What You Need To Know About The Pirates

As the Cubs head to Pittsburgh to start their first road trip of the season, I thought I'd take a few minutes to tell you what you need to know about this NL Central rival. When their fans close their eyes at night, they see Sid Bream in their nightmares. My buddy Mark might want to avert his eyes for the next few paragraphs. In the early '90s, the Pirates were the class of the NL East. They won three staight division titles from 1990-1992 behind an exciting core of young players which included Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, Doug Drabek, Jay Bell, John Smiley, and Barry Bonds, who won his first two MVP awards in 1990 and 1992. Despite their dominance in the East (they won the division by an average margin of 9 games during those three years), they lost to the NL West champs each time. The 1992 NLCS was especially heartbreaking; down two games to none, the Pirates won three of the next four. Tim Wakefield, called up from the minors at the end of July, threw complete games in games three and six, besting Tom Glavine each time. Game Seven looked to be in the bag for the Pirates as Doug Drabek shut down the Braves for eight innings. In the ninth, he gave up a leadoff double to Terry Pendleton, David Justice reached on an error, and Sid Bream walked. Manager Jim Leyland stubbed out his cigarette long enough to replace Drabek with Stan Belinda, who got Ron Gant on a fly to left (scoring a run), walked Damon Berryhill, and retired Brian Hunter. Pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera, rarely used during the regular season, came up and lined a single to left field -- Justice scored easily, and Bonds came up throwing, trying to get Bream and the piano he was carrying. His throw was just late, as Bream lumbered across the plate representing the winning run. All across western Pennsylvania grown men cried in their Iron Citys and young boys wondered what they had done to make God so mad at them. Bobby Cox vowed from that day forward to always carry a non-useful third catcher or sixth infielder on every one of his post-season rosters. They haven't finished above .500 since Barry Bonds left town. The winter after that crushing playoff defeat was the beginning of the end. Second baseman Jose Lind was traded to Kansas City; Doug Drabek signed a long-term deal with the Astros, while Barry Bonds did the same in San Francisco, beginning his journey from great baseball player to one of the greatest of all-time to Symbol Of All That Is Wrong With Baseball. The Pirates finished in 5th place in 1993 and haven't improved much since despite new ownership, three or four new plans for the future, and one of the nicest stadiums in the game. Their off-season plan this winter involved signing three old, slow corner guys. If you're wondering why I spent so much time talking about stuff that happened more than a decade ago, that's because not much has happened between then and now. Jim Leyland burned out, Gene Lamont presided ineffectually for four years, and Lloyd McClendon was brought in to shake things up in 2001. Over the last decade they showed a pretty good eye for identifying and devloping young talent, either drafting or trading for Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Denny Neagle, Jason Schmidt, Esteban Loaiza, Aramis Ramirez, Kris Benson, Jack Wilson, and Craig Wilson, among others. Unfortunately they've watched almost all those players head for greener pastures, and with the exception of the Giles trade which netted them Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, they haven't gotten much in return. As a result, they've had to fill holes however they can. This winter, that meant signing Jeromy Burnitz to play right field and Joe Randa to play third base, and trading for Sean Casey to play first. In past years it wouldn't have been that big of a deal: signing over-the-hill or barely-adequate veterans is a fine strategy if you're treading water for the year and don't have anyone younger to plug in. The problem this year is that they do; Randa is standing in the way of Freddy Sanchez, while every game that Casey and Burnitz play means one less game played by young Brad Eldred and no-longer-so-young Craig Wilson. And speaking of Wilson... They don't play their second-best hitter very often. Jason Bay is undoubtedly the best player on the Pirates. In fact, when you measure by VORP, he was the fifth-best player in the majors last year, behind only D-Lee, A-Rod, Pujols, and Big Papi. That's not bad. What is bad is the fact that after Bay the player with the most offensive upside might be Craig Wilson, who is currently a man without a position. The Pirates spent the entire winter trying to trade Wilson to just about anyone, but apparently they wanted a Cy Young pitcher or something in return because when the season started he was still on the roster. With Casey and Burnitz ensconced at first and right Wilson has a season of pinch-hitting and spot-starting to look forward to, which is not the most efficient way to use a guy with a career OPS 20% above the league average. Their ace is young, but he makes up for his youth by being undisciplined. Pitchingwise, Oliver Perez is a bright spot among the current crop of Pirates, posting a 2.98 ERA and striking out an impressive 239 batters in 2004. He struggled last year, though, and spent some time on the DL after losing a fight with a laundry cart in the Pirates clubhouse. Beyond Perez, they have a couple of other promising young pitchers (Zach Duke and Victor Santos) and a couple guys who've been through the injury wringers (John Van Benschoten, Ryan Vogelsong, Sean Burnett). ---------- So that's the Pirates in a nutshell. When PNC Park opened a few years back it was properly proclaimed as a jewel of a stadium, but continued futility on the field has meant that the expected millions stopped coming pretty quickly. I'm hoping to trek across the COmmonwealth later this season to see a game here in person; maybe by then Kid McClatchy and the rest of the Bucco braintrust will have figured out exactly what the character of this team is, who can help them the most, and how they can position themselves to be competitive in the Central Division for the first time it its ten-year existence.



