Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: “Because It’s (Freakin’) True.”


Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates

If the St. Louis Cardinals are the Italian mafia, with a grip on the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds are the jack-booted thugs hired to decapitate the Pirate Parrot, and leave the feathery head in the batting practice ball bucket.

The Pittsburgh Pirates opened their season against the Reds, who swept the series. Two of those games were walk-offs (Sounds familiar?). Since then, the Bucs’ offense hasn’t gained traction. In fact, it’s been almost bald. The supposed vaunted line-up entered the early May weekday series against the Reds lugging the 26th ranked OPS in baseball at .636. Their batting average was .068 lower than league average.

Andrew McCutchen has spun his cleats in the mud. In April, he batted .194, with a .302 OBP and .333 slugging percentage. Advance metrics also indicate his acceleration has worsened in the field. Remember, just because he’s made some terrific-looking diving catches recently doesn’t mean that another center fielder – let alone (an uninjured) Cutch of years past – wouldn’t have raced to the ball quicker and made said catch more routinely.

Anyways, the Reds arrived at PNC Park in a struggle for third place with the Pirates in the NL Central. Both teams look up at the Redbirds and the Chicago Cubs.

With the way the Houston Astros are playing, both teams should be thankful for realignment.

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Game 1:

Cat lovers will tell you that cats don’t clean themselves when they are sick or injured.

I can’t help but wonder if Andrew McCutchen is showering after games these days?

Cutch struggled again at the plate, going 0-4. He couldn’t seem to square-up anything on the outer half of the plate. “I’m sick and tired of going 0 for freakin’ 4,” as the man himself so eloquently stated after the game.

Then again, the entire team managed all of three hits against Reds right-hander Michael Lorenzen (previously 0-1, 5.40 ERA), in only his second major league start. One hit was a Starling Marte home run, his seventh of the season. That was all there was to cheer about, besides the fact that the game didn’t go into extra innings and end in heartbreaking fashion (again). Starter Jeff Locke gave up four runs in the first two innings, allowing home runs to Bucs-killer Todd Frazier and Marlon Byrd.

Like the rest of the locks in Pittsburgh, Jeff is in disrepair.

The Pirates’ time of death was about 7:30pm, even though the game mercilessly slogged on for hours more, without a pulse.

This was one of those games that I began watching — from Rialto Pizza with family in tow– from the first pitch. However, by time we arrived home in the fourth inning, I de-valued the game to elevator music. In a slump such as the one in which the Pirates are mired – having lost six of seven– this fan feels like abandoning ship when the opposition gains a three-run lead, and the Pirate offense is obviously listless. I sat on the deck with the radio on for a few more innings, but my mind was too easily distracted watching blackbirds squabble over the hanging suite, and scrolling through the literary wasteland of Facebook status updates.

Francisco Cervelli batted second. Stat-heads claim that the second spot in the batting order should be claimed by a team’s best hitter because he will gain extra at-bats. I agree. So why is Cervelli batting second? The Pirates might be forward thinking in many respects, but they are of an old-school mindset in others. Jung Ho Kang got the start at third base. Jay-Nay was gifted a “work day” (read: day off because you stink right now) by Clint Hurdle.

Speaking of Kang, the bat rocketed out of his hands after a swing-and-miss for the second game in a row. Remember Gallagher, the comedian, who smashes the watermelons with a giant sledgehammer? Audience members seated in the first several rows of a Gallagher concert are given an over-sized clear plastic tarp to cover themselves from watermelon splatter. Pirates’ ticket holders with seats within the first 20 rows of the left field foul line, between home plate and third base, should be given Spartan-like shields to protect themselves from projectile Kang bats.

Congratulations, Kang, on a two-game slipping streak.

Game 2:

Remember last season Clint Hurdle’s arduous journeys from the dugout to the mound, or to the home plate umpire to challenge a call? His hip was dire. He looked like a deer that had just been lambasted by a Ford Escape, and was hobbling to the nearby woods to keel over and die alone. I bet he strained greatly to hide his self-imposed torture, to avoid wincing in pain every step in front of 35k people.

Last season’s gammy Clint Hurdle was/is the physical manifestation of this season’s Pittsburgh Pirates offense.

