Sunday, July 11, 2010

#155: Midsummer Dream's Nightmare

---Bucs Skid Into Break---

Before I apologize to The Bard for mangling the title of his most well-known comedy, I'd like to announce the next sports-related broadcast from yours truly.

On Wednesday, July 14th, 2010, I will be joined by Pittsburgh Pirates play-by-play man Greg Brown on WMBS's "Nightsounds" program at 5:15PM EDT.

He'll be followed by Lew Freedman, the author of "Pittsburgh Steelers: The Complete Illustrated History" at 6:15PM EDT.

Pittsburgh area listeners can tune in live on 590AM, or can listen live to the station by clicking here.

If you have a question for Mr. Brown, please send me an e-mail -

SteeltownMike (at) yahoo (dot) com

It is unlikely that we'll be taking callers live during the Greg Brown segment. I also plan to have my e-mail open during the broadcast, in case people decide to listen live.

So, again, mark your calendars and join me on Wednesday, July 14th from 5:15-7PM EDT.

No, go ahead and mark it. I'll wait.


The Pirates just completed being swept on their final road trip prior to the All-Star Break. They lost all three of their games in the Milwaukee Brewers series by one run a piece, and in two of them, they blew ninth-inning leads.

With 74 games remaining, the team is on pace to lose 106 or 107 games.

A friend of mine said that this season is not about wins and losses; it is about getting the "young guys" up from the minors and getting accustomed to playing together.

He may be right, but with the third five-year rebuilding plan hitting the halfway point right about now, any rational fan would have to be concerned.

Putting aside my personal bias that the team will not produce a winning season while Bob Nutting and his family owns the team (seeking instead to stay in the bottom five MLB payrolls so he can reap the benefits of revenue sharing), let's review the waypoints.

General Manager Neal Huntington was hired on the heels of the 2007 season, with the Bucs sporting a 68-94.

The first year of rebuilding didn't appear to be vastly different (one game worse at 67-95 - 28 games below .500), however, the Pirates won only 17 games in the final two months of the season after trading away outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady and relief pitcher Damaso Marte.

The Nady/Marte deal has definitely been the feather in the cap of the Huntington era. Partly because Nady has been up-and-down with injury and that Marte had a bad year in '09, posting an ERA near 10, and partly because all four players received have been with the big club.

Ross Ohlendorf looks to be the most promising of the bunch, ending the 2009 season with an ERA below 4. Jeff Karstens looks like he's going to reliably be a pitcher with an ERA around 5-ish, with 1.5 runners on base per inning. Daniel McCutchen's jury is still out, as he's the only one bouncing back and forth between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis for the time being. Jose Tabata is still getting accustomed to life in the bigs, but he's not doing poorly.

The Bay trade, conversely, has all but imploded. Only Andy LaRoche is on the major league club at present, but he has been relegated to a bench player. Brandon Moss is in AAA Indianapolis, hitting only .242. Pitcher Craig Hansen is on the Indy roster, but has seen no action and is on the disabled list. Bryan Morris - the minor league pitcher they were hoping would become a major contributor - is 4-4 in AA Altoona with 52 strikeouts in just over 53 innings, but has uncorked 6 wild pitches and hit 4 batters. Not likely we'll be seeing Morris up top before 2012.

In 2009, the Pirates said goodbye to outfielders Nate McClouth and Nyjer Morgan, infielders Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, and pitcher Sean Burnett. They said hello to:

- Charlie Morton, who, after a 4-hit shutout of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field to end his 2009 season on a high note and complete a respectable first stint with Pittsburgh, completely imploded in 2010, going 1-9 (in 10 outings) with an ERA above 9. In Indianapolis, he's only half as bad, with a record of 1-3 in 7 starts and a 4.50 ERA.

- Gorkys Hernandez, who was supposed to be the hidden gem of the trade. He's stuck in AA Altoona with a team-high 85 strikeouts, only 2 home runs and a .264 batting average. Not awful, necessarily (except for those Ks), but certainly nothing to brag about.

- Jeff Locke is 9-3 with a 3.54 High-A Bradenton.

- Lastings Milledge, whose stats are actually a little better overall than Morgan's, but he still lacks the speed, and has not generated the power that many were expecting, so it appears to be a wash, at best.

- Joel Hanrahan, who has given up 3 more HRs than Burnett has, and, as a result has a higher ERA. However, Hanrahan has more strikeouts and has given up fewer hits, and has a better W/L record. Again, this trade is about a wash...but Hanrahan didn't make the team younger.

- Argenis Diaz, who has made it to Indianapolis. The shortstop is batting .253, but has struck out better than 20% of his at bats. Also, he doesn't hit for power. Not sure how big of a splash he can make if the Pirates let him sniff the roster when teams expand in September.

- Hunter Strickland, who had a 2-1 record with a 4.50 ERA in Bradenton before being put on the DL. In both his and Diaz's case, I won't bother knocking the return for Adam LaRoche, as he failed to deliver at the plate, as he was counted upon to do when the team acquired him.

- Ronny Cedeno, relegated to bench/platoon duty, hitting below .230

- Jeff Clement, a disaster so far both in the field and the plate. Then again, the Pirates were trying to convert a catcher to first base (didn't work with Doumit, either). Meanwhile, he's back in AAA hitting .279 with 6 dingers. Maybe some extra practice in Indy is what will help.

- Tim Alderson, highly-regarded pitcher who is struggling in AA Altoona with a 5.30 ERA and a 7-5 record. He's also given up a team-high 10 long balls.

The band-aids aren't enough to stem the bleeding, and the cure looks to be a long way from being developed in the minor league lab.

Of course, 2010 so far has seen the Jesse-Chavez-for-Akinori-Iwamura trade. Regardless of how Chavez's season has unfolded, there's no way this trade will be less than a bomb.

With the deadline coming soon, it's time to wonder if this is the year that the Pirates will mainly stand pat, or if the high-profilers will get jettisoned.

This year, I'll be watching to see if the Pirates unload All-Star Evan Meek (right now, I think he'll be traded) or Paul Maholm. I actually wouldn't mind seeing catcher Ryan Doumit (who has difficult times going an entire game without a ball getting away from him and rarely catches a base runner stealing) go, nor Zach Duke (who will never regain that form he had when he was first called up).

No matter what, it does not appear that this team will be ready to start winning more than they lose two years from now. Even if was always going to take 7 years to put a true contender together, there needs to be signs of consistency starting to form soon, and then competitive baseball being played (especially on the road) by the end of next year.

Based on the way trades have been working out for the team, though, I don't think this plan is going to work either.

With apologies to William Shakespeare, I humbly submit a re-write of the final monologue from "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

If this blogger has offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here
While this nightmare did appear,
And this weak and idle team
No more yielding but a dream.
Pirates fans, don't reprehend:
If you pardon, I will mend.
And, as I am an honest Mike,
If they have a called third strike
Now to spite the owner's hand,
We will fully understand;
Else the Bucs are ever doomed.
So until winning's resumed,
Give me comments, if we be friends,
And Steeltown shall restore amends.



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