Monday, August 31, 2015

The identical seasons of Mark Melancon and Tony Watson

There is nothing similar about Pirates' relievers Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. Melancon is the righty who throws a cutter and a curve. The cutter sits 90-92 mph and the curve 80-82.  The lefty Watson brings a fastball-change mix, getting about 10-mph separation between his 94-95 mph fastball and 85-86 mph change.

There was real concern about Melancon early in the season as his velocity was down, but that seemed to return mid-late May and he's been dominant since. Watson gave up a 3-run homer on Opening Day and then gave up one run in his next 25 appearances. Together they have formed a formidable duo at the back end of an excellent Pirates bullpen.

There is no confusing Melancon and Watson on the mound, but let's see if you can separate them by the numbers.

Let's start with appearances:

                        Games    Innings

Pitcher A           64           63.0

Pitcher B           63           61.0

Ok, nothing to be gleaned from that. Some more data:

                         Hits     Runs   ER    HR  UIBB  HBP  WP     WHIP    BABip

Pitcher A           50        15      12      3      10        2       3       0.984     .258

Pitcher B           45        15      14      3      11        4       1       0.918     .256

Still nothing here to differentiate the two. How about opponents' triple slash line?

Pitcher A          .220/.264/.295  .560 OPS

Pitcher B          .206/.255/.271  .526 OPS

I'm not sure Ray Searage can tell them apart at this point. ERA, FIP & xFIP ought to clear it up, right?

                        ERA     FIP     xFIP  

Pitcher A          1.71    3.01     3.29      

Pitcher B          2.07    2.73     3.21     

Blown Saves?

Pitcher A            2

Pitcher B            2

Here is your big clue. Time to guess:

                        GB%     SO

Pitcher A         59.3       44

Pitcher B         47.6       54

Yep, I figured that would do it. If it didn't, pitcher A has 43 saves, pitcher B has 1. But you tell me who is better.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My conversation with Pirates GM Neal Huntington a.k.a. Rumpelstiltskin

Friday afternoon I had an extended conversation with Pirates GM Neal Huntington. Among other things we discussed the trade deadline and the acquisition of J.A. Happ, team chemistry, lineup protection, the future of Michael Morse, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, Cutch's bat speed, Kang's all-field power, Polanco's development and September call-ups.

Neal had an extended answer to my question about lineup protection when we spoke Friday. When I spoke to manager Clint Hurdle on Saturday and asked him the same question, he was more succinct, "No."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A quick look at Andrew McCutchen and his 100-game run

On May 5th Andrew McCutchen went 0-for-4 in a 7-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The next day Cutch lined an eighth inning single to center field off Reds starter Mike Leake to break an 0-for-13 string. He was quickly erased when Starling Marte grounded into a 6-4-3 double play as the Reds shutout the Bucs 3-0, dropping their record to 12-15. But looking back, that line drive was the demarcating point in Andrew McCutchen's, and the Pirates', season. Cutch finished the day with a triple slash line of .188/.279/.292 and an OPS of .571 in 111 plate appearances.

In 427 PAs since then McCutchen has been as good as anyone in the game. He's posted a line of .335/.438/.585, 1.023 OPS 18 homers and 72 RBI. The Pirates have gone 66-34.

McCutchen rate stats are now almost exactly in line with his numbers over the past three seasons, a model of consistency:

                   AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+

2012          .327      .400      .553      .953      162

2013          .317      .404      .508      .911      157

2014          .314      .410      .542      .952      166    

2015          .304      .405      .522      .928      154

And if he keeps up his torrid August and carries that thru September, Cutch has a chance to put up some of the best counting numbers of his career. Cutch by month:

                   AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS

Apr             .194      .302      .333      .636

May            .330      .419      .566      .985

Jun             .337      .422      .511      .933

Jul              .287      .382      .532      .914

Aug            .345      .477      .631     1.108

The last three seasons McCutchen has had 673, 674 and 678 plate appearances. With 35 games to go he's got 538 and should fall right in line with the three previous years. The last three years he's finished in the top three in the MVP voting. A solid month should put him right there for a fourth. And a big one just might get him his second trophy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My conversations with Jumpin' Joe Sheehan, Charlie Wilmoth and J.A. Happ

If you are a hardcore baseball fan, and I imagine if you found your way to this blog you at least register somewhere on the scale, you should subscribe to the Joe Sheehan Newsletter. Straight up, it's not for everyone. If you are a one-team fan, it's probably not for you. But if you like thinking about the game at a deeper level and enjoy insightful and entertaining reading about the game, I highly recommend subscribing. Joe and I look at the game through the same lens, but we don't always see eye-to-eye, which is one of the many reasons I love having him as a guest. We had another enjoyable, at least for me, chat yesterday.

Charlie Wilmoth has been the long-time editor of There isn't a better Pirates-community blog around and Charlie does an awesome job of writing and managing the site. We had a chance to talk Pirates on Monday.

J.A. Happ had another scoreless outing on Monday. Tuesday I talked to him about the trade, the Pirates clubhouse, working with Ray and Clint, pitch selection and his new catchers.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A look back at the Pirates fantastic 18-game run

Last night the Pirates completed an 18-game stretch that I had called the most interesting stretch of games over the past 20 years. In reality it may have been the most interesting stretch in my 45 years following the team. They went 13-5 playing the the three division leaders and the three teams with the next best records in the NL. It all started with a pitching matchup between Francisco Liriano and Jon Lester that got rained out. The Pirates entered the Aug 4th matchup 5.5 games back of the Cardinals and 4 ahead of the Cubs. Here is what followed:

Game 1: Tuesday Aug 4, Pirates lose 5-0 to Cubs at PNC Park (0-1)

Things didn't start auspiciously. J.A. Happ made his Pirates debut and didn't make it through five. Jake Arrieta dominated the Pirates for seven innings. This is the guy the Pirates don't want to face in the wild card game. In three starts against the Bucs: 21 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 19 K 0.86 ERA 0.714 WHIP.

Game 2: Wednesday Aug 5, Pirates defeat Cubs 7-5 at PNC Park (1-1)

The Bucs jumped ahead early on a Polanco HR. Jeff Locke cruised through five, but imploded in the sixth giving up two homers that left things tied at 4. The Pirates countered with two in the bottom of the sixth and the bullpen made it stand up. It was notable that Mark Melancon gave up an earned run for the first time 34 appearances, dating back to May 11.

