Hanging ‘Em Up

School, work, and other important life activities have taken their toll on the amount of time that I can commit to working on my blog.  Since I’m not posting as regularly as I did over the summer, I’ve decided to cancel my paid account with MLBlogs and shift "A New Pirates Generation" over to blogspot.  If you want to check me out, you can still read all about the Pirates and other Pittsburgh sports at http://piratesgeneration.blogspot.com.

Thanks to those of you who have read and commented on my work throughout this 2006 campaign.  Hopefully I’ll see you all over at blogspot.

Yours in baseball,

Cory

September 2 @ St. Louis Cardinals

Shawn Chacon’s ERA is 6.75.  Jeff Weaver’s is 5.92.  Both pitched in the American League earlier in 2006, and both were awful.  Chacon and Weaver were imported to the NL Central, and they have continued to be less than impressive.

Saturday night, the Pirates shut out the Cardinals, 1-0.   The starting pitchers?  Shawn Chacon and Jeff Weaver.

How it happened, no one knows.  When I hear "Chacon shutout," I think of phrases like jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, and same difference.  There are no better example of oxymorons.

Do I think that Shawn Chacon will ever put up numbers like he did in 2004?  No.  His career year stats weren’t even that impressive–eight wins, ten losses, and a middle-3’s ERA–and in his single season of work as a closer, he went 1-9 with a 7.11 earned run average and nine blown saves.  Do I think that Littlefield got fleeced in the Wilson-Chacon deal?  Yes.  Do I have a feeling that DL might be praying for starts like these from Chacon so that he can keep him around for 2007 to make himself look less idiotic?  Yes, unfortunately.  I have nightmares about that.

It’s not like Shawn pitched all that well Saturday.  His 5 IP, 4 H, 4 BB line easily could have led to three or four runs instead of zero.  The horses in the bullpen, Matt Capps and Salomon Torres, did the lion’s share of the shutout’s work, tossing four brilliant innings of relief.  My doubts about Torres’ spot in the 2007 pen are being erased with each appearance he makes.  And though it’s probably not appropriate to talk about bright spots on an 82 loss team, Capps has to be one of many (think Sanchez, Gonzo, Paulino, Gorzo, et al).  It was impossible to predict a 6-1, 3.41 ERA year from a kid who started 2005 in A ball.

Since I haven’t done it for awhile, let’s take a trip around the bigs as we enter the last month of the regular season…

  • If the playoffs started right now, you’d see playoff matchups of Yankees-White Sox and Tigers-A’s in the AL and Mets-Padres and Cardinals-Dodgers in the NL.  Those could lead to some interesting LCS and World Series matchups.  A Subway Series?  Definite possibility.
  • There’s almost a full month of baseball to be played, however, so the eight teams within five games of the wild card lead in the National League still have a legitimate shot at being on the field in October.  Heck, even the Bucs are only 15.5 games behind San Diego.
  • I’d really like to see the Phillies overtake the Padres just so I can watch Ryan Howard play another four games.  If the rumors were true and we could’ve gotten Howard for Oliver Perez within the past year, DL is more of a fool than I already think he is.  I mean, it’s not like the biggest need for the 2007 roster is a LHB that can mash.  Oh wait, it is.  It sure would be nice to have the league leader in HR sandwiched in a lineup between batting average champion Freddy Sanchez and perennial All-Star Jason Bay.
  • September 6 is Roberto Clemente Day around MLB.

As an aside, I’m going to be in Cincinnati this coming weekend for a birthday celebration.  It’s no coincidence that the Bucs are also playing the Reds starting Friday.  If anyone who knows anything about Cincy happens to stop by A New Pirates Generation before then, I’d greatly appreciate a comment letting me know the city’s (and ballpark’s) hotspots.  Thanks in advance!

Today, it’s a Snell-Reyes matchup.  Should be fun to watch–but then again, last night’s game was supposed to be a flop.  Guess we’ll find out a little after 2 p.m. EST.  I’m in the mood to take another series from the division leaders, how about you?

