Breaking out the bats at Busch

The Bucs travelled to the Gateway to the West to take on the Cardinals in what would be series that could shift the division standings.  With the pitching matchup of Kevin CorreiaAdam Wainwright, it looked like it could be a long night for the Pirates in the triple digit temperatures.  The offense, though, proved everyone wrong.

Neil Walker kicked off the scoring with a two-run two-out single in the first.  St. Louis got a run back on an RBI groundout in the second, and the big blow came in the third.  Carlos Beltran drove in a run on his 2,000th career hit, and Allen Craig, who has owned Pirates pitching, hit a three-run blast to make it 5-2 STL.  With Wainwright’s career track-record, a three-run deficit seemed insurmountable.

El Toro, however, struck big time in the fifth.  With two outs, Pedro lined the first pitch he saw down the line, clearing the bases and tying the game.  The way Correia was pitching, he probably should have been out of the game after four innings.  But Hurdle wanted him to go five, so he was back out there for the fifth.  He pitched a scoreless inning, and Clint Barmes put him in line for the win with a solo shot to lead off the sixth.  Alex Presley pinch-hit, and also went deep.  Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer later in the inning to put the Pirates up 9-5.

Brad Lincoln came in for three shutdown innings, striking out four and giving up just one hit.  The weak Cardinals bullpen really struggled against the hot Bucs offense.  Casey McGehee drove in a run, and Pedro walked with the bases loaded to make it 11-5.  In case there was any chance of the Cards coming back, Cutch hammered a three-run home run in the ninth off of Marc Rzepcynski to put the Bucs up 14-5.

Chris Resop pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, and the Pirates won by nine – the largest margin of victory in 2012.  They also now have a run differential of +3, and have scored the most runs in the NL in June.  This was win #41, which is exactly halfway to a winning season.  A very satisfying victory, and a fun game to watch.  Hopefully there’s still some offense to go around tomorrow at 2:15.

Pirates (41-35) – Cardinals (40-37)

Win: Correia (4-6)
Loss: Wainwright (6-8)


Go Bucs


Series Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals

June 29, 2012 8:15 pm
June 30, 2012 2:15 pm
July 1, 2012 2:15 pm

Busch Stadium

Probable Pitchers
Kevin Correia (3-6, 4.03 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-7, 4.32 ERA)
Jeff Karstens (0-2, 6.35 ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (10-3, 3.23 ERA)
Erik Bedard (4-8, 4.27 ERA) vs. Jake Westbrook (6-6, 3.77 ERA)

Series Notes
The third-place Cardinals are one and a half games out of first place in the Central with a record of 40-36; the second-place Pirates are one game out of first at 40-35. Kevin Correia is 1-1 with a 3.16 ERA over his last three starts… Correia is 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA in his career vs. St. Louis… Adam Wainwright has a 3.02 ERA over his last eight starts and has allowed two or fewer earned runs in seven of his last 10 outings… Wainwright went seven innings and picked up the win as the Cards beat the Pirates, 10-7, on May 1st… Current Pirates hitters own a .274 batting average off Wainwright: Andrew McCutchen is 7-for-18 with a triple and a pair of doubles; Casey McGehee is just 1-for-15… Jeff Karstens allowed six runs in his return from the disabled list on Monday against Philadelphia… Karstens is 1-2 with a 4.13 ERA in his career vs. StL… Lance Lynn‘s ERA jumped from 2.42 to 3.23 over his past two starts, neither of which lasted more than 5 1/3 innings… Lynn is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA against the Pirates this season… Erik Bedard is two strikeouts away from 1,000 for his career… Bedard has lost four consecutive road games… Jake Westbrook is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his last three outings… Westbrook is 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA this season against the Bucs… Lance Berkman (right knee) and Chris Carpenter (right shoulder) are on the disabled list but both could come back by late July… Carlos Beltran leads the Cards in home runs (20) and runs batted in (59; Yadier Molina leads in batting average (.316); Rafael Furcal leads in runs (51) and stolen bases (9)… Andrew McCutchen leads the Pirates in batting average (.336), runs (42), home runs (14, tied with Pedro Alvarez), RBI (48), stolen bases (14), etc.

