Pirates Lose 6-5 and Derek Shelton Had a Rough Night

The Pirates had a lot of firsts in this game, the first rain delay, the first piggyback start, the first blown save, the first extra inning action and finally we saw the honeymoon for Derek Shelton at least come back to Earth a bit.

Sure, its early to lay a judgement on Shelton, and I’m certainly not trying to forecast his career because of one game, but it’s so rare to  be able to directly lay a win or a loss at the feet of the manager that when it happens it gets your attention.

The night started off under the specter that MLB could come to a screeching halt after the Marlins had an outbreak of COVID cases. Steven Brault started his half of the piggyback start and had it stunted at two innings by a rain delay.

Immediately following the rain Colin Moran gave the Bucs the lead with a bomb over the Clemente Wall. A 1-0 lead that would hold as Chad Kuhl gave the Pirates 4 scoreless and looked incredible doing it. Mixing his pitches and hitting his spots. Nik Turley did allow the Brewers to tie the game in the seventh and Richard Rodriguez pitched a scoreless frame to preserve the lead Colin Moran helped get back with another bomb, this one landing in the river.

The Pirates headed into the ninth with a 5-1 lead and then everything fell apart.

Let’s backtrack just a little, because most of the questions that this game spawned came from the dugout. As I mentioned Colin Moran hit a second homerun and at this point the Pirates had a 2-1 lead, a walk and an error put two on the bases and the Brewers went to hard throwing lefty Alex Claudio who promptly struck out Gregory Polanco.

Now some people had questions about that decision, leaving Polanco in to face the tough lefty was a gamble and in isolation it would be just that but let’s keep going. Claudio walked the next batter to load the bases and Jarrod Dyson stepped up with two outs and the bases juiced.

Dyson hasn’t had a hit against a lefty is quite some time, it seemed a perfect opportunity to get Phillip Evans, or well, any right-handed batter really to take the at bat. Shelton stuck with Dyson and he came through driving in two runs and opening the score. The Bucs would tack on another but just because something works doesn’t mean it makes sense.

Expanded rosters have put more options at the finger of the skipper, worked out or no, Dyson was not the best option there. But hey, two runs, no harm no foul right? That’s a whole lot of being a manager, not every decision is perfect but most of the time it evens out.

Look at it this way and Shelty was ahead of the game at this point, unfortunately he pushed all the chips in and bet it all on Michael Feliz.

Here we are, ninth inning, Bucs up by 4 and a clean sheet for Feliz. He struggled. A single, walk, strikeout, and another single loaded the bases. It was pretty clear Michael didn’t have whatever Shelton hoped and having no knowledge Burdi was unavailable it seemed obvious to get him up. Even so Feliz remained and this almost worked out for Shelton too as Yelich hit a grounder to first, Josh Bell either didn’t trust his arm throwing to second or misread the play so instead of a game ending double play and a Pirates win the inning continued with runners at second and third and two outs.

Now Shelton brings in Kyle Crick and the ending was damn near written; Braun stroked a single to left after narrowly avoiding a slider that didn’t slide on Crick’s first pitch tying the game.

There were other options, Stratton, Brubaker, Holmes, Erlin, someone. Crick just does not have whatever he had in 2018 and the most obvious thing beside control is velocity. Something is wrong, I’m no doctor, not a sports psychologist but the Pirates don’t have 162 games to help him figure it out. Not much more demoralizing for a young club than blowing games they have no business losing.

This team isn’t good to say the least but considering the possibility, hell likelihood, that several under .500 teams will make the playoffs in this shortened and odd season, squandering starting pitching like they got last night can’t go unnoticed.

Shelton will make a ton of decisions throughout his career, I have no doubt for the most part they’ll even out, but on this night, he raised more questions than he answered.

News & Notes:

  • Obviously, everyone wanted to understand why Nick Burdi wasn’t brought in for the ninth. Shelton after the game said he wasn’t available due to being careful with him returning from the injury he suffered in 2019. Now, if he can’t pitch back to back games after an eleven-pitch outing, chances are he simply can’t pitch back to back games, at least not for now.
  • Colin Moran continues to impress, drilling 2 homeruns and in general just looking strong at the plate. He looks confident in all situations and defensively replacing him in the ninth is another Shelton decision you could rightly question. Sure, would have been nice for him to come up with a runner at third and one out in the eleventh instead of Egon.
  • Chad Kuhl looked strong. Placing his pitches with both the fastball and his breaking stuff. It played against lefty’s too which prior to injury was his biggest struggle.
  • Steven Brault was a bit wild, no telling how deep he gets into the game if there were no rain delay but I suspect we’d be reading a completely different story today without one.

Yinzer Reactions: Everything Is Great OR It’s The End Of The World

Pittsburgh Pirates Fans are one thing above all else, passionate. We have some of the most extreme reactions, both negative and positive to every set of circumstances, player(s), managers, opponents, stadiums, rules and everything else baseball related. You name it, we will either cheer as loud as we can to drown you out or boo until you beg us to stop; because it’s just what we do. As baseball season began just a few days ago until now I have seen things go from doom and gloom to elation back and forth countless times, so much so that I had a hard time shuffling through the madness to find out what is really going with our 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates. After I took a step back and could finally see the forest for the trees, I thought I would share with you all the 5 positive and negative takeaways from the opening weekend of baseball for our Buccos; because we as Yinzers know, not everything can be positive.