Game 3: Friday Aug 7, Pirates defeat Dodgers 5-4 in 10 at PNC Park (2-1)

The Clayton Kershaw-Gerrit Cole matchup that didn't live up to the hype. Polanco opened the game with a first-pitch home run that broke a 37-inning Kershaw scoreless streak. Both pitchers only went six innings with Kershaw giving up four runs and Cole giving up three. The Bucs won in the 10th on an Alvarez single to right that scored Kang.

Game 4: Saturday Aug 8, Pirates defeat Dodgers 6-5 at PNC Park (3-1)

This one, 6-4 after three, was highlighted by Francisco Liriano's first-ever extra base hit. It just happened to be a 3-run homer down the left field line off Mat Latos. The bullpen saved the day as Liriano only went three. This marked the start of an incredibly impressive run by Joe Blanton as he went three scoreless and got the win.

Game 5: Sunday Aug 9, Pirates defeat Dodgers 13-6 at PNC Park (4-1)

In a nationally-televised game on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Charlie Morton continued the run of poor outings by Pirates starters giving up 10 hits and 5 runs in five innings and left down 5-1. Andrew McCutchen hit one of three Pirates homers to make it 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth and then the Bucs scored 9 runs in the seventh, their most in any inning this year, and rolled to victory. Arquimedes Caminero began his own impressive run in this one going two scoreless for the win.

Game 6: Tuesday Aug 11, Pirates lose to Cards 4-3 at Busch Stadium III (4-2)

The start of a huge three game series with the division leaders saw some bad baseball by the Bucs. Leading 3-1 in the fifth Jeff Locke walked the first two batters. When the dust settled the Pirates were down 4-3 and that's how it would end as the Bucs went 2-for-9 with RISP. The Pirates fourth straight one-run loss in St. Louis left them six back of the Cards.

Game 7: Wednesday Aug 12, Pirates lose to Cards 4-2 at Busch Stadium III (4-3)

The Pirates horrible infield defense caught up with them in this one as Walker and Kang both made errors and Ramirez and Alvarez both should have been in the books as well. Cutch hit a 2-run homer briefly tying the game at 2, but Gerrit Cole got knocked out in the sixth after giving up 4 runs, 3 earned. The Pirates continued their untimely hitting going 0-for-10 with RISP.

Game 8: Thursday Aug 13, Pirates defeat Cards 10-5 at Busch Stadium III (5-3)

The Pirates finally broke through in St. Louis and they did it early and in a big way. They put up 7 in the first inning against Lance Lynn, highlighted by a 2-run bomb by Pedro Alvarez who always seems to hit best against the Redbirds. Liriano struggled early but got through six and got the first win by a Pirates starter in this stretch. The Pirates left St. Louis six back of the Cards.

Game 9: Friday Aug 14, Pirates defeat Mets 3-2 in 10 at Citifield (6-3)

J.A. Happ made the start after nine days off and being skipped the last time through the rotation. He struck out seven in 5.1 innings and a Polanco RBI single and Ramirez sac fly in the 10th gave Mark Melancon the cushion he needed as the bullpen got another win.

Game 10: Saturday Aug 15, Pirates defeat Mets 5-3 in 14 at Citifield (7-3)

The Pirates jumped out to a 3-0 lead and Charlie Morton cruised through 6. But just like Locke a week earlier, things imploded in just four batters in the 7th. A homer, strikeout, error by Ramirez, another homer and it was 3-3. Despite nine Ks, only four hits and a walk Morton left with a no-decision. The bullpen did the job going 7.2 scoreless highlighted by Blanton going 3 and striking out 6. Cervelli, Stewart and Rodriguez got hits in the 14th and the Bucs got another extra-inning win.

Game 11: Sunday Aug 16, Pirates defeat Mets 8-1 at Citifield (8-3)

The Jeff Locke-Matt Harvey matchup didn't favor the Pirates. The Pirates got one off the big righty on a second inning Alvarez homer and Jeff Locke managed to get through 5.1 before a rain delay stopped play. When things started back up Harvey was done and so were the Mets. Some terrible defense contributed to the Bucs scoring 7 runs in the seventh and eighth. Caminero got another win as the bullpen continued its great run going 3.2 scoreless.

Game 12: Monday Aug 17, Pirates lose 4-1 to Diamondbacks at PNC Park (8-4)

The Pirates were never in this one as Gerrit Cole was hit hard, giving up 3 runs in the first two innings. The Pirates went 1-for-9 with RISP and squandering chances in the sixth, seventh and eighth. The lone bright spot was a fifth inning Alvarez homer.

Game 13: Tuesday Aug 18, Pirates defeat Diamondbacks 9-8 in 15 at PNC Park (9-4)

This one looked to be a laugher as the Pirates took an 8-3 lead into the 8th. Liriano had been cruising, but the first two batters got on and the inning ended 8-6. The defense let Mark Melancon down in the 9th as errors by Kang and Rodriguez led to two unearned runs tying it at 8. Blanton and Caminero continued their shutdown ways, each going three scoreless and the Bucs plated one in the 15th on a Pedro Florimon walk-off triple.

Game 14: Wednesday Aug 19, Pirates defeat Diamondbacks 4-1 at PNC Park (10-4)

A Pirates starter gets just the second win during this stretch as J.A. Happ is superb through six giving up 2 hits and 0 runs. A 3-run second is more than enough and Melancon throws a filthy 9th, striking out the side.

Game 15: Thursday Aug 20, Pirates defeat Giants 4-0 at PNC Park (11-4)

Another great starting pitching effort, this time by Charlie Morton, 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 8K. Jared Hughes came in and got the final out of the 7th with the bases loaded. A 2-run HR by Neil Walker gave the bullpen some insurance.

Game 16: Friday Aug 21, Pirates lose 6-4 to Giants at PNC Park (11-5)

Madison Bumgarner made his return to the scene of the crime, having beaten the Pirates 8-0 in the 2014 wild card game at PNC. Another tough matchup for Jeff Locke and he wasn't up to the task giving up 11 hits and 6 runs in 5 innings. Bumgarner wasn't sharp but that was enough. Josh Harrison made his return from the DL.

Game 17: Saturday Aug 22, Pirates defeat Giants 3-2 at PNC Park (12-5)

Kang! Kang! Marte!. Three solo homers including a Marte walkoff in the 9th led the Pirates to victory. Gerrit Cole had his best outing in a month giving up just one unearned run and Melancon set the stage for victory with a six-pitch 9th. Kang was the star, but Marte also saved a homer in the second, robbing Cole's future brother-in-law Brandon Crawford.

