Pirates Grapefruit Report: Week 3

mckechnie field

We’re reaching the very dull phase of spring training, where players and fans alike are wishing for real games that count. Alas, here’s what happened in the Grapefruit League over the past week, in case you were busy watching college basketball…

Tuesday, 3/17 – Astros 13, Pirates 7

Jeff Locke obliterated for six runs in three innings. The offense got going for seven runs — their best since the Grapefruit opener — but it obviously wasn’t enough. Neil Walker went deep to the right-center boardwalk.


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Visualizing the Range of the Pirates’ Outfield

mccutchen marte polanco

“Their ability to go get a ball, to read balls off the bat … if there is some air underneath a ball, we have three men more than capable of running it down and getting it in leather… When they’re on the field, it lifts up our entire defensive game” – Clint Hurdle

The Pirates are shaping up to have one of the best outfields in Major League Baseball, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it will be the best around if everything goes right. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte have already proven to be one of the best outfield duos, and now we get to see the potential beast that is Gregory Polanco for an entire season.

Their offensive production is most noticeable, but their speed and defense really sets them apart. No one’s questioning their wheels. Then you have two natural center fielders in Marte and Polanco playing at the corners for what should be an exceptional outfield defense. The Bucco outfield is where fly balls go to die.

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Top 10 Pirates Moments of 2014

Another year in the books, and another memorable one for the Bucs. While it didn’t quite have the storybook script of 2013, the Pirates surely enjoyed their second consecutive trip to the postseason.

Looking back, you may remember some not-so-fond moments — the 10-18 start, the seven-game losing streak in August, Cutch getting beaned in Arizona, the Easter Sunday brawl (maybe you liked that one).

But there were still plenty of memorable moments in the team’s 128th season. Here’s our Top 10 in chronological order…

1. Neil Walker‘s Opening Day Walk-Off Winner — 3/31/14

What better way to start the season? A Francisco LirianoJeff Samardzija duel kept things even through nine frames, but Neil Walker sent the fans home happy with a walk-off home run and a 1-0 victory on Opening Day.

2. Sweet 16 Innings — 4/2/14

If the first game of the year wasn’t dramatic enough, how about the second?

It looked like it was going to be the Cubs’ turn to take an extra inning W, as Anthony Rizzo‘s solo shot put Chicago ahead in the 12th. But the Bucs battled back in the bottom half, with Starling Marte providing the tying single. It looked like they’d finish ‘em there — Andrew McCutchen stepped in with the bases loaded, but old friend Jose Veras struck him out to end the inning.

The Pirates failed to capitalize on yet another bases loaded threat an inning later. But they finally got it done in the 16th, as Tony Sanchez slipped a dribbler through the left side to score Jose Tabata and end the marathon game.

Behold FanGraphs’ win probability chart:

Source: FanGraphs

3. Starling Marte drops the mic — 5/2/14

Coming off a brutal doubleheader sweep @ Baltimore, the Bucs welcomed the Blue Jays for the first home series of May. They had been struggling to that point, winning just 10 of their first 28 games and looking for a spark. They finally got it with one of the more exciting games of 2014.

Like many early season games, they squandered an early lead and failed to fight back. But… the switch was flipped in the ninth inning. Starling Marte will get the credit, but it couldn’t have been done without El Toro. With Neil Walker on first, Pedro Alvarez put one in the center field seats to tie the game at 5 runs a piece. Two batters later, Marte annihilated Sergio Santos‘ 3-1 pitch into the bullpen for an unbelievable comeback win.

Source: FanGraphs

This game kicked off a solid homestand and symbolized a turning point for the Bucs. They shook off their rocky start and went 78-56 the rest of the way — second-best in the NL behind Washington during that span.

4. The First Walk-Off Replay — 5/6/14

Four days after his walk-off bomb, Marte provided more magic — this time in much different fashion. Charlie Morton (0 earned runs, 3 hits in 8 innings) and Tim Hudson (1 earned run, 5 hits in 8.2 innings) absolutely shoved in this one, keeping both lineups at bay.

But with two away in the ninth, Marte drove a deep ball off the Clemente Wall, ultimately bouncing far enough away from Hunter Pence that #6 wanted to go for three. Then when the cutoff was overthrown, Marte wanted to win the game all by himself. The throw beat him to home plate by quite a few feet, but Buster Posey bailed at the last second, allowing Marte to slide his hand in before the tag was applied. Home plate ump Quinn Wolcott called him out on the field, but hey! We have replay now. A challenge was in order, and the call was easily reversed — that’s your first ever walk-off replay.

5. Welcome to The Show, Gregory Polanco — 6/13/14

On June 10th, 31,567 witnessed the highly anticipated debut of Gregory Polanco at PNC Park. Three days later, he enjoyed one of the best games of his young life.