Positive Takeaways

1) Jose Osuna has done well with early season opportunities. From a two run single on Opening Night to a 2 run homer on Sunday afternoon, Osuna has made his presence known early and often. Going 3 for 8 with 4 RBIs to begin the season is one quick way to get the manager’s attention and earn extra playing time and/or get the nod in high pressure situations off the bench.

2) Colin Moran is probably better than a lot of people give him credit for. The last two seasons Moran was an absolute defensive liability posting a -11 DRS in 2018 and -13 DRS in 2019. However, with the ability and opportunity to play multiple positions, as well as still getting at bats as a designated hitter, Moran could slowly change the perception of him held by many Pirates Fans. So far in 2020 Moran has played third and first base, while DHing in between; going 4 for 11 with a home run and a double.

3) JT Brubaker finally gets to make his Major League Debut. It may be a year later than many of us expected after such a great start to the 2019 AAA season. Through 4 starts Brubaker had 2-1 record with a 2.57 ERA, a 1.095 WHIP, 20 strike outs in 21 innings. Then the injury bug struck and his season was ended after two rehab starts in West Virginia. On Sunday afternoon as Brubaker came into the game in relief, something he hasn’t done since the 2018 Arizona Fall League and had done only two other times in his professional career. In two innings of work he struck out 4 and did not allow a run. He did get hit hard three times, but worked around the situation without being phased at all.

4) Phillip Evans might be the first “find” for Ben Cherington, Derek Shelton and Company. The Pirates signed the Minor League Free Agent to a contract and invited him to Spring Training. Many times these types of signings are made for depth within the organization and these players often find themselves in Indianapolis with the Indians for the season. In a year without Minor League Baseball, Evan was afforded a unique opportunity and took full advantage of it; ultimately making the Opening Day 30 Man Roster. On Sunday he got his first hit as a Pirate and added two more for good measure, driving in Josh Bell on a double in the 8th Inning.

5) Nick Burdi has the all the makings of full-time “closer” of the future. Last April it seemed like Burdi’s young career could be over as he lay on the mound, clutching his elbow in obvious pain. It was absolutely heart wrenching to watch. Now, a little over a year later, he stood with his foot on the rubber trying to close out the game versus the Cardinals to give the Pirates their first win of the season. He made quick work of the heart of St. Louis’ lineup, striking out all three swinging and throwing only 11 pitches.

Negative Takeaways

1) Bryan Reynolds has yet to record a hit this season. I know it has only been three games, but you never want to see one of your stars begin a season like this; 0 for 10 with two strike outs. He has reached base twice on walks, which is a positive in a long line of negatives. For the player that has done nothing but hit his entire professional career and battled for the batting title in his Rookie season, I hope this is just a little bump in the road and not a full on Sophomore Slump.

2) Trevor Williams continues to struggle. In his season debut Williams allowed three runs on five hits, only lasting 3 2/3 Innings while tossing 67 pitches. After a tremendous end to the 2018 season and a strong start to 2019, he just hasn’t been the same. Originally I chalked his struggles from last season up to a side strain suffered on May 16th versus the Padres. However, after a less than optimal Spring Training, Summer Camp and 1st start of the season I am starting to doubt myself.

3) Kyle Crick appears to have lost velocity on and control of his pitches. Over the past two seasons his fastball has averaged around 95 to 96 mph. Right now it is sitting at closer to 92. For a pitcher with control issues that can’t rely on speed to fool batters, this year could turn out to be a catastrophe. Add in some defensive blunders, like the ones from Saturday night, and Crick’s days in the Pirates Bullpen could be numbered.

4) Richard Rodriguez is a home run machine, in a bad way. In the 8th inning on Friday, Paul DeJong took a Richard Rodriguez fastball over the right field fence. Rodriguez gave up a career high 14 homers last season, which was 5 more than had given up the previous two years combined. Shelton just can’t continue to walk him out there every few days like Hurdle did last year.

5) Defensive struggles and miscues have continued. Yesterday the Cardinals were able to score their only run off of Mitch Keller because he forgot to cover first base. On Saturday Kyle Crick thought he had the baseball in his glove while trying to make a play, which eventually led to all four run attributed to him being unearned. On Friday night Newman had a sloppy double clutch and a throwing error. It was a comedy of defensive blunders that can’t continue because for a team that has minimal room for error, it can easily turn a win into a loss.

Now I know what many of you are already thinking as many of these points could be seen as overreactions to a bunch of small sample sizes. However, shouldn’t that be expected. After all I am Yinzer too.

Pirates Open the Home Schedule Against the Brewers

The Home Opener. Here we are on July 27th, and we’re talking about the home opener. Its another casualty of 2020, and the typical buzz on Federal Street won’t come. The traditions of kids and parents, cotton candy and hot dogs won’t be back just yet but at least we will have baseball.

The Brewers have started the season in the same fashion as the Pirates dropping 2 of their first 3. In fact, almost the same pattern, a close loss, a nice win and blowout loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Tonight will feature Adrian Houser for the Brew Crew vs Steven Brault (followed by Chad Kuhl) in a piggyback start.

The similarities aren’t just about the record, the Brewers biggest questions reside in their pitching and the team’s best hitters, Yelich and Hiura, have started 2 for 25. The Pirates have seen similar results from Bryan Reynolds and Adam Frazier in the heart of their own order and we all know the pitching is a question despite the hopeful performance of the series finale against the Cards.

If indeed the Pirates are going to make anything of this season it will have to be at least partially built on the backs of clubs in similar situations to their own. These are not the Brewers of 2018 who fell just short, instead they are a team building around a core highlighted by quite possibly the game’s very best player Christian Yelich. They’ll hit, but pitching is going to be a question most of the year.