Go Bucs

Starling Marte’s Encouraging Month of June

Starling Marte, the Pirates’ top position player prospect, is enjoying a great month of June. After a slow May in which he hit just .236, Marte is showing signs of encouragement with his play this month. With Jose Tabata struggling and a trip to Indy not out of the question, some fans want Marte called up to the big leagues. After sending some tweets about Starling’s recent production, we received an overwhelming response. Here’s a sample of the tweets that were sent our way:

And here’s why: as Tabata continues to slump (just four hits in his last 25 at-bats), Marte is heating up. Here’s Marte’s month-by-month breakdown this season at Indy:

April 23 0.276 2 9 0.351 0.483
May 24 0.236 2 10 0.274 0.382
June 27 0.304 4 27 0.356 0.554

June has been Marte’s best month by far, as he’s hit a solid .304/.356/.554. He’s doubled his home run total, and has driven in more runs than the first two months combined. He’s been particularly hot as of late:

The only problem is that the Pirates might not be ready to pull the trigger with Marte. They took their time with Andrew McCutchen, allowing him to play 201 games at the Triple-A level before recalling him after the Nate McLouth deal in June of ’09. They rushed Pedro Alvarez in June of 2010 when they were desperate for offense, and kept him in Indy for just 66 games before his MLB debut. As of late, the organization has been careful before promoting their prospects from level to level (especially with pitchers, although that doesn’t affect Marte). Starling has played 73 games for Indianapolis this season, so they probably aren’t interested in rushing him and hurting his development.

Still, if he continues to play well, we could see him sooner rather than later. The promotion of Marte should have more to do with his production than the failures of Jose Tabata. The struggles of Tabata shouldn’t dictate a call-up; the steady, strong play of Marte should. However, anything can happen, and the Bucs need to keep their options open. The trade deadline is looming, and everything will unfold in the coming days/weeks. The Indians close out the month of June with Toledo on Friday at 7:15 and Louisville on Saturday at 6:05. Hopefully Starling Marte will end June as he started it and begins July with a bang.

Series split in Philly

Despite some shaky work by the bullpen, the Pirates were able to hang on this afternoon to split the four game series at Citizens Bank Park.  A five-run first inning was all that was needed to out-score the Phillies.

After Garrett Jones knocked in a run to make it 1-0 in the first, Casey McGehee clobbered a three-run bomb to put up an early four-spot.  Pedro Alvarez then took Kyle Kendrick deep for his 14th home run (leading all third basemen), and A.J. Burnett had a 5-0 lead before even throwing a pitch.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, Kendrick was dominant after the first, only giving up one hit from second-sixth innings.  Burnett turned in another impressive start, but the Phillies started to chip into the lead.  Former Bucco Erik Kratz hit a two-run home run in the second, and Placido Polanco drove in a run on a groundball that was too slow to be a double play.  A.J. started the seventh, and struck out the first two batters before walking Jimmy Rollins.  He was yanked for Juan Cruz who walked the first batter he faced on four pitches.  Shane Victorino flew out to end the threat, and the 5-3 lead was still in tact.

GI Jones hit a towering fly ball in the top of the eighth that hit something above the wall, and bounced back on to the field.  After review, it was ruled a double and he had to stay at second.  The Bucs couldn’t take advantage though, stranding Jones at second.

The bottom of the eighth was a doozy.  Heart Attack City for Pirates fans.  Hunter Pence leads off against Jason Grilli and takes him deep to make it 5-4.  Grilli plunked the next guy, and then got Ty Wigginton, another former Bucco great, to strike out.  With Jim Thome, looming in the on-deck circle, Grilli served up a single and the Phillies had runners on first and second.  Thome took a huge cut the first pitch he saw – a 95 MPH fastball – and absolutely crushed it down the right field line.  Just foul.  He fouled off another fastball, and then whiffed on a third one to strike out.  But the inning was still far from over, with the NL’s leading hitter coming up next.  Carlos Ruiz, who got the day off, pinch hit.  Down 0-2, Ruiz fisted a popup in foul territory, and Casey McGehee made a running catch, diving two rows deep in to the stands to get out of the inning.

