The Pirates, despite another shaky 9th inning by Salomon Torres, swept the Houston Astros with a 5-3 win on Thursday afternoon. Torres did his best to erase a 5-1 ninth inning Bucco lead but John Grabow was summoned from the bullpen for the final out and the save. The Pirates now sit at 10-10, in sole possession of 2nd place in the NL Central with just four days left in the month of April. Unfortunately, six of the 10 wins have come against the Astros, and much as I hate to break the news, the Pirates must play a variety of other teams around the league this year.
Believe it or not, there are some reasons to be optimistic about the Pirates. Consider that they're in second place and at .500 with a severe lack of offensive output. Also consider that in the past three days, they've been gifted with these starting pitching performances:
--Tuesday: Paul Maholm, with an ERA of 6.19, throws a three-hit shutout.
--Wednesday: Zach Duke, with an ERA of 9.00, allowed one run over six innings.
--Thursday: ArmasPalooza, with an ERA of 18.90 (or 1,890?) allows one run over five innings.
They appear to have at least two horses in the rotation (Snell and Gorzelanny, at least for now) with ERAs of 2, so you can safely say that starting pitching has been a bright spot...of late. If Snell and Gorzo can hold down the fort and they can get half of what they got this week from ArMaholmDuke, that should be good enough to contend in this division. Remember, the NL Central has lost a number of top arms, be it through injury (Prior, Carpenter, Wood) or defection (Pettitte, Clemens). If the Pirates' young arms can finally live up to potential, we may really have something here.
The Pirates need the bats to awaken from their lengthy hibernation in May if they really want to be taken seriously. Here are a few alarming offensive stats from April:
--The team has scored 74 runs in 20 games.
--The Pirates had only 6 stolen bases, and 5 were from Chris Duffy. Unacceptable.
--The team has a .237 team batting average...their opponents were at .269.
--Their leading slugger has 3 home runs.
--Jason Bay leads the team with a paltry 14 RBI.
--Adam LaRoche is sitting at .114, leaving 5 more on base on Thursday.
--What's been lost in all of the LaRoche bashing? The unproductive months of Ronny Paulino (.188) and Big Country Eldred (.115).
Looking at the offensive and pitching totals so far, and considering the opposition, 10-10 is probably right where the Pirates should be right now. Luckily, the Buccos play in what looks to be the worst division in the majors. Could this be a case of 1997 all over again? Can anyone say FREAK SHOW?
Next up, the Bucs host the 10-12 Reds for three weekend games (Snell vs. Milton, Gorzo vs. Belisle, Maholm vs. Harang). But the on-field product is secondary on this weekend. The real point of interest for many will be the fireworks on Friday and bobbleheads on Saturday.