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

Putting Things Into Perspective

Chris Carpenter held the Bucs to three hits and one run in a complete game victory on Friday night.  Zach Duke looked sharp as well, holding St. Louis to three runs through seven innings of work, but ultimately was outmatched by the Cardinals ace.

The fourteenth consecutive losing season for the Pirates took a backburner on the news scene yesterday, however, as both the baseball world and the City of Pittsburgh were shocked by devastating news.

Early Friday evening, it was announced that 22-year-old John Lester, a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer.  Arielle at Red Sox Teen Nation posted before the official announcement with her thoughts on the matter.  It appears as if Lester should recover fully and be able to play baseball at a Major League level again, but obviously any cancer diagnosis is a serious matter.

The news went from bad to worse:  A little before 9 p.m., Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor lost his battle with primary central nervous system T-cell lymphoma, tragically ending his life at age 61.  Luke Ravenstahl was sworn in shortly after O’Connor’s passing and, at 26, becomes the youngest mayor in Pittsburgh history.

Losses like these put our nation’s pasttime into perspective.  From April to October, many of us eat, sleep and breathe baseball; the sport can bring great joy (and conversely, much sorrow) to its fans.  At 7 o’clock on a summer’s night, you know that your favorite team is ready to entertain you, to thrill you, to bring you together with friends and family in celebration of America’s game.  Without our loved ones, though, baseball loses its luster.  Some may say that baseball is life, but while it does serve as a tremendous bridge between people and across cultures, we need to remember that there is more to the game than batting averages and winning percentages.  It’s the players and coaches who wear the uniforms that matter most.

To Mr. Lester, I offer you my well wishes and hope for a speedy recover.  To the family of Mr. O’Connor, I offer my condolences.  My prayers go out to all who were affected by Friday’s sobering news.

August 29-30 vs. Chicago Cubs

Good baseball it was not.  Tuesday night’s game featured 13 runs, 22 hits, and five errors.  Wednesday’s matinee had 19, 40, and two.  In the three game series, the Pirates and Cubs combined to draw 34 bases on balls.  Those of you that thought the Little League World Series had ended over the weekend were mistaken.  The National League’s two worst teams played sloppy defense, smacked around rookie pitchers and washed-up veterans, and ran the bases worse than Sean Casey with a pulled hamstring in the worst display of hardball since the Bucs lost three straight to the Royals in June.  Nevertheless, a bright spot was easily found:  Our Pirates swept the hapless Cubbies, keeping alive hope for a .500 season in 2006.

I could go into how much I love Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay and what they mean to our future; how Carlos Zambrano did himself in Tuesday night with rather embarassing errors; how Ryan Dempster is a poor excuse for a mop-up man, let alone a big league closer; how Jose Castillo and Xavier Nady are growing on me; or how Wilson, Duffy, and Doumit continue to play their way onto my trading block.  I won’t though.

Instead, I’d like to talk about a few plays in particular from Tuesday’s game that I had the pleasure of attending (along with 200 dogs and my girlfriend):

  • Ryan Doumit’s error after a Matt Murton single in the fifth reinforced the well known fact that he isn’t, nor will he ever be, a big league first baseman.  Why he’s still starting, I don’t know.  Tracy is little more than a puppet now when he walks out the lineup card to home plate each night; it’s clear that the organization is extremely interested in how Nady looks in right, Doumit looks at first and catcher, Freddy at short, Bautista at second and third, etc. and that that’s more important than fielding the most logical defensive alignment and batting order.  I don’t blame them for finding out what the youth can do–I just think it’s funny that a guy who in seven career minor league seasons hit 44 HR in over 1600 AB’s with a mediocre .293 BA is such a highly touted prospect.  I like his switch-hitting bat and catching skills, but only in a bench role.
  • Rajai Davis’ pinch-hit double to lead off the bottom of the seventh was edge of your seat stuff from the crack of bat hitting ball until the dust settled around second base.  The kid can absolutely fly on the basepaths, as his first major league hit probably would’ve been a single if anyone else outside of Ichiro or Carl Crawford had been running.  I wouldn’t have a problem if Davis, full of hustle and enthusiasm, served as the fourth outfielder on the 2007 club if he perfoms well in September.  I’m starting to wonder why Rajai hasn’t gotten spot starts in the same way as our other prospects.
  • Dusty Baker’s decision to intentionally load the bases in order to face Jose Bautista in the bottom of the eleventh made perfect sense–set up the double play, get the righty-righty matchup, Bautista’s numbers (0-5 with four strikeouts in the game)–but he forgot who was on the hill.  Dempster now has given away 32 free passes in 62 innings after Wednesday’s appearance; Hunter Wendelstedt didn’t even have to think twice about his calls in the at bat.  The Bucs’ll take ‘em any way they can get ‘em, but a walk-off walk just makes you feel guilty.

