Pirates' Gregory Polanco: Two hits in Friday's loss

Pirates' Gregory Polanco: Two hits in Friday's loss

Polanco went 2-for-3 with a walk and a double in Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Phillies.

The Pirates as a team only managed six hits on the night, preventing Polanco from capitalizing on his first multi-hit game in over a week. The 26-year-old has been unlucky on balls in play so far, but he’s walking at a career-high clip so far and could be poised for a breakout once his batting average begins to rise.

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Pirates hitting still offensive, drop 2nd to Phils, 2-1

Pirates hitting still offensive, drop 2nd to Phils, 2-1

The Pirates who until very recently led the National league in run scoring had suddenly stopped finding their way home. Other than a ten run explosion on Wednesday against Colorado, the team has failed to score more than one run in any game this week.

Tonight their scoreless streak extended to 14 innings facing the Phillies unheralded starter Ben Lively, who came into the game with a 4.50 career ERA. Fortunately Iva Nova was matching the zeroes on the scoreboard when the Pirates struck first in the top of the sixth inning. With one out, Francisco Cervelli was hit by a pitch and went to third on Colin Moran’s line drive to left that Rhys Hoskins played into a double. Jordy Mercer then lifted a high fly to deep right field to plate Cervelli and give the Pirates a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Having thrown 76 pitches through five, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle allowed Nova to stay in the game and make the last out of the sixth, but Nova struggled when he came back out to the mound. After Cesar Hernandez struck out swinging Carlos Santana and Odubel Herrera laced singles to put runners at first and third with one out. Hoskins then grounded the ball to third, but Colin Moran passed up a throw home to try in vain for a double play, with Hoskins beating Adam Frazier’s throw to first as Santana crossed home with the tying run.

Michael Feliz came on to strike out a pair in the seventh, but George Kontos, who’s managed only two strikeouts in nine innings all year, didn’t fair as well. Hernandez lined a double into the right field corner at 103 mph. Santana grounded out to first at 103, moving Hernandez, representing the lead run, to third. Then Herrera ripped a grounder at 106 past Josh Bell and into the right field corner for a triple, giving the Phils a 2-1 lead. After walking Rhys Hoskins, Kontos managed to get the final two outs by picking off both base runners. The play began 1-3-4 on Hoskins, then Frazier threw home where Cervelli tagged out Herrera. Seeing Hoskins lollygagging into third, Cervelli threw to Moran who fired to the center fielder Marte who flipped to the left fielder Dickerson who applied the tag for the third out. 1-3-4-2-5-8-7. Polanco and Mercer observed.

Oh yeah. The Pirates tried to mount a rally in the ninth as Mercer doubled with one out, but David Freese popped up and Frazier grounded out against some reliever I’d never heard of as the Phils sealed their second win in as many games.

The wife and I will be making a day trip to Philly for the 4 pm start which pits Steven Brault against Aaron Nola. It might be a long drive home.

Pirates avoid sweep, blast Rockies, 10-2

Pirates avoid sweep, blast Rockies, 10-2

The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ offense awoke from a brief slumber with 13 hits Wednesday in a 10-2 win over the visiting Colorado Rockies.

The Pirates (12-6) broke their only two-game losing streak of the season and avoided being swept by the Rockies (11-9).

Sean Rodriguez hit a two-run homer, Josh Bell was 2-for-5 with three RBIs and Adam Frazier was 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored to lead the way for the Pirates, who managed just two runs and nine hits over the first two games. They entered the three-game series averaging 5.8 runs a game.

Pittsburgh starter Chad Kuhl (2-1) pitched six innings, allowing a run on four hits, with four strikeouts and three walks.

Kyle Crick pitched a scoreless seventh. Enny Romero, making his Pirates debut, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a double to Gerardo Parra and a RBI groundout by Ian Desmond in the eighth for Colorado’s second run.

Romero also got his first major league hit, a double in the eighth, and scored Pittsburgh’s eighth run on Jordy Mercer‘s sacrifice fly.

Rockies starter Kyle Freeland (0-3) lasted four-plus innings, giving up five runs and six hits, with two walks and two strikeouts.

