Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Month – September 2014

Pirates Still Within Reach of the Second Mild Card

Fresh off of getting swept in St. Louis by the Cardinals the Pirates can now kiss all of their hopes of winning the NL Central goodbye. The Pirates have one remaining path to the playoffs and that involves edging out Milwaukee and Atlanta for the second Wild Card. First off let’s get the notion out of the way that the second Wild Card is some grand achievement. The National League Wild Card race is a joke this season. The fact that in the last month the Pirates have endured a 7 game losing streak, are now mired in a 4 game losing streak, and are still very much in the thick of the Wild Card race with a just a 71-68 record is all the evidence you need to convict the National League of being very soft this season. Let’s stop calling it the second Wild Card and refer to what it really is…..The NL Mild Card.
 
So what are the Pirates chances of sneaking into the playoffs via the Mild Card? Surprisingly pretty good. Fangraphs.com estimates the Pirates odds of earning the Mild Card at 27.8%. The Braves odds are 41.9% and the Brewers odds are 32%. The Braves and Brewers each have a 73-67 record. The Pirates trail them by 1.5 games, but the Bucs are only 1 game back in the loss column. It is very possible 86 wins will be enough to claim the Mild Card. The Braves and Brewers have 22 games remaining. They would have to go 13-9 to get to 86 wins. The Brewers have been in a free fall. They’ve lost 9 straight games and have generally played poor baseball all year after a hot start in April. They also have a fairly difficult remaining schedule that includes 6 more games with the Cardinals, 4 against the no slouch Marlins, and a 3 game series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. It is hard to see the Brewers surviving. The Braves have been up and down all season. Their schedule is no picnic either. They have 6 more games against the team with the best record in the National League, the Washington Nationals. In the final week of the season the Braves square off for a 4 game series with the Pirates in Atlanta. That series will have huge implications on deciding which team wins the Mild Card.
 
For the Pirates to get to 86 wins they would need to go 15-8 in their final 23 games. But the Pirates have an easier schedule on paper. 16 of their remaining 23 games are against the Cubs, Phillies, and Red Sox. All three of those teams are last place clubs, though it should be noted all three have been playing good baseball as of late. The other 7 games the Pirates have are against the Braves and Brewers – the two teams they are chasing for the Mild Card. If the Pirates win those two series they very likely will make the playoffs. No matter how we got here the Pirates are still playing meaningful September baseball. It will be interesting to see if they have what it takes to back into the playoffs as the NL Mild Card.
 

Why Does The Cole Train Stop After 6 Innings?

For the second time in a week Gerrit Cole, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ace in training, faltered in the 7th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals. On August 26th Cole pitched 6 shutout innings before the Cards led off the 7th with a pair of hits. With his pitch count elevated to 108 manager Clint Hurdle pulled Cole from the game. Tony Watson would later allow the inherited runners to score. Yesterday Cole was much more efficient with his pitches. He entered the 7th inning with the Pirates holding a 4-2 lead and his pitch count sitting at just 76. But once again Cole failed to get through the 7th inning. Kolten Wong delivered a pinch hit game tying 2-run homer. Jon Jay followed with a triple. That would be the end of Gerrit Cole’s day.
 

This continues a troubling trend where Gerrit Cole struggles to go beyond the 6th inning. In fact, he hasn’t been all that good after 5 innings this season. His ERA thru the first 5 innings is 3.21. After the 5th inning his ERA swells to 6.42. His ERA in the 7th inning this season is a whopping 7.94. This basically follows the same pattern as his rookie season. His ERA in the 7th inning last year was 5.40.
 

So what gives? Is Cole running out gas and thus less effective? Or is he just a 6 inning pitcher? I don’t think endurance is the issue. Today on the Triblive.com Buccos Blog Travis Sawchik made an interesting observation about Cole’s pitch selection and over reliance on the fastball. Nearly 68% of Cole’s pitches are fastballs. He has used his change up only 4.1% of the time. Cole is leaning too heavily on his fastball and as Travis Sawchik posits that might be because of all the time Cole missed this season due to injuries. He simply has not had enough opportunities this season to work on refining his change up. So he reverts back to the pitch he trusts – the fastball. Cole has a terrific fastball that works well for him the first couple of turns thru the order. But once the lineup flips over for the third time in a game hitters are on to him. Here is the OPS against Cole each time thru the order:
 

