Found April 21, 2013 on
James McDonald struck out nine batters tonight. Photo by Mark Olson
Tonight wasn’t the type of game you’d normally expect the Pirates to win. It’s not the type of matchup you’d expect any team to win. On one side you had the best team in baseball, with a pitcher who entered the game with 20.1 shutout innings to start the season. On the other side you had a team that has been very inconsistent this year, with a pitcher who has had low velocity to start the year and was hit hard in his last outing.
It didn’t look good on paper heading into the game, but the Pirates took the win 3-1. There were two things that stood out to me which led to tonight’s victory.
The biggest was the performance of James McDonald. He stepped up with one run on two hits in six innings, and impressively struck out nine hitters. The run came in a crazy second inning. McDonald hit the first batter, gave up a double, then issued a walk to load the bases. After a three pitch strikeout, McDonald gave up another walk to bring in the lone run. The walk came against the number eight hitter, Andrelton Simmons. McDonald followed that by striking out Paul Maholm on three pitches, then getting B.J. Upton to strike out on three more pitches.
The velocity was also up a bit for McDonald. He still dipped into the upper 80s, but was mostly sitting 91-92, and was hitting 93 a few times. In his first three starts of the year McDonald has seen his velocity drop. In all of his starts from 2011-2013, his average velocity in those first three games ranked as the 1st, 2nd, and 4th lowest. He wasn’t touching the 94-95 range, but the slight increase tonight, and the overall average increase was a positive sign. An even better sign was the dominance from the nine strikeouts. That matched his total over his first three starts.
Another thing that stood out was the construction of the lineup. The key here was obviously Gaby Sanchez, who came up big with the two run home run off Maholm, which would eventually decide the game. Coming into the game, Sanchez was 1-for-12 on the season against right-handers, and 3-for-11 against left-handers. He’s pretty established as a platoon player, and in his career he has an ISO of .190 and an OPS of .865 against left-handers. Having him bat in the middle of the order against left-handers isn’t a bad call.
One move that didn’t lead to any runs tonight was having Russell Martin at third base. That allowed the Pirates to sit Pedro Alvarez against a left-hander, and got Martin’s bat in the lineup against a left-hander. Last year Martin had a .226/.356/.524 line against lefties. That OBP and .298 ISO are very impressive, and should have Martin in the lineup against lefties at all times. The Pirates didn’t score any runs as a result of Martin playing third, but he did go 1-for-2 with two walks. Michael McKenry went 1-for-3 behind the plate. If that combination of results happens more often, it should lead to runs.
After McDonald came out, the bullpen took over and remained strong. Tony Watson threw a scoreless seventh inning, and then Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli did their thing. Melancon pitched a shutout inning, and now has just one earned run in 11 innings on the season. Grilli struck out the side for his sixth save of the year, and has yet to give up a run on the season in seven innings.
The Pirates are pretty comfortable right now in the final two innings of the game, but could definitely use some comfort in that seventh inning. Watson stepped up tonight, and he and Jared Hughes seem to be the go-to guys for that role. Watson isn’t having a horrible season, and the lack of comfort in the seventh inning might be more of a testament to Melancon and Grilli and how automatic they’ve been, rather than a reflection on the rest of the bullpen.
The Pirates have now taken two of three from the Braves, and have won eight of their last 11 games. The two teams finish their four game series tomorrow at 1:35 PM with Jonathan Sanchez going up against Kris Medlen. That’s another matchup that looks to be a huge advantage for Atlanta on paper, with Medlen off to a strong start, and Sanchez coming off a horrible outing. That should also feature a more normal lineup, since Medlen is a right-hander, and the Pirates won’t have to sit Pedro Alvarez or Travis Snider against him.
BEST OF MAXIM
Has Jameson Taillon passed Gerrit Cole?
Spoiler alert: Before I begin, I’m not going to answer the question of which prospect between Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon is better. I think that no matter which side you pick, you’re going to be splitting hairs. I’ll also take the cheap way out, and point out that it’s a good problem to have to debate which top pitching prospect...