The Phillies got a runner to third in the ninth, but Joel Hanrahan got a flyout to end the game and earn the save.  A.J. got his eighth straight win, and the offense put up five runs without any help from Cutch, who went 0-5.

Pirates (40-35) – Phillies (36-42)

Win: Burnett (9-2)
Loss: Kendrick (2-8)
Save: Hanrahan (20)


Go Bucs

McKenry’s short, but impressive home run list

Pirates’ backup catcher Michael McKenry doesn’t hit home runs often, but when he does, they are usually hit off of high-profile pitchers. Not only has “The Fort” supplied the Bucs with power over the past few games in which Rod Barajas has been down with injury, but he’s also supplying some solid production. Coming into the Philadelphia series, McKenry was hitting just .174 in 25 games. However, he has gone 7 for 11 (.636 avg) in the past three games, and boosted his batting average to .237 for the season. Manager Clint Hurdle said, “He’s really showed up well. We needed him.” It’s great to see some production from the light-hitting, backup catcher. Here’s a look at all seven of his major league home runs.

1. 7/8/11 Video HERE.
Pitcher: Carlos Marmol
His first Major League HR was a big one- it came off Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol in the bottom of the eighth in a tie ballgame. PNC Park was rocking and rolling on a Friday night as the Bucs were getting hot at the beginning of July. Michael McKenry was the hero, and became a fan-favorite because of it.

2. 7/26/11 Video HERE.
Pitcher: Tommy Hanson
Fort’s next home run came in the second inning of a game that will go down in history. Six hours later, McKenry was involved in a play at the plate that is a bit too familiar for Pirates fans. It was a physically and emotionally draining game for the Bucs, and they never recovered from it.

3. 4/12/12 Video HERE
Pitcher: Chris Capuano
McKenry’s first homer of the 2012 campaign came at Dodger Stadium. He crushed Capuano’s 2-1 offering to deep center field.

4. 5/15/12 Video HERE
Pitcher: Josh Johnson
His next HR was hit in the brand new Marlins Ballpark against hard-throwing right-hander, Josh Johnson. McKenry lined JJ’s 0-1 offering over the left field wall.

5. 5/21/12 Video HERE
Pitcher: Johan Santana
Another big time homer for the Fort came on May 21st when he tied the game against Johan Santana and the Mets. The Pirates went on to win the game, 5-4.

6. 6/26/12 Video HERE
Pitcher: Jonathan Papelbon
McKenry launched a homer off Philadelphia’s lethal closer to pull the game within one run; however, too many miscues cost the Bucs a chance to win.

7. 6/27/12 Video HERE
Pitcher: Raul Valdes
After an early 2-0 deficit, the Pirates answered quickly with McKenry’s 3-run blast in the top of the second inning. The Bucs went on to win, 11-7.

The Fort doesn’t supply too much power, but five homers is pretty solid from a backup catcher. However, it’s not just the home runs he’s hitting, but it’s the pitchers he’s hitting them against; some of the guys on the list are top pitchers in the league. Carlos Marmol and Chris Capuano have both been all-stars. Tommy Hanson is one of the best young pitchers in the game; in his short career, he’s 40-26 with a 3.33 ERA (8-4, 3.54 ERA in 2012). Josh Johnson has been to two All-Star Games. Johan Santana, who’s arguably the best pitcher on the list, is a four-time all-star, two-time Cy Young Award winner, and tossed the Mets’ first no-hitter in franchise history last month. Jonathan Papelbon is also a four-time all-star, and won a World Series ring in 2007.

McKenry has been labeled as a “scrappy” player, and just by looking at the list of pitchers he’s gone yard against, he seems to be deserving of the title. At 5’10”, 215, he may not be the biggest player on the diamond, but he’s definitely a battler. He’s just a .216 lifetime hitter, but he sure gives it his all. Not sold? Just look at this list of pitchers. There probably aren’t too many players that can say they’ve hit homers off the likes of Johan Santana, Josh Johnson, Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Marmol, etc. Hopefully McKenry can keep battling against tough pitchers when he gets his opportunities.