If you come out this way, I'll get the other Cub fans out in this area and we'll go to a game. Lord knows its easy to get good seats at PNC....

I'm afraid this will be a tough series for the Cubbies.

Despite the early successes (Cards series), I am still not sold on the relative solidity of the Cubs this year. They need to be pretty darn good to dig themselves out of the hole Dusty puts them in twice a week or so, as evidenced by the squad Dusty fielded in the rubber game of the Cincy series.

He has a tendency to let everyone down when we are anticipating a big win in order to take a series. He fields some ill-constructed scrub lineup to back up his best starter, and does this seemingly twice a week.

The regular starters need occasional rest, and the bench players need at-bats to keep them focused and in shape. Common sense dictates that the best time to play bench players is when your best pitcher pitches, as you should need less offense to win.

Common sense dictates that to maximize offensive production, you might want to spread out the days that you play the scrubs, instead of loading a lineup full of corpses when you're going for the series win. Especially when you best pitcher has started a little shaky, and you have three other starting pitchers on the DL, so you can ill-afford the type of offensive production we saw yesterday (I puked in my mouth when it was all over).

I had thought the Pirates might be turning the corner when I wrote that article for All-Baseball.com back in December. But right after I wrote that they went out and signed Burnitz. I should have known.

Unless common sense dictates that Jacque Jones and Aramis Ramirez not get hurt, I'm not sure Dusty had that much choice yesterday. He could have forced Zambrano to use Barrett I suppose, but since you need Barrett's bat in the lineup almost every day and he has to rest at some point, you might as well let Zambrano use the catcher he obviously prefers greatly. THus, the only real decision Baker had to make yesterday was whether to start Walker at second or Hairston there. I might have started Walker given the above limitation but its not that big of a deal and it certainly is not the reason the CUbs lost that game.

If the past is any indication, there will be some games this season where folks can make a reasoned argument that Dusty's lineup decisions were costly. Yesterday was not one of them.

7 hits and 4bb was a lack of offense?

cin got 7 hits and 5bb, btw.

insted of blaming dusty for giving barrett his 2nd day off (blanco went 1/3 with a BB and a run scored) and playing hairston over walker at the expense of a few doubles and 10hr on the year (but increased speed and better D), how about laying that blame with the arms that showed up for yesterday's game?

hell, blanco, up until yesterday, had only played a 1/2 game...he was subbed for barrett 1/2 way throught the game.

with aram/jones out there's and easy 50-60 HR power missing from the lineup, but their possible replacements cant even scratch that lost production...and its not like you'd want to see jones up there vs. a lefty anyway except when he's got his glove/arm in the field.

Blaming yesterday's lineup on Dusty is the first sign that you are looking to pin anything you can on him and are overly negative.
He put the best lineup out that he could any other decision he could of made would be far from certain. 2 middle of the order hitters are hurt and your ace perfers to throw to the backup catcher. Also as someone said above he has to get rest sometime...

All valid points...I'd hate to call 7 hits and 4 BBs against the Reds pitching an abundance of offense, and considering what you need against the Reds offense, considered by some to be the best in the NL, you can't field that lineup, and you can't do it in that order.

Yes, Z let his emotions get to him, and yes, our bullpen gave up too many runs. I would think when sitting in the clubhouse thinking about offense, the Pirates being 24 hours away would make you switch the "off" day to today, rather than yesterday.

Feel free to disagree, I may be completely off base here, but I was surprised by the lineup and personnel choices.

i agree that starters must rest. and with ramirez and jones down, what are you going to do?

Well, for one, unload Jerry Hairston. He sucks. He's as bad as Neifi without the glove. Look at yesterday. Hairston struck out 3 times. Neifi 3 times. Neifi 0-4, Hairston 1-5 though his double should have been caught. So call it 0-5. Between those two losers we gave up 8(9) outs

So yes. Putting both these guys in the same day is retarded. I've never liked Hairston. He has provided nothing. Walker should flat out be the everyday second baseman with Neifi as a backup for offdays. Hairston should be shown the door.