Colorado right fielder Carlos Gonzalez left the game in the fifth for unspecified reasons.

After Chris Iannetta launched a 432-foot, two-out solo homer in the first for the Rockies, the Pirates went to work. David Freese drew a two-out walk in the fourth and scored on Rodriguez’s shot to left. Elias Diaz singled and scored on Max Moroff’s double to the warning track in center to make it 3-1.

Pittsburgh added three more in the fifth.

Frazier led off with a single to end an 0-for-11 skid. Jordy Mercer singled, chasing Freeland. An out later against Scott Oberg, Bell’s single brought Frazier home, and David Freese followed with a two-RBI double to make it 6-1.

Frazier added an RBI single in the sixth for a 7-1 Pirates lead, and the Pirates added three more in the eighth, including a two-RBI double by Bell.

–Field Level Media

Rethinking MLB Offseason Decisions We Judged Too Quickly

Rethinking MLB Offseason Decisions We Judged Too Quickly

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Matt Marton/Associated Press

We may be less than a month into the 2018 MLB season, but it’s already time to start rethinking a few offseason decisions that we may have been a bit too quick to judge.

Whether it was a questionable signing, failure to address a perceived need or the prevailing thought on what direction a team was heading, there are all sorts of areas where fans may pass judgment too swiftly.

Ahead is a quick look at five notable offseason decisions that seem considerably smarter now that the regular season is in full swing.

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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The Logic

The advantages of the Matt Kemp trade were clear-cut for both sides.

The Atlanta Braves took on more money in 2018 by acquiring the expiring contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy to get out from under the 2019 portion of Matt Kemp’s contract.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took on the extra year owed to Kemp to trim significant money off of this year’s payroll, which was over the luxury tax threshold.

In theory, all four players could have been released as soon as the trade was finalized, and it still would have made perfect sense for both sides.

     

The Reality

Gonzalez was in fact released as soon as the deal was finalized, and Kazmir was shown the door before the regular season started.

However, the other two players have made a surprising early impact with their new clubs.

McCarthy won a spot in the Atlanta rotation with a strong spring, and he’s gone 2-0 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over his first three starts. If nothing else, he’s capable of eating innings and potentially turning himself into a viable trade chip if he can stay healthy.

As for Kemp, he won a bench spot with a strong spring of his own, and he’s quickly pushed his way into the starting lineup with a .333/.380/.600 line over 50 plate appearances.

With Joc Pederson struggling, he should continue to see regular playing time.

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Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The Logic

The Baltimore Orioles had the worst rotation in baseball last season with an unsightly 5.70 ERA from the starting staff.

After kicking the tires on a number of mid-level options, the front office settled on signing Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16 million deal that includes a $10 million team option for 2020 as the first major move to address that issue.

While his 3.40 ERA in 2017 looked strong on the surface, it came with a 4.61 FIP and a 4.6 K/9 rate that ranked 57th among 58 qualified starters.

The regression candidate was simply not the answer for a team that needed a massive rotation overhaul.

     

The Reality

The Orioles starting rotation is still far from a strength, and late-offseason signing Alex Cobb was shelled in his first start of the season.

Cashner is off to a great start, though.

After giving up four earned runs in five innings in his Orioles debut, he’s turned in three straight quality starts.

  • @ NYY: W, 6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K
  • vs. TOR: ND, 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K
  • @ DET: L, 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

The Cashner signing looked like a Band-Aid on a bullet hole at the time, but so far, he’s been one of the better offseason additions leaguewide on the starting pitching side of things.

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Brian McCann

Brian McCannJim Mone/Associated Press

The Logic

The Houston Astros reportedly showed interest in Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto during the offseason, with Craig Mish of SiriusXM reporting that the team had engaged in trade talks centered around top prospect Kyle Tucker.

No deal came to fruition, but it’s easy to see the logic.

Brian McCann posted a 109 OPS+ with 18 home runs and 62 RBI during the 2017 season, but he’s 34 years old and in the final guaranteed year of his contract.