It was Friday the 13th, but El Coffee took care of business. He went 5-for-7 with his first MLB home run, two runs batted in, and three runs scored in the Pirates’ 8-6 defeat of the Marlins in 13 innings.

6. The Rundown — 6/27/14

In many ways, 2014 was the year of Josh Harrison. This was one of those games he took over all by himself.

Standing on second base in the 10th, J-Hay got caught in a pickle when Polanco chopped one back to the mound. Fortunately, Harrison is an absolute beast and evaded one of the most ridiculous rundowns of all time. Unfortunately, he was stranded at third, despite there being no outs at the time. Fortunately, he came up to bat the very next inning and laced a walk-off double. Ho-hum.

If that rundown wasn’t good enough, he did it again a month later.

7. The Comeback vs. D-backs — 7/1/14

Another great pitchers’ duel that wasn’t decided until the ninth. A pair of southpaw starters, Jeff Locke and Wade Miley, both cruised through eight innings.

Trailing 2-0 in the ninth, Neil Walker and Gregory Polanco poked back-to-back singles, chasing Miley from the game. Addison Reed replaced him, and with one out, was welcomed by Starling Marte who crushed a ball off the center field wall. Walker and Polanco both scored to tie the game. Cutch was understandably intentionally walked, but Ike Davis sent us home with a single to score Marte. A quick game, a quick comeback — this put the Bucs at 43-40, which actually tied their high water mark for the season at the time.

8. The Triple Play — 9/14/14

The Pirates almost needed to win-out after being swept in St. Louis to start September. Kicking off their final homestand of 2014, they desperately needed to avoid a series loss vs. Chicago.

Edinson Volquez found himself in a fourth inning jam, losing 3-0 with two men on base. Well, how about a triple play to fix that? Matt Szczur hit a perfectly placed ground ball to Josh Harrison at third, who flipped it to Neil Walker at second, who relayed it onto Andrew Lambo at first for a beautiful 5-4-3 triple play. It was the team’s first triple play since 2009, and first one in Pittsburgh since 1993.

It proved to be a huge turning point in the game as well. The Pirates scored seven runs in the following two frames, holding on for a 7-3 win and starting a five-game winning streak.

9. Russell Martin Brings the House Down — 9/19/14

Entering the final home series of the year, the Pirates were in a good spot — winners of 11 of their previous 13. Meanwhile, the Brewers were in an absolute tailspin — it was time to finish them.

But, for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Bucs looked lost. It seemed like they were once again going to come up short of the elusive five-game winning streak they had been searching for all season. Yovani Gallardo was nearly unhittable through seven, but fortunately Ron Roenicke thought it was a good idea to put Jonathan Broxton in to start the eighth. LOL.

Marte and Walker both singled, and the rally train left the station. Russell Martin stepped to the plate with one out — this was their chance. Broxton was throwing nothing but fastballs, and insisted one putting another right down the pipe on his 1-1 offering.

Martin knew exactly what to do, sitting on the heater and driving it to the opposite field. He planted a fastball in the center field seats just three days earlier, and brought the same approach to his at-bat vs. Broxton. This time, it felt like the ball was never going to come down.

The best way to judge a fly ball when you’re at a game is to watch the outfielders, not the ball. When Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun charged the warning track, the PNC crowd held their breath. But when they both started running out of room, it was clear where the ball was going to land. Not in Gomez’s glove. Not in Braun’s glove. In the seats.

Even though it was a high school football Friday night in western PA, PNC was jam-packed with 37,974 on hand to witness an unbelievable game.

Definitely going to miss Russ in 2015 and beyond, if only for the fire he brought every single night.

russell martin0001

10. Clinched — 9/23/14

For the second year in a row, September 23rd was very kind to the Pirates.

With a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves, they officially clinched a spot in the postseason. It wasn’t an easy ride, which made it that much sweeter.

playoffs 100

tony sanchez

A few honorable mentions: Andrew McCutchen’s inside-the-park home run, Travis Snider striking out Joey Votto, Cutch starting the All-Star Game (and leading off with a single), Russell Martin’s 1,000th hit, Sunday Night Baseball at PNC Park…

Let us know what we missed, and what some of your top Bucco moments were.

Thanks to everyone who made it another awesome year.

Go Bucs

Bucco GIFs of the Year: May 2014

GIFs of the year — May edition. Highlighted by the emergence of Josh Harrison, Marte walk-offs, and MVP Cutch.

