Can Pedro Alvarez become a more consistent hitter?

Throughout his three major league seasons, Pedro Alvarez has been a very streaky hitter. He grinds through long slumps where he looks totally clueless at the plate, but also has his share of hot streaks where he looks unstoppable. Can Pedro find a spot right in the middle and become more consistent? Manager Clint Hurdle said, “He sure shrinks the ballpark when he puts the barrel on the ball. Time will tell.”  Pedro has hit four home runs over the past two games, and time certainly will tell if he’ll find more consistency or if it’s just another hot streak. Here’s a look at how Alvarez has been hot and cold this season.

After a miserable 2011 campaign in which he hit .191 with 4 HR and 19 RBI in 74 games, Pedro started right where he left off. In the first eight games of 2012, El Toro hit .042 (1 for 24). His lone hit was a home run that came in the third game of the season. It was an absolute bomb off Vance Worley that cleared the right field stands at PNC.

Starting on April 18th in Arizona, Pedro went on a tear. In the next 14 games, he hit .367 (18 for 54) with 6 HR and 14 RBI. From April 18th to May 4th, he had an astounding OPS of 1.124. This hot streak brought his batting average up to .260, his highest mark of the season.

However, Alvarez started to cool off. In his next 15 games, from May 5th to May 20th, Pedro hit just .106 (5 for 47) with 0 HR and 2 RBI. He had just a .149 slugging percentage in those games, and struck out a whopping 24 times. His batting average stumbled all the way to .200 for the year.

Pedro went on a quick six-game hot streak from May 21st to May 28th; the Pirates were 5-1 in those six ballgames. He hit .292 (7 for 24) with a homer, 3 doubles, and 7 RBI. This brought his average up 15 points to .215.

Despite a solid stretch, he once again started to slide. In 12 games, from May 29th to June 15th, Alvarez hit .098 (4 for 41) with no homers, one run batted in, and 13 strikeouts. His average sunk to .189 and fans were calling for a demotion to Triple-A…

…but now there is hope. El Toro looked like a monster the past two days at Progressive Field. On Saturday, he went 2 for 4 with two homers and three RBI. On Sunday, he went 3 for 4 with two homers, a double, and six RBI. Total, he was 5 for 8 (.625) with 4 HR and 9 RBI. In just two games, he managed to raise his average 18 points, from .189 to .207.

Can Alvarez keep it up? Obviously he can’t hit two home runs every game, but the Pirates would tremendously benefit from consistent production. Get this: the Bucs are 15-4 in games that Pedro drives in a run; they are 6-1 when he has more than one RBI. Just a little bit goes a long way. When you have Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting .325, batting a few spots in front of you, chances are you’ll have plenty of opportunities to score some runs. The only question is if you have the ability to cash in, and Pedro needs to step up and consistently produce.

This will probably just be another hot streak for Pedro, but hopefully it will last a few more days. The Twins, who have the highest ERA in the American League (5.12), are coming to town for a three game series. Alvarez’s confidence has to be sky-high right now, and hopefully he’ll keep it up. If we were Clint Hurdle, we would definitely not put him back at the cleanup spot just because he’s hot. He struggled in that spot (12 for 86, .140 avg) and there’s no reason to put pressure on him. This season, Alvarez has batted .375 (9 for 24) out of the fifth spot in the lineup, and a respectable .255 (12 for 47) out of the sixth spot. He’s produced more from the lower spots and you need to keep him where he’s comfortable. While it will be easy to get frustrated with Alvarez when he cools off again, we all need to remember that he’ll probably go on another tear in the near future. Still, it’d be great if he can eliminate some of these streaks and become a consistent hitter.

El Toro strikes again…AND AGAIN

The rubber match in Cleveland this afternoon went to the Bucs, thanks in large part the offense and bullpen.  Brad Lincoln made another start with Jeff Karstens still rehabbing, and once again got shelled.  He gave up a run in each of the first two innings, but after Asdrubal Cabrera made an error to keep the inning alive in the third, Pedro Alvarez launched a three-run shot to RF to give the Pirates the lead.