Game 18: Sunday Aug 23, Pirates defeat Giants 5-2 at PNC Park (13-5)

A 3-run first set the stage and homers by Cutch and Pedro completed the scoring. Liriano went 5.1 innings without giving up a run and the bullpen continued its magic. Alvarez committed two more errors and Walker added another as the Pirates infield defense continues to be a concern. Jordy Mercer returned from the DL and was a late-inning defensive replacement.


The Pirates finish this stretch 13-5, .722%, scoring 92 runs and giving up 67. They gained two games on the Cards despite going 1-2 head-to-head. They actually lost a game to the Cubs who went 14-4, .778%. The starters went just 3-5 in this stretch, the bullpen 10-0.

Offensive Highlights:

Cutch .333/.468/.633 1.102 OPS, with 4 HR 13 RBI 16 BB 16 K (started 17/18)

Alvarez .360/.365/.700 1.065, with 5 HR 13 RBI 1 BB 17 K (started 13/18)

Kang .273/.351/.500 .851 OPS, with 4 HR 11 RBI 5 BB 15 K (started 17/18)

Cervelli .923 OPS
Polanco .903
Marte .896
Walker .798
Ramirez .744

Pitching Highlights:

Blanton 6 G 13.1 IP 9 H 0 R 5 BB 18 K 0.00 ERA 3-0 W-L

Caminero 9 G 12.2 IP 8 H 0 R 4 BB 14 K 0.00 ERA 3-0 W-L

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Great Pirates Infield Debate

Clint Hurdle is about to be confronted with a problem he's never encountered during his tenure as Pirates manager, too many starters, not enough spots. The Pirates left spring training with a clear starting eight and a bench that seemed stronger than in years past. After a slow start, the Bucs started to stack wins around the middle of May. And, after a slow start, offseason acquisition Jung Ho Kang started being a fixture in the Pirates lineup. Kang recorded his first career three-hit game in his last April start, then started 21 out of 28 games in May. With Kang's emergence the Bucs really had nine "everyday" position players for eight spots.

This was easily managed. Between the Pirates strategy of regularly resting players and playing platoon splits, Hurdle could get all nine regular playing time. Then, in early July third baseman Josh Harrison was lost to a hand injury and two weeks later Jordy Mercer followed him to DL with a sprained knee. That left the Pirates short an infielder. July 23 Neal Huntington acquired 37-year old Aramis Ramirez from the Cubs to fill the void at 3rd and Kang settled in as the everyday shortstop.

So, here we are a month later. Josh Harrison was activated from the DL Friday and Jordy Mercer was activated today. Now rather than nine everyday players, the Pirates have 10. How should Clint Hurdle manage playing time over the last six weeks of the season? Let's look at the pros and cons for each player and my expectations for playing time.

Jung Ho Kang:

Pro: Kang, one of the biggest surprises in MLB this season and a legitimate contender for NL Rookie of the Year, is going to get the most consistent playing time of the group. Clint is going to write his name on the lineup card every day. He's hitting .290/.363/.464 with an OPS+ of 127, second on the team to only Andrew McCutchen. He had the first 2-homer game of his Pirates career Saturday and has homered five times in August. Kang has also shown a great baseball IQ in his rookie season. He's probably the team's second best baserunner, behind Pedro, and is an excellent defensive third baseman with solid reactions and a very strong arm.

Con: There isn't much con for Kang. He is passable defensively at shortstop, but not much more. He lacks lateral agility and range. He certainly filled-in admirably, but long-term he is going to be the team's everyday third baseman.

Prediction: With 42 games left in the season, Kang will get a day off here and there, but he'll be a fixture in the lineup. My guess is that he will be at third more often than short.

Neil Walker:

Pro: Walker is having a very typical Neal Walker-season. It falls right in-line with every other year of his career, with last year being a slight outlier to the upside. If he plays more than 25 of the last 42 games it will be the second most in his career. Walker has been at his best in July and August with an OPS over .800 each month.

(Some other interesting statistical notes to Walker's season, batting 2nd he has an OPS over .800. Batting 4th or 6th, his other most frequent spots, he has an OPS below .700. Surprisingly, Walker has been much better on the road, .805 OPS, than at PNC, .707 OPS (in his career it's virtually identical, .766 vs. .773). And the Bucs go as Neil goes. In wins, 294 PAs, he has an .894 OPS. In losses, 178 PAs, it's .525.)

Con: Neil can't hit lefties. He has a .577 OPS this year which is below his .658 career number. For a point of reference Sean Rodriguez has a .586 OPS this year. Walker is also now a below-average defensive second baseman. He is still great making the turn, but his range is limited.

Prediction: Walker is still the Pirates best option at second against RHP, which is what they will face most-often the rest of the way. But he should be used in a straight platoon with Harrison starting against lefties. Neil will probably start 3 out of every 4 remaining games.

Josh Harrison:

Pro: Harrison is an easy-to-root-for, high-energy guy who can play a variety of positions.

Con: JHay is probably the Pirates most-polarizing player and it largely depends whether you believe he is the player who finished 9th in the MVP voting last year or the one he has been the rest of his career. He has not had a good season to-date. He has an OPS+ of 89 and his numbers, particularly slugging, are well below last year's. Harrison also has been surprisingly bad defensively at third. I think he's a pretty good fielder so I'm not overly concerned, but it is worth noting.

Prediction: Harrison is going to go back to the super-utility role he had most of last season. I actually don't see him getting more than a handful of starts at third because that is Kang's best position and it is the only one Ramirez can play. I assume Harrison will get 3-4 starts a week, but not more than that.

Jordy Mercer:

Pro: Jordy is the Pirates best defensive infielder. With Mercer at short and Kang at third the Pirates would immediately upgrade an infield defense that has gone from bad to atrocious the past two months.

Con: Mercer was an offensive black hole the first two months of the season but did post an OPS of .800 in 101 PAs in June before cooling off a bit and getting injured in July.

Prediction: I know it isn't going to be wildly popular, particularly if he doesn't hit right away, but I think Mercer is going to return to being the Pirates regular shortstop, getting 4-5 starts a week. Run prevention counts just as much as runs scored and with a staff that leads MLB in ground ball rate I think Clint is going to want Jordy's glove out there on a regular basis, which also upgrades third base by having Kang play there.