Starling Marte walks it off with an unreal bat drop:

starling marte walk off bat flip

– A few nights later — Marte with the first ever walk-off replay:


– J-Hay. All day.

josh harrison catch0003

– …and again:

josh harrison catch0002

– More defense? Sure. Andrew McCutchen:


– …and again. Unreal amount of ground covered — 83 feet to be exact; 99.7% route efficiency:


– 50 Cent throws arguably the worst first pitch of all-time before a Pirates-Mets game:

50 cent first pitch0001

Previous editions:

April 2014

Go Bucs

The Best & Worst of August

Best & Worst of: April | May | June | July

Just like that, August is already over. Hard to believe, huh? The most important month in baseball looms just 30 days away. But September is a big one, too, especially for this 2014 Pirates squad. Before we flip the calendar, here’s a look back at what went down in August…


Josh Harrison

He’s STILL doing it. Even after his trip to the Midsummer Classic, Harrison is making plays. J-Hay hit .347 with a .976 OPS in August — that includes 12 doubles, 3 triples, and 4 home runs. He enters September with a .310 batting average, just .001 behind Justin Morneau for a share of the National League lead. Can’t believe this is an actual, relevant sentence in 2014: Josh Harrison has a legitimate chance to win the batting title.

Starling Marte

The Bucs’ left fielder returned from the disabled list on August 5th and didn’t look back. Marte hit .333/.400/.556 with four bombs over his last 25 games. His 2014 season is starting to look a lot like last year…

2013: .280/.343/.441, 122 wRC+
2014: .272/.344/.423, 121 wRC+

Russell Martin

Keep on, keepin’ on. Russ continues to be a force, both at the plate and behind it. Offensively this month: .333 average, .433 on-base percentage (his .416 OBP on the year is second-best in baseball, behind the injured Troy Tulowitzki). Defensively: he caught 7 of 17 base stealers (41%), just about in line with his 39% caught stealing rate this season.

russ martin

Edinson Volquez

Six great outings for Volquez, allowing more than two earned runs just once; 2.11 ERA for the month. He was masterful on Friday, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning vs. Cincinnati.

Jeff Locke

He ended July on a tough note, but rebounded well with a 2.90 ERA in five August starts. Locke’s outing last Wednesday — in which he out-dueled Adam Wainwright — led the Pirates to a key series win.

Gerrit Cole‘s Return

Cole could be a huge x-factor down the stretch for Pittsburgh, just as he was in 2013. He looked great in two starts since coming off the DL, dominating the Braves (2 runs over 7 innings) and Cardinals (2 runs, 9 strikeouts over 6 innings).

Ike Davis helps beat the Cardinals (twice)

Two huge home runs by Ike Davis in as many days. A pinch-hit three-run jack last Tuesday broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth … a two-run moon shot on Wednesday paved the way to a 3-1 win.


Ending on a Positive Note

After the long losing streak (more on that in a second), the Bucs strongly closed out the month by winning seven of their last ten games… that included series wins over the Brewers (at Miller Park!), Cardinals, and Reds.

Potato Pete

After making his return to competitive pierogi racing on August 5th, Pete rattled off 16 consecutive wins (before being booted out of the race yesterday in favor of a healthy Cheese Chester).

potato pete


The Losing Streak

Yep. Those seven losses — two vs. Detroit, three vs. Washington, two vs. Atlanta — really sucked. Luckily they’ve bounced back, but the seven-game losing streak came at a tough time.

500 update

young pirate fan dc

Arizona Beanball

Thanks to Ernesto Frieri not knowing how to throw a baseball and the D-backs feeling a need to retaliate for an accidental beaning, Andrew McCutchen got drilled with 95 mph heat early in the month. Arizona didn’t even feel the need to be too secretive about it.

Cutch’s Injury

McCutchen — one day after the HBP (may or may not have been related…..) — left a game early and was diagnosed with a fractured rib. He hit the disabled list for the first time in his MLB career, ending an impressive run of good health. Fortunately he only missed the minimum 15 days, but the Bucs surely missed their best player (and happened to fall into the huge losing streak during his absence).

Gregory Polanco

Brutal month for El Coffee. It looked like Polanco was turning things around, but he once again landed in a long slump. A 1-for-30 stretch required some time off, and the Bucs sent him back to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Neil Walker

He was atop our “Best” column for July, but not so much in August. The Pittsburgh Kid hit .203/.277/.390 while battling a back injury for a few weeks.

The Martinez/Nix/Morel Experience

Due to injuries and Pedro Alvarez‘s case of the yips, these three got a chance… They didn’t play a lot, but still way more than they should have.

Michael Martinez: .136/.208/.182 (12 games)
Jayson Nix: .111/.158/.111 (16 games)
Brent Morel: .200/.200/.300 (6 games)

Charlie Morton

Back-to-back five-run performances killed Chuck, and he landed on the disabled list with a sports hernia. Just can’t stay healthy.

The first five months have been a roller coaster ride, to say the least. Up and down, up and down… Some days, we feel great about this team. Other days, just terrible. But all in all, the Pirates are in a good spot on September 1st: two games out of first place in the NL Central, also two games out of a Wild Card spot. With 26 games left, that’s doable. The Central is wide open. The Wild Card is right there, too. Buckle up.

Go Bucs