Lincoln, of course, couldn’t keep the lead and gave up an RBI double to Shin-Soo Choo.  That was it for him; after just 4.2 innings.  Tony Watson got the last two outs of the inning, and then the Bucs broke it wide open in the fifth.  Alex Presley tied it with a solo homer, and Neil Walker drew a one-out walk.  Andrew McCutchen hit a ground-rule double, and Garrett Jones was intentionally walked.  Casey McGehee hit in to what should have been a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play, but instead everyone was safe and two runs scored when Cabrera first booted the grounder, and then slapped it past the second baseman.  He was charged with two errors on the play, and the Bucs took a 6-4 lead.  After an Indians pitching change, Pedro struck again with his second three-run home run of the game, pushing the lead to 9-4.  Pedro became the first Pirate two drive in six runs in a game since Andy LaRoche did it in September of 2009, and the first Pirate to do it on the road since Daryle Ward in August of 2004.

From there, it was just the Pirates bullpen finishing off the last few innings.  Jared Hughes pitched two innings and gave up a run, while Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan pitched the eighth and ninth respectively.  El Toro just missed his third homer of the day on a double off the wall, and finished the 3-4.  With the 9-5 win, the Bucs took the series at Progressive Field.  Pedro’s big day was great to see, and hopefully his success at the plate continues.  The bullpen’s 5.2 innings were huge after Lincoln’s poor outing, and the off day on Monday should help them get some rest.

This week will be the last six interleague games of 2012, and then it’s back to National League baseball.

Pirates (34-31) – Indians (33-32)

Win: Watson (4-0)
Loss: (4-6)


Go Bucs

Toro strikes twice in win over Tribe


Our trip to Cleveland was capped off with a nice win by the Bucs to snap their losing skid. A.J. Burnett took the mound at Progressive Field, and got off to a rocky start.  He gave up a solo homer to Asdrubal Cabrera in the first, and put runners on first and second.  Johnny Damon popped up to shallow right field, and it looked like it would drop for an RBI single.  Instead, Neil Walker made a nice over-the-shoulder catch to limit the damage to just one run.

Pedro Alvarez tied the game in the second with an absolute missile off of Tribe starter Ubaldo Jimenez.  Garrett Jones gave the Bucs the lead with an RBI single to RF in the third, and it lasted until the fifth when Casey Kotchman tied it again with a solo home run.  Other than the two solo shots, Burnett pitched masterfully, going 6.2 innings and getting out of a few jams.

Casey McGehee launched his third homer of the year in the sixth, a two-run shot to left to put the Pirates up 4-2.  Alex Presley tacked on a solo shot of his own in the seventh, but the lead was in danger in the bottom half of the frame.  Burnett was pulled after giving up a double and a walk, and Jared Hughes came out in relief to get the last out.  He got Jason Kipnis, the Indians’ RBI leader, to fly out and escaped the inning.  Once again, Hughes got a huge out in relief, just like he’s done all year.

With two outs in the ninth, it looked like Joel Hanrahan would be needed to get the save.  But after Nick Hagadone gave up a single to Matt Hague to put runners on second and third, McGehee made it 7-2 with a bloop single to right.  Pedro stepped up, and took the first pitched he saw (off a LHP, no less) way out to right center to really break the game open at 9-2.  The inning wasn’t over there, though, because the Bucs drew three straight walks (including Clint Barmes on four straight balls).  Unfortunately, Presley was a victim of one of the most embarrassing plays in baseball – making two outs in the one inning.  Thankfully, leaving the bases loaded didn’t hurt the Pirates and Doug Slaten pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to get the 9-2 win, and the jolly roger was raised in Cleveland.

The home runs today were great to see.  Some instant offense is always welcomed, especially off the bat of Pedro.  Burnett pitched like an ace, stepping up big to stop the losing streak.  He’s now won his last six starts, the first Pirates pitcher to do so since Doug Drabek in 1990.

Pirates (33-31) – Indians (33-31)

Win: Burnett (7-2)
Loss: Jimenez (6-5)


Go Bucs

More trouble in AL parks

The bats fell asleep in C-Town tonight, getting shut out for the sixth time this year.  Coming off being swept by the Orioles, it was clear that James McDonald would need to step up with a big start to stop the losing skid.  J-Mac did his part, but the offense just couldn’t pick up the slack.

Carlos Sanatana drove in the only run off of McDonald in the third on a soft ground ball that snuck past third base for a double.  In the eighth, Jason Grilli was able to strike out two batters, but also walked two.  Juan Cruz came out to get the last out of the inning, which was a questionable move by Clint Hurdle.  Michael Brantley singled to center, putting the Indians up 2-0 and extending his hit streak to 22 games.

Tribe starter Justin Masterson pitched 7 great innings, but the Pirates had their share of chance to put some runs on the board.  Garrett Jones stranded a runner on second in the first inning, and Jose Tabata struck out with the bases loaded in the fourth.  Neil Walker led off the sixth with a double, and got to third on a groundout.  All Jones had to do was get the ball to the outfield or past the drawn-in infielders, but instead popped out.  Casey McGehee couldn’t drive him in, and the leadoff double was wasted.  Alex Presley left two runners on in the seventh, and Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez closed out the game for the Indians.

McDonald’s 6 innings of 3-hit ball weren’t enough, which is a shame.  His ERA is now 2.32, still one of the best in the game.  If there was one highlight of the game for the Bucs it was Alex Presley making a nice running catch on Jack Hannahan, and then firing home to get Johnny Damon trying to tag from third.

Game two of the “rivalry series” is tomorrow (today) at 4:05.  We’ll be there, and so will a lot of other Bucco fans, and possibly other bloggers.  A.J. Burnett will try to stop the losing streak, and will face Ubaldo Jimenez.

Pirates (32-31) – Indians (33-30)

Win: Masterson (3-6)
Loss: McDonald (5-3)
Save: Perez (21)


Go Bucs

2012 AL Central Preview

Chicago White Sox

2011 Recap – The 2011 White Sox finished the season 79-83, in third place in the AL Central.  While the record doesn’t really show it, 2011 wasn’t a great year in the South Side.  GM Ken Williams brought in Adam Dunn to lead the offense, but the big bopper only hit 11 home runs and hit .159.  The lone offensive bright spot was veteran first baseman Paul Konerko.  The All-Star hit an even .300 with 31 bombs and 105 RBI.  The $70 million man  Alex Rios had another disappointing season, with only 13 homers.  On the mound, the pitching really suffered because of the poor offensive support.  Lefty John Danks wasn’t as great as he was in 2010, and only had a record of 8-12 to show for it.  Other starters included Jake Peavy, Phillip Humber, and Gavin Floyd, who all hovered around a .500 record and had ERAs 3.75 and above.

Offseason Recap – The two biggest moves of the offseason for the ChiSox were firing manager Ozzie Guillen and replacing him with Robin Ventura, and extending John Danks‘ contract.  Danks is considered the ace of the staff, and locking the 26 year old up for five years and $65 million was considered a very good move.  Just weeks before extending Danks though, closer Sergio Santos was traded to Toronto in return for prospects.  The trade was widely criticized considering that Santos was under team control for a few more years and wasn’t a financial burden.  The only other major move made was signing outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.

2012 Outlook – Robin Ventura should add a sense of calmness and relaxation to the White Sox clubhouse, which many believed was missing when fiery Ozzie Guillen was manager.  The 2012 season for the team will depend entirely on how slugger Adam Dunn and former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy perform.  If Dunn can get back to his old 40+ homer and 110 RBI self to go along with Konerko, Gordon Beckham, A.J. Pierzynski, and Alexei Ramirez, the team shouldn’t have trouble putting runs on the board.  And although Peavy isn’t throwing 97 with movement like he was in 2007, he can still be very effective and be a good number two starter behind Danks.  If Peavy, Danks, and Floyd can all have bounce back seasons, the top part of the rotation will be solid.  It’s important to point out that GM Williams has already said that the club is in a rebuilding mode, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see anyone traded in 2012.  It’s also important to note that Peavy, Danks, and Dunn and all huge “if’s”.  A lot will have to go right if the White Sox want to compete for a Wild Card spot.

Manager – Robin Ventura
General Manager – Kenny Williams

Cleveland Indians

2011 Recap – The Indians were one of the surprising teams in 2011, finishing 80-82.  The Tribe started out extremely well, lead by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and hung around .500 for the whole year.  To go along with a breakout year by catcher Carlos Santana, who hit 27 bombs, Cabrera slugged .460 with 25 homers and 92 RBI.  Justin Masterson was the leader of the staff, winning 12 games with a 3.21 ERA.  To try to make a run for the division, the Indians traded for Ubaldo Jimenez at the trade deadline, but he wasn’t able to live up to his 2010 performance.

Offseason Recap – There weren’t many glaring holes in the roster for the Indians, but the places where improvements could be made were addressed in the offseason.  First baseman Casey Kotchman was signed to provide solid defense and a power bat against righties.  Outfielder Ryan Spilborghs was brought in to also be a solid defender and provide a consistent bat off the bench.  In the rotation, Derek Lowe was traded over from Atlanta, and Kevin Slowey was signed.  Lowe is one of the best sinker-ballers of his time and will provide stability in the rotation.  Slowey, a native of Upper St. Claire, has pitched in the playoffs a few times and will also provide consistency at the back end of the rotation.

2012 Outlook – This is a team with a lot of potential, both in the lineup and in the rotation.  Expect Santana to continue to improve, and Travis Hafner to provide a lot of pop in the lineup.  Asdrubal Cabrera probably won’t have the same type of season he had last year, but look for him to make more ridiculous defensive plays and drive in some runs.  Second baseman Jason Kipnis made his debut last year, and look for him to continue to improve offensively and defensively.  Shin-Soo Choo is a player who people say is the next five tool player, but he has yet to reach his full potential.  Now that the pressure of joining the Korean army is off him, he could also have a breakout year.  Look for Masterson, Jimenez, Lowe, Slowey, and Josh Tomlin to be a solid rotation, while Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano close out games in the back of the bullpen.  The Indians are set to return to the playoffs as long as they can get everyone to reach their full potential at once.

Manager – Manny Acta
General Manager –  Chris Antonetti

Detroit Tigers

2011 Recap – Detroit went 95-67 in 2011, the only winning record in the division.  With a pitching staff lead by MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, and batting champion Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers had no trouble at all getting into the post season.  To go along with Verlander, pitchers Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello all had winning records.  Closer Jose Valverde was a perfect 49/49 in save opportunities, while Victor Martinez and Alex Avila all helped Cabrera pace the offense.  Unfortunately for the Tigers, their great season came to an end in the ALCS after losing game six.

Offseason Recap – Only one major acquisition this offseason for the Tigers.  First baseman Prince Fielder was signed to a nine year $214 million contract.  The signing came just days after it was announced that Victor Martinez would miss the entire year, which left a huge hole in the DH/1B slot in the lineup.  To accommodate for Fielder, Miguel Cabrera moved over to third base, giving the Tigers one of the most powerful first/third base tandem in the majors.

2012 Outlook – It’s really hard to look at this team and not say that they’ll win the division with ease.  While Verlander probably won’t have the same type of historic season he had last year, he’ll win around 18 games while Scherzer, Fister and Porcello will each win 10+ games.  The lineup will include Fielder, Cabrera, Avila, Delmon Young, Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson, and Jhonny Peralta.  Even in pitcher friendly Comerica Park, the team will put up some big run totals.  Of all the teams in the league, the Tigers might the only one that is almost a guaranteed lock to win their division.

Manager – Jim Leyland
General Manager –  Dave Dombrowski

Kansas City Royals

2011 Recap – While the Royals’ 71-91 record in 2011 might not show it, last year wasn’t all that bad.  A bunch of young  players like Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas all really started to develop and show what they can do.  Gordon really came into his own, hitting .303 with 23 homers.  Hosmer hit .293, while Jeff Francoeur and Billy Butler also had great seasons to pace the offense.  The Royals pitching staff, however, was very mediocre, with just about everynone finishing with an ERA of 4.25+.

Offseason Recap – Not a whole lot of moves made in the offseason, but the biggest one was bringing in left hander Jonathan Sanchez.  Former Dodger and 300 pounder Jonathan Broxton was brought in to be the closer, while Yuniesky Betancourt was signed to be a utility/backup infielder.

2012 Outlook – While the offense looks very promising, the pitching staff just isn’t good enough for the Royals to win in 2012.  Hosmer, Butler, Francoeur, Gordon, and Moustakas will all continue to develop together and get a lot better.  The rotation of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, and Felipe Paulino just won’t be enough to support the offense.  While 2012 may not be the year for Kansas City, there are a few top pitching prospects in the minors ready to make this a winning team within the next few years.

Manager – Ned Yost
General Manager –  Dayton Moore

Minnesota Twins

2011 Recap – 2011 was a huge disappointment up in the Twin Cities, with the Twinkies finishing 63-99.  Nothing seemed to go right at all for the team, with injuries up and down the lineup and below average performances from the pitching staff.  The M&M brothers combined to hit 7 home runs with 60 RBI, while injures held Joe Mauer to only 82 games and Justin Morneau to only 69.  The lone bright spot in 2011 for Minnesota was watching verteran Jim Thome reach the 600 home run milestone in mid-August.  Prior to 2011, the Twins had won their division six of the last nine years, and were a great model for how teams in small market cities could win.

Offseason Recap – There were lots of additions and subtractions to the Twins roster in the offseason.  Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome, and Jason Kubel all signed with other teams, leaving holes in the closer spot, the outfield, and the DH.  Jamey Carroll was brought in to be the starting shortstop, while Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit were signed to fill the other holes in the lineup.  Sean Burroughs was signed to be a utility infielder, and veteran starter Jason Marquis was signed to sure up the rotation.

2012 Outlook – It really doesn’t look very bright for the Twins this season.  Most experts believe that Mauer is no longer the star he was a few seasons ago, and he won’t be winning any more batting titles.  Morneau is still a powerful bat in the lineup, but he still has some nagging injuries that might prevent him from playing even 100 games.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham should provide steady offense and hit their share of doubles in pitcher friendly Target Field, while light hitting Carroll will provide steady defense.  Speedsters Ben Revere, Denard Span, and Alexi Casilla should all be fun to watch, but they’ll never get to score if the rest of the lineup doesn’t hit.  The starting staff is really full of number three and four guys, with the exception of Francisco Liriano.  He’ll be the key to the staff.  If he can emerge as the true ace, which he has shown glimpses of when he threw a no-hitter in 2011, then the Twins rotation might be alright.  Marquis, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Nick Blackburn will fill out the rest of the rotation.  Not having shutdown closer Joe Nathan anymore will definitely hurt the team, but Matt Capps should be able to do a decent job closing out games.  Overall, the Twins probably have the most question marks of any team in baseball, and it will take a bunch of players bouncing back for the Twins to return to their dominance over the Central.

Manager – Ron Gardenhire
General Manager –  Terry Ryan

Projected Standings
1. Tigers
2. Indians
3. Royals
4. White Sox
5. Twins