By a show of hands, how many people check the weather reports first thing in the morning?
Obviously I can’t see the response, but I’m certain a grand majority of you readers do. On any given night in the Pittsburgh area, rain is a common theme. I have to be sure to check, re-check and for good measure, check yet again on nights I anticipate going to PNC Park. Nearly every night has been at least a 40-60 percent chance of precipitation. In fact, two games I was all set to go to were rained out.
My luck changed Saturday.
With a 60 percent chance of rain, 32,298 other people joined me in the stands to witness a 6-1 Pirates victory.
It was my first win at PNC Park this season.
The Pirates have taken notice as it jump started a three game winning streak, at home nonetheless. Each game has been relatively equivalent to each other with strong starting pitching, quick defense and clutch hitting late in the game.
Charlie Morton went 7.2 innings with five strikeouts giving up just one run on Saturday.
James McDonald earned a career high eight strikeouts and let up three hits in 6 innings in a 5-4 win on Sunday.
Jeff Karstens continued the trend going 5.2 solid innings allowing just one run to set up a 4-1 victory on Monday.
While Saturday was the only sure fire contest, Sunday and Monday were come from behind affairs. Ryan Doumit’s three-run blast set the Pirates ahead in the eighth inning in honor of Mothers Day. On Monday, also in the eighth, Neil Walker began a hit parade scoring Xavier Paul on an RBI double. Lyle Overbay followed suit with a RBI double of his own. To conclude the scoring, Doumit came through again. He ripped a double down the right field line scoring Overbay.
The win put Pittsburgh at 18-17.
Yes, that is indeed a game over .500.
I’ve been to three Pirate games thus far, this season. The young season has not treated me well, personally, as I am 0-3 when seeing live games.
Pittsburgh has been outscored 19-5 in those games.
The offense was looked at as an emerging force in the preseason as a young group of hitters were polishing off solid seasons in 2010. While players such as Jose Tabata (.310 BA, .420 OBP) and Neil Walker (11 RBI, .517 SLG) have anchored the top of the lineup, shortcomings from Pedro Alvarez (20 Ks, .197 BA) and a slump from Andrew McCutchen (2-for-30 in at-bats entering Sunday) hindered the team from getting proper production.
Most of it has changed this series against the Reds.
On Friday the Pirates scored six runs en route to a 6-1 victory.
Sunday, Pittsburgh notched seven runs to sneak by with a 7-6 win.
Players, other than those aforementioned, have stepped up and delivered to put these bigger numbers on the board.
Of course, they would do it on the road, when I’m not there.
Chris Snyder has gone 3-for-7 in these two wins.
After starting the season on the disabled list, Snyder was penciled in behind the plate, right away, moving Ryan Doumit to a bench spot. His production has been consistent to open his season which should keep him in the starting lineup for a majority of games from here on out. His biggest asset is not at the plate, though, it’s behind it. Pitchers rave about his quality of calling games and he played a big part in Charlie Morton’s complete game against the Reds on Friday.
In a platoon with Matt Diaz in right field, Garrett Jones has had his back against the wall. His decline in power had the front office concerned, but now he is beginning his comeback campaign. Jones has it two homers in the series and brought his average up to a respectable .282. Diaz has struggled to sustain a presence at the plate. So, it may play to Jones’ advantage is he continues to produce consistently. He may just get that starting job back.
If Jones and Diaz both falter another viable option is waiting in the wings. John Bowker is trying to find his identity on the Bucs. He hasn’t been the first used pinch hitter of the bench, so far, but that decision may change quickly. He brought in the winning run in the top of the 8th inning, Sunday. Bowker drilled a 2-out pitch to deep center field that could have been a home run in other ballparks, while adding further insurance with just that one swing of the bat.
Prior to the Reds series, manager Clint Hurdle tinkered with the lineup to make a change.
It was needed.
As I said before, the offense was dormant to open the season at home. My three games were pitiful and beyond that, the funk at the plate scorned the early optimism that many fans accumulated. Hurdle moved McCutchen up to the leadoff spot from the three hole. Tabata will bat second, with Lyle Overbay third. Walker is now the cleanup hitter dropping from the two hole.