Aramis Ramirez:

Pro: Ramirez couldn't be a better teammate thus far. He has said all the right things. He's been willing to do some pregame work at first. He's said if he's is demoted to a bench role, he will accept it. He has said he just wants to contribute in any way to help the Pirates succeed in their goal of winning a World Series. A+

Con: Ramirez has not been good this year or in his short stint with the Pirates. In 97 PAs he has a .630 OPS. He's hit one HR after hitting 11 in 302 PAs with the Brewers. He's only walked three times and he has an OBP of .278. Oh, and his defense has been terrible. He has zero range.

Prediction: Right-handed bench bat. That's what he should be and that's what he's going to be. I'll be shocked if Ramirez makes 15 more starts this season and won't be at all surprised if it's less than 10. But he will be a nice upgrade to the bench.

Conclusion: With everyone now healthy, I think you will see the Pirates return to the nine guys for eight spots roster management that we saw the first half of the season. It will be a little different in that Jung Ho Kang and Gregory Polanco will be in the lineup almost every night and that will cost Walker, Harrison and Mercer some playing time. Aramis Ramirez is going to be the odd man out.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hghlights of my conversation with Pirates Assistant to the GM & pitching guru Jim Benedict (Part 1)

I had Jim Benedict on my show on Wednesday afternoon. I learn something about pitching every time I speak to Jim and this was no different. In encourage you to listen to the whole conversation, but here are some highlights:

On J.A. Happ: 

"He's a veteran....and a lot of times with veterans you can do a quick fix....Ray's really good at that for sure."

On acquiring Joe Blanton:

"He's always giving you everything he's got. So you know the pitching makeup is good. He's a strike-thrower. That never left him."

On Blanton coming back after taking a year off:

"When guys decide that it's over, that's a big decision to hang up your spikes and move on. And when a guy makes that decision he doesn't usually look back because it's a hard one.....It's not uncommon for guys who do come back, they go into the bullpen, they're ultra-aggressive, they've already ended it, they're just starting a new chapter. And what I see from him is an extremely confident, aggressive guy. He's nothing like the guy that retired. You have to evaluate him completely on what you see right now in another organization."

"That's a huge get. I just see aggression and just clarity, mental clarity, where he's just getting after it."

On scouting Arquimedes Caminero and guys like him:

"He's a great story. This is what you're capable of doing when you are building a bullpen, is look for guys like this who have flaws, who have command flaws, maybe they have velocity, maybe you see a breaking ball, then you don't, that means it's in there."

On acquiring Caminero:

"I said, man, if we do get him, I think I know what we can do, at least early to get rid of some of this extra energy....He (Ray Searage) got him in the strike zone. Then the deception was all velocity-related, so you didn't have deception. So during the big league year, and this is really a tribute to Ray (Searage) and Eucky (bullpen coach Euclides Rojas), during the major league season they have given him deception by toning him down, making him pitch, and making him throw behind in the count, making him use his split. The two-seam on the fastball vs. the four. So instead of always trying to light up the gun, always being a prospect, all of a sudden you've got a guy who can pitch at any time in the game because he's toning it down, he's arrived. That's the way I look at it. Knock on wood. This is what you look for all year long, guys like this, who are flawed, that you bring in and you have talented people to work with them and bring them up to their potential.

In Part 2 we talked about Gerrit Cole in Jameson Taillon. Fascinating stuff. I'll have it up over the weekend.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Pirates bench, September call-ups and 40-man roster issues.

The Pirates Opening Day roster had a bench that consisted of backup catcher Chris Stewart, utilityman Sean Rodriguez, infielder Jung Ho Kang and first basemen/outfielders Corey Hart and Andrew Lambo. (Lambo's spot opened up because GM Neal Huntington traded Travis Snider to the Orioles for two minor-league lefthanders in late January, a move that was questioned by many, including me. It looks like a great deal now as Snider just signed a minor-league deal with the team after being DFA'd by Baltimore.) On paper the bench looked to be an offensive upgrade even with Kang being a complete unknown and Hart being a lottery ticket.

Stewart and Rodriguez have been with the team the entire season. Stewart has again proved very capable in his role, even though it has proven very difficult for him to hit a baseball really, really hard.  SRod has been....I'm not sure a singular adjective describes Rodriguez's performance this season. With the bat he's been horrific, posting a .577 OPS in 198 PAs. And of course last night he had his first three hit game of the season. With the glove he's been tremendous, playing five different positions and being a reliable defense replacement, particularly at first. And of course two nights ago he made his first error and almost cost the Pirates the game. As the 25th man, Rodriguez has a role.

Kang has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations and is in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. Injuries have ensured his everyday spot in the lineup and I don't expect that to change as players return. Lambo and Hart disappointed early, got injured and haven't been seen since. In their stead a parade of players, Jose Tabata, Steve Lombardozzi, Gorkys Hernandez, Brent Morel, Jaff Decker, Pedro Florimon, Travis Ishikawa and Michael Morse have filled the three vacant roles.

With the addition of an additional bullpen arm for last night's game and the DFA'ing of the previous night's hero Pedro Florimon, the Pirates bench currently consists of Stewart, Rodriguez, Ishikawa and Morse. The rehab assignments of both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will end shortly and both will be activated. Barring any unforeseen injuries, the extra pitcher, Josh Wall, will be sent down when Harrison returns and Ishikawa will be DFA'd when Mercer returns. At that point, no matter how Clint Hurdle chooses to mix and match his lineup, he will have, by far, the strongest bench he's had during his Pirates tenure.

That brings us to September 1 and roster expansion. Baseball is an odd game. The season is played under one set of rules for five months and 130 games and then a different set of rules for the last month of games.

The Pirates will look to add depth across the board, but every player added to the September roster must be on the 40-man roster. Currently some of the obvious choices aren't, so space needs to be created and that is going to leave Neal Huntington with some interesting decisions. (Note: the Pirates 40-man currently has one open spot.)

