Tagged: 2007 Pregame

Mackowiak: Pirates “expected to lose”

"Over [in Pittsburgh] you played, had fun and expected to lose anyway. Over here, we’re expected to win." — Rob Mackowiak

The White Sox come in town for a three game set that is being called their series of survival:

"They open a three-game series Friday night at perennial National League Central doormat Pittsburgh in desperate search of the momentum that deserted them 3½ weeks ago." — Chicago Sun Times

This is a very good hitting team that is coming in about as flat as flat can be. They hit southpaws about as good as we hit right-hand heat throwers like we should hit, oh, say.. Jon Garland. But after Loe took us apart with his sinker, look for Garland to shelf his heater in later counts and rely on the heavy sinker he throws.

That means we need to be swinging early on him.

But there is a caveat to that – the Sox bullpen comes in just as messed up as the Pirates pen is and they give up a lot of runs. So it will be interesting to see if the Pirates allow Garland to throw 4-seam heaters down the pike on strike one for the first couple of innings to build his pitch count up and then wail on it later, or if they are off to the races swinging at anything close starting in the first.

On paper game one is about even across the board but the Sox take the advantage because, like Mackowiak said, they are expected to win, especially in Pittsburgh. Look for their game to be in high gear – whatever game they have left in them.

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Cubs Series Preview

Soriano, DeRosa, and Ramirez, oh my..
  Hill, and Lilly, and Marquis, oh my..
    Duke with a 10.38 ERA last 3, oh my..
      Cubbies are SLG .465 last 5, oh my..
        10 mph wind blowing out to right tonight, oh my..
           Lee making southpaws weep on the mound, oh my..
             Piniella’s first trip into the ‘Burgh since 2005, oh my..
               Have the Cubs really scored 110 runs this year?.. oh my..
                 The Pirates are averaging just 3 runs at home, oh my..

50% chance Monday’s game is rained out, OH MY!

On paper this series is a blowout. Not a little blowout, mind you.. a creaming. The Cubbies bats are in overdrive, their pitching is hitting on all cylinders, and even their dreaded middle infielders are making plays ours just think about.

I suppose we could take a page from Piniella’s book and walk the #2 – #5 batters every other inning. Maybe we’d have a chance.

Duke has pitched well against the Cubs, but hasn’t beaten them since before the 2006 All-Star Game. His mound opponent, southpaw Rich Hill, already ownz the Pirates with a ridiculous 12.6 K/9 rate and a 1.29 ERA.

Throw in a Pirates defense that is making errors on almost every play, an offense that can’t score runs at PNC, and pitching that has taken a week off, and you might as well go on and take a three-day vacation and just come back and read the standings on Friday.

It’s that bad on paper.

Let’s face it, if Duke or Armas throw anything near the plate to Lee this series they need their heads examined. The same holds true for Armas or Snell versus Ramirez Tuesday and Wednesday. Or Armas versus Floyd.

Soriano hits everybody.

And don’t forget for one second the Pirates tried to get Jones but he had a no-trade that includes the Pirates, so you have to wonder if he won’t display a little grudge for us to see this series.

Believe it or not, you can’t even put a bet down on game 1 of this series the odds are so lopsided. No where.. not even offshore. Talk about being underdogs.

The way I look at it, the Pirates have nothing to lose this entire series except their pride, which they have pretty much hung out on the clothes line the last few days anyway.

Why not confuse the Cubs.. let Doumit leadoff, or start the game with LaRoche on the mound, or let Elred take the mound and bean half the lineup the first inning?

Or maybe Jim Tracy should walk out to hand the lineup card to the home plate ump wearing a goat costume?

I mean, we might as well have some fun if we are going to get skunked. Maybe if they get so mad they can’t stand it, they will lose their composure?

No.. it didn’t work in St. Louis this last weekend, did it? If you missed it, the St. Louis Post printed a poem about why the Cubs won’t win the divison this year and all it did was fire them up and leave the Cardinals wondering what just hit them.

Well, I know I’m going to get a fresh supply of Valium tomorrow and I think I’ll send a case of K-Y Jelly to the Pirates clubhouse. I have a feeling they are going to need it.

If you’re like me who loves the underdogs, then get ready for a great series.. if we show up to play baseball, the results just might surprise some people. Including Vegas.

Naw.. I didn’t just say that, did I? hehe

Reds Series Preview

The Reds come to town the day it is announced by Rand McNally that Pittsburgh ranked as the most livable city in America.

This series starts with another Friday night contest at PNC Park with the Pirates as the huge favorite in Vegas. In fact, the Pirates are favorites to win all three games and that’s not the kind of odds I like to see.