The similarities don’t end there for these clubs as Milwaukee has seen some of their best pitching from traditional starters coming out of the bullpen. Eric Lauer in particular will make a push to join the rotation and Brett Anderson who missed his scheduled start on Saturday as he landed on the IL with a blister is likely to find a spot as well.

Every injury no matter how insignificant to a pitcher in this shortened season will be magnified. Anderson is one of the few pitchers the Brewers had as a lock to start and when you pile a minimum of 10 days of no throwing on top of already not being stretched it becomes a question of how far into this do they get without being able to count on him to deliver what they expected.

Back to the Pirates, they’ll finish the series with Derek Holland and back to Joe Musgrove for his second start of the young season. Holland may do well, but let’s be honest, not much is expected and despite what we’ve seen he is ripe for being an odd man out of the rotation when rosters condense. J.T. Brubaker had a strong showing in relief and so did Clay Holmes, each are starters by trade and could make a push to upturn the apple cart. This doesn’t even factor in Brault or Kuhl grabbing the attention of Shelton for starting time themselves, breaking free of the piggyback role to stake their claim individually.

I’d say this series is big but really, aren’t they all? Tonight at 7:05 PNC Park will have baseball, rivalry, and importance, three ingredients that are no guarantee on July 27th in Pittsburgh. Enjoy folks.

Pirates Avoid The Sweep In St. Louis

It may not have the prettiest outing at times, but Mitch Keller was able to limit the number of Cardinals base runners and get the tough outs when needed in order to help the Pirates win their first game of the season. From the beginning it was fairly evident that he did not have his normal control and velocity, which had produced 12.19 K/9 last season. However, at no time did Keller look uncomfortable on the mound, which is something he struggled with during all of previously 11 starts. In the end he lasted 5 innings, allowing one run on five hits, while striking out two and walking three. His only earned run came on a defensive mishap in third inning, where he did not cover 1st base quick enough to get the speedy Tommy Edman; allowing Kolton Wong to score.,

On the offensive side for the Pirates, both Colin Moran and Jose Osuna continued their hot starts to the season. Moran got the Pirates on the board in 4th inning with a home run off of Cardinal’s starter, Dakota Hudson. Osuna gave the Buccos their first lead of the season two batters later as he crushed a home run on a ball inside, scoring Phillip Evans who had singled. The Pirates would add to their lead on a Josh Bell sacrifice fly in the 5th and a Phillip Evans double in the 8th; Evan’s third hit of the game and 1st RBI of the season.

After Keller exited the game it was time for the Major League Debut of Pirates former top prospect, JT Brubaker, who had missed the majority of last season in AAA with a right forearm strain. Brubaker made quick work of the first two Cardinals batters before allowing a sharply hit single to Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt was thrown out by Reynolds at second as he tried to stretch it into a double, ending Brubaker’s first professional inning of work. He would go on to strike out two more batters and allow two more sharply hit balls before getting Tyler O’Neil to fly out to end the 7th inning. His slider was on point as he produced five swinging and two called strikes on eleven pitches and his two seam fastball was almost as reliable.

Michael Feliz followed with an reasonably efficient 18 pitch 1-2-3 bottom of the 8th. Then came the highly anticipated first appearance of the season by Nick Burdi to close out the game. He didn’t disappoint as he struck out all three Cardinals batters swinging to retire the side and preserve the Pirates first win of the season, 5-1.

There continue to some disappointments and concerns for the Pirates in this young 2020 season, however it was definitely nice to Raise The Jolly Roger for the first time this year, avoiding the sweep as they head home to take on the Milwaukee Brewers tomorrow, with Steven Brault taking the mound; which could be our first look at the “piggyback”.

Playing for Their Jobs?

In little more than a week the Pirates will be forced to cut the 30-man roster down to 28 and they need to keep their eye on the next date of importance too, because cutting to 26 will cause even more consternation.

You can easily say after watching the first two games of this series that any or all of them should go but let’s try to be grown ups shall we. We knew what this year was, a year of evaluation where very few players were actually safe.

The problem in the past becomes the problem of the future too if they make decisions that show performance isn’t the main factor by which decisions are made. Kyle Crick is a perfect example, here is a guy with all the talent in the world, his spin rate is among the best in the league. Here’s the thing though, his velocity is down a bit, he can’t control the slider and his head is a glaring problem.

When it comes time to cut down, is he safe because he was supposed to be better than he is, or does he suffer the fate anyone trying to make a team? Sadly, I think I know the answer. Maybe we should focus on someone else who doesn’t have that electric stuff, you know someone like Richard Rodriguez. Here is a guy who put up better numbers than you’d expect if you watched a decent amount of Pirates baseball last season. This is also where you realize that stats aren’t always what they seem. Every time one of these two is brought into a game you get that feeling in your gut, that nagging sensation that the lead is gone, or going to become smaller. Maybe it’s like this season so far and there was no lead to begin with, but a tight game is about to become a blowout.

Why does he keep getting chances? Why do either of them keep getting chances?

I’d love to tell you there was a crop of young players knocking down the door, but Blake Cederlind is really it and he’s recovering from COVID. That’s a big part of this, there aren’t any options.

Most people understand this is what Cherington inherited, nobody serious thought they’d magically coach up what we watched in 2019 but I still think there is room to wonder about some things.

Evaluating what is here, could have happened even if Cherington had added to the bullpen. Let’s list out the surprises the Pirates encountered as we got here.