Below are the top Runs Created* totals in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The rankings include every hitter who had an at-bat for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, not including DSL teams, and with no limitations on whether the hitter has prospect eligibility. Players who spent time at different levels are counted multiple times, once for each level,...
TOP OF THE SYSTEM
A look at how the current top 20 prospects did today. Note that this list doesn’t include players currently in the majors. If a player is in the majors, he will be removed, everyone below him will be shifted up a spot, and a new player will be added to the bottom of the list. Rankings are from the pre-season rankings, and links to each prospect writeup can be...
Starling Marte’s 10-game hit streak came to an emphatic end last night, with the 22-year old Pirates outfielder striking out five times in Pittsburgh’s 6-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park.
Starling Marte was given the night off by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. Photo Credit: David Hague
Marte is not in the lineup today against the Braves with manager Clint Hurdle electing...
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Wandy Rodriguez speaks to the media (through Heberto Andrade, who is usually a bullpen catcher for the club but serves as an interpreter here) about what made him successful in Pittsburgh’s 6-0 win against Atlanta on Friday.
In tonight’s game story, James Santelli broke down the great homestand the Pirates just had, and how impressive it was that they beat three teams who look like they’ll be heading to the playoffs this year. I thought about following up on that by looking back at what I’ve said over the last two years when the Pirates started to look promising.
There have been times in each of...
Top prospect Gerrit Cole will get his fourth start of the season today, hoping to build off his first solid outing of the 2013 season. Altoona played a doubleheader last night, making up a Friday rainout. Francisco Liriano made his second rehab start in the first game. For a look at the possible starters over the next few weeks, please check out our Probable Pitchers Chart. We have...
The Pirates are on the good side of .500 for the first time this season thanks to another rock-solid win over the Atlanta Braves. Saturday night’s victory featured more fantastic pitching and just enough offense to get the job done.
James McDonald remains impossible to understand. One start after completely imploding and looking like he had no business starting in the major leagues...
Braves (13-3) at Pirates (8-8)
7:05 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh
The Bucs go for two in a row against the Braves tonight at PNC. It’s Andrew McCutchen bobblehead night, so there should be a solid crowd (which is good, since there haven’t been any good crowds since the opener). A win would clinch a series split for the Bucs, which would be a very strong result...
Pedro Alvarez scored the first of four Pirates’ runs in the victory. Photo credit: David Hague
The Pittsburgh Pirates getting out to a 10-8 record to start 2013 would be far less impressive if half of those games were against, say, the Marlins, Padres and Astros. Strength of schedule plays a larger part in early-season stats and records than many of us want to recognize. Yes, the...
On Saturday, April 20, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be giving out an Andrew McCutcheon bobblehead — referred to as “Clutch Bobblehead” in a nod to McCutcheon’s nickname — to the first 25,000 fans through the gates at PNC Park for the team’s game against the Atlanta Braves. The Andrew McCutcheon bobblehead features Rawlings Gold Glove and Louisville Silver Slugger awards...
Braves (13-2) at Pirates (7-8)
7:05 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh
The Bucs look to even this weekend’s series with the red-hot Braves tonight after a tough defeat late in last night’s game.
Programming note: This was originally scheduled to be another MLB Network telecast, but the Pens game has been postponed tonight due to the events in Boston. As a...
What a homestand! The Pirates were somehow able to patch together a victory on Sunday afternoon, wrapping up an excellent series win over Atlanta. It was certainly a messy game, but that won’t stop any Bucco fan from being thrilled with the outcome.
The main reason today’s win was so big was the pitching matchup. It was Jonathan Sanchez (ERA north of 12) against Kris Medlen ...
When the Pirates play games like they did last night, with Wandy Rodriguez cruising on the mound and the defense clicking behind him and all sorts of guys coming up with big hit after big hit, it's actually sort of easy to watch them and think, "Seriously, this team could contend for a playoff spot." It's obviously early to talk about things like that when the team...
After slowing down one of the hottest teams in the majors, the Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of their longest win streak of the season.
A.J. Burnett will try to deliver that fourth straight victory while building on a superb outing Monday night against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Pittsburgh has won nine of 12 since its 1-5 start and took three of four over Atlanta to wrap...