Oh – the numbers are there to support them being favorites:

— Pirates have a 2.84 ERA first 7 games at PNC, and our starters have a 1.59 ERA last 3;

— the Pirates have won 7 of their last 9 against the Reds at PNC;

— the Pirates are 7-0 when they out-hit their opponent which figures to be the case most of the games in this series;

— the Reds are hitting just .201 against right-handers last five and their team batting average is a horrid .243 their last 10 games placing them dead last in the NL;

— Reds have committed 13 errors in their last 7 games;

— since 4/14 when Rich Hill shut the Reds out, they have gone 4-8, been held to 2 runs or less in half of those games, and held to 6 hits or less in 8 of those 12 games.

No matter how you slice it and dice it, the Reds come in looking like the NL version of the Kansas City Royals.

But that’s the problem.

The Pirates have won 4 straight and only won 5 straight 2 times in 2006. Despite a 2.96 ERA in their last 8 starts, Reds starters are 1-3 mainly because their bullpen has imploded with a 7.94 ERA their last 5 games.

Pittsburgh has a depleted bullpen with two of their seven relievers unavailable, Salomon Torres the closer having been ripped from two consecutive games, and three of the five arms in the pen that are available with ERAs over 6 their last 3 games.

But what bothers me most about game 1 of this series is that Ian Snell does not pitch his best at PNC (24G, 5.16 ERA), the National Weather Service suggests the wind will be blowing straight out at 10 – 15 mph with gusts certain to be much higher, the Reds are 4th in the NL hitting home runs, and the Pirates are only hitting .204 against southpaws averaging less than 1 home run per game.

The keys to this series for the Pirates are going to be:

1.  Our pitchers keeping the ball in the park;
2.  Keeping Gonzalez and Hamilton from beating us;
3.  Putting the ball in play and letting the Reds defenders make mistakes;
4.  Xavier Nady’s availability because he wails Reds pitching;
5.  Run, run, run if Valentin is behind the plate;
6.  Deflate the Reds even more by hammering Milton in game 1.

Hopefully the Reds leave Pittsburgh thinking it’s a place they don’t want to come back to anytime soon.

Jason Bay is one home run away from becoming the 20th Pirate to hit 100 homers for the Bucs. It’s a safe bet he’ll get it tonight against Milton if he isn’t walked all night long.

Look for LaRoche to have the night off against Milton, or be dropped way down the order.

Astros Matchup; Tidbits

The key to this game could end up being the wind, believe it or not. I expect a slight wind with gusts to 8 mph blowing from right field to left, and that is going to favor Woody Williams as the right-hand pitcher.

Williams is a flyball pitcher and the Pirates lineup is predominately right-handed, so most of the balls in the air are going to be going from center to right.. the largest part of the park and into the increasingly heavy humid wind.

Maholm, on the other hand, is typically a high groundball pitcher at home but when balls go in the air, they travel to left field where the wind will be blowing and toward the 325′ corner.

When we last played the Astros, Williams took the mound in game three and the Pirates wailed him, but Kerwin Danley was behind the plate calling balls and strikes and he has a notoriously small strike zone. You’d be hard pressed to find another ump with as small a zone as Danley so unless one shows up, the advantage goes to Williams here.

The Astros are extremely patient at the plate with junk throwing pitchers like Maholm so he’s going to have to come in the zone if he doesn’t want walks. And as you read in yesterday’s post here, coming in the zone is not a good omen for Pirate pitching.

In Maholm’s last four outings against the Astros, the Pirates won both contests at PNC and lost both on the road and he managed a 2.3 GB/FB ratio which is very good, but he has also allowed 1 home run per game and four walks. That’s not good.

Plus Maholm’s GB/FB ratio this year is well under 2 as you would expect from the sinkerball pitcher early in the year, so you’re bound to see more balls in the air. And that’s what will be the difference in this game, I’m afraid.

The Pirates have scored more than 3 runs off Williams only once since 2001 and he is averaging just 1.3 runs allowed at PNC. Plus, he has only given up one home run in his last seven starts against us.

The Astros come in hammering southpaws at a .306 clip over their last 10 games, but are 1-5 last 6 against them. And the Pirates are hitting right handers at a .200 clip at PNC this year, but much better their last 10 games overall at .251. The Pirates are also 3-8 last 11 against righties.

Two key trends show the Astros with a 21-8 record their last 29 games against a team that puts a pitcher on the mound with a WHIP higher than 1.30, as Maholm’s is, and they have a 16-6 record against the Pirates last 22.

The Pirates are 6-2 last 8 Tuesday games, 1-5 in game 1 of the last 6 series, and 2-5 when Maholm has been the favorite.

The Bucs are the clear favorite on paper but the money is on the Astros.

According to a March USA Today/Gallup poll, 43% of Americans identify themselves as baseball fans. That is low by recent standards, as an average of 49% of Americans have said they were fans of the sport since Gallup started tracking this measure in 1993. 