Edgar Santana missing the entire season for juicing. I can’t even say this was a huge loss because who knows how he would have played after returning from surgery. I’d like to think he’d have done better than what we’ve seen and given the Bucs an option in the back of the pen but now that will be a question remaining for 2021.

Chris Archer missing the entire season, but let’s face it, nobody including the staff knew what he was going to give this year. Best case scenario he was a starter and perhaps Brault and Kuhl move directly to the pen.

The Bucs brought in Robbie Erlin, ok, he’s a lefty, I’d be lying if I said good or bad signing right now but I suspect he’s a hit or miss type pitcher, never a threat to help out in the back end.

So, why didn’t Ben do more to improve this club where it had glaring holes? Let me put it this way, providing real options for the bullpen wouldn’t have harmed the evaluation process in any way and maybe the team and the fans would actually get to have a little fun while they did it.

It’s early yet, and no I don’t mean in the season, that’s not how this needs to be looked at with 60 games. No, I mean it’s early in Cherington’s tenure, and the Pirates biggest problems could not have escaped anyone.

Did he just believe too much in what Oscar Marin could get done with these guys? Has he just not had enough time with any of them because of events beyond their control?

I believe coaching can make a difference and I believe Oscar to be a great coach, but at some point, we’re asking him to fix a problem and handle it with MacGyver tools.

I’m truly interested to see how the upcoming cuts are handled; we’ll learn a whole lot because this regime should have no reason to make it appear as though Neal Huntington had all the pieces here. Will they make cuts based on merit, or supposed hidden skill?

With limited viable options and make no mistake that is very much on this regime, I believe the cuts will be pretty obvious.  That said should they go through this season of ‘evaluation’ and try to trot the same cast of characters out next season, we won’t be fooled again, but that’s what the Who said.

Williams Struggles While Wainwright Takes Him to School

As soon as the lineup was announced today, I had questions, and believe it or not why is Tucker in Right Field wasn’t one of them. I mainly questioned benching Jose Osuna after a nice two hit game last night from the DH spot.

Sure, you want to see other players get in there and get their feet wet early on but perhaps Heredia would be a better price to pay than Osuna as it would be really nice to see him get a stretch of games. He’ll never answer questions if he isn’t afforded the opportunity to show it.

Trevor Williams got the call today against crafty veteran Adam Wainwright both pitchers won’t blow away a batter but instead rely on control and deception. One has been doing it successfully for the best part of a decade, the other a half season of such success.  

Wainwright showed from the jump what he has become, his top end on a fastball is low 90’s at this point but he can drop a curveball on a postage stamp. He doesn’t try to nibble once he gets ahead because he knows he isn’t striking out 10, he wants the swing and goes after it. 1, 2, 3 go the Bucs in the first. You get the same ‘get ‘em next time’ feeling Adam leaves you with more often than not because Reynolds lined one to the track, but that too is by design.

Williams in turn returned to his roots a bit to open the game, pounding the zone and fishing for contact down in the zone resulting in 2 groundballs on only 6 pitches, but he couldn’t avoid the fastball just not high enough to Goldschmidt who made no mistake, crushing it to the second deck in Left Field.

It’s one inning, but it serves as a microcosm, a mistake from someone with stuff like Williams or Wainwright gravitates to the seats.

Josh Bell led off the second looking determined to not let Wainwright build his given 0-2 start and hacked from the beginning, a lesson they could have learned quicker last night but I digress. Put a pretty swing on a breaking pitch and drove it to right for the Bucs first hit. Moran continued to look like the best hitter in the lineup and almost mirrored what Bell did, starting the rally, then Wainwright hit Phillip Evans in the shoulder and head to load the bases. My first thought was man it’d be nice if this was Osuna, but it was Heredia, the plan was very much to make him reach but he didn’t take the bait working the count to 3-1 then missing on a hung curve down the pipe and took a sure fire strike for out number 1. Gotta swing there and we just saw this movie last night.

Next up was John Ryan Murphy and the plan didn’t change for the Cards, leading to the same result a 3-1 start, but this time he couldn’t escape, walking in the tying run and leaving the bases loaded with one out for Cole Tucker.

Tucker swung at the first pitch for a pop out, because everyone should swing at the first pitch against a guy who just walked in a run. Newman was taking balls and then the ump gave a ball roughly 4 inches off the plate to Wainwright making the next pitch a little closer something Newman couldn’t afford to take, ground out to end the inning.

Continuing the theme, I’ve been documenting since games started back up, The Bucs have loaded the bases 3 times with less than 2 outs and have scored twice on walks. Not good enough.

Williams took an opposite turn to Wainwright’s second innng, putting the Cards down in order with a couple K’s.

The Third inning Wainwright returned to form taking advantage of Bryan Reynolds who has started the season 0 for 6 and getting more than a few calls against Bell. Nothing to be alarmed with here for Reynolds, but he isn’t the type to take solace in fly outs to the track.

Williams decided to see if he liked having traffic on the base paths since it worked so well for Wainwright and walked the lead off hitter O’neil and hit Harrison Bader. Perennial Pirate killer Kolten Wong stepped up and gifted a strike trying to bunt, eventually inducing a pop up. A well-placed groundball by Edman moved the runners for Goldschmidt who lined out to Evans.

The fourth inning the Cardinals did what the Cardinals do. Nice hit by DeJong to the gap, pop up by Yadi Molina with a nice read by DeJong allowing him to scoot up to third and a patient at bat by Fowler leading to a sharp single giving the cards the lead 2-1. Then O’neil followed with a single off the end of the bat putting runners at 1st and 3rd and another run on the board 3-1. A wild pitch moved the runner to second and Williams capped off a nibbling and long at bat with Bader by finally getting the out before being yanked for Chris Stratton who promptly shut the door.

