PirateFest dates announced

The Pirates announced today that PirateFest will be held the weekend of December 15-16. It will located at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, as usual. The festival will be open to the general public from noon to 7:00 pm on Saturday the 15th and from noon to 5:00 pm on Sunday the 16th. It appears that Friday will once again be opening night, exclusively for season ticket holders:

From pirates.com’s Fan Forum:

“Don’t miss free autographs from manager Clint Hurdle and your favorite Pirates, Q&A sessions with players, Pirates alumni and broadcasters, information on 2013 Pirates Season Ticket packages, youth baseball & softball clinics, games, contests, prizes and much more.”

Tickets will go on sale this Thursday, November 1st.

The question & answer session with Pirates management is always popular, and should be even more entertaining this year with ‘Hoka Hey’, the past two collapses, etc. The players were much more accessible and roaming the convention center floor last year (on Friday night at least), so hopefully that’s the case again. We’re looking forward to another fun PirateFest that aids our Bucco withdrawal.


Season in Pictures: June 2012

June 3rd, 2012
Andrew McCutchen is congratulated by Garrett Jones and James McDonald after knocking a two-run homer against Milwaukee. The Bucs started the month on the right foot by taking two of three from the Brew Crew.

June 7th, 2012
Michael McKenry flashes the Zoltan after driving in the go-ahead run in the tenth inning off Aroldis Chapman. It was Chapman’s first earned run of the season, and the Bucs won, 5-4.

June 10th, 2012
Jason Grilli and Rod Barajas celebrate the sweep of the Kansas City Royals. After a Cincinnati loss on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, the Pirates moved into first place.

June 16-17, 2012
Pedro Alvarez enjoyed two two-homer games in a row while the Pirates took the series from the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

June 21st, 2012
Clint Hurdle congratulates James McDonald on his first career complete game. The Pirates defeated the Twins, 9-1.

June 29th, 2012
Andrew McCutchen is greeted at home plate by Jose Tabata and Alex Presley after his three-run home run in the ninth inning. Cutch went 4 for 5 with three RBI, four runs scored, a homer, a double, and a walk, as the Bucs cruised to a 14-5 victory.

Bucs Bits: Pirates News and Notes 10/9/12

Some Bucco links from around the web:

Around the MLB:

Postseason games on Tuesday:
San Francisco Giants at Cincinnati Reds, 5:30 pm
Ryan Vogelsong vs. Homer Bailey
Detroit Tigers at Oakland A’s, 9:00 pm
Anibal Sanchez vs. Brett Anderson

Three months later

Shortly after Drew Sutton lifted the Bucs to an exhilarating victory over the Astros, Dejan Kovacevic wrote how “these aren’t Jerry Meals’ Pirates.” The date was July 3rd, and the Buccos were flying high. The 8-7 win pushed them to eight games over .500 for the first time in 20 years. Kovacevic wrote, “This team is touching peaks not seen in two decades, touching hearts that long ago gave up on baseball in these parts. It doesn’t deserve the digging up of negatives. It’s been too good, too resilient.”

Three months have come and gone since that special July night, as we sit here on October 3rd. The Pirates season is over; another disappointing summer in the books. A 20th consecutive losing season became official on Sunday afternoon as the Bucs squandered a late lead; a recurring theme in the second half. Much has changed over the last three months. They’ve been too bad; it’s time to dig up some negatives.

DK started right off the bat by saying, “This team is about James McDonald‘s cool, not another Jerry Meals collapse.” That’s the same James McDonald who showed zero cool in the second half, and saw his ERA climb from 2.37 to 4.21. J-Mac was so awful that he deserved a demotion to the bullpen. He made just one appearance out of the ‘pen, in which he allowed three runs without recording an out. He was a vital piece to yet another Jerry Meals collapse, as the Pirates dropped 37 of their final 54 games.

Next, “It’s about Drew Sutton, a minor-league journeyman twice disposed this year alone, crushing a hanging slider to walk off a hero. His eyes would well up later when he described “one of those baseball moments” that makes all the 14-hour bus rides worth it.” Sutton was disposed yet again, just weeks after his dramatic home run. Side note (totally unrelated to baseball talent) – Sutton was notorious for searching his own name on Twitter and oddly responding to fans:

He also enjoyed deleting such tweets, and eventually deleted his Twitter as a whole. Anyway, Sutton was canned after showing just a flash of success (much like his other two MLB stints of 2012). He went back to his 14-hour bus rides, before an injury ended his season.

