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.

walk0001

Continue reading “Pirates Grapefruit Report: Week 3″

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: April 2014

.GIFs of the year! April edition. This was the Pirates’ worst month performance-wise, but they still produced some memorable moments.

Neil Walker, Opening Day hero:

Neil  Walker Walk Off Opening Day0001

– Daniel Bryan’s YES chant takes over the PNC Park bleachers:

PNC Park YES Chant

Andrew McCutchen holsters the guns:

Andrew  McCutchen Guns

Tony Montana Tony Sanchez:

Tony  Sanchez Double Guns

– Pirates bring the YES Chant to the dugout:

GabyYES

– The Easter Sunday Brawl:

brawl

Jose Tabata and the Bucs bring back the Zoltan in late April:

tab0001

Go Bucs

Five for Friday: Pitching, Polanco, etc.

Five thoughts that could have formed separate posts but are better served as a group. Happy Friday. Related: Five for Friday 6/13/14

Trade Talk

John Perrotto reporting (so take it with a grain of salt) that the Pirates are interested in pursuing a starting pitcher. Two possible names on the table: Brandon McCarthy and A.J. Burnett. Yes, that A.J.

McCarthy, 30, is the “primary target,” as noted by Perrotto. He’s been pretty terrible this year — 5.38 ERA, most hits and runs allowed in the National League. The peripherals look better — highest strikeout rate of his career, one of the lowest walk rates in the league, freakishly high BABIP and HR/FB rate which should fall back to reality, and one of the best ground ball rates in baseball. He’s a free agent after this year, which isn’t enticing, though the Pirates could pursue him in free agency.

Burnett would be … interesting. He’s lost a bit of the allure from a year ago – fewer strikeouts, more walks, fewer ground balls. His ERA/FIP/whatever metric you want to use has inflated as a result, though he’s still a formidable pitcher at age 37. He seemed to have a major falling out with the team last year, though Perrotto writes this:

[quote_simple]”But Burnett has said since he has good memories about his time with the Pirates. A team source said Thursday that the Pirates believe any remaining ill feelings can be smoothed over.”[/quote_simple]


Unleash the Vanimal

Three starts, three impressive performances from Vance Worley. “The Vanimal” boasts a 1.74 ERA and 0.968 WHIP. Granted, he has faced the Marlins, Cubs, and Mets …

Here’s what he worked with on Thursday night:

Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break Count Strikes / %
Fastball 91.0 (92.7) -2.18 7.74 30 21 / 70.0%
Sinker 91.6 (93.8) -6.88 6.56 28 14 / 50.0%
Change 85.2 (85.6) -6.77 6.96 2 2 / 100.0%
Slider 85.2 (87.3) 1.69 1.34 36 32 / 88.9%
Curve 78.6 (79.8) 6.12 -5.63 4 1 / 25.0%

(via Brooks Baseball)

He certainly doesn’t throw too hard, but he pounds the strike zone (just 3 walks in 20.2 innings). Worley just paints the corners and lets Russell Martin work his framing magic:

vance worley

As I’ve written previously, I expect Worley to be here for a while. 1) He’s out of options, 2) the Pirates spent a lot of time working with him (extended spring training and in Indy), and 3) he’s earning it. Go Vanimal.


POOOOLAAANCOOOOOOO

Wednesday: In his 15th MLB game, Gregory Polanco fails to reach base for the first time.

Thursday: Polanco rebounds with a huge game, going 2-for-3 with four RBI, a walk, and his first HR at PNC Park.

He’s hitting .338/.416/.441 in a little over two weeks worth of MLB action, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him so far. And that swing. David Manel tweeted video links of GP’s Thursday home run swing and Darryl Strawberry. I GIF’d the two side-by-side, and now I can’t stop watching it:

gregory polanco darryl strawberry


Sanchez Struggles at AAA

Tony Sanchez, fourth overall pick in 2009, spent some time with the big league club earlier this year when both Russ Martin and Chris Stewart dealt with injuries. Since returning to Triple-A, he’s having some serious issues at the plate, hitting just .198/.297/.396 in 28 games. Sanchez swung a hot bat at multiple levels throughout the minors, and saw success at Indy last year (.282, .845 OPS).

He’s batting .161 (10-for-62) in June. And this is on top of the throwing issues that he’s possessed, both in the majors and minors. (Haven’t heard if those have continued at all at Indianapolis this year.)

Not sure what’s up with him at the plate, but it’s making me want the Pirates to re-sign Russell Martin even more.


More down on the farm

Jose Tabata made his 2014 Indy debut last night, going 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. He hit out of the three hole and played right field.

– At Altoona, Alen Hanson has been benched over the last several days due to “developmental issues” … possibly attitude-related. Hanson struggled with the bat after being promoted to the Curve near the end of 2013, though he’s doing better this year — not getting on base much (.311 OBP) but hitting for more average and power. Problem is, he’s committed a ridiculous 21 errors at shortstop.

– In Bradenton, two of the team’s top prospects are tearing it up. Right-handed pitcher Tyler Glasnow has posted a 1.62 ERA in his first 11 outings of 2014, averaging nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s shown command issues at times but has been sharp recently, allowing just one run in his last five outings. Outfielder Josh Bell is having a monster year offensively, slashing .331/.380/.512. The switch hitter has been good from both sides of the plate, batting .322 vs. LHP and .335 vs. RHP. Bell leads the Marauders in nearly every offensive category (and it’s not really even close).


Pirates are 29-21 in their last 50 games, you know.

Go Bucs

Holster ‘em: Double Guns are “in”

For the past two years, the Pirates rallied around the “Zoltan” Z from the terrible Dude, Where’s My Car? film.

Pirates zoltan

That appears to be a thing of the past, however, and there’s a new rally signal in town: the double guns.

Here’s what Tony Sanchez had to say about the guns after Sunday’s 2-1 victory:

[quote_simple]”The Zoltan was huge for us last year, but Captain Cutch has a bag full of tricks and that’s something we’d come up with as a team – we had a meeting and we decided we liked it.”[/quote_simple]

Here are the guns in action… Andrew McCutchen on Friday night:

Andrew  McCutchen Guns

Cutch on Sunday (via @27imokemp)

Andrew  McCutchen Double Guns

Neil Walker holsters them:

Neil  Walker Double Guns

T. Sanchez after his huge hit (via @27imokemp)

Tony  Sanchez Double Guns

The team (via @27imokemp)

Pittsburgh Pirates Holster Guns

I love it, and it seems a lot of other fans do, too. Some people will probably hate it (I never cared for the Zoltan) and opposing teams might not take a liking to it, but we’ll see… I don’t care what they do as long as they keep winning.

Go Bucs