 Before we get back to the game, the pitch count on Williams was up there in the 60’s and it wouldn’t have been a guarantee he comes back for the fifth anyway. He’s just got to get quicker outs. When he seeks the contact, he gets outs, when he hides from the bat, he drives his pitch count up and makes mistakes. Double edged sword for Trevor and this is more of the same recently.

All the talk lately about the definition of a Piggyback starter is we’ve been having, that is the definition of a pitcher who needs 70 pitches to get through four innings. Welcome to the club Trevor.

Ok, back to the game at hand as troubling as all that happens to be.

We head to the fifth and Stratton jumps back on the mound following another painless inning for Wainwright, and promptly mowed down the heart of the order needing 14 pitches for his four outs thus far.

Adam Frazier, who’s been just as quiet at the now 0 for 7 Bryan Reynolds, leads off the 6th for the Bucs and Lazarus Wainwright who rose from the dead after the second  and somehow was only throwing his 73rd pitch was still in there, and another pedestrian grounder to second followed. A strikeout of Bell and a Moran groundout finished the story of this half of the inning and on to the bottom.

The Pirates hand the ball to Lefty Nik Turley, who is pitching his first MLB game in 2 years. Really nice inning here for a Pirates reliever, yeah, I said it. Set the side down in order and has a nice looking mid 90’s fastball from the left side, interesting weapon here if he continues looking like that.

Finally, folks, the Cardinals bullpen, I really thought we’d meet earlier. They summon Jon Gant as I’m sure Wainwright was simply tired of playing with these particular toys. The Bucs go down in order, but I was honestly too distracted by Kyle Crick warming up.

This is an important outing for Crick. He needs to show the team and possibly more importantly himself that he can throw the way he does in bullpen sessions. Every coach to a man will tell you they love what he’s doing but it isn’t translating to the mound that matters.

I’d love to ask Derek Shelton if he intentionally brought Crick in the 7th not as a pecking order decision but to have him face the bottom of the Cardinals order to try and help build his confidence, because it was a good idea. One that Crick would almost squander, a weak hit, stolen base and walk put runners at 1st and 2nd with only one out and he now faced the top of the lineup. Edman struck out and Godschmidt lined one right back at Crick who failed to get an out on his second chance of the inning. Bases loaded for Paul Dejong with two outs Crick gives up a liner to left scoring two and he beat himself. 5-1 Cards and on to Erlin who gives up the big hit to Carpenter. Could argue Tucker should have made the catch but it certainly wasn’t routine. As nice as that catch in Center was early in the week, this one he looked every bit a first-time starter in Right.

Disappointing outing again from Crick but it’s becoming less of a spell and more of a trajectory at this point. 4 earned runs on 2/3 of an inning is not going to make many fantasy owners happy.

7-1 is the score as we head to the 8th and flashes of last season are ringing in my head. This exact formula played out countless times.

Erlin stayed out there and gave up a couple more to make it 9-1. The gory details won’t add to the story much.

Final 9-1 Cardinals.

And it could have been worse. Crick could have pitched the last third of his inning.

News & Notes:

  • Tucker looks lost at the plate. Throw him something high and tight or down and away and he’ll never make meaningful contact. The new swing at this juncture has a noticeable hole or two, maybe even three
  • Reynolds has started this season 0 for 7 with a walk. It’s not worry time, but if Reynolds isn’t what we saw last year the lineup folds like an accordion.
  • Kyle Crick was again brutal, just doesn’t have what he needs and it’s something different every game.
  • Nik Turley had a nice outing, there’s your bright spot folks
  • Williams was exactly what he’s been, at some point we’ll have to admit that’s what he is.
  • One more Tucker, reading the ball off the bat is an issue, he’ll make up for much of it with athleticism most of the time, but it won’t look pretty.
  • 0-2 and unfortunately, it’s not April.

The Long Ball Sinks The Pirates On Opening Day

Jack Flaherty threw a 94 mph fastball straight down the middle to Kevin Newman and the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 season was underway. Flaherty went on to retire the first nine Buccos in a row before giving up a lead of single to Newman in the bottom of the 4th. He looked in mid-season form; painting the corners, getting players to chase pitches out of zone and allowing mostly soft contact from the Pirates batters.

For the Pirates, Joe Musgrove took the mound in the bottom of the 1st and sat down the Cardinals in order. This wasn’t a huge surprise as the big right hander had a team high 65 1-2-3 innings last year. Musgrove got through the first two innings pretty smoothly, striking out a couple of batters along the way. In the bottom of the third the Red Birds struck first as Tyler O’Neil muscled the ball over the left field for a solo home run. Jacob Stallings would bring an end to the inning with a great throw to get get Tommy Edman trying to steal second after he had reached on an infield hit due to a double clutch by Kevin Newman.

Dexter Fowler took Musgrove deep to lead off the bottom of the 5th as his fastball hung on and caught a little bit to much of the plate; putting the Cardinals up 2-0. Musgrove helped out his own cause with some good old fashioned hustle and a strong throw to Stallings to get Kolten Wong trying to score as the throw to third bounced off Colin Moran’s glove; stopping the Cardinals from getting any more runs on the board that inning.