Of course, Hendry had all winter to do that. And he wasted it shopping the player we should be thankful to have.

On the bright side, Baker did put Murton in 4th. That was quite suprising to me. I never thought he would move above 7 this early.

The more I think about this team the more pissed off I am. We have great talent. If only Dusty would stick to a good lineup. Of course, with our starting pitching what it is its all a crap shoot anyway.

Yesterday should have been

To me, yesterday's lineup is what draws the line at Dusty being a good manager. Unfortunately it seems like the players love him. I don't think thats necessarily a good thing though. Yes you should like your manager but you should also fear his wrath if you perform poorly.


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barrett was supposed to have the day off wednesday...arent you glad he didnt?

up until yesterday he has played all but 1/2 a game. his 1st off day he came in 1/2 way through the game to finish it out.

the guy just cant play everyday...and hairston vs walker is the matter of 10 homers and a few doubles vs. better speed and D over the course of a year...maybe a few points of ob%, too.

there was noone who would be a game-breaker fresh off the bench yesterday. injuries suck...espeically when you gotta weigh it in with your replacements and a catcher who's had a 1/2 game off all year leading your offense.

I'm not insensitive to players needing rest and getting Hank White in...

There are exceptions that Dusty needs to make on the catcher front though, especially when you have Jones and Ramirez out. You also need to play Walker over Hairston on these sort of days, and if Hairston needed playing time, put him in the OF.

And that lineup yesterday was so sub-par it made me throw up...

crap -- looks like rain in Pitt tonight

PNC is truly a great park (and features the best sandwich I've ever eaten as well). But while tickets are usually easy to come by, don't take them for granted. A friend and I trekked out there from NYC for the September Cubs series in '03. We paid about $10 for dugout seats at a Friday night doubleheader, and then found ourselves nearly shut out of the stadium on Saturday because all of Pennsylvania had bought tickets to 'Kip Wells Bobblehead Night.'

When I was a kid the Pirates would come to Wrigley and clean our clock. That was the early 70's when they had Al Oliver, Richie Hebner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash and the great Gene Clines. Pitching wise they had Dock Ellis, Steve Blass, DAve Giusti, Bob Moose and Bruce Kison. 71 World Champs, good all through the 70's and wrapping up the era as 79 World Champs. Al Oliver was one of the most under rated players of his generation.

As for yesterday, Dusty's lineup didn't help us. Barrett and Walker needed to start. I also worry they're trying to hard to make Murton a power guy. They did that with Grace for awhile and he ended up hitting .273 one year because he changed his approach. Ultimately, however, Zambrano didn't get the job done. I'm not worried about Zambrano, however. I am worried about Rusch. I'd give Rusch one more start to turn things around but thats it. You have to worry about Ohman too.

How bout giving Mabry a start in right and giving him 4 at bats tonight?

Tonight's Lineup (according to ESPN 1000):

CF Pierre
2b Walker
1b Dlee
3b Aram
C Barrett
RF Mabry (I hope he does not make a huge error)
LF Murton
SS Cedeno
P Marshall

Our good ol' DC
The Jim Rome show rips us off
They do haiku too

I can't believe Mabry's playing. I'm a little worried that Dusty and I are starting to think alike...

You're on, John Mabry
Four or five at bats for you
Make us forget Jacque

mabry's fine...its his throwing that's suspect, but OF should be fine for him unless he decides he doesnt need cutoff men (hey jones!).

sorry, i mean...

mabry substitute
he's got a nice power bat
watch out for his throws

I admittedly know next to nothing about Victor Santos. Anyone care to fill me in?

btw, no one is trying to make murton a power guy.

dust went off about it to the press about what he told murton when he put him in the 4 slot.

"I told him the same thing," Baker said of his advice to Murton. "Get your hits. If they walk [Derrek Lee], don't take it personal. Keep the ball off the ground and in double-play situations. Kill 'em with singles and doubles, and they'll quit walking that guy to get to you. Don't try to hit a home run."

It's kinda amusing looking at these lineups next to each other one day to the next.

CF Pierre
2b Walker
1b Dlee
3b Aram
C Barrett
RF Mabry (I hope he does not make a huge error)
LF Murton
SS Cedeno
P Marshall


*Juan Pierre, CF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Derrek Lee, 1B
Matt Murton, LF
#Angel Pagan, RF
Ronny Cedeno, SS
#Neifi Perez, 3B
Henry Blanco, C

It's like an "A" squad and a "B" squad

meh...i gotta go hang out with hippie engineers celebrating phDs insted of watching the game.

bleh. go cubs.