Also, Dejan mentions, “It’s about the pitching, the sharpest and deepest we’ve seen since Doug Drabek,  John Smiley, Zane Smith, Randy Tomlin and Bob Walk in 1991. All to Neal  Huntington’s credit.” The pitching declined at the end of the year, just as it did in 2011. The sharp and deep staff – both the rotation and bullpen – took a serious hit in the second half, which caused major problems. The rotation was anchored by A.J. Burnett (more on him in a bit) and James McDonald (see above) during the first half, as well as lights out bullpen work from Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli. The ‘pen, which was one of the best in the league early on, saw some struggles during the latter portion of the year; even Grilli and Hanrahan had frustrating times on the hill. In addition, Neal Huntington – who was credited for piecing together a fine staff – is now unpopular among many fans. However, his job is seen as safe.

Kovacevic states, “It’s about A.J. Burnett, the pitcher and the person. If not for that 12-run  beating he absorbed May 2 to help spare the bullpen, his ERA would be 2.46, even  with this hiccup.” To Huntington’s credit, the A.J. Burnett trade was a steal of a deal. Still, Burnett couldn’t be perfect all year. He won just three games in 12 starts since the beginning of August. Although wins aren’t the best measure of a pitcher’s performance, A.J. wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in the first half.

Furthermore, “It’s about Clint Hurdle’s gem of a quote before the game about why Burnett has  taken to Pittsburgh: “He’s loved now. Norm used to like it when he walked into  Cheers, too.” Later, Dejan pens, “It’s about their boss. It’s Hurdle casually saying stuff like, “Our goal is to  re-bond this team with this city.” And meaning it.” Hurdle, who appeared to be the answer for the franchise, isn’t loved quite as much anymore. A man who was focused on re-bonding a city with their baseball team has failed at doing so (thus far). He wanted nothing more than his team to “finish” this season, but they’ve been far from it. From bunts to misusing his bullpen to all-around mis-managing, Hurdle infuriated the fan base on multiple occasions. What it boils down to is that he’s led the team to two straight collapses. While not all blame can be placed on one person – and it certainly shouldn’t be all on Hurdle – he’s certainly a focal point. He can provide gems of quotes, but is he still the man for the job? To put it in perspective, Hurdle has managed 10 MLB seasons; nine of those have been of the losing variety.

DK writes, “It’s about Andrew McCutchen, the team’s MVP and, as of those three hits  Tuesday, the National League leader with a .360 average… Those chants don’t seem far-fetched.” Cutch’s average peaked at .374, but slipped, slipped, and slipped some more with an abysmal August. He finished the month with a .252/.347/.346 triple-slash and just six extra-base hits. McCutchen’s power came back in September, but his average still in the .260’s for the month.  Don’t take it the wrong way – a .327 avg with 31 HR and 96 RBI is still an unreal season. But the team went as Cutch went; a pretty solid start, a phenomenal stretch, a disappointing finish. Those MVP chants soon died down.

Finally, the article describes,

 “…this 2012 season might end up having pivoted off a single pitch. You know which one. Eight days ago in Philadelphia. Brad Lincoln vs. Jim  Thome. The Pirates’ big lead was down to 8-7 in the seventh, two men on, two  outs, 0-2 count. The Same Old Pirates crumble there, sadly, meekly. But Lincoln reared back  and rifled 95-mph heat through Thome’s huge cut. It’s about that pitch. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” Lincoln said Tuesday. “But I know it was a big  moment. That’s why I got really emotional.”Yeah, there was that, too. Lincoln gestured slightly into a flexing pose  toward Thome, one he still insists “wasn’t aimed at him.” The two had a brief  staredown.”You know, we should really be past that,” Lincoln said. “Look at us. We  pitch, we play defense, we’re hitting now. We’re here, man. We’re not going  away.” Not this time.”

You know the script. Brad Lincoln, the pitcher who pivoted the season with one pitch, was dealt just weeks later. Yinzers believe it’s the worst trade in history because Lincoln’s having a good year and Snider is unproven. Sabermetricians and stat geeks think it’s a potential high-reward situation for the Pirates.

Regardless, it WAS the same old Pirates that prevailed. We pitch? 4.50+ ERA down the stretch. We hit? .229 team batting average in September. We field? Hmm… remember the seven errors in ONE GAME against the Cubs? Yikes. It’s crazy to reflect on the changes that occurred over the past three months. Down the stretch, it seemed like a completely different team than the one that stood waiting at home plate for Drew Sutton on July 3rd.

“‘We’re not going away.’ Not this time.” Well, they went away. They didn’t step up when it mattered most. Another embarrassing display of Pittsburgh baseball. Sad, really. And now they’re going away for real. The season’s over; no more Pirates baseball in 2012. PNC Park will sit still for six months. The stress and agony of being a Bucs fans can be pushed aside for a while. Hopefully next year will be different – less Jerry Meals talk, no 19 inning games – and maybe even a winning season (oh, please, don’t let the streak hit 21). But until then, it’s going to be a looong winter.

HOKA HEY – 179 days until Opening Day.