After making it through another 5 batters and compiling a total of 99 pitches, Musgrove gave way to Clay Holmes with runners on first and third. Holmes immediately gave up a single to Yadier Molina, scoring Paul Goldschmidt to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead. In 5 2/3 inning Big Joe’s night ended with a line of 3 earned runs (the last allowed on the Molina single off of Holmes), 7 strikeouts, 3 walks and 5 total hits; including the two solo home runs.

Meanwhile Flaherty started to struggle a little bit in the 7th; giving up an infield hit, legged out by Josh Bell, followed by a base knock by Colin Moran and then a hit by Jose Osuna off the glove of Tommy Edman. With the bases loaded Guillermo Heredia was caught looking for called third strike, but Flaherty would not get out of this jam as Stallings brought in two with a single passed the diving 1st Basemen Goldschmidt. As the Cardinals came up in the bottom of the 7th, our Buccos still trailed by a count of 3-2.

Flaherty ended up being pulled after the 7th inning. In total he struck 6 Pirates batters, walked none and gave up 2 runs on 6 hits. Other than the last inning he pitched Flaherty looked just as impressive as he had last year when he posted a 2.75 ERA and a .97 WHIP with 231 strikeouts in 196.1 innings.

The Cardinals got both runs back in the bottom of the 8th as Paul DeJong took a Richard Rodriguez fastball over the right field fence. Rodriguez gave up a career high 14 homers last season, which was 5 more than had given up the previous two years combined. Pirates were unable to mount a full comeback in spite of a two run single by Jose Osuna in the top of the 9th, which brought the Pirates to within one at 5-4. Sadly, the Buccos late inning heroics fell just short.

Overall the Pirates performed fairly well in the season opener, but were ultimately taken down thanks in part to the 3 home runs from the Cardinals offense. Musgrove looked sharp at times during his seven strike outs, but was tagged twice in two mistakes. The Pirates bullpen faltered, which is unfortunate as it had been predicted by many. It was however nice to see timely hits by Stallings and Osuna, as well as a two hit night from Colin Moran.

The Pirates and the Cardinals get to do it all again tomorrow at 2:15 PM EST as Trevor Williams takes the mound to face off against the timeless one Adam Wainwright.

Opening Day Has Arrived: 2020 Pirate Projections and A Little Cardinals Preview

Anytime the Pirates have been competitive in recent memory, it seems like it has always been the St. Louis Cardinals standing in their way. For three straight seasons (2013-15) it was the team from the Gateway City that kept the Pirates from a NL Central Division Title, which could have let them avoid the Wild Card Game at least once. Even this past season when they returned from the All Star Break, after having been only 2.5 off the division leading pace, it was the Cardinals that capped off a 4 game losing streak for our Buccos in one of the ugliest games of the year; a contest that ended in a 7-0 loss for the Pirates in the middle of a rain storm. So, it is only fitting that they begin such a crazy shortened season in the shadow of The Arch at Busch Stadium, up against the team that has made a habit of keeping them down.

Usually the opening series of a season does not have many long lasting repercussions. However, the possibility of being swept begin the year will mean something a little bit different in 2020; especially when it is against a division foe. So, it is no surprise that Derek Shelton is going with Joe Musgrove as his starter in the first game. Musgrove was the Pirates most consistent pitcher in the rotation this past season; posting a 4.44 ERA, a 1.215 WHIP and 157 strike outs in 170.1 innings, during 31 starts. During his most recent start in Spring Training he impressed in 3 innings by striking out 5, walking 1, giving up 1 hit and not allowing a run. I look for Big Joe to give the Buccos a fighting chance in the first game of the season and honestly in any game that he pitches this year, as he posted 17 quality starts last year and looks to improve upon this average as the team’s ace.

Unfortunately for the Pirates they be without a few players they were counting on to contribute to start the season and possibly longer depending on the circumstances. Keone Kela (7/16/20) and Gregory Polanco (7/20/20) were both placed on the 10-Day IL after testing positive for COVID-19, with Luke Maile (7/23/20) going to the 60-Day IL due to a fractured right finger and JT Riddle (7/23/20 retroactive back to 7/20/20) because of a right abdominal strain. The first two on this list have been some of the most polarizing players on the Pirates during their time here, but each of them came into the season with heightened expectations; whether it be hoping to bring trade value or to improve the overall quality of the team, possibly both. For now Kela’s closer role will be filled by a committee of relievers, while Polanco can be filled by a combination of Guillermo Heredia, Jason Martin and possibly a few others. As frustrated as I am with the some of these developments, I am interested to see who steps up as the shutdown specialist in Kela’s absence and if Heredia and/or Martin can take advantage of the unexpected extra playing time.

The rest of the Pirates roster has come together pretty much as expected with the starting rotation of Trevor Williams, Mitch Keller, Derek Holland and Chad/Kuhl to go along with Musgrove, an infield made up of Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier and Josh Bell and an outfield of Bryan Reynolds, Jarrod Dyson and Heredia/Martin. Of course the introduction of the Designated Hitter to the National League will open up some line-up flexibility, which will hopefully allow players like Jose Osuna, Erik Gonzalez, Phillip Evans, Cole Tucker and possibly Ke’Bryan Hayes some more time in the field and/or opportunities at the plate because after all, as I have said many times before, this is a season of evaluation and assessment and the Pirates need to figure out what types of players they have.

Throughout the season the Pirates Coaching Staff and new Front Office, led by Ben Cherington, will also be forced to figure out how to put together a productive bullpen. As I pointed out in a recent article Making A Call To The Pen, it won’t take much to improve upon last year’s squad as Pirates Relievers as a whole posted a 4.91 ERA (23rd), gave up 102 HRs (9th), walked 304 batters (4th) and struck out 687 (7th), while only producing 57 holds (28th) and blowing 24 saves (15th). Unfortunately, based on the small sample size over the last few days it could be a challenge to even do that well; although I do think there will be a couple of bright spots. I am expecting good things from Clay Holmes, Nick Burdi, JT Brubaker and potentially Blake Cederlind, if he returns healthy and is given the opportunity. However, the play of these few players may not be enough to hold things together on a consistent basis.

As the season progresses I want everyone to remember that this is a very young group, particularly the core, so it is not the record that should be focused on. Much like a normal season for the Indianapolis Indians, Altoona Curve, Bradenton Marauders and other Pittsburgh Pirates Affiliates I will be focusing on player development, growth and performance over wins and losses. However, with all of that being said I will be making a record prediction since that seems to be the cool thing to do. After some early season struggles I see the Pirates coming together as a group to bring their record to somewhat respectable, 26–34.

Speaking of early season struggles, I am not sure the season is going to get off to a great start in St. Louis as Derek Shelton learns about the capabilities and limitations of his players. I honestly believe we win the first game, mostly due to a strong pitching performance by Big Joe. However, I have my doubts about Trevor Williams being able to pull things together after a rough outing a couple of nights ago and Mitch Keller’s lines have been unpredictable at best. I have hopes for Keller moving forward, I am just not sold on him getting off to a strong start against an experienced and disciplined lineup like the Cardinals. Nevertheless, you count on my being glued to the television all three times over the weekend, cheering on my Buccos and grinning from ear to ear because Pirates Baseball is finally back!

5 Thoughts At 5: Pirates Opening Day Eve

As the beginning of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 season is almost upon us there are a lot of emotions that have been welling up inside of me over the past few months, ready to come out. Ever since the shutdown went into effect on that sunny Thursday afternoon back in March, it has been one heck of a roller coaster ride for all of us and for the world of baseball it was no different. Enter the virtual MLB seasons, negotiations between MLB owners and the MLBPA, an encyclopedia length manual of health and safety protocols and eventually Spring Training 2.0/Summer Camp. Now that all of this behind us, all the craziness is done right? Not by a long shot; which is why I still have some things on my mind for the Five Pirates Thoughts At Five.

1) I know I am not the only one that still harbors some reservations about the start of the 2020 MLB Season. It’s hard not to feel strange about the fact that baseball is coming back when I still barely leave my house, but I am going to do my best to enjoy it; even if it is just to bring some sort of normalcy to my life for a few hours a day.

2) It seems like a lifetime ago that I was at a baseball game. As I left LECOM Park on the afternoon of March 12th I would never have imagined that it could be an entire calendar year before I step into another ballpark, yet here we are.

3) I can’t seem to figure out why people always want to bring “old” players back. I loved Melky, JHay and others, but I see no benefit in bringing any of them back. It’s not that I don’t like them or don’t appreciate what they did while they were here; their time has passed. Live for the future, it does you no good to think any other way.

4) I hope that as the season progresses we hear more about what is going on over in Altoona. I know it was a rush to get the season going and there was a lot to sort out on the home front, but as a self proclaimed Minor League Junkie I would really like to get some updates on the 30 players that will be spending most of their time scrimmaging each other and working on development at People’s Natural Gas Field.

5) Expectations for the Pittsburgh Pirates are pretty low, but honestly my expectations for the season have never changed. This is a season of evaluation and assessment for the future, even in a 60 game sprint the goal remains the same; building for the future.

I obviously have a lot more on my mind, but for right now I look forward to 8:15 tomorrow night, when I will sit down on my parent’s couch with my kiddos, Mom and Dad to welcome baseball back to the Burgh; well St. Louis technically, but I think you all know what I mean.

Progression, Regression and Stagnation: 2020 Pirates Player Projections

Each year before a season begins there are expectations; for the organization as a whole, for the team and especially for the individual players on the field. We try to predict a direction or a path for the future; sometimes based on numbers and patterns, but often it is rooted in emotion, a gut instinct or feeling that we may have. Sometimes we are are right, often we are are wrong. As fans, from time to time, these guesses we make are pleasant surprises or unfortunate disappointments. Either way, in the end, we find out the truth. Nonetheless, I feel that this is part of the fun and excitement of being invested in a team. It is the not knowing that keeps us coming back, year after year.

In this shortened season we are all going to experience something that we never have in our entire lives, but it is not going to stop us, even me, from trying to predict what the future holds. Who is going to take that step forward, what player(s) may disappoint and who are ones that show they are exactly who we thought they were; for better or worse. After it is is all over, we compare notes, see who has bragging rights and how the year turned out for our Pittsburgh Pirates However, now is the time to put my stamp on the predictions I have for those that will progress or regress and the guys that will maintain the status quo, which we have to remember isn’t always a bad thing.

Taking That Step Forward

This is the one we usually get a little tripped up on because we let our emotions get the best of us. We want so badly to see our guy succeed, to make a name for himself, to finally get the recognition he deserves or more than likely, to just be right. Unfortunately not everyone is primed to take the next step, but I believe these three guys are.