1st AB – .671
2nd AB – .608
3rd AB – .928
 

It is hard to envision Cole gaining trust in his off speed pitches at this juncture of the season. That is something to work on next year in Spring Training. For now it just might be better for the manager to limit Cole’s exposure to the latter innings. Given the Pirates bullpen woes this season lifting Cole after 6 innings isn’t a great alternative either. But if the Cole Train keeps running out of steam in the 7th inning what option does Hurdle really have?
 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-25-14 thru 8-31-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/25/14 thru 8/31/14, the 22nd week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 4 wins and 2 Losses, 17 Runs Scored and 12 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Josh Harrison just continues to amaze everyone. He is the spark plug at the top of the order. Harrison had 10 hits in 24 ABs this week including two more home runs. On Friday night against the Reds, Harrison knocked in the game tying run with a triple in the 8th inning and then scored the winning run. But JHay doesn’t get this award from his offense alone. He made 5 or 6 sensational defensive plays this week. Many were run saving plays at crucial points in the game. Honorable mention has to go to Ike Davis who crushed huge home runs in two straight games in wins over the Cardinals. But Harrison was a factor all week long in every Pirates’ win so he edges Ike out for hero honors this week.
 

Zero of the week: Jared Hughes. Not a great week at all for Hughes. The Pirates lost twice this week and Jared took the loss in both games. On Monday the Cardinals got to him by stringing together enough singles that found holes. On Sunday he was done in by the long ball. He gave up a solo home run to Chris Heisey of the Reds that broke a 2-2 tie in the 9th inning.
 

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon truly was a shark this week. He earned a save in 4 games this week posting a scoreless inning in each one. Melancon allowed just 1 walk and 1 hit in his 4 innings of work while striking out 3.
 

#HURDLED: The 7th inning on Monday was not Clint Hurdle‘s finest work. He basically chose a matchup of Jared Hughes against the red hot Jon Jay when he could have had a matchup of Tony Watson or Justin Wilson against the light hitting Peter Bourjos. Jay delivered the game tying hit. I also would like to introduce Hurdle to John Axford. It has been over two weeks now since the Pirates acquired Axford, but Clint won’t let him sniff leverage situation.

 

Cannonballs: Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison (2), Ike Davis (2), Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer
 

The little things that matter: Andrew McCutchen was in obvious pain and had to be removed from the game on Tuesday night. It is clear that his ribs are not yet healed. It was almost a forgone conclusion that Cutch would be held out of the day game on Wednesday against the Cardinals. McCutchen demanded to be in lineup. Cutch wants to win so bad that he is going to gut out this injury no matter what. That kind of attitude from the team leader is infectious. And let’s give a tip of the cap to the schedule maker. An off day on Thursday in the middle of a home stand in late August….that is priceless. Having that day off allows McCutchen to give it a go on Wednesday. That day off keeps Russell Martin in the lineup on Wednesday when normally Chris Stewart would catch the day game that follows a night game.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: After struggling in the early part of the season against NL Central opponents the Pirates managed to take 2 of 3 in three straight series against the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds.

 

Stats that blow my mind: Justin Morneau is batting .311. Josh Harrison is batting .310. As of today those are your leaders for the National League batting title.

 

Records and Milestones: Nothing of note

 

He said what: Clint Hurdle sums up what his club is all about:

I think if you just want to cut to the chase, it’s called grit. We’ve got a lotta grit. We don’t have a perfect club. We don’t play perfect. I don’t manage perfect. But we believe in each other, trust each other. And these guys love to play, just flat-out love to play.

 

Tweet of the week: This time of year can create strange heroes. That is the great thing about a pennant race. Almost every game yesterday’s bum has a chance to redeem himself.

 

Front Office Notes: Neil Huntington spent the week taking advantage of loop holes concerning the disabled list and end of minor league season rules in advance of the September 1st expanded roster. One such quirk allowed the Pirate to temporarily create a roster spot by optioning Gerrit Cole to the Bristol Rookie League team on the day their season ended. It was purely a paper move. Cole will be reactivated in time for his next start and is still be playoff eligible. Jose Tabata and Andrew Lambo were also recalled from purgatory.

 

On The Farm: The minor league seasons are wrapping up. The West Virginia Power have gotten a strong August finish from their starting pitchers.

 
Highlight of the week: On Tuesday night the Pirates bullpen had just frittered away a lead for the second straight game against the Cardinals. Games at this time of year are too important to be given away against teams they are chasing in the standings. The Bucs needed to find a way to pull this game out. They needed a big hit. They got it off the bat of Ike Davis. This 3-run pinch hit homer by Davis in the 8th inning was the highlight of the week.

 

 

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