Meanwhile, slugger Evan Gattis is better served as a regular DH, and backup Max Stassi had shown little in 44 games of MLB action over the past five seasons.

     

The Reality

Catcher is still a long-term need for the Astros.

It doesn’t look like an issue at all here in 2018, though. The tandem of McCann and Stassi has performed well splitting starting duties:

  • McCann: 41 PA, .333/.463/.424
  • Stassi: 30 PA, .269/.367/.462

Further, flipping Tucker could have been a mistake the team would wind up seriously regretting. The 21-year-old looks like a star in the making and one who could make a major impact soon.

Swinging a deal for Realmuto seemed like a good move on the surface when that rumor first broke, but a few months later, it looks like the front office made the right decision going with the status quo behind the dish.

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Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Logic

Jacob deGrom was one of the best pitchers in the NL last season, going 15-10 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 201.1 innings to finish eighth in Cy Young voting.

The rest of the New York Mets starting staff was a complete disaster, though.

Noah Syndergaard (7 GS), Steven Matz (13 GS), Zack Wheeler (17 GS), Seth Lugo (18 GS) and Matt Harvey (18 GS) all missed significant time to injury, and the team used 12 different starters on the year.

The combined result of the 11 starters not named deGrom: 34-59, 5.37 ERA, 1.59 WHIP.

Despite that uncertainty, the only notable addition the team made was to sign 35-year-old Jason Vargas to a two-year, $16 million deal. The soft-tossing left-hander made the All-Star team but fell off dramatically with a 6.38 ERA after the break.

That raised plenty of questions about whether the front office did enough to address what was a glaring hole.

     

The Reality

The Mets are off to a brilliant 12-4 start, thanks in large part to a 3.45 ERA from the starting rotation, and Vargas has yet to make his Mets debut.

Here’s a look at how the club’s incumbent starters have fared:

  • Noah Syndergaard (4 GS, 2-0, 2.95 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)
  • Jacob deGrom (4 GS, 2-0, 3.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP)
  • Steven Matz (3 GS, 1-1, 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)
  • Matt Harvey (3 GS, 0-1, 4.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
  • Zack Wheeler (2 GS, 1-1, 2.77 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)

Beyond those five guys, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are pitching well in multi-inning roles out of the bullpen and are capable of stepping into the rotation if the need arises.

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Jameson Taillon

Jameson TaillonMark Brown/Getty Images

The Logic

It wasn’t far-fetched to think the Pittsburgh Pirates were closing the door on contention when franchise cornerstones Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole were traded during the offseason.

After making the postseason three straight years, the team had posted back-to-back losing seasons and seemingly slipped to a distant fourth in the NL Central behind the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers in the process.

With a largely inexperienced starting staff behind veteran Ivan Nova and an offense that averaged a dismal 4.1 runs per game (28th in the majors) last year—and that was prior to losing its most productive hitter in McCutchena step backward seemed inevitable.

           

The Reality

The Pirates have stormed out of the gate with an 11-6 record that puts them atop the NL Central standings and a plus-13 run differential.

The starting staff that looked like a question mark has instead been a strength, posting a 3.62 ERA that ranks 13th in the majors, with Jameson Taillon (3 GS, 2-0, 0.89 ERA, 0.69 WHIP) and Trevor Williams (4 GS, 3-1, 1.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) leading the way.

Meanwhile, the offense paces the NL with 89 runs scored and ranks second with 5.2 runs per game.

Newcomers Corey Dickerson (.328 BA, .878 OPS) and Colin Moran (.298 BA, .763 OPS) have made an immediate impact, and Josh Bell appears ready to take a step forward in his second season.

The NL Central is going to be a battle all season, and there’s no reason to think of the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers as anything but contenders at this point.

However, it’s looking more and more like the Pirates will be part of that conversation as well.

     

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted, and accurate through Monday’s games.

Chad Bettis chills Pirates bats as Rockies win for sixth time in seven games

Chad Bettis chills Pirates bats as Rockies win for sixth time in seven games

PITTSBURGH — It was 34 degrees and snowing for the first pitch of the Rockies-Pirates game at PNC Park on Tuesday night, making it the coldest road game in Rockies history.

