Monday, August 9, 2010

The Buccos' Bipolar Weekend: my thoughts on the wins, my thoughts on the firings.

Kerrigan walks off the field in early may.
JR reacts to a bad call.
I also miss Donnelly; look at that psycho pitch face.

I go to so many games at PNC Park that I know the ushers by their names. I've said it before, but the only other people who go to as many games are the kinds of people who you can tell are crazy just by looking at them.

Despite this fact, I have managed to miss the two best games of the season. That game where Pedro hit a grand slam in the first inning? Missed it.

And now:

That game where Snyder hit his first homer as a Pirate and Alvarez got a walk-off tenth inning home run?

Missed it.

Later on today, I am driving to Carnegie, prostrating myself before the Honus Wagner Statue and praying to the God of Baseball to forgive whatever I did to wrong him. Maybe he didn't like the Ryan Doumit crotch grab.

Anyway, despite all of that, I am very happy to see the Buccos have a win like this. Alvarez's rookie season looks more and more like Mike Schmidt's: a period of sometimes-painful adjustment, disappointing average, but glimpses of what the player can become. May this winter pass quickly; I wish the 2011 spring training in Bradenton was beginning tomorrow.

I did make it to Sunday's game, however. I forgot my camera, but as it turns out it didn't matter because we lost 8-4 and there was very little to look back on. As has been the theme of this year, nothing seems to jinx a Pirates game and summon a losing streak like favorable articles in the Tribune and Post-Gazette discussing whether or not the Buccos are finally turning a corner.

The firing of coaches Varsho and Kerrigan hung over this game like a white albatross, and it's only sadly appropriate that we were out of the game in the second inning due to another poor start by Maholm. I hope he's not battling an undisclosed injury; the drastic shifts in quality from one of his starts to the next is nevertheless amazing. Hope it doesn't stem from him being upset that he's not currently in Los Angeles.

I am actually pretty surprised at the timing of these firings. Kerrigan almost didn't come back this year, and was certainly not coming back next year. With the season coming to a close, he definitely wasn't fired with the hope of improving the starting pitching this season.

Huntington recently criticized him in the press by saying that Brad Lincoln's recent demotion to AAA was due to mechanical changes at the major league level that had negatively affected the velocity of his pitching. The writing was clearly on the wall (and probably had been since the Charlie Morton blowup), but I would not have anticipated a move like this after the trade deadline.

Varsho is even more of a surprise. This guy was cited as the most likely successor to Russell every time something came up about Russell's job being on the line. The two coaches had a good-cop/bad-cop routine, which one imagines might be necessary when you have a more even-tempered manager like JR.

Firing both of these guys well after the point where it will do any real kind of good this season has to include some measure of implicit insult. Kerrigan may retire, but this certainly negatively affects Varsho's career to no small extent. I'm now reading stuff that Kerrigan and Varsho were having private meetings with certain players behind JR's back, so I'd bet all my money that the immediacy of these firings are due to a lack of loyalty.

I am on the fence as to how much these guys deserved this. These secret meetings could have been as a result of the rumors flying around about JR getting canned, which doesn't forgive their actions but certainly makes them a good deal more understandable. I still think the tremendous drop in quality starts this year results largely from the tremendous drop in Pirates defense. No pitching coach regardless of skill level can make a pitch-to-contact guy like Maholm become a swing-and-miss pitcher; you need solid defense to give our kinds of pitchers the opportunity to win, and we haven't really had it this year.

Then again, guys like Morton and Lincoln undeniably bottomed out here, so perhaps Kerrigan's coaching was indeed inadequate. At this point, only time can tell. I am saddened to see him go, though; this time last year, he seemed like the King Midas of pitching coaches. If a time-traveling baseball fan had told me back then that Kerrigan would be fired before the end of the 2010 season, I would have thought he was nuts. Unless I knew he was a time traveler, of course; then I would surely have taken his word for it.

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