific need to be corrected each off-season for the 1st 4 years ( eg –winning on the road, holding runners on et al) and the team did improve in those specific areas, but this year they have regressed in many fundamental areas. If they intend to win Championships they need to become a fundamentally smarter, tougher, harder playing, more disciplined team coming out of ST !!
      Be the best team in Baseball in April & make everyone else try to catch you !! I believe the Pirates have enough talent & depth to start the season strong & grind it out for the entire 6 months & the postseason. It looks to me like they start the year thinking it is a long season so we don’t want to wear ourselves out early.
      Their weak play early this season is why they blew their chance to win the Division.

      • Playing harder and playing fundamental baseball are two totally different things. If it’s fundamentals…who has regressed? You’re looking at the product of an organization that counts on young and often inexperienced MLB players to be your anchors. Polanco and Marte? Yup…they do some things that make you scratch your head. JHay started poorly, I believe bc the heat of his contract. Also, once again, another player who was in their first year as a starter coming out of spring training. If they’re not playing hard, i.e. no heart, I haven’t seen that one at all. So which is it that you want to blame Hurdle for?

        • fundamentals are learned in little league Travis- even players from the Dominican Republic learn them, they have just grown up being so good compared to their peers, that they’ve ignored them. It needs to stop. Even Cutch does it. The only good fundamental players on our team are Mercer (who loses points for being the most conservative base runner i’ve ever seen), Walker, Rodriguez, and Kang. You can put Chris Stewart on that list too…..notice who is missing? ALL THE MOST TALENTED PLAYERS!!! thats not good, not good at all

          • I never said they WERE a fundamental team…it was suggested that they have regressed fundamentally, and I’m just saying I don’t think that aspect has happened. Certain players haven’t become better I’d agree with, but my point is I’m not seeing a regression. Plus, your list of players is obviously opinionated, which is fine, but someone else could add Cervelli to your list. Someone else could say Florimon if he could ever hit. A third person could come in and say with all the success JHAY has received after yrs of chipping away, hard to say he doesn’t have a fundamental foundation to be able to do what he does at so many positions around the diamond.

            • I don’t know that anyone’s fundamentals has regressed, most of our skill players just don’t have them, never have. I actually considered adding Cervelli, and his inclusion makes sense. Florimon is a AAAA player, and has no impact on the team, so honestly who cares?

              JHay is a high energy player who has a lot of skill, however strong fundamentals isn’t something you should say much about if you ever watched him running bases. Fundamentals refers to baserunning, situational hitting (including the ability to drop a bunt) and defensive decision making. You’ve gotta have all 3, Harrison doesn’t as much as i love the kid.

      • “The Bucs have the most talent that they have had in their entire
        Organization in 23 or more years, yet, unlike the Cardinals, the Pirates
        have been relying on their talent to win instead of fundamental
        execution. Sloppy base running & sloppy defense have cost them too
        many games. The Bucs are talented, but not talented enough to win a
        championship on talent — they must become a more disciplined team in
        executing the physical & mental fundamentals necessary to be
        champions.
        This needs to be addressed this off-season and demanded in Spring Training.”

        – That is the smartest most accurate statement i’ve ever seen on this board. This is exactly the message that needs to come across.

    • your entire post is contradictory and quite ignorant. You certainly can’t say we “should” be beating the Cardinals while also saying we are horrible at fundamentals……it makes no sense. Fundamentals are the whole reason we shouldn’t be beating them, and aren’t a given. It isn’t just something which will turn around anymore than Neil walker suddenly getting 25% more range because he wakes up and eats a bowl of wheaties. We don’t play good fundamental baseball, haven’t since 1992, and thus we shouldn’t be ahead of the Cardinals and…..we aren’t. The end. Jeff Locke has not been anything close to a horrible 5th starter, wake the F up and realize what a 5th starter is.

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