The Pittsburgh Pirates are the hottest team in baseball, having won 12 of their last 15 games. They have hopped over the St. Louis Cardinals into sole possession of second place in the N.L. Central, and heading into tonight’s Reds-Tigers match-up, the Bucs are only 1/2 game out of first place. For the first time this season, the National media have begun to take notice – Pirates stories have led off both ESPN Baseball Tonight and MLB Network’s MLB Tonight over the past week. I was at PNC Park this past weekend for the Pirates series against the Kansas City Royals, and it was a beautiful sight to see the ballpark filled to the rafters with Pirates fans of all ages. The 2011 team whet the appetite of Pittsburgh for winning baseball, and the 2012 team has done the same in quicker fashion. It is a great time to be a fan of this ballclub, so raise your jolly roger and enjoy this week’s version of Pirates Smorgasbord!
- Is there any doubt about how good a hire Clint Hurdle was as the Manager of the Pirates? Hurdle is not only a great in-game manager, he is also a fantastic motivator and seems to be able to get every last bit of ability out of his 25-man roster. Hurdle has an overall record of 103-117 as the Pirates skipper, and considering the downward spiral that plagued the 2011 team post-July, that is a respectable record for a second-year manager.
- The Pirates currently sit behind just the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves in the National League Wild Card standings. Yes, it’s only June 10 – but we know you’re watching the standings, because WE are watching the standings.
- 1B/RF Garrett Jones has seen his bat really come alive over the past few weeks as he has gradually taken back his starting spot in the lineup. Jones can be a player that carries this club offensively when he gets rolling, and he seems to have become a more rounded hitter under Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritchie. While Jones will always be a dead-pull hitter, seeing him hit some balls into right-center field shows progress. He has also seeing an average of three more pitches per at-bat than his career average, which is a sign of a hitter who has become more patient. With OF Jose Tabata struggling, and both Matt Hague and Casey McGehee doing the same, the Pirates are better off having Jones in the lineup every night. With his sweeping swing, Jones may never be able to hit lefties consistently, so hopefully one of the two other first baseman (Hague/McGehee) can get into a groove and be called upon to face tough southpaws.
- OF Alex Presley seems to have been reborn after being sent down to Indianapolis last month, and he came back to Pittsburgh as a player on a mission. At this point, Presley is the placeholder until uber-prospect Starling Marte is ready to make the jump, but if Presley can get his slash totals up to .270/.350/.348 from the lead-off spot, he will be an adequate lead-off hitter for this team. Presley needs to take more walks and continue to get on base ahead of Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen.
- Speaking of McCutchen, he is well on his way to one of the greatest overall seasons in Pittsburgh Pirates history. He is heading into 30/30 territory with 11 HR and 11 SB through Sundays game, and his 10 doubles, 3 triples, and 20 walks to only 46 Ks shows that he has fully developed and is ready to post a season that will forever be remembered in the Steel City. It is a travesty that “Cutch” has not been able to breach the top three in All Star balloting, so I ask you all to go to mlb.com and vote as many times as possible for McCutchen every day. If you are at the ballpark, spend a few innings punching those cards and turning them in. The Pirates center fielder is having an MVP-type season, and he deserves to be starting on July 10 in Kansas City.
- 2B Neil Walker has slowly begun his climb back into a reasonable batting average after starting the season down under the .220 mark. As of today, he is hitting .278 and is starting to pile up multi-hit games. Walker can be a big piece of this offense hitting out of the two-hole. The more baserunners the Bucs get on ahead of McCutchen, the better. Walker has continued to do interviews where he speaks fondly of the Pirates and playing in his hometown. He is as solid of an ambassador as the Pirates have to potential free agent targets in the future. Sean Casey better look out, Neil Walker might be taking over his nickname as “The Mayor”.
- The Pirates continue their Interleague schedule over the next few weeks, always a big challenge for the Bucs, who are built as a National League club as much as any in baseball. This week, the Pirates travel to Baltimore to face the surging Orioles in a 3-game set, then head to Cleveland to take on the Indians for three over next weekend. The Pirates will come home on June 18 and start a stretch of six home games against the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. That will wrap up Interleague play for the 2012 season for Pittsburgh.
- #65 Matt Mague, #69 Jordy Mercer, #62 Gorkys Hernandez – all have been on the roster for an extended time now and all sporting spring training-type numbers. Hopefully the Pirates can get all three of them a more appropriate number if they plan on having those players in Pittsburgh all summer.
- My favorite player, back-up catcher Michael McKenry, had a great moment the other night in the exciting win over the Reds. McKenry became the first hitter in 2012 to drive in a run off of flamethrowing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. While I have accepted that Rod Barajas is the right starting catcher for this club right now, I still feel that “The Fort” could eventually be the man behind the dish. Clutch hitting, great defense, and personality – all traits you find in solid major league catchers.
That’s your Pirates Smorgasbord for this week! Until next time, remember to VOTE PIRATES for the All Star Game and enjoy the success of your favorite baseball team!
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Topics: Alex Presley, All Star Game Voting, Andrew McCutchen, Clint Hurdle, Garrett Jones, Jose Tabata, Matt Hague, Michael McKenry, Neil Walker, NL Central, NL Wild Card, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Pirates Blog