The Bucs now head to the new Busch Stadium to take on the division-leading Cardinals.  Zach Duke has his work cut out for him on Friday night, facing the dominant-as-ever Chris Carpenter.  Saturday’s game should feature plenty of offense, with Shawn Chacon and Jeff Weaver throwing (note the diction–throwing, not pitching).  Sunday’s matchup is to be determined.  Another sweep will leave our Bucs a mere 25 games from .500.

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

August 28 vs. Chicago Cubs

It wasn’t pretty–the game that appeared to be over after five innings of play with the Bucs ahead 9-1 somehow turned into an 11-6 final score–but if our Pirates are going to run the table in order to finish at .500, all the W’s can’t be masterpieces.  Ian Snell earned his 12th win of the year, Freddy Sanchez upped his league-leading batting average to .349, Jason Bay blasted his 29th four-bagger, and Ronny Paulino went 3-4 with two runs batted in to improve his numbers in those categories to .318 and 43, respectively.  Our young nucleus had a terrific night, despite the fact that earlier in the day Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny were both placed on the 15-day disabled list, possibly ending their seasons.

Recalled from Indianapolis to fill out the roster were Jonah Bayliss (our AAA closer who had a stint with the big club earlier this year), Brian Rogers (acquired from Detroit in the Sean Casey deal), and Marty McLeary (at age 31, a non-prospect who’s having a solid year in the bullpen).  Britt Reames was sent down, hopefully ending his tenure with the Pirates for good after several mediocre performances.  It will be interesting to see if the Bucs use Matt Capps as their closer, or if they use a committee approach in Gonzo’s absence.  The future plans for the bullpen could be revealed sooner rather than later.

In a few days, September call-ups will be made.  I don’t want to rush anything, but if Detroit is recalling Andrew Miller, their first round pick from this year’s draft, I don’t see a problem with the Pirates teasing their fans with a preview of what Andrew McCutcheon can do in a lineup next to Jason Bay.  Granted, pitching prospects differ in many ways from those players who earn their keep in the field, but McCutcheon has been performing at a high level since his promotion to AA Altoona.  Could a few games at PNC Park hurt?

Hopefully the rain holds off long enough tonight to see Carlos Zambrano and Paul Maholm duel at 7:05 in front of a captive audience of men, women, children, and puppy dogs.  I’ll be in attendance–for the baseball, not the stupid pet tricks or other gimmicks–as the Bucs try to beat the senior circuit’s best pitcher again.

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

August 25-27 vs. Houston Astros

There were fireworks this weekend.  Explosions from rooftops, barges in the river, and the Astros lineup.  The Bucs were trounced in the last three games of the Thursday through Sunday series, dropping the contests by a combined score of 25-6.

Sunday’s 13-1 disaster was particularly disappointing–it made the Skyblast displays look like shows from a county fair.  Consider beat writer Ed Eagle’s lead:

"Shawn Chacon’s victorious Aug. 3 debut as a Pirates starter seems a distant memory now, as the righty is now 0-2 with a 10.63 ERA in his last three starts. On Sunday, he gave up seven runs on six hits and two walks to the Astros in 4 1/3 innings."