That’s quite amazing considering the amount of money in the game today. But maybe that’s the reason. As hundreds of thousands of people all over the country are losing their homes from high interest rates, baseball owners are raking in the dough.

"While half of baseball fans polled say they are just as enthusiastic about this season, a greater percentage say they are less enthusiastic (30%) than say they are more enthusiastic (18%)."

Maybe Gallup should stop calling Pittsburgh so much?

A new video is up at our farm system site showing Marty McLeary’s meltdown and Nyjer Morgan doing his best Nate McLouth imitation Sunday.

Looking at Game One with the Brewers

The Pirates start a two-game series against the Brewers Wednesday and come in game one as the underdog.

The Pirates are 2-5 in their last 7 games at Miller Park and the Brewers have an uncanny 5-1 record their last 6 games against a starting southpaw at home.

Pirates starter Paul Maholm, who is 9-4 in his last 13 games against NLCD teams, has beaten the Brewers all three times he has faced them, including two of the three at Miller. He has averaged 2 runs and 6 hits per game.

The Pirates come in having lost in Maholm’s last two starts as he has allowed a ridiculous .413 on base percentage fueled by a 1.80 WHIP. However, the Brewers are only hitting .186 against southpaws so far this year.

Ex-Diamondback/National Claudio Vargas starts for the Brewers who has a tendency to throw a lot of pitches, typically exiting around the 5th inning or so. While he’s on the mound, he has had his way with the Pirates.

Therefore, the key to this game will probably be Maholm’s first inning, each team’s bullpens, and who gets the clutch hit.

The Pirates pen the last three has a 3.47 ERA – the Brewers a 2.84. It’s the kind of game you can just about predict that Jim Tracy will come in with John Wasdin out of the pen and the Brewers hack him up.

Both starters last pitched on April 11th – seven days rest. That is a major concern for Maholm, especially early in the game. Vargas shouldn’t be bothered by it.

The Brewers are coming off a 4-3 road trip – their first winning road trip since August 2005, they are struggling defensively – especially Bill Hall, and they are having a hard time getting clutch hits like the Pirates.

It should be a low scoring game unless Maholm gets eaten alive early. But don’t underestimate our streaky bats that have recently come alive.

There is an article posted at http://pirates.mlblogs.com wondering where Andrew McCutchen has gone.

Scouting the Reds: Game 1

The Pirates head to Cincinnati as underdogs once again but interestingly, the late money trend is swinging back towards the Pirates.

Perhaps because the game time temperature will be in the 30’s with a chance of snow?

Two soft tossers face off against each other.

Paul Maholm takes the mound for the Pirates and I couldn’t find a game where he had pitched below 50 degrees. In fact, I couldn’t find one below 58 degrees last year. But being from Evergreen Park near Chicago, I doubt Maholm will be bothered by the cold much.

For the most part, Reds batters have yet to figure Maholm out as his .225 batting average allowed shows. But they have walked a lot – about 5 walks per nine innings on average, despite just four issued in his last 18 innings against them.

The Reds will have Matt Belisle throwing and the Pirates have eaten his off speed arsenal for dinner. Over 146 at bats, Pirate batters have stroked a 1.007 OPS with only nine walks, including one home run every 14.5 at bats as a team, and one every six at bats for Bay. Expect us to be up there hacking early while it’s still relatively warm.

The early strength of the Reds has been their bullpen, much like the Pirates. In 6.2 innings of work they have yet to give up a run, but they have walked five.

Adam Dunn and Scott Hatteberg are the hot bats, but Dunn has a career 2-20 line against Maholm so something has to give. Pirate eater David Ross, is off to his typical early year slow start going 0-7 at the plate. And Ken Griffey, Jr., who is always a threat, is just 1 for his last 7.

In Vegas, the Reds are the consensus pick at 63% to win game one of the series primarily because the Pirates are 1-4 in their last 5 games at Great American Park, 1-5 in their last six Friday games, and 3-8 in Maholm’s last 11 road starts with the current 9.5 run over/under odds line.

On the other hand, the Reds are 5-0 in their last five Friday games, 7-1 in games with the 9.5 run odds line, and 4-0 last four in game one of a series.

But don’t underestimate the Pirates for these reasons:

— the Buccos are 4-0 when Maholm started as the underdog;

— the Reds are 2-11 in their last 13 after scoring 5 or more the previous game;

— the Pirates are 7-1 following a win; and

— 17-8 last twenty-five when the odds line was set at 9.5 runs.

There should be a lot of offense to start the series off and a lot of flu setting in by the end of the series. Maybe that’s why Duke got pushed back to a daytime Sunday start since Saturday night is sure to be even colder?

I had planned to show you some video of Freddy Sanchez in the Indy Indians game but, for some reason, the game has been yanked off the MiLB shelf.

Follow our minor league coverage at http://pirates.mlblogs.com.