I went to PNC last year to see the Cubs lose the only game they lost there. Some obnoxious 4 year-old was behind me squawking the whole time. Most miserable experience I've ever had at a ballpark.

Food was good though. Nice view of the city from there, too.

I went to PNC last year to see the Cubs lose the only game they lost there. Some obnoxious 4 year-old was behind me squawking the whole time. Most miserable experience I've ever had at a ballpark.

Food was good though. Nice view of the city from there, too.

I still can't figure out how the Braves were in the NL West?

Well, I guess Craig Wilson will get his shot now, albeit in front of Brad Eldred (if Littlebrain ever decides to call him up).

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  • Right, then. Moving forward lets focus on simple declarative sentences, subject-verb agreement, and watch out for punctuation. Avoid prepositions at the end of sentences.

    Jackstraw 12 min 28 sec ago view
  • I love sabremetrics and think FIP and WAR can definitely predict future success. For the Cy though which is an award for current success I do think ERA and WHIP have a place. Also while Hendricks doesn't have the strikeouts he does have the highest soft hit contact and second lowest hard hit contact which does a lot to take fielding skill out of it.

    To me if the ERA is close FIP and WAR should be used but right now its not. That said I agree with you Hendricks won't get it.

    johann 23 min 55 sec ago view
  • Can't get soft just because we have a big lead!

    billybucks 1 hour 28 min ago view
  • kershaw will be lucky to put in 160+ip. even though it projects to be an awesome 160+ip it's going to be extremely difficult for him to do much with that. he's still got minor league rehab game(s) to go through and he's only stretched out to 2ip with his last simulated rehab...it may take another couple weeks before he returns.

    the numbers are awesome, but he's lost the equivalent of a good chunk of a top-tier pen arm's season in innings of work compared to the rest of the lot.

    crunch 1 hour 39 min ago view
  • Kershaw, Fernandez and Syndergaard are your current leaders and all will be pitching meaningful games down the stretch that could make or break them. Hendricks will not be and his saber-numbers aren't anywhere close to those 3 and he'd split votes with Arrieta and Lester whom all are basically neck-and-neck for  WAR and FIP. If Kershaw pitches like just okay Kershaw in September he deserves to win in a landslide. Voters are pretty much saber-inclined now so it would take a crazy shutout streak or something for Hendricks to jump in the picture.

    Rob G. 10 hours 7 min ago view
  • AZ PHIL: With starters the likes of Edwin Jackson, even Chris Rusin or Michael Bowden could look good on their staff. At best, he is a #5-6. But as always, LH are at a premium.

    The E-Man 11 hours 38 min ago view
  • Sure we would all want consistency. He is not even 24, has played 5 (!) positions this year. Can you imagine what is in his head? He was only a part-time player at 2 spots last year. And THEN think about hitting?? Cut him some slack...You sure are picky lately. First wishing #6 NL RBI guy Russell have a better average, and now an "unncessarily fancy pick". Geez tough crowd!

    The E-Man 11 hours 41 min ago view
  • it's going to be hard to take down scherzer.

    kershaw is supposedly coming back soon, though he'll probably need a good amount of deep innings to match up with scherzer...probably too late at this point. tanner roark, bumgarner, and hendricks are probably going to steal some votes along with kershaw.

    crunch 12 hours 10 min ago view
  • I absolutely love Javy's game, and I love the way Maddon changed the perception of him as a ballplayer, but I really wish he would just make the routine plays routinely. On the ground ball in the 9th, he made an unnecessarily fancy pick. He made the play, but tried the same thing last night and made an error.

    billybucks 12 hours 32 min ago view
  • How many wins does Kyle need for serious Cy Young consideration? Would 17 be enough if he leads the league in ERA? My goodness, what a season -- makes a Dartmouth alum proud.

    billybucks 12 hours 34 min ago view
  • jacos 12 hours 37 min ago view
  • hendricks WHIP drops to 0.98 over 159 innings after throwing 7ip 3h 1bb 4k, 0r/er

    ERA down to 2.09 on the season.

    crazy good.

    crunch 12 hours 59 min ago view
  • I am pretty well fed up with the majority of home plate umps. Just terrible inconsistencies.

    The E-Man 13 hours 2 min ago view
  • Oh shit forgot about that
    Shark and Sczur right?

    jacos 13 hours 17 min ago view
  • Yes, football player?- check.

    The E-Man 13 hours 24 min ago view
  • jacos 13 hours 37 min ago view