Apparently trying to top Chacon, Britt Reames, our 33-year-old mop-up man, gave up five runs on five hits in a hair under two innings of work.  Only John Grabow was able to contribute a respectable pitching line, tossing three innings of three hit, one run ball.

Meanwhile, the Bucs made Houston rookie Jason Hirsch look like Cy Young, knocking only five hits in the newbie’s seven innings.  By allowing one earned run, Hirsch’s ERA dropped to a miniscule 8.53.  Maybe Hirsch finally figured out the bigs after three terrible starts, or maybe our Pirates just rolled over.  In any case, at 50-81, the Bucs now need to run the table to avoid a 14th consecutive losing season.  They’ll need to go at least 13-18 to avoid losing you-know-how-many games.

To get back to talk of 2007, the Bucs allegedly are talking about a long-term deal with Freddy Sanchez even though he’s arbitration eligible this year and they hold his rights for the next few seasons.  Good move.  I always like seeing stars locked up early.  Also, Xavier Nady is adding his name to the Bay-Sanchez-Paulino list of core players for the future, as he’s hitting .345 with 12 RBI in his 24 games in black and gold since the Oliver Perez trade.  It’s not an adequate sample size to say anything for certain, but it’s looking like Nady enjoys being a bigger fish in smaller pond.

Moving on to more pressing matters, take a look at these offseason position "battles," basically groupings of players that Littlefield will have to pick a pony from–a choose your own adventure of sorts.  I’m thinking that all of the current Pirates in each set won’t be with the Bucs in 2007.  If they are, we’re likely going to be on our way to a magical 15th losing season without dramatic increases in production from the players in question.  Current statistics are being used; fielding stats are position-specific.

  • The Infield
    • Jack Wilson (452 AB-.282-8-32, 17 E)
    • Jose Castillo (429 AB-.270-14-60, 14 E)
    • Jose Bautista (302 AB-.255-13-35, 4 E)
  • The Outfield
    • Chris Duffy (193 AB-.202-0-8, 13/13 SB, 0 E)
    • Nate McLouth (270 AB-.233-7-16, 10/11 SB, 2 E)
    • Jose Bautista (302 AB-.255-13-35, 2/6 SB, 2 E)
  • The Backup Catcher
    • Humberto Cota (94 AB-.181-0-4, 5 PB, 1.000 FPCT)
    • Ryan Doumit (63 AB-.190-2-8, 2 PB, .986 FPCT)

My personal personnel choices would involve keeping Castillo, Bautista, McLouth, and Doumit; trading Wilson and Duffy (among others); and letting go of Cota (again, among others).

Castillo would retain his starting job at 2B after many long heart-to-hearts with Maz or another suitable mentor.  Bautista would be the newest Jose to play utility-man, but more like a Rob Mackowiak than a Jose Hernandez–meaning about 400 at-bats.  McLouth would be the fourth outfielder, serving as the primary backup at CF and the first pinch-runner while splitting time with Bautista at the corner spots.  Doumit would definitely be the second backstop, and in no way, shape, or form would he platoon at catcher, 1B, or OF.  The occasional pop that McLouth and Doumit have both shown from the left side of the plate would serve the 2007 bench well.

Trading Jack Wilson would be an eye-opener that would displease fans and draw plenty criticism from message boards, analysts, bloggers, et al.  Giving up on Chris Duffy could also be looked at negatively.  As much as I like both guys, they could bring solid returns from general managers that realize how inept the Pirates are with respect to evaluating talent (like a gold-glove shortstop and a speedster).

That leaves me with this working 25-man roster, which as always is subject to change:

  • Starters:  C Paulino, 1B/RF Nady, 2B Castillo, 3B/SS Sanchez, LF Bay
  • Bench:  McLouth, Bautista, Doumit, Randa (IF), Boeve (OF)
  • Acquire:  LH 1B, SS, CF (13 bats)
  • Starting Pitchers:  Duke, Snell, Maholm, Gorzelanny
  • Relievers:  Gonzalez, Grabow, Capps, Sharpless, Bayliss, Torres
  • Acquire:  RH SP, LH RP (12 arms)

Yurendell de Caster and Rajai Davis could be shipped out or spend more time at AAA.  Adam Boeve could be groomed longer as well, leaving another bench spot open for either a cheap journeyman or a young kid with a good spring, or Jody Gerut, who’s kind of a mix of both.  Shawn Chacon, Victor Santos, Britt Reames, and Ryan Vogelsong don’t fit into my plans either.  Let ‘em loose.