Here is a list of all the players I view as candidates to be called-up and their current 40-man status. Those in red I think will get the call:

Position Players on the 40-man:

C Elias Diaz
C Tony Sanchez
INF Alen Hanson
OF Jaff Decker

Position Players not on the 40-man:

INF/OF Corey Hart (60-day DL)
INF/OF Andrew Lambo (60-day DL)
INF/OF Travis Ishikawa (assuming DFA'd & re-signed)
INF Pedro Florimon (if clears waivers & outrighted)
OF Travis Snider

Pitchers on the 40-man:

A.J. Burnett (currently 15-day DL)
Bobby LaFromboise
John Holdzkom
Rob Scahill (currently 15-day DL)
Josh Wall (will be sent down this week)

Pirates not on the 40-man:

Radhames Liz
Vance Worley

So who gets the nod and what are the corresponding moves? Let's start with the pitchers this time. Guys on the 15-day DL don't require any corresponding moves, so Burnett and Scahill are locks if they are healthy. I also expect LaFromboise, lefty, and Wall to be recalled as insurance arms. Injuries have made this a lost season for Holdzkom.

Radhames Liz has been fantastic since moving into a starting role in AAA, he will be added. So that uses up the one open 40-man spot. I also think Worley will be added. To make room I'm assuming the Pirates will DFA Deolis Guerra or move him to the 60-day DL.

The position players are much more difficult to predict, with catcher is the most interesting position. The Pirates will definitely add a third catcher in September. Elias Diaz is likely to be recalled because he is a much better defensive catcher than Sanchez and the Pirates don't need to be concerned with service time as he is likely to start 2016 in AAA. Sanchez could be called up as a bench bat, there is no chance he will catch, but I also think there is a chance he could by DFA'd if a roster spot is needed because he won't be in the organization next year. For now I'm leaving him off, but, if no spot is needed, he could be recalled as a parting gift from the organization.

I think Alen Hanson will make his ML debut in September even if he only serves as a pinch-runner. The Bucs don't needed to be worried about his service-time clock starting. Jaff Decker is in exactly the same spot as Sanchez. He could be added, but he is the loser in the Travis Snider signing and he is just as likely to be DFA'd if a spot is needed.

Snider is certain to be added. That creates the need for a another spot. If both Ishikawa and Florimon are in the organization, I could see them possibly being added as well, but things are too unclear at this point so I will leave them off. I don't think Hart or Lambo will make it back from injury.

Who is DFA'd to create the roster spot for Snider? Here is the list. Decker, Sanchez or someone else?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My interview with Dave Schoenfield discussing pennant races, MVP voting and the playoff format

I had Dave Schoenfield, editor of the Sweet Spot blog on (Pedro Florimon and the Bucs lead today's Top 5) on with me yesterday. We took a tour around the major leagues and looked and the playoff races. We also discussed what is behind the Pirates success and are they the team we thought they would be before the season. Different people have different takes on what MVP means. Does the MVP have to be from a playoff team, and if so where does that put Andrew McCutchen in the race? We finished up talking about the playoff format and whether it needs to be changed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My interview with Travis Sawchik, discussing Gerrit Cole, managing Morton & Locke and infield defense

Yesterday Travis Sawchik was a guest on my show. If you missed his article on Gerrit Cole over the weekend, it is a must-read. We discussed Cole at length, how Clint Hurdle should manage Pirates starters Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke who both recently had very effective starts blow up on them in a matter of batters and talked about the Pirates infield defense and what they should do when Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer return. I really enjoyed it, hope you do as well.

As a programming note I will have Pirates pitching guru Jim Benedict on my show on Wednesday at 5 pm on 970 ESPN.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Don't overlook the Pirates offense during the bullpen's stunning run

In their just-completed nine-game run against the three National League division leaders, the Pirates went 7-2. They swept the Dodgers at PNC Park, lost two-of-three to the Cards in St. Louis and then swept the Mets at Citifield.

While the Bucs bullpen has gotten a ton of credit for the team's recent run, and rightly so, (more on that later), let's not overlook an offense that put up 5 or more runs in six of those nine games. The Pirates are a stunning 63-13 when scoring three or more runs, largely because of the fantastic starting pitching they got in the first half of the season. But that hasn't been the case since the All-Star break. They have relied on an offense that has been much improved in the second half. In 88 games before the ASB, the Bucs as a team posted a slash line of .256/.317/.381 generating a .698 OPS. In 27 games since the break they've gone .271/.333/.443, an OPS of .776. The power surge has been particularly notable, as reflected in the slugging numbers above. Before the break the Bucs hit 67 homers or .76/gm. Since then they've hit 31, 1.15/gm and have homered in each of their last 10 matchups. Before the break they were averaging 4.0 runs/gm. After the break, a full run better at 5.0.

The pitching has been a different story. In the first half opposing hitters posted a slash line of .242/.304/.341, .645 OPS. The staff had a 2.86 ERA, second best in the game. Since the ASB hitters have slashed .281/.352/.433, .785 OPS, even better than the numbers Pirates hitters have put up, and the team ERA is 4.33.

But the second half numbers mask what is really going on with the Pirates staff. Since the break the Pirates starters have been getting bombed. After posting a 3.05 ERA pre-ASB, second to only the Cards, they been lit to the tune of 5.10, third worst in the NL. While the underlying metrics suggest the starters have been a bit unlucky, with BABip going from .300 to .362 and HR/9 going from 0.60 to 0.89, the reality is the results are significantly worse.

Cue the bullpen, which Clint Hurdle has had to do a lot lately. The Bucs pen has gone from very good to fantastic over the last few weeks. Let's take a look at what they did in this most recent nine-game stretch.

Vs. LA at PNC Park:

Relievers by appearance in the series, IP (Soria-2, Watson-2, Melancon-2, Bastardo-2, Blanton-3, Caminero-2, Hughes-1)

14 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 12 K, 1.29 ERA, 1.214 WHIP

Vs. StL at Busch

Relievers (Caminero-1, Bastardo-2, Hughes-1, Soria-1, Blanton-1, Watson-1.2, Melancon-1)

8.2 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 2.08 ERA, 1.154 WHIP

Vs. NYM at Citifield

Relievers (Hughes-2.2, Bastardo-3, Caminero-2.2, Melancon-2, Soria-1.2, Watson-1, Blanton-3)

16 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 17 K, 0.56 ERA, 0.500 WHIP

In the 9 games combined

38.2 IP, 26 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 9 BB, 35 K, 0 HR, 1.16 ERA, 0.905 WHIP

The win Sunday for Caminero was the bullpen's 16th consecutive win, the longest streak in MLB since the record-setting Pirates pen of 1909 won 22 in a row.

