(Opening image credit Gene Puskar, AP)
Last night, the Pirates beat a free-falling Cubs team 1-0 to move to 21-24 on the season. SP A.J. Burnett qualified for the win with 5.1 innings of shutout, 6-hit ball, while four members of the surprisingly strong bullpen combined for 3.2 scoreless innings. A quick rundown of thoughts:
1. The strength of the entire team’s pitching has been the only thing keeping the Pirates themselves from plummeting into the NL Central basement. After an impressive showing until August of last year, perhaps it is time to give some of these arms more credit.
2. As bad as the signings of SS Clint Barmes and C Rod Barajas were, so far, GM Neal Huntington’s free agent signing of SP Erik Bedard, and trade for Burnett have been positives. