We start a 3 game series against the Pirates tonight. The Pirates are having a nice season, they are 39-38, in 4th place, but just 4 games back of the Brewers, who lead the division and just 1 game back from the Cardinals in second. They can thank us for that.
I sent off some questions to Charlie from SB Nation's popular Pirates blog Bucs Dugout and he was nice enough to give me some answers. I also did the same for him, but I was pretty long winded (yeah I know, it isn't a surprise). You try to answer a question about Edwin in less than 500 words. I dare you.
How's our old friend Lyle Overbay doing for you guys?
He looks over-the-hill. Or, excuse me, Overthehill. Overpaid. Overdone. He hasn't hit, and while his scooping ability at first has helped the rest of the infield, his range appears to have declined. He was recently benched, and unless he breaks out in the second half of the season, I'd expect those benchings to become more regular.
Who is your first half MVP?
Andrew McCutchen, and it's not close - he's taken a nice step forward offensively and has become downright good defensively, which makes him one of the best position players in the National League. That's not an exaggeration.
Could we have a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers the Jays will be facing?
Kevin Correia has earned some notice for his wins totals this year, but he's a garden-variety back-of-the-rotation guy. Paul Maholm is a No. 3 starter who has had a strong year, statistically, thanks in part to the Pirates' improved defense, which has gobbled up ground balls it would have missed last year. And Jeff Karstens is a veteran swingman type who has somehow posted amazing numbers in 2011. Improved command and a zippier changeup have probably helped, as has the fact that Clint Hurdle has been smart about pulling him when he starts to hit a wall, but he still doesn't have terrific stuff, so it has been a little baffling to see him pitch well in start after start. Not that I'm complaining.
Who is your closer? How confident are you in him and the rest of the back end of the pen?
Joel Hanrahan has been nearly automatic this year; his fastball is a thing of beauty, and National League hitters have had no idea what to do with it. The main setup men have been Jose Veras and Chris Resop, who both have good stuff and overall numbers. They've looked shaky at times recently, but part of the reason they've seemed that way is that few relievers look good next to Hanrahan. In reality, the back of the Pirates' 'pen has been very good, and that's one reason for the team's modestly successful season so far.
I don't know much about your manager Clint Hurdle. What are his strengths and weaknesses?
I'm not a fan of his tactical approach - the Pirates bunt way too much and run into far too many outs on the bases. But the Bucs have played, and looked, so much better this season that it's difficult to find too much fault. Most of the past two decades have seen the Pirates play ridiculous, Bad News Bears-type baseball, but this season there has been little of that, as the Pirates usually seem alert and competent. Also, Hurdle has done a good job handling his pitchers, yanking guys like Karstens and James McDonald before they give up big innings, and doing a nice job mixing and matching with the bullpen.
The Pirates are having a nice season. Are Pirate fans expecting a run at the playoffs this season or are they thinking more that this is the first step towards a more competitive future?
That depends who you ask. Personally, I lean towards the latter - this looks more like a 75-win team to me than an 85-win team, so I'm not sure how realistic a playoff run would be, and a .500 season means little by itself unless the Bucs can follow that up with more winning in the future - just ask the 2004 Royals. So I wouldn't want the Pirates to trade top prospects for veterans. At the same time, their farm system is well-stocked with the kind of B-grade prospects that usually come in return for veterans at the trade deadline, so there aren't strong incentives for the Bucs to go trading veterans like Hanrahan and Maholm. If the Pirates can remain at .500 or better, the trade deadline should be a very interesting time.