Cat lovers will tell you that cats don’t clean themselves when they are sick or injured. I can’t help but wonder if Andrew McCutchen is showering after games these days?

McCutchen continues to struggle. His maniacal smile after smacking a late-inning base hit tells the tale. A Trib Review blog gets in-depth about Cutch’s recent troubles. One telling stat – he’s hit only one opposite field line drive all season. In fact, his line drive rate is 9.6 percent so far this season, down from a career mark of 20.2 percent. Yikes! Other observations of his play perhaps indicate a meniscus injury, which might affect lateral movement, and the ability to square up breaking balls.

I worked overtime – at my professional day job — throughout the majority of the game, and didn’t begin watching until the top of the eighth inning. If only I would’ve stayed at work another half hour. Yes, I’d rather toil after hours in the workplace than watch one Pirate batter after another exit the batter’s box in the opposite direction of the first base line.

The Pirates did not score. The Pirates did not win. Gerrit Cole only lasted five innings, and gave up three runs. Mike Leaked on the feet of the Buc’s batting order.

Jung Ho Kang received my game ball, only because he had two hits, including a legged-out double against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth. Hooray for you, dude in the Nexen Heroes jersey – the lone fan cheering among the unfilled seats and scattered emotional shells wearing Pirates hats.

The Pirates are 0-8 versus the Cardinals and Reds.

Game 3:

The picture says it all.

The Pittsburgh Pirates finally….finally came to with an 11-hit, 7-2 win. Andrew McCutchen broke through with a three-hit performance, which boosted his batting average back over the Mendoza line. Neil Walker and Chris Stewart also had multi-hit games. And A.J. Burnett can hold off on pouring itch powder in the position players’ jock straps, earning his first win of the season after pitching seven innings and only giving up two runs. His season ERA stands at 1.66.

The Pirates even managed to take seven walks, a season high.

A baseball enthusiast’s best friend — the handheld radio — tagged along in the front pocket of my tee shirt during a walk through the bustling Squirrel Hill business district. The first inning set the scene for a passive aggressive  squabble between Greg Brown and Steve Blass. With Neil Walker on third, Pedro Alvarez hit a chopper to the infield. Walker charged to the plate, but got caught in a rundown. McCutchen didn’t budge from second, and watched Walker get tagged out. Greg Brown was beside himself because Cutch didn’t break for third while Walker was playing monkey in the middle. But Blass chimed in immediately and said that Cutch probably made the wise choice by staying on second, because the ball was so often close to third base while Walker was in the rundown, and Cutch risked getting caught too. “Just an opinion,” Blass said. Clearly, he disagreed with his booth-mate. Brown reiterated his position, as did Blass. On the next pitch, McCutchen stole third. Brown walloped Blass with a not-so-subtle, “He stole third because he realized he should’ve been there anyway.” Blass didn’t respond on the air, but I imagine he flipped Brownie the bird behind his back. Or, maybe, in front of his back.

I dig the occasional awkward disagreements between broadcasts partners. Most times, I think the disputing parties would drop their tact without an audience eavesdropping. And I bet broadcasters squabble quite harshly during commercial breaks quite often.

Face it, it’s only a matter of time before Greg Brown and Steve Blass go fisticuffs. Old school versus older school. Imagine looking up into the booth during the seventh inning stretch, and Blass has Brownie in a headlock. “He should’ve stayed at third, dammit. Cannonball coming,” Blass says before he delivers a gut punch.

Static overcame what had been a crisp radio transmission during the fifth inning when the Pittsburgh Pirates added a few more runs. I caught bits of a conversation about a Clint Hurdle garden gnome locked in a cabinet in the booth. Why Brown and Blass enslaved a gnome, I can only guess.

After the game, Andrew McCutchen was interviewed on the field. I can do without these interviews because I always sense that the players just want to unwind in the clubhouse, but instead they’re made to answer clumsy questions in front a hundred or so fans who, apparently, don’t have work or school in the morning.

Robby Incmikoski asked Cutch something like, “You said that, after you start to hit, the rest of the league better watch out. Why did you say that?”

Cutch, who’d previously looked weary and disinterested, answered with a stoic, “Because it’s true.”

Godspeed, back deckers.

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