A brief look at an opponent we play this week.
Offense: A potential lineup: Jose Tabata-LF, Neil Walker-2B, Andrew McCutchen-CF, Garrett Jones-1B, Ryan Doumit-C, Ryan Church-RF, Andy LaRoche-3B, Ronny Cedeno-SS, whichever Sally is throwing that day-P. Bench: Bobby Crosby-IF, Akinora Iwamura-MI, Jeff Clement-1B/being bad at baseball.
Pittsburgh Pirates Preview. That is fun to say. Alliteration rules. While you may think its hard to find many offenses worse than the White Sox', you just aren't looking hard enough. With 3.24 runs per game, Pittsburgh has the worst offense in the majors (somehow Houston has scored more, despite having a lower OBP and SLG). Jose Tabata has finally made it to the majors. This may seem impressive when you think he's only 21, but becomes much less so when you realize it isn't real. Anyways, the leftfielder with a 44-year old wife was hitting well in Indianapolis (.797 OPS with 25 steals in 31 chances), so Neal Huntington decided it was time for him to come up. He's fast with some gap power and a decent eye (.365 OPB for minor league career). If he can play above-average defense and get on at a .350 clip, the Pirates may have just found their new leftfielder and leadoff man for a few years. Neil Walker was the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2004, as a catcher out of a local Pittsburgh high school. He moved to the hot corner in 2007 and just learned how to play at the keystone this year. That being said, his minor league numbers haven't been that impressive. If he can stick at second, his .763 OPS can play, but he needs to start drawing walks or he is doomed. Andrew McCutchen is very good at baseball. He is on his way to becoming a certain other amazing outfielder, and is what I hope Jared Mitchell becomes. Unlike Crawford, it does seem that Andrew could become a 20-20 guy very soon (I am kind of surprised that Crawford never hit 20). He has cut down on his strikeouts so far this year, but is also walking slightly less. So far UZR hasn't liked him in center, but small sample sizes apply here. Worst case, the Pirates switch him and Tabata in a few years. He is the new face of the franchise, and God knows they needed one. Garrett Jones is a local boy, graduating from Andrew High School down in Tinley Park (e-gus and Skanberg country). Jones was released by the Twins after the 2008 season, mostly due to not being overwhelming at positions they already had locked-down in the majors (first, left, and right). The Pirates grabbed him and he went on to hit 21 homers in 82 games last season. While no one should expect him to be a 40 homer threat, 25-35 big flies hardly seems outlandish. If he keeps his OBP around .340 he can provide a few years of cheap power for the Bucs, eventually forming a potent tandem with the soon-to-be-called-up Pedro Alvarez.
Ryan Doumit has some of the most frightening looking eyes ever. Its almost as if he's one of the demons on Supernatural. He hits well for a catcher (.781 career OPS), but cannot stay healthy (played more than 100 games once) and is horrible defensively (he has thrown out 4 of 51 baserunners this season). This should be the most running we see the Sox do in a three game series all season. Ryan Church's propensity for concussions may have stunted his full potential as a ballplayer. His career looked very promising in 2005, but an unlucky collision with the wall in his future home field would be just the first in a myriad of health problems for the young man. He's a nice complimentary player, the kind Pittsburgh should have been picking up all along. He's slightly above-average at best, replacement level at worst. Whatever power he has seems to have left him, and his career seems to be entering its twilight rapidly. Andy LaRoche is essentially the big return the Pirates got for Jason Bay. That trade just did not turn out well for them at all. LaRoche needed a good season to stay relevant this year, and he isn't having it. As soon as Pedro Alvarez is ready, expect this former top prospect to become a utility man. His glove is still good at the hot corner, so its likely he'll make a decent late-inning defensive replacement type. Congrats Andy, you're the new John McDonald. Ronny Cedeno is a good teammate, but not a good baseball player. I wish there was something positive to say about his game, but their really isn't. He's organizational filler.
Pitching: A potential rotation and closer: Zack Duke-LHP, Ross Ohlendorf-RHP, Paul Maholm-LHP, Jeff Karstens-RHP, Brad Lincoln-RHP, and Octavio Dotel-CL.
And if the hitting wasn't bad enough for you, the Pirates' pitching staff is giving up 5.56 runs per game, good for 28th in the majors (shame on you Arizona and Milwaukee). Over the past 5 years, Zack Duke has gone from good and promising to crap, back to respectable, and potentially has returned to crap. He just doesn't get enough whiffs for how many guys he walks (1.92 K/BB career). The southpaw throws a high-80s fastball, a slider, a curve, and a change. His curve and change are usually good, his other pitches aren't. Ross Ohlendorf is another perfect example of what is wrong with Pittsburgh's rotation. These guys aren't necessarily terrible. Its just that nothing good can come from a rotation full of fourth and fifth starters. Ross would make a fine back of the rotation, innings-eater type. This isn't what he gets though. He faces the same problem as Duke (1.80 K/BB). As a starter, he has a low-90s fastball, a slider, and a change. His changeup has been his only plus pitch in the past. Paul Maholm is the best pitcher on the team, but has the same flaws as the others. He throws the same stuff as Duke, but has a good slider and curve. Jeff Karstens came over from the Yankees with Ohlendorf and Tabata. Karstens tends to hop between the bullpen, the rotation, and the minors. His career K/BB and HR/9 are the same, which is never a good sign (1.32). He throws the same pitches as Duke and Maholm, just considerably worse. He has no true and consistent plus pitch. Brad Lincoln was the Pirates' first pick in the 2006 draft, over a lot of pitchers that were better than him (and Kyle McCulloch). They can't be blamed for all of his injury troubles. When healthy, he's been decent to good in the minors. He throws a low-90s fastball, a curve, and a changeup. Our old friend Octavio is closing for the Bucs this season. He still has his nasty stuff, but seems to be having a harder time controlling it every season. He still throws that low-90s fastball, a slider, and a curve.
Outlook: The Pirates are really bad this year, so if we don't pull off a 2-1 series I'll be really upset. But not surprised. Check out Charlie's work over at Bucs Dugout. The man cranks out solid articles regularly, even though the team doesn't give him much positive to write about.