Ten days ago I called this stretch of 19 games (now 18 due to the rainout vs. the Cubs) the most-interesting stretch of games in the last 20 years. The Bucs have gone 8-3 in the first 11 and now come home for three with the Diamondbacks and four with the Giants. I thought winning 11 of 18 would be a success. 12 of 18 would be fantastic. And if the Pirates go 6-1 or 7-0? I imagine the Cards are going to find that objects in the rear-view mirror are getting awfully close.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Pirates Defensive (In)Efficiency

The past three years the Pirates have been a pretty good defensive team. The numbers and the eye-test generally matched up. There were plus defenders at short, catcher, center and left. Capable defenders at second and third and passable guys at first and in right. In addition the Pirates have been aggressive in adopting shifts and that has undoubtedly helped their ability to turn batted balls into outs.

Defensive efficiency isn't the perfect team metric. Loosely, it's the inverse of BABip. It measures how often a team's defense converts a ball in play into an out. It doesn't track double plays, assists or errors, but it's a simple way to see if a team is doing it's job in the field.

From Baseball Prospectus' glossary page explaining defensive efficiency:

The Defensive Efficiency spectrum based on the 2011 season:

Excellent - Tampa Bay .735 (1st)
Great - Texas .722
Average - Toronto .710
Poor - Pittsburgh .700
Horrendous - Minnesota .693 (30th)

Here is how the Pirates graded out the last three seasons:

2012: 10th .714  (range: .723 - .675)

2013: 5th .715 (range: .727 - .686)

2014: 11th .710 (range: .728 - .685)

The 2015 Pirates have been a different story. They are a terrible defensive team weighed down by their horrific infield defense. At first Pedro Alvarez has been a disaster. As I've mentioned before, Alvarez's inability to transition to first is the single most surprising thing about this Pirates season. Neil Walker is now a below-average defensive second baseman. He's solid at turning the double play but his range is poor. Jordy Mercer is a plus defender at short, but he's been out a month and Jung Ho Kang has been average in his stead. Kang is an excellent defensive third baseman, but most of the starts there have gone to Josh Harrison, surprisingly bad this season, and Aramis Ramirez, a disaster since coming over from the Cubs. It shows in the numbers:

2015: 25th .693 (range .722 - .678)

Last night in their 3-2 win over the Mets, the Pirates fielded a lineup of Alvarez at first, Walker at second, Kang at short and Ramirez at third. One thing I'm virtually certain of, none of those guys will be the starter at that position next year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Konversation with Klassy Keith Law talking pennant races, line-up protection, Trout-Harper, more

I had a great conversation with Keith Law yesterday. One of the topics we discussed was line-up protection. Neal Huntington spoke about it on his show on Sunday which surprised me. There is no evidence that it exists, but many people think it does. We also discussed pennant races and much more.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pirates Stat of the Day 8/11/15

The Pirates swept the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park over the weekend by scores of 5-4 (10), 6-5 and 13-6. The starting pitching, which has been the lynchpin of the Bucs success this season, was awful. With the 10-inning game on Friday night the Pirates played 28 innings against the Dodgers on the weekend. Both their starters and reliever logged 14 innings. Here's how they compared:

Starters (Cole-6, Liriano-3, Morton-5)

14 IP, 21 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 8 BB 15 K, 7.71 ERA, 2.071 WHIP

Relievers (Soria-2, Watson-2, Melancon-2, Bastardo-2, Blanton-3, Caminero-2, Hughes-1)

14 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 2 ER 5 BB, 12 K, 1.29 ERA, 1.214 WHIP

Throw in the last outings of Jeff Locke and J.A. Happ and these are the numbers of the Pirates starters the last time through the rotation:

24 IP, 33 H, 20 R, 20 ER, 11 BB, 25 K, 7.50 ERA, 1.8333 WHIP

The need their bullpen to continue to be lights-out and their starters to be much better as they open a six-game road trip to St. Louis and New York beginning tonight.

Is Francisco Cervelli actually better than Russell Martin?

Is Francisco Cervelli actually better than Russell Martin? Not possible, right? Russell Martin is the guy who signed the 5-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays this past offseason, a deal that was almost universally praised. He's the guy who had the career-year in 2014, finishing second in the NL in OBP, minimum 450 PAs, and put up a career-high OPS+ of 135. He was lauded for his pitch-framing, ability to control the running game and to manage a pitching staff. And there is no doubt Martin was viewed as a leader in Pittsburgh. Martin finished 13th in the NL MVP-voting in 2014 and you could make a solid argument that he should have finished higher as his numbers compared favorably to both Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey who finished 4th and 6th.

Francisco Cervelli, the guy Neal Huntington moved quickly to acquire in the offseason when he realized the Pirates would be unable to afford Martin's services, had only once played more than 50 games in a season or gotten more than 150 at bats and those were both back in 2010. His career line of .278/.348/.381.729 OPS was not far off Martin's .259/.354/.399 .754 OPS, but he had almost 4,000 fewer PAs and durability was a concern. He was seen as a serviceable defensive catcher, but nowhere close to Martin, one of the game's best.

Two-thirds of the way through the 2015 season, let's see how these two compare.

Offensively, Martin got off to a slow start with the Jays. But in early May he got Bryce Harper-hot, going 14-for-23 with four homers in a six game stretch to take his OPS over 1.000. Since that time, Martin has been more-or-less the guy we've seen throughout his career. He's hit .240/.310/.401. On the season, his .255/.337/.461 119 OPS+ show an expected small-step back from 2014, but career-best power numbers have still made him an invaluable part of baseball's best offense.

This was Francisco Cervelli's line with the Yankees in 2014: .301/.370/.432 .802 OPS. This is Francisco Cervelli's line, through Aug. 11, with the Pirates: .307/.372/.432 .804 OPS. The difference is Cervelli only had 162 PAs with the Yanks last year and he's already more than doubled that with 331 for the Pirates. Cervelli's 123 OPS+ is fractionally better than Martin's 119.

Defensively, Martin and Cervelli grade out very similarly according to Baseball Prospectus' advance catching metrics, but according to StatCorner Cervelli is leading all of MLB catchers in Runs Above Average, while Martin is well down the list grading out right around league average. Martin has had much greater success in the running game throwing out 26 of 62 would-be base stealers, a 41.9% clip, while Cervelli has only nailed 21 or 91, 23.1%. (Although in A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole the Pirates do have two starters notoriously poor at holding runners. Conversely Martin has to deal with R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball.)