Capps, Sharpless, Bayliss, and/or Torres could be packaged with Brian Rogers, Jesse Chavez, and Juan Perez in trades.  As it is, we have an excess of relievers auditioning to fill only four or five available bullpen slots.  The names Gonzo and Grabow should be written in stone.  Capps likely will be our setup man, but I’d move him at the right price.  In any case, with relative ease DL should be able to both make sure that the bullpen is a coffin-closer and peddle some of his depth to meet other needs.

That’s enough for now.  The Cubs come to town for three starting Monday night at 7:05.  Ian Snell squares off Angel Guzman, who’s 0-3 in his rookie campaign.  Barring statistical aberration, we should have a chance to break out of the funk.

Oh, and by the way, welcome to Captain Jolly Roger.  Ahoy, matey.

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

August 24 vs. Houston Astros

The Bucs win again with every member of the starting lineup contributing offensively and thanks to another crooked number on the scoreboard–last night, we did our damage in the sixth inning–despite more mediocre starting pitching.  I don’t want to get greedy, but it’d be awesome if Paul Maholm would start improving his accuracy, and I’d love to see our mound men get back to their dominant-every-game ways.  Tonight doesn’t look like the time to start that, though, as Victor Santos squares off against Roger Clemens at 7:05.  The winning streak was nice while it lasted.

I’m kind of in a 40-man roster mood as September is approaching.  How about some more talk of next year?

Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Xavier Nady, and Ronny Paulino are locks in the lineup, in my opinion.  Everyone knows I’d like to see Adam LaRoche fill our LHB/1B void, and I’m beginning to covet Eric Byrnes as a leadoff guy.  Pipe dreams, I’m sure, but both guys would make sense if DL feels like making a few trades.  But what about help from within our own organization? 

Adam Boeve, Andrew McCutcheon, and Brian Bixler will be with the Bucs before you know it (and most likely will appear in that order).  Boeve could make the team out of Bradenton if Ryan Doumit doesn’t turn into a Craig Wilson-like 1B/OF; Boeve’s not a starting outfielder yet, but he could turn into a serivceable backup at the corner spots.  If Doumit progresses and stays healthy, Boeve could be subject to further grooming at AAA.  McCutcheon could see time as early as July if he continues to rocket through the system–all he’s done since his promotion to Altoona is hit over .350 with power and speed.  Bixler will start at AAA next year as Indianapolis’ shortstop after beginning 2006 in Lynchburg playing for the A-ball Hillcats.  He could make Jack Wilson expendable by the July 31 trade deadline if he too maintains his torrent pace of promotion.  Think of Matt Capps, but as an everyday player.

As far as pitching is concerned, the Pirates have the opportunity to build a solid, young bullpen from their farm system.  Gonzo, Capps, and John Grabow will work the late innings.  Youngsters Josh Sharpless and Jonah Bayliss should make the team, as could Brian Rogers, who was acquired at this year’s deadline and has yet to give up a run for Indy.  The Bucs could use another lefty (assuming they don’t retain Damaso Marte) but C.J. Nitkowski and Mike Johnston, the AAA southpaws, aren’t up to par.  Free agency or trades will answer that question in addition to finding a fifth starter as Shawn Chacon and Victor Santos prove that they’re not good fits for a young, talented rotation.

Minor league depth isn’t a strong suit of the Pirates organization, but there are a few diamonds in the rough that should turn into shining superstars with a little more polishing.  Even players like Rajai Davis, Nyler Morgan, and Vic Buttler could prove to be valuable trade bait if they fail to fit into the big club’s plans.  It could be the three-game win streak talking, but I’m feeling good about the Pirates chances in the not too distant future.