These moves paid off as more runs were produced, save for Saturday’s 11-2 beat down. As Tabata has proved he is the best hitter on the team, the second spot is the perfect fit for him. He is 5-for-14 in the new spot. McCutchen began his new role with an 0-for-5 performance, but has since proved that his natural position is where he wants to be. He led off Sunday’s game with a home run. Walker isn’t the most natural cleanup hitter. He doesn’t have the most power on the team, although he does have three dingers. But, No. 2 wasn’t ideal for him, either. He strikes out too much and that is not the best liability to have in a two hitter.
The Pirates will stay in Cincinnati for a Monday game to close out the series. A win would pit them back at the .500 mark going to Florida to do battle with the Marlins on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then it’s back home to host the Nationals over Easter weekend. I will be in attendance for one of those games ready to be entertained with some offensive action.
photo credits: postgazette.com, bleacherreport.com, daylife.com
Greetings from Hartford, Connecticut!
Currently, I am here alongside some colleagues from the WVU student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, to cover the West Virginia women’s basketball team and the rest of the Big East in the conference tournament.
After game one, the Mountaineers downed the Cincinnati Bearcats 66-41. From my spot on press row I am now watching the Pitt women square off against Marquette.
Thus far, the weekend has provided many great chances to watch some good basketball. The Big East, notorious for its men’s basketball dominance isn’t half bad
on the girl’s side either.
Plus, girl’s basketball, in my opinion, is the game at its
purest form. There’s very little need for flash or over bearing skill moves. For young kids watching basketball based on set plays, tight defense and solid shooting; women’s basketball is where its at.
It really has been a great opportunity to cover the series and wish the best of luck to the Mountaineers. I want to be in Hartford a while. Quaint, vintage looking town and the access is great. Look for coverage of the tournament on http://www.thedaonline.com.
The madness has indeed begun in Florida, too. Baseball spring training has heated up and teams are starting to come together in preparation for the real festivities to begin in late March and early April.
The Pirates are no exception.
Lyle Overbay is not only hamming it up for the camera, he is, as the kids say, going ham on opposing pitchers. In the Pirates 4-3 win over the Phillies Overbay collected three hits, a double being one of them. The newly acquired first baseman also scored a pair of crucial runs.
He isn’t the only one performing well.
Neil Walker belted his first home run of the spring on Saturday.
Jose Tabata has been blazing around the base paths with three steals in the past week.
Right now, Pittsburgh stands at 5-4 against Major League clubs. Its game tomorrow against the Blue Jays will be televised regionally on Root Sports. A national audience can catch it on MLB Network later in the day.
Well, its back to the basketball action for now. But not far from now the Opening Day decorations will be laid out among all 30 ballparks.
You can see the XL Center in Hartford is already excited for the occasion.
photo credits: bucsdugout.com, washingtonpost.com
Jason Bay will forever be one of my favorite MLB players. His time in Pittsburgh gave fans a small glimmer of hope that a superstar was among us.
We are seeing now that he is just a puzzle piece to the larger picture of a more productive team (if you want to call the Mets a productive team).
Anyway, it has been a couple of years since Bay was dished to the Red Sox, but it has taken some time to get over the slugger who played left field ever so well.
Not necessarily an attempt to rid Pirates fans of the thoughts of Bay, but management has brought in another power hitter for 2011 that has long ball potential.
Lyle Overbay will be manning first base for Pittsburgh this coming year.
For 5 million dollars the Bucs picked up the viable bat. Now to some that may seem like a steal, in fact some off-season projections had sights set on Overbay at being a deal worth at least 6 million. The Pirates, however, cannot afford to be throwing that kind of money at a guy that isn’t going to be earth shattering.
In fact, in my opinion, Overbay is a step back for this organization.
General manager Neil Huntington has long said that he will not sign in to the long, money hindering contracts former GM Dave Littlefield was notorious for offering to below average players. Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz and Ty Wigginton all quickly come to mind.
Overbay is a glorified version of all three.
photo credits: cbc.com, getty images