Thursday, July 22, 2010

7-21-10: vs. the Brewers

Last night I dreamed I was at PNC Park.

All my enemies were standing along the perimeter of the outfield wall.

And one by one, Pedro Alvarez was knocking them down with monstrous home runs.

Will this be Duke's last start as a Pittsburgh Pirate? If I were Duke I'd sure as hell hope so. In his time in Pittsburgh, he's had a good rookie year followed by a couple abysmal years due to altered mechanics and overworking by a desperate front office, followed by one very good year that made it seem like Kerrigan was going to be the savior of his career, followed by the enigma of disappointment that has characterized this season so far.
If I were him, I'd want to go somewhere else. He could have won thirty games last year with a good team. Be that as it may, however, this start was somewhat disappointing. He had a lot of trouble throwing his changeup for strikes, and gave up three runs through the first three innings.
Much to my massive disappointment, I missed last night's game due to conflict created by music performance, the only other thing I like aside from baseball. It would seem that the Pirates heard my pleas, however, and answered with yet another amazing baseball game.
Fielder takes a pitch to the knee.
And grins!
As some of you might know, Ryan Doumit has been placed on the DL-15 with a concussion as a result of this play. I'd like to share with you the moment that he sustained this injury.
At the time I was too upset about the passed ball to notice the severity of the concussion, but yeah, I can see how most people would have sustained a concussion in this situation. That being said, however, this is just about the worst thing that could happen to Doumit at this point. Not only is no one going to want to trade for him, but he's playing badly enough without having his skills erode over a 15-day DL stint.
After we started scoring massive amounts of runs, Duke managed to grind the game out, finding a way to shut the door despite not having his good stuff and throwing tons of pitches. At the very least, he looked a hell of a lot better than Lincoln.
A very close out to complete a double play. Notice that Jones makes the catch while Weeks is coming down onto the bag.

Pedro Alvarez. The light switch clicks on. How often do you get to see a man lay the groundwork for his legendary status? Actually, fairly frequently in this city. But not when it comes to baseball!
Milledge hits a line drive to the center field warning track. It looked like it could have been a home run, and Lastings' reaction indicates that he felt the same way.

Even his outs are looking good.
Fireworks in the day.

Just look at that. Tears of happiness.

Long thanks Milledge and Alvarez for saving his job.
Duke got pulled in the 6th after giving up two hits. Here we see him grinning cynically at Kratz. It was a poignant moment; despite what he's done this year, I suspect the fans will miss him more than he'll miss Pittsburgh.

Then Brendan Donnelly came out with two men on base and no outs and proceeded to strand them. What a bad ass.
Kratz chases a pop-up.
Lastings' fierce running face.

Recently-acquired long-relief pitcher Sean Gallagher had a strong outing, only giving up one hit through two innings of work.

Fireworks for Pedro's second home run of the game.

Images of success!
And all without this guy. Who would have thunk it.
The big question is to what extent a fan can reasonably be excited at this point. Once again we are in the cycle of a burst of wins leading to "Are the Pirates turning it around?" articles. So far this season, these have been followed by protracted losing streaks.

Will there be another one?

As sure as there are still away games left in the season, there could be. However, hope is a reasonable reaction to these games. In the past, if the Buccos did this it could be written off to some extent because players like Wilson, Sanchez, Laroche, and Mclouth were established in the majors. We knew what they could do, and we knew how the Pirates performed with all of them. Periods of success were outliers as we were so often reminded.

Now, however, this is not the case. No one knows what Walker, Tabata, Alvarez, Kratz and even McCutchen are capable of. Furthermore, even guys like Cedeno and Milledge are young enough to have upside, as evidenced by Garrett Jones. Will we keep hitting like this? No. However, anything close to it can get things done in the major leagues.

Are we seeing the beginning of the future? All signs point to yes.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

7-18-10: vs. The Astros

Look at all those zeros. Finally, the Pirates face the same Astros that basically every other team in the majors has been facing. Two blowout wins in a row.
I subscribe to Paul Maholm's twitter feed. That start where he only made it two innings? I was there when he apologized via twitter. The last start where he felt confident in his ability to beat Milwaukee? I read that one, too. It's been a roller coaster of a month for Maholm and via twitter I have experienced the vicarious emotional toll. Today, Maholm showed how good he can be. Only the second full-game shutout of his career. And it was a day game, so the photos are gloriously grain-free!
He didn't get a hit, but as it turns out he didn't need to.

Ronnie Cedeno continues to play like a new man. He went 4 for 4, a true blessing to have in the 8th spot of the batting order.
Here we see Cedeno give thanks to God upon hitting a double and perfectly encapsulate my feelings in doing so.

So many pictures of Pirates passing third base today. Anyone reading this, I ask you to say the following out loud: 'in their last two games, the Pirates have scored twenty-one runs'. Seriously, go ahead and say it. It feels good.
And we even got to see a successful rundown after the Jones and Cedeno gaffe from game one of this series.

Everyone who expressed wishes that Kratz would start again today (of which I am one) had to eat their words. Doumit had a great day, which is especially fortuitous considering how many scouts were in attendance to see Roy Oswalt pitch.
It is my prediction that both Neil Walker and Jose Tabata will raise their averages to .300 or above by the end of this home stand.

I also lucked out in getting this photo and am including it for posterity's sake.
Notice the ball rolling parallel to Tabata as he steals second. The steal was successful and Jeff Keppinger did a face plant.

So much base running. These last two games, I feel like some pioneer family from the wild west in the 1800s who, after having gone weeks without food, managed to shoot a family of unicorns.

Milledge gets tagged out at first base. No matter, he was still once again hugely effective in this game. The sports commentators are calling him Mr. RISP, and by Jove he deserves it. He's hitting something like .450 over the last two weeks, and if he keeps his RISP up, the Pirates are going to be hard-pressed not to have him batting cleanup.

One huge negative-Andrew McCutchen was taken out of the game after injuring his neck while making a diving catch. It makes you pause and reflect on how rarely McCutchen gets injured. It makes you pause and reflect on how thankful we are to have Andrew McCutchen. It was a heck of a catch, too.

Oswalt was taken out after the 4th inning despite the 2-0 score. With the state of the Astros bullpen, I can only assume that it was a precautionary measure after a grounder collided with his foot.
I'm such a nice guy that I actually felt really bad for Casey Daigle when the Pirates began to shell him in the bottom of the 8th. He was DFA'd after this game and despite the pleasure of seeing our bats destroy a pitcher instead of the other way around for once, I still don't like to see a young guy get his career sidetracked so thoroughly. Maybe he'll luck out and get traded to Japan along with Hayden Penn and Vinnie Chulk.

I have absolutely no idea what Neil Walker is doing here, but:
Perhaps he looked at the scoreboard.
At this point I'm pretty sure Maholm and Doumit have the longest tenure of any Pirates player aside from maybe Zack Duke. It was nice to see them have such a good game.

A perfect way to go into the Brewers series. Here's to hoping Karstens can keep up the good work. Russell's main message to the Buccos throughout the dismal month of July was that they are very close to being a good team, and are unaware of their true potential. A couple games like this go a long way towards proving him right, and I'd imagine there's a real good vibe in the clubhouse right now. My expectations for road games are pretty low, but I predict an improvement during the second half at home and in general.