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

August 23 @ Atlanta Braves

The Bucs were able to string together two victories in a row to win their series against the Braves, and baseball analysts everywhere are calling the two road wins surprising, rare, and unexpected.  Pittsburgh is notorious for playing poorly in Atlanta, and the 2006 Pirates have performed terribly away from PNC Park.  A lot of fans didn’t see a series win at Turner Field coming, and most probably thought it impossible for the Bucs to go into someone else’s house and do anything of merit.  Most.  Not all.

Jake over at Bucco Blog is filled with the same unbridled enthusiasm about this squad as I am, I do believe.  Maybe you think we’re bonkers, but I think I might be able to explain our reasoning (or at the very least mine).  How does anyone think a team with a 49-78 record could have a bright outlook on the future?

Let’s face it, the Bucs are the second youngest team in the bigs.  Most of these guys were in diapers when the Pirates stunk up the 1980s and were playing little league ball when Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy van Slyke led the Pirates to division crowns in the early 1990s.  Do you really think that Ian Snell and Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez give a hoot about how a bunch of crummy teams lost a ton of games in Atlanta over the past decade?  They’re probably only aware of the fact that the Bucs underachieve against the Braves if they read Dejan or Rob Rossi with their morning coffee.  It’s not like Jim Tracy’s in the clubhouse giving history lessons.  What would surprise me is if more than half of our 25-man roster could name ten former Pirates outside of Wagner, Traynor, Maz, Pops, Parker, Roberto, Bonds, Drabek, Kendall, Giles, and Schmidt.  Winning a series in Atlanta–that doesn’t surprise me.

So not knowing anything is their first advantage.  Their second is raw talent.  Freddy Sanchez is in the running for a batting title.  Jason Bay is the best Canadian baseball player on the planet, and he definitely has the numbers that a GM can build a franchise around.  Our four-under-24 rotation has more upside than any in baseball, in my opinion–one pair tore up the second half last year, and the other has turned into the team’s most consistent starters.  If I were given the chance to pick any one closer for my team for the next five years, Mike Gonzalez would be my second choice, only behind the phenomenal Jonathon Papelbon.  Jose Bautista, Xavier Nady, and Ronny Paulino have shown enough flashes of brilliance to impress even the most critical scouts.  There’s a nucleus taking shape that will be in black and gold for quite some time.

Third–and last, and most important–is another form of youthful ignorance.  These Pirates care minimally about what they’ve done to date.  Sure, they were hard to watch in the early part of the season.  They got swept by the Kansas City Royals, a team made up of has-beens and never-wills.  They went on a two-week long losing skid that left them so cold that fans no longer had to drink their Iron City beer from a frosted mug.  But after the All-Star break, they’re playing .500 ball.  Go figure.  Theoretically, the Bucs are fielding lesser-caliber players after a trade deadline roster purge, but they’re playing better baseball.  When you’re out of the race, it’s all about what have you done for me lately; these Pirates are doing a lot.

Give me the Marlins or Pirates over the Yankees or Red Sox any day of the week.  They’ll take their lumps, but their enthusiam for the game is still there.  Guys run out grounders.  They lay out to make the highlight reel catches.  They try to throw gas by the superstars.  They’re young, they’re invincible, and they’re flat out fun to watch.  I can’t see 2007’s record being anything like 2006’s as long as Dave Littlefield goes out and spends his free agent dollars wisely.  This roster (with a little tweaking) will succeed.

Tonight, the Astros come to town for three Skyblast games and a Sunday matinee.  PNC Park will be packed, and it’s not unreasonable to guess that over 150,000 Pittsburghers will pass through the turnstiles in the next four days.  The Bucs are hot, the sun is shining, and the greatest fireworks show around will be going off all weekend.  What more can you ask for?  You gotta believe!

