Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pretenders or contenders

Clint Hudle needs better offensive options if his team
plans to stick around in the NL central race.
If the last two games against the St. Louis Cardinals have taught us anything, it's that the euphoria of first place can come to a screeching halt very quickly when the surprising starting pitching of the 2011 season looks more like the 2010 team. Paul Maholm allowed a four-spot in the first inning of Game 1 Friday night as the Bucs dropped a 6-4 decision and then Kevin Correia couldn't get out of the fifth inning before allowing seven runs in a 9-1 loss.

Starting pitching is the key to any success in baseball. Three of the top five teams in the National League are almost guaranteed of a playoff spot this season and it's only July. Both Philiadelphia and Atlanta appear to be shoe-ins already as the NL East-champ and NL wild card teams, barring a major collapse by either. San Francisco has the NL West right now by four games this morning and has some of the best starters in the league. The Bucs are fifth in pitching, leaving the No. 3 San Diego Padres pitching as the only team without much hope of the playoffs. 

The interesting observation is that three of these teams (Pittsburgh, San Francisco and San Diego) are also in the bottom three of the offenses in the NL.

San Francisco, the defending World Series champs, spend over $118 million on their club. The Pirates and Padres, combined for less than $90 million.

Names like Jeff Karstens, Correia, Maholm and Charlie Morton have overachieved to a point that the Pirates are just a game out of first place, despite having some of the worst offense in baseball. But the team could actually do something to solve this problem. There is offense to be bought on the open market.

Carlos Beltran could be had for $6 million and a mid-tier prospect. Carlos Pena could be at 1st baseman for Monday's game for a few million dollars and a Class A pitcher very likely. Catcher Ramon Hernandez could be had for a little more than $1 million at catcher if the Reds lose a a few more games in the standings. Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick....this team has options. It is projected that attendance will be up 500,000 for the season. That projection leads to around $10 million the team picked up that was unexpected.

So what's the excuse for not spending it on the product on the field? If it's signing draft picks Josh Bell and Gerrit Cole, that's one thing. If it is going into a big account that will eventually retain Andrew McCutchen for a long time, that'd be another thing as well.

But the Pirates aren't showing this loyal fan base much consideration when a full house shows up to see Steve Pearce in right field, Matt Diaz in left field and Brandon Wood at first base in the starting lineup. It's known that Alex Presley was out of the lineup with a thumb injury. Innjuries happen in baseball so that's understandable. It isn't understandable that the team is trotting out that lineup to a fan base that is supporting the team like it is a contender to tot out Brandon Wood at first base. If Presley hits the DL, what's next? Starling Marte from Double-A? Gorkys Hernandez from Triple-A?

It's time to play with the big boys and get some Major League talent. If the Pirates want this latest boom in attendance to grow, they have to continue to meet the expectations that they've set for themselves throught the first 95 games of the season. The average fan wants 82 wins this season, but after that, they'll want more. The crowds shown by the last 15 home games will come out but you have to give the team a chance to score runs with Major League hitters. And since there are so few in the current system, take the extra $10 million you weren't expecting and go get a few. July 31st is eight days away. This isn't the time for dropping eight of 10 and following out of it.

A shot in the arm to the offense would go a long way toward scoring more runs. The hitters would appreciate it and the pitchers and fans deserve it.

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