Leadership and intangibles? It appears Cervelli has capably filled the void left by Martin, bringing an enthusiasm that fires up teammates and has made him a fan favorite. And it's hard to argue with how it's gone, particularly of late, for Martin and the Jays in Toronto.

So who's the better player? Who's having the better season? It's very close. Cervelli's numbers are slightly better offensively, but Martin is the better defensive catcher. Although both are exceptional pitch framers I would give an edge to Martin in controlling the running game and blocking balls in the dirt. In terms of WAR, baseball-reference gives Martin the edge at 2.7 to 2.1, while Fangraphs has Martin at 3.0 and Cervelli at 2.6.

But here's the rub. Martin is making $7 million this year while Cervelli is making $987,500. The Pirates control the 29-year old Cervelli for one more year before he's eligible for free agency in 2017. The 32-year old Martin is under contract for four more years. He is due $15 million next year and $20 million in each of the following three years.

Both Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli are among the top 10 catchers, maybe top five, in all of baseball and Martin is probably still the slightly better player. But factor in their respective contracts and it's a different story. Martin is very undervalued this year, but that may not be the case going forward, whereas Cervelli is one of the biggest bargains in the game and is likely to be next year as well. Another shrewd offseason move by Neal Huntington has paid off in a big way for the Pirates.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

My conversations with the Fabulous Rob Neyer & author Molly Knight

Friday on my show I had a chance to talk with the Fabulous Rob Neyer of Fox Sports and the blog Just A Bit Outside. We discussed beanballs, Statcast, intangibles, Trout & Harper and the pennant races. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I also had the chance to talk with Molly Knight about her new book The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers' Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse. Molly shared some great insight in Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and, of course, Yasiel Puig.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Talking beanballs and pennant races with the Famous Jonah Keri

Yesterday I had a very entertaining discussion with's Jonah Keri. We talked about throwing at batters and what the answer is to protecting hitters like Andrew McCutchen. Deciding the appropriate punishment for repeat offenders was more difficult, but I think Jonah came up with a good one. We then had a lengthy discussion about the pennant races focusing on the question, "Are the Cardinals really this good?" Spoiler Alert: No.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

After just one start, is it already time to pull the plug on J.A. Happ?

The Pirates acquired J.A. Happ right at the 4 pm July 31 trade deadline. It's not clear if the Bucs were incredibly unlucky with the timeline of events leading up to that move or if they just reached a point where they felt long-man and sixth starter Vance Worley was no longer a viable option. Hours after DFAing Worley to make room for Joe Blanton, A.J. Burnett got bombed for the third straight outing and ended up on the disabled list. Neal Huntington was left with virtually no starting pitching depth just 12 hours from the trade deadline.

If Burnett had pitched Wednesday, not Thursday, would the Pirates have DFA'd Deolis Guerra (who was DFA'd the next day after the addition of Joakim Soria) rather than Worley? Only Neal Huntington knows for sure, but the decision left the Pirates in a tight spot with no leverage in the trade market.

They acquired Happ in exchange for AAA starter Adrian Sampson and plugged him into Burnett's rotation spot. His number came up last night and he made his Pirates debut against the Cubs at PNC Park. It wasn't pretty. Happ's line:

4.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 99-59

Unfortunately for the Pirates that is right in-line with what Happ has done lately. His season is a tale of two halves. Here are Happ's numbers for his first 11 starts with the Mariners:

65.1 IP, 67 H, 24 ER, 14 BB, 49 K, 6 HR, 3.31 ERA, 1.239 WHIP, .700 OPS-against

Here are Happ's numbers in his 10 starts since June 5, including last night:

46.2 IP, 62 H, 36 ER, 20 BB, 37 K, 7 HR, 6.94 ERA, 1.757 WHIP, .870 OPS-against

Happ went at least five innings in 10 of his first 11 starts and at least six in eight of them. In his most recent 10 starts Happ's gotten past the fifth only five times and he has failed to go five innings in four of his last five.

The Pirates have to skip Happ the next time though the rotation. They have off days on Thursday and Monday. Happ is next schedule to pitch when the Pirates open up a three-game series in St. Louis. He can't make that start. They can move Jeff Locke up a day and he would still be pitching on five days rest rather than the customary four. Gerrit Cole would then pitch the second game on four days rest and Francisco Liriano or Charlie Morton, depending on how they line-up this weekend, would go the third game on four days rest.

I don't see the Pirates cutting ties with Happ after just one start. But with Vance Worley likely to accept his outright assignment to AAA Indianapolis, Radhames Liz pitching well in AAA, Clayton Richard and Bud Norris available after being designated for assignment and other names potentially available in trade market this month, Happ's next outing could certainly be his last.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Scattered Pirates Thoughts, Stats and Links

*Jung Ho Kang was named the NL Rookie of the Month for July. He posted a .379/.443/.621 1.064 OPS in 97 PAs with 3 HRs and 9 RBI. He led all of MLB in WAR for the month. Since Josh Harrison went down on July 5, effectively making Kang an everyday starter, he's posted a similar .381/.447/.667  1.113 OPS in 94 PAs, with 4 HRs and 10 RBI.

When Harrison and Jordy Mercer return later this month (Harrison in a week?) it will be interesting to see how Clint Hurdle allocates playing time. Kang has proven to be a passable defensive shortstop, but Mercer is better. Kang, however, is an excellent defensive third baseman. He's quick, has good hands and a very strong arm. Kang's performance over the past month means he should be in the lineup everyday. That gives Hurdle a lot of options to mix and match Harrison, Mercer and Aramis Ramirez. My guess is Kang and Mercer are the most-often used pairing on the left side of the infield, with Harrison reverting to a super-utility role and Ramirez coming off the bench while getting a couple starts a week. Options are a good problem for Hurdle to have and it leaves him with a much-improved bench for the stretch run.

Here is an excellent piece by Mike Petriello on Kang with some great stats on his ability to hit major league heat.

*This is one of my favorite charts. It's intuitive that if you hit a ball hard, you are making solid contact and therefore more likely to get a hit, right? Statcast has provided us with a trove of data about all sorts of things, one of which is exit velocity of batted balls. The linked chart shows the batting average of all major league hitters who have hit at least 50 balls into play with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph. What's it tell us? Basically, if you square-it-up and hit-the-crap-out-of-it, you've got about a 60% chance of getting a base hit. Pirates on the list are Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Kang, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. Interestingly Polanco is one of just seven players out of 84 with a batting average below .500, checking in next to last at .431. I don't have a good explanation. Thoughts?