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

August 22 @ Atlanta Braves

Stop the presses!  Damaso Marte earned his first win of the 2006 season and the Bucs managed to peddle Jose Hernandez for cash on the same day.  Next thing you know, pigs will be flying and it’ll be a brisk 32 degrees in ****.  Truly a monumental day in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

All joking aside, Tuesday night’s win against a young-but-tough Atlanta squad was one of those "team efforts" I occasionally have the pleasure of writing about.  Every Pirate in the starting lineup reached base at least once, five different Bucs drove in a run in the 5-3 come from behind victory, and six pitchers were used in the nine innings of play.  Four runs were plated in an eighth inning offensive outburst off of Braves reliever Danys Baez, another stopper acquired by GM John Schuerholz who doesn’t do much stopping.

Mike Gonzalez boomed his way to his 22nd save of the campaign, striking out two Braves without allowing his customary three baserunners.  I’m anxious to see how Capps, Grabow, and Gonzalez mesh in the 2007 bullpen, assuming all make it through the offseason roster purge.  I’d like to think that our relief corps will be a definite strength next season with possible additions from within–Jonah Bayliss, Josh Shapless, Brian Rogers–and via trades and free agency.

Chris Duffy doubled and walked in five plate appearances (4 AB) and stole his 12th base of the year as part of the eighth inning explosion.  The jury’s still out though, I’m afraid; the roller coaster ride is far from over with a month of ball left to be played, and Chris is going to have to claw his way to next year’s starting CF job.

Tonight, the Bucs have a chance to steal a series in Hotlanta with Ian Snell toeing the rubber in opposition of Tim Hudson.  Very few of us could’ve predicted in April that Snell would be the pitcher with more wins, but his numbers (11-8, 4.51 ERA) are better than Hudson’s (10-10, 4.77 ERA).  Let’s see what goes down at 7:35.

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

August 21 @ Atlanta Braves

Jason Bay had two outfield assists in Monday night’s 3-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves; if he had been able to make another top-tier defensive play, a sprint-and-slide catch of a ball in foul territory, I might be talking about a Pirates win instead of another road loss.  Unfortunately, Martin Prado’s pop up dropped, and with his second chance the rookie second baseman stung a two-run double that increased the Braves lead to three runs, effectively putting the game out of reach with a brilliant John Smoltz on the mound.

Smoltz and Zach Duke locked horns in a pitcher’s duel that took less than two hours to complete; Smoltz held the Pirates to three hits in eight innings of work and struck out ten, and Duke’s line read 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER.  Britt Reames tossed a scoreless mop-up inning, and Bob Wickman earned his 24th save of the season.

Jim Tracy ran out his "crafty veteran lineup", with Jeromy Burnitz playing RF and batting fifth and Joe Randa playing 3B in the seventh hole.  Ronny Paulino dropped from sixth to eighth, and Jose Castillo was removed from the starting nine.  The usual-but-questionable Duffy-Wilson-Sanchez-Bay foursome filled out the top of the lineup, and Xavier Nady rounded out the starters in the sixth spot (where I think he fits nicely).  Maybe Littlefield’s shopping our vets with the hope of unloading them to a contender (Jamie Moyer, Neifi Perez, and Guillermo Mota moved in the past week), or maybe Tracy’s just trying to mix things up.  I’m really a fan of the idea of trading JB to the Mets for a minor leaguer; it’d be fantastic if Omar Minaya is, too.

Tonight, Shawn Chacon squares off against reliever-turned starter Oscar Villarreal, who sports a 9-1 record despite his 4.13 ERA.  In his last outing–his first start of the year–Villarreal allowed only one base hit in five innings of work.  Chacon takes the hill in a spot start to give Tom Gorzelanny an extra couple of days to rest a stiff elbow.  Tracy denies that this is the beginning of a six-man rotation–I don’t believe him.

As a minor league aside, Jonah Bayliss earned his 23rd save of the year for Indianapolis last night (lowering his era to 1.74 in the process).  I know that Reames is up to do his best Vogelsong, innings-eater impersonation, but isn’t it about time to get Jonah back in the ‘burgh?  Just a thought, because

It’s A New Pirates Generation, everybody shout "Let’s Go Bucs!"

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