Five Reasons to Believe in the Pittsburgh Pirates

“…if we win, on our budget, with this team… we’ll have changed the game.” – Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), Moneyball

On April 4th, 2012, ESPN published the predictions of 50 “experts” for the MLB season. Unsurprisingly, not a single expert picked the Pirates to win the National League Central Division. But why would they? Who in their right mind would pick the Pittsburgh Pirates to win a division or even have a winning season? Pittsburgh hasn’t seen a winning team since 1992, but the 2012 Buccos are playing some of the best baseball that the Steel City has seen in two decades. The Bucs entered the break atop the NL Central, eleven games over the .500 mark. With the second half of the season set to begin on Friday in Milwaukee, baseball fans around the country are asking the same question: are the Pirates for real? Here are five reasons to believe in the Pittsburgh Pirates:

1. Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen, who has emerged as an MVP candidate, is having a phenomenal season. His .362 batting average ranks first in MLB; he leads the Pirates in all major offensive categories. Cutch carried the team in April and May, and remained on fire as the offense has heated up in June and July. He didn’t hit his first home run until May 8th, but has been raking since then. Since that day, he has hit .391/.439/.730 with 18 HR and 53 RBI in 56 games. Obviously it’s nearly impossible to sustain that pace, and his .407 batting average on balls in play demonstrates some luck. While a bit of regression is nearly inevitable, it’s unlikely that Cutch will suffer in the second half as he did in 2011.

2. The Schedule
The Pirates knocked out the toughest part of their season in April; they battled through and put themselves in a good position to succeed. The first 19 games of the second half are against teams with sub-.500 records, and the Bucs have beat up on opponents with losing records this year. While there are no guaranteed victories, they still have solid chances to win ballgames. Hopefully the Pirates can take advantage of the weaker schedule.

3. Pitching
Both the starting rotation and bullpen have been fantastic all season; pitching is the main reason for the Pirates success. James McDonald is having a breakthrough season, A.J. Burnett has bounced back, Jason Grilli has emerged as a stellar set-up man, etc. Now that the hitters have found a groove and the pitching has remained consistent, the Pirates have won games in bunches. The staff is built much better than last season, so a collapse is less likely. There are three strong southpaws in Triple-A (Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson) that can be called up if necessary. A starting pitcher may be acquired at the deadline to bolster the rotation.

Clint Hurdle signs an autograph for a fan on May 11th, 2012.

4. Clint Hurdle
The second-year manager of the Pirates is an extremely enthusiastic and upbeat person, and he’s the perfect man for the job. While Hurdle is praised in the tabloids and on television, we witnessed his livelihood in person back in May. We were privileged to sit a few rows off the field on May 11th, right next to the Pirates dugout. While the grounds crew, Parrot, and ROOT Sports personalities rushed by us, we were stunned when Clint Hurdle voluntarily came over to interact with fans. Young and old alike stood along the railing awaiting players to emerge from the dugout, but it was the manager who first approached. He shook hands, signed autographs, and thanked the fans for their support. It was an awesome moment, and he’s truly a class act. Hurdle wants Pittsburgh to see a winner; we are constantly reminded of how he wants to rebond the city with the Pirates. He’s a great manager for a young team, and knows what it takes to make the playoffs. Hurdle managed Colorado to the World Series just a few seasons ago. There will inevitably be a losing streak in the second half, but the Bucs will have to overcome adversity. Hopefully Hurdle can lift their spirits, and avoid a collapse like last season.

5. Deadline Deals/Moves
Bucs’ GM Neal Huntington takes plenty of criticism for some moves he has made, but we have faith in him at the trade deadline. He’s shown that he can go out and be a buyer, and he’s likely to make some deals this season. There have been rumors of hitters such as Justin Upton, Carlos Quentin, and Chase Headley that the Pirates may be interested in. It depends on if they want to go “all in” this season and give up some of their farm system, or if they want to keep top prospects and plan for the future. However, Huntington won’t be restricted to trade. As we mentioned above, the Pirates have three potential pitchers in AAA. They also have their top position player prospect, Starling Marte, waiting in the wings. Depending on what moves are made, we believe that they can seriously improve the roster at the deadline and make a push for the postseason.

Is this season just another dream for Pirates fans? Are we waiting for a playoff push, only to watch another second half collapse? We think the Pirates can be for real this season, but only time will tell. With one of the best young players in the game, an easier schedule, an improved staff, an experienced manager, and potential moves to strengthen the team, there are many reasons to believe in the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.

No team should strive for mediocrity, but Pittsburgh hasn’t seen winning baseball almost twenty years. Simply a winning season- just 82 wins- would be a step forward, but the playoffs aren’t out of the question. After Sunday’s 13-2 victory, A.J. Burnett said, “I’m proud to take the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates.” At the same time, we’ve never been more proud to be fans of this franchise, and no matter what happens in the second half, we’ll never forget this team. We believe in the Pittsburgh Pirates, and you should too.

Go Bucs