Here is a look at the Pirates individually. Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke are all on the list. No Chris Stewart. As of last week he was the only ML position player with over 50 at bats and no batted balls with an exit velocity over 100 mph.

*I wrote about Francisco Liriano and his swing-and-miss stuff a couple weeks ago. I took a deeper look into the numbers. Since Liriano signed with the Pirates in 2013, he leads MLB in swinging strike %, and it's a pretty impressive list.

Here are Liriano's swing-and-miss Percentages by season: (The numbers above are on all pitches, these are relative to pitches where the batter swings.)

*Not quite sure how good Mark Melancon and Tony Watson have been over the past couple seasons? Here is a Fangraphs article on Wade Davis. Take a look at the chart in the middle. Pretty impressive.

*Clint Hurdle said Sunday he wanted to mix up his rotation so he wasn't throwing three lefties against the Cubs. I didn't see any way he could avoid it, but last night's rain out and off days Thursday and Monday give Hurdle an opportunity to shuffle things up. I didn't like how Hurdle set up the rotation out of the All-Star break and this gives him an opportunity to break up the lefties. J. A. Happ will go tonight, Locke will still go Wednesday and Cole will pitch Friday against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Hurdle should come back with Liriano instead of Charlie Morton Saturday and push Morton back to Sunday. I imagine that is exactly what he will do.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The most interesting stretch of Pirates games in over 20 years

The Pirates upcoming 19 games might be the most interesting stretch of games I've ever experienced in 40+ years of following the team. This stretch against five of the other six contenders for National League playoff spots is an extended run of can't-miss games that I don't ever remember happening. The Pirates currently find themselves 5.5 games behind the NL Central leading Cardinals with 58 games to go. The next three weeks will most likely determine if the Bucs have any chance at catching the Redbirds and how they'll stack up in the wild card race. Let's look at the matchups (check back often as I will keep updating this post with results and expanded pitching reports):

Chicago Cubs (57-47) Aug 3-5 at PNC Park

The Pirates open a three-game series tonight against the Cubs, the start of a six-game homestand. The Cubs are coming off a stretch of 20 straight games against teams below .500 in which they only went 11-9 and got no-hit for the first time in 50 years. The Cubs are 9.5 back of the Cards, 4 back of the Pirates and tied with the Giants for the 2nd wildcard spot. Kris Bryant was pulled in the fifth inning of yesterday's game, but I expect him to be available tonight.

Monday: Jon Lester (game log) vs. Francisco Liriano (game log)

Jon Lester in July was what the Cubs signed up for when the gave him a 6-year, $155 million deal this past offseason. Lester had his best outing as a Cub last time out against the Rockies posting a season-high 14 strikeouts while going a season-high eight innings. He's went at least seven innings in each of his six July starts, giving up more than two runs only once. He recorded 50 strikeouts in 43.1 innings while allowing one home run.

I think Francisco Liriano is one of the two or three most-underrated starting pitchers in the game. The Pirates have won each of his last six starts and he hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of them. Since joining the Pirates in 2013 Liriano leads all major league pitchers in swinging strike %, (Check out the list) and he's right near the top this year. As always Liriano's issues are with command, but he is posting close to a career-best BB/9 this year. He has given up 8 home runs in 66 2/3 innings at PNC Park.

Must-See Rating: *****

Tuesday: Jake Arrieta (game log) vs. J.A. Happ (game log)

Arrieta is another one of those starters, like Liriano and Lance Lynn, who falls into the most-underrated category. Barring injury he's going to post career-bests in all the counting stats and he should better last year's 9th place finish in this year's Cy Young voting. In his last eight starts he has a 1.53 ERA and two complete games, along with 58 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings.

Happ will be making his Pirates debut in place of an injured A.J. Burnett. It's hard to understate how bad Happ has been lately. In his last ten outings with the Mariners, nine starts and a one-inning relief appearance, he's been a disaster: 43 1/3 IP, 54 H, 18 BB, 33K, 7 HR, 6.65 ERA, .854 OPS-against. He has failed to go more than four innings in three of his last four starts. The Pirates are obviously hoping he can gain his early-season form. In his first 11 starts he had a 3.04 ERA and struck out 75 batters in 71 innings, while walking only 14.

Must-See Rating: **** due to Happ's debut

Wednesday: Dan Haren (game log) vs. Jeff Locke (game log)

The soon-to-be 35-year old Haren will be making his Cubs debut. Haren pitched reasonable well for the Marlins this year but his K/9 numbers have dropped off considerably. He certainly is a better option than Happ and he doesn't walk anybody, but he's gone between 5 2/3 and 6 1/3 in each of his last nine outings, so the bullpen is sure to get some work.

Quietly Jeff Locke has been the Pirates third-best starter over the last two months. Like Charlie Morton, Locke is maddeningly frustrating because of his inconsistency. After throwing eight scoreless innings while allowing only two hits on July 4th, Locke has only managed to go five innings in three of his last four starts while walking three batters in each of those truncated outings.

Must-See Rating: *** this might be the least interesting pitching matchup of the 19.

Upcoming Probables:

Los Angeles Dodgers Aug 7-9 at PNC Park (Pirates miss Greinke)

The Pirates miss Greinke, but Friday night is sure to be one of the most exciting nights of the year at PNC Park.

Fri: Kershaw vs. Cole
Sat: Latos vs. Morton
Sun: Wood vs. Liriano

St. Louis Cardinals Aug 11-13 at Busch

It's the Cardinals, what else needs to be said. The first of nine remaining between the two teams.

Tues: Happ vs. Martinez
Wed: Locke vs. Wacha
Thurs: Cole vs. Lynn

New York Mets Aug 14-16 at Citi Field (Pirates miss deGrom and Syndergaard)

The Pirates appear to get luck with how the Mets rotation falls, but this is a different team than the one the Pirates swept at PNC earlier this season.

Fri: Morton vs. Colon
Sat: Liriano vs. Niese
Sun: Happ vs. Harvey 

Arizona Diamondbacks Aug 17-19 at PNC Park

The Pirates get a breather?

San Francisco Giants Aug 20-23 at PNC Park

The World Champs are sure to be seeking revenge after the Bucs swept them in San Fran.

The Bucs Dugout Podcast with Charlie Wilmoth

Charlie and I got together Sunday, before the beanball fiasco in Cincinnati and discussed the five transactions the Pirates made leading up to the trade deadline and what it means for the last two months of the season.