1) Jacob Stallings

After being the customary September call up for three years, Stalling finally got his shot last year; thanks to injuries to Francisco Cervelli and poor play from Elias Diaz, he became the choice of the Pirates Pitching Staff and took advantage of the opportunity. His offensive numbers (.262/.325/.382) don’t jump off the page, but his defensive production (14 DRS) more than makes up for it, as he ranked in the top 3 in this category for catchers last year. With a full off-season to work with the Major League staff I look for the defensive numbers to remain consistent and more than likely improve. An uptick in offense production would be a bonus and is clearly possible as he put up career numbers in this area in back to back Minor League seasons; hitting .301 in 2017 and .285 in 2018 for the Indianapolis Indians.

2) Clay Holmes

Once envisioned as a member as the Pirates Starting Rotation, Holmes has transitioned to a full time member of the bullpen over the past two seasons. During this time he has maintained his swing and miss ability by striking out 56 batters over 50 innings in 2019. Unfortunately for him increased walks and lack of consistency have also followed. Having the benefit of unexpected recovery time from a Spring Training Injury (fractured right foot) due to the shutdown, Holmes appears to have taken advantage of this by showing back up in mid-season form. In his last appearance before the season opener, he showed great control of his all of his pitches; especially his curveball, which he dropped for two called strikes and was not able to be put in play. I look for this consistency to continue throughout the shortened season, which will be a pleasant surprise for Pirates Fans.

3) Jose Osuna

In a season where Osuna was finally given regular opportunities, he impressed; especially in a pinch hitting . In these situations he led the league in home runs for the season with 5. He also posted a .325 Batting Average, a 1.232 OPS and 10 total extra base hits in this role. Thanks to the designated hitter coming to the NL this year, Osuna should have the chance to put his bat on display even more and even flash his often underrated glove at multiple positions.

The Best May Be Behind Them

This one may also be a little tough, a bitter pill to swallow, considering we don’t like to see any of our players not live up to expectations and let’s face it, actually be wrong about something. In baseball success cannot last forever. Many times people talk about players being at the tail end of their career and not being what they used to. For other players it can be one or a couple years of achievement, followed by regression before the eventually fade away. Age and/or ability catches up with everyone. For these three Pirates it seems like they have reached their heights and the only way to go is down.

1) Trevor Williams

In 2018 Trevor had a breakout season (14-10 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP) and gave fans hope for things to come. Unfortunately for Williams and fans alike 2019 couldn’t haven’t been more of a disaster as his ERA ballooned to 5.38 and his WHIP raised to 1.414. Much of this was attributed to a right side strain suffered early on in the season, however I believe the issue goes even deeper. Williams relies on his secondary pitches to set up his mid-90’s fastball. During the shutdown he worked with new pitching coach, Oscar Marin, on his curveball, which definitely shined through on his last exhibition start. However, his primary off speed pitch, his slider, continued to miss the mark. If this pattern continues, Williams could be in for a long season; even if it will only be 60 games.

2) Kevin Newman

As a Rookie, Newman took ahold of the starting shortstop job and never let it go; hitting .308 with 12 homers and a .800 OPS. A season such as this is hard for many players to repeat and may be even more difficult for him. In his almost unbelievable first full season, Newman ranked near the bottom as it pertained to exit velocity (5th percentile), hard hit % (6th percentile) and barrel % (4th percentile), as well as near the top in K% (97th percentile) and whiff % (97th percentile). As much as I don’t want to admit that Newman’s rookie season was a bit lucky, the numbers don’t lie and if there isn’t marked improvement in these areas, his first season in the majors could be seen as the extreme outlier.

3) Kyle Crick

Crick has always been known as a hard throwing right handed pitcher, who sometimes experiences control issues. In his most recent appearances one of these things has not been true and unfortunately it has nothing to do with control issues, as those have still been prevalent. The real concern has been his drop in velocity, particularly on his fastball. Over the past two seasons his fastball has averaged around 95 to 96 mph. Right now it is sitting at closer to 92. For a pitcher with control issues that can’t rely on speed to fool batters, this year could be a catastrophe.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

As I said before, this isn’t always a bad thing. Some players simply reach their potential and don’t have the ability to achieve a level any higher than they already have. I feel this is the case for these three Pirates. Luckily for them the standard they have set for themselves is higher than many players of similar ilk have been able to achieve.

1) Adam Frazier

In his three full MLB seasons Frazier has been extremely dependable and predictable, batting .276, .277 and .278 during this time. Simply put, he is what he is. Add in a OPS that hovers between .743 and .798 and you have a very good everyday contributor to your team. He may never reach the heights of a superstar, but at least you know what to expect and this level of play is not easily replaced.

2) Bryan Reynolds

In his entire profession career Reynolds has never hit below .300 in a season. He regularly hits for a mix of contact and power, to all parts of the ballpark. The kid can just flat out hit. Things are fairly simple when it comes to predicting a future for this young man; hitting over .300 and impressing everyone along the way.

3) Josh Bell

I know that many are looking for bigger and better for things for Bell, especially with the DH coming to the National League and with the power shown from both sides of the plate in the last exhibition game. However, it is hard to improve upon 37 home runs, 37 doubles and 116 RBIs for a season. Now I know much of this damage was done over around a 2 month period of time, so people like to extrapolate this over an entire season and enhance the numbers to up over 50 homers and as many as 130 RBIs. In my mind I see more consistent play from Bell, as opposed to near historic production each and every month, so in the end the numbers will look around the same; which one again is not a bad thing.

Now if you have read any of my columns previously or have listened to me talk with my buddy Chris on our podcast, Bucs In The Basement , you already know I am opinionated on all thing Pittsburgh Pirates. This means I could have written a breakdown of every player from the entire 40 man roster and beyond, but that would have turned into a book and honestly I probably need to save some of that material for the short and exciting season we have in front of us!