26 July 2012

Believe in the Z

Zoltan, Zoltanning, The Zoltan Lumber Company. Zoltan is a word that has taken over Pittsburgh. There are quite a few different symbols that teams have started to us over the last few seasons to celebrate a big hit, incredible speed or a victory. The Rangers and Brewers have used different gestures towards their own benches in past years to commemorate accomplishments. Animal gestures worked for the Rangers with the claw and antlers while the Brewers went with “beast mode.”  Why do I bring these crazy, unexplainable hand signals up? One of the things that both the Brewers and Rangers have in common is that they both were still taking the field with their gestures during the postseason.   
                Zoltan, a signal taken from the movie “Dude Where’s My Car?,” has taken over PNC Park, Pittsburgh, the NL Central and continues to grow stronger win by win. The front office has also shown that they believe in the Z. The trade to acquire Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros for a strong lefty on defense and the calling up of Starling Marte for some fireworks on both sides of the ball (which was shown on the first pitch Thursday) are two examples of the management believing in the team and pushing for a playoff berth.  Teams with gestures that have caught on have had some sort of extra chemistry that other teams don’t have. Zoltan has brought a new energy to the Pirates. Ever since the walk off on May 8th where the Z made its first appearance when the Pirates were 13-16. The Buccos have since turned it around by improving their record to 13 games over .500 and first in the wild card. Do you believe in the Z, because I sure do!

17 July 2012

Created for Greatness

Andrew McCutchen is doing for baseball right now what Mark McGuire did for baseball in 1998. That year I was 11 years old, growing up in a small town, playing instructional league baseball. I didn't have cable and was therefore limited to watching a handful of games a year. This didn't stop me from watching the morning news everyday to see if McGwire had sent another ball into orbit or driven in another dozen runs. Certainly, looking back, some of this greatness is a bit soured but the awe that it inspired in that 11 year old as well as the rest of the nation, is what this game is all about. God-like men that make the rest of us look like ants, both in our stature and our accomplishments.

This is what McCutchen is doing every night in the black and yellow. He has the general population sitting on the edge of our seats, putting down whatever we're working on to watch his at bats. He has us vicariously living our childhood dreams of monster drives and moonshots through his base hits and box scores.

Similar to that 11 year old in 1998, there are kids in the country who, albeit probably have a way to watch more than 5 games a year, are watching every night, falling deeper in love with a game that makes them feel like they can conquer the world. They're falling in love not only because of the feats of a centerfielder, but because they are in awe of the talents that have been bestowed on Fort Meade's finest.

I truly believe that part of the reason we become so enthralled with hero figures is because they not only reflect the power and majesty of the One who created them, but because they give us a glimpse into a little piece of what we were created to be.

We were created for greatness, and the likes of Andrew McCutchen remind of us of that nightly.

14 July 2012

Sour Appel

  While it is disappointing to not sign first round pick Mark Appel, I see no reason to resort to anger and start hoping Appel blows out his arm next year. How Mark does next year is irrelevant now. I’ve seen a lot of tweets of how foolish he is for turning down 3+ million dollars and risk getting injured next year and getting nothing.  I assume that the money was the primary factor in the decision but it probably wasn’t the only factor. If it were me, I would have signed, but this isn’t just about signing a baseball contract; It is his life. His career. His decision.  We constantly criticize athletes for “only doing it for the money”. Is it possible that he considered something other than money? Maybe finishing school was something he wanted to do in his life. Its possible he thought his career path would be better with a different organization. I’m confident he thought out the decision thoroughly.  Whatever the reason, it was his choice; not the Pirates, not Scott Boras. Perhaps it was a poor choice and he will regret the decision, but I think it is shallow to judge his decision based solely on some metal matrix of what he could sign for this year compared to risk of injury and odds to make more money next year.  He doesn’t owe the Pirates anything and simply decided against signing.  

12 July 2012

Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

With the Pirates set to get the second half of the 2012 season under way on Friday, one must wonder what it will have in store.  You best not worry my friend as I plan to take away that anxiety with my "bold, sure to go wrong in every way predictions".  Here are 5 things you can expect to see as the Pirates make their run towards the NL pennant.

1.  Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, or Jeff Locke will be wearing black and gold by August 13th.  If the Pirates continue to win despite the poor pitching performances from Erik Bedard you can bet the Pirates will look to sure up the back end of the rotation with one of these arms.  Hamels and Greinke are out of the question in my opinion and with the next tier of pitchers said to be available being less than attractive, I see the Pirates finding help from within.  Out of these three, Jeff Locke makes the most sense.  Locke has shown decent command this year where in years past he has struggled.  

2.  Josh Willingham will be a Pittsburgh Pirate, hopefully sooner rather than later.  Look, I realize that this seems like a long shot but it makes so much sense for the Pirates that I can see a scenario where the Twins get an offer too good to refuse.  With the Twins seemingly already out of it and a brutal first couple weeks to start the second half, they will realize they are more than a couple players away from contending and finally break down and trade Willingham.  Granted, Willingham should have been a Pirate long before now and we wouldn't have to be talking about this.  It sounds like Quentin and Upton are drawing a good number of potential buyers, most of which have packages that better suit what their respective teams are looking for in return. This is leaving the Pirates on the outside looking in, but I think it's for the better.  

3.  By season end the Pirates will lead the NL in home runs.  If number 2 comes true I don't see any reason the Pirates can't achieve this feat.  With some kind of power at seemingly every position in the line up it is easy to see why their home run totals have skyrocketed as the bats have come alive.  The Pirates will most likely not continue to hit with as much consistency as they have in the last month and a half, but with balls leaving the ballpark at a blistering pace the offense will have just enough steam to keep the wins coming.

4.  Andrew McCutchen and James McDonald will finish in the top 3 for MVP and the Cy Young Awards respectively.  Everyone knows that McCutchen is having a monster season. I do not think I need to go into all the reasons why Cutch will seriously be considered for MVP.  More intriguing to me is the season McDonald is having.  In case you missed it, the trio of Giants that knocked up American League pitching in the All-Star game were a combined 0-9 against McDonald 4 nights prior.  Oh and the only NL pitcher with a better ERA at the break was his mound opponent that took the loss that night.  It will be a summer to remember as Votto and McCutchen battle it out for MVP and McDonald and Cueto pitch their teams toward the playoffs.  

5.  The Pirates will find themselves with a chance to make the playoffs heading into the last weekend of the season with none other than the Atlanta Braves standing in their way. This could be a chance to reverse 20 years of losing in the most vindicating way imaginable.

As a Pirates fan, the above scenario seemed like the absolute best case scenario at the beginning of the season but with winning comes high expectations and so the city is in playoffs or bust mode.   I, for one, am still just trying to at least stop the fortnight of bleeding and a win in Milwaukee on Friday the 13th would mean a lot more than an ordinary notch in the win column.

Beat em Bucs!

05 July 2012

Bucs Heating Up

Here’s a quick look at how the rest of the schedule looks like on a heat map. The dark blue are easier matchups, the red (we don’t have anymore) are the harder matchups with green being neutral. Home vs. road isn’t factored, only the teams record as of the afternoon of July 4th.  I should note that we have nine games against the Reds who are right on the top edge of the yellow and of course the records will be out of date in a couple days. The Mets might tank by the time we face them or the Brewers might look a different team in September. But I think this gives a good feel of how the schedule looks like at a glance.  The hardest games are the next three vs. the Giants (after tonight’s) and then it gets and stays blue for a while. This is the time to make some hay in the standings.  August looks like a medium temperature month with some blue mixed in, and gets warmer for the last ten games of the season.  The average winning percentage for the rest of the schedule is .464.  Lets make some Hay.

01 July 2012

El Toro o La Vaca

What shall we do with Pedro Alvarez? A question we have been asking since the beginning of time.  A month ago fans were calling for his head, today not so much.  Good thing management doesn't follow every rallying cry that fans make throughout the season.  In fact had they listened to all the ludicrous ideas fans have had about this team, our starting nine would include 4 guys still playing in AAA.  Not to mention having fired our hitting coach and traded away some of our promising pitching prospects.  Who's to say that Gregg Ritchie isn't part of the reason this team is hitting so well right now.  We honestly have no idea what part he has played in all of this, but as fans we only look at the end result and forgo the development that is involved in getting those results.  Case in point: Pedro Alvarez.

Listen, I get your frustration with the guy. I also get frustrated when I watch him roll over on an outside pitch and ground out to second, I get that.  What I can't get past is this idea that some people have that he isn't buying in, or that somehow he isn't good enough to play at this level.  I hear people say that he shows no emotion and doesn't look like he cares.  Really?  I don't see that at all, I see a calm collected and emotionally mature player who doesn't lose his temper when things are going bad and doesn't flaunt it when he hits a 438 ft. home run or throws a 90 mph fastball across the diamond.  And if that isn't enough, listen to how teammates talk about the guy; that gives you a real sense of what a guy means to a team.  When Pedro has success the dugout is ecstatic, they all know how hard he works and what an amazing talent he is.  They clearly haven't given up on him so why should we? You may disagree with me on this point, but a guy like Pedro Alvarez doesn't come along very often and the Pirates are not going to just throw him aside after less than two full years in the majors.  It would take years to find and develop another player of his caliber, and there isn't another guy like him in our system.

I purposely didn't include a single stat in this article thus far because stats don't always show the full picture and in Pedro's case they most definitely do not. Take for instance Pedro's fielding percentage and his 13 errors this season. On paper that doesn't look very good, in fact it is quite poor if the guy playing third is an average fielder with limited range and an average arm. My point is that when you factor in all of the amazing plays Pedro has made this season as a result of his range and arm it is easy to see where he has recorded outs where many third baseman would have given up hits. Offensively many are drawing comparisons to Adam Dunn, and while I am not a fan of Dunn, if Pedro hits .242 with 40 home runs every year I for one would take that. That being said, I still see Pedro's ceiling being hirer than Adam Dunn. When he connects he reminds me a lot more of David Ortiz the way the ball seems to jump off of his bat. Ortiz could and can hit home runs that never get higher than 20 feet off the ground and end up in the stands before the camera can catch up. Remember that home run Pedro hit in Cleveland? Yeah I thought so. Oh yeah and by the way, Ortiz's second year in the league he hit .232 with 18 HR's and seemed to recover quite nicely. The Pirates have already given up too early on a promising third baseman, let's not make that mistake again.

04 June 2012

Mark Appel RHP - Stanford

The Pirates made RHP Mark Appel the 8th pick in this year's first year player draft.  Projected to be taken number one by the Astros, Appel slipped all the way down to number eight where Huntington stuck to his word and took the best available player.  The Pirates have now drafted a RHP with their first pick in three consecutive drafts.  Most scouts see Appel as a can't miss talent ready for the fast track to the big leagues as a top of the rotation guy.  In his Jr. year at Stanford Appel went 9-1 with a 2.37 ERA and was striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings.  He had previously been drafted by the Tigers in the 15th round but chose to return to school.  With a consistent fastball of 94-95 topping out at 98 Appel has drawn comparison to Justin Verlander, which could be why the Tigers showed interest originally.   I must applaud the Pirates for sticking to their plan.  In no way would the pirates have gotten a player close to Mark Appel had they listened to the fans and went after a SS or C.  Bucco fans should be excited about the future and the Pirates commitment to build a championship caliber team in Pittsburgh.

"One of the downsides to the early season success for the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates was that it put them out of their usual position at the top of the draft boards, which will make it nearly impossible to land a guy like Appel. The 6′ 5″ right hander is the top prospect in the draft, and has drawn comparisons to Justin Verlander." 
                     - Pirates Prospect