But it was starter Chad Bettis who had a chilling effect on the Bucs’ bats in a 2-0 Colorado victory.

Off to the best start of his career, the 28-year-old right-hander allowed no runs on five hits over 7 ⅓ innings. He walked two and struck out three. Mostly, he controlled the game, pounding the strike zone and inducing 11 groundball outs. Pittsburgh did not reach third base until the eighth inning when Jordy Mercer led off with a double and advanced to third on Adam Frazier’s groundout to second.

Into the game came right-handed reliever Bryan Shaw, who induced Sean Rodriguez to chop out to third baseman Ryan McMahon, who threw out Mercer trying to score. Lefty reliever Jake McGee got Gregory Polanco to pop out to McMahon to silence the Pirates’ only rally of the night.

Closer Wade Davis pitched a perfect ninth, with one punch out, to record his eighth save in nine chances.

Bettis improved to 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA — the third-lowest in franchise history for a player’s first four starts. Colorado, 11-8, won for the sixth time in seven games and improved to 9-4 on the road.

Bettis, the craftsman of the Rockies’ staff, needed just 85 pitches to maneuver through the bone-chilling night. He piggybacked on his excellent outing last Thursday at Washington  when he allowed one run on three hits over seven innings in Colorado’s 5-1 victory.

Colorado, limited to only five hits, created just enough offense to win the game.

It took a 1-0 lead in the first, stringing together a one-out walk by Gerardo Parra, a single by Charlie Blackmon to advance Parra to third, and an RBI groundout to second by Carlos Gonzalez.

Colorado patched together hits and walks again in the fourth to increase its lead to 2-0. A two-out walk by Ian Desmond, a double by Trevor Story and an RBI single to left by McMahon produced the run. McMahon, the rookie, started at third base in place of all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who was serving the fourth game of his five-game suspension for fighting.


Looking ahead

Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland (0-2, 4.50 ERA) at Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (1-1, 5.74), 10:35 a.m. Wednesday; No TV, 850 AM

Freeland is still searching for his first victory of the season, while the Rockies are 1-2 in the three games he’s started. Giving up home runs  has been a problem for the left-hander, but so has a lack of run support. The Rockies have scored just four runs when he’s been in the game. Freeland faced the Pirates twice last season as a rookie, going 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA. He did not fare well at PNC Park on June 12, taking the loss after being charged with five runs (four earned) on nine hits over 5 ⅔ innings. Kuhl is 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA in two starts vs. the Rockies, losing to right-hander German Marquez both times. He’s coming off a difficult start at Miami, where the Marlins knocked him around for four runs on 11 hits in five innings. 

Thursday: Off day

Friday: Cubs RHP Kyle Kendricks (0-1, 3.71) vs. Rockies RHP Jon Gray (1-3, 6.23), 6:40 p.m.; ATTRM

Saturday: Cubs RHP Yu Darvish (0-1, 6.00) vs. Rockies LHP Tyler Anderson (0-0, 4.73), 6:10 p.m.; ATTRM

Sunday: Cub LHP Jose Quintana (1-1, 8.16) vs. Rockies RHP German Marquez (1-1, 4.34), 1:10 p.m., ATTRM

Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison out for six weeks after breaking pinky

Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison out for six weeks after breaking pinky

The Pittsburgh Pirates placed second baseman Josh Harrison on the 10-day disabled list after he broke the pinky finger on his left hand for a second time in a year.

The team said Tuesday that Harrison fractured the fifth metacarpal in the finger when he was hit with a pitch by Miami’s Jose Urena in the third inning of Pittsburgh’s 7-3 win Sunday over the Marlins. He is expected to miss six weeks.

The two-time All-Star broke the same bone last September when he was hit by Cincinnati’s Tyler Mahle.

Todd Tomczyk, the Pirates’ director of sports medicine, called the injury recurrence “very uncommon.”

The Pirates called up infielder Max Moroff from Triple-A Indianapolis to take Harrison’s spot on the roster. Adam Frazier started in place of Harrison at second base on Monday night when the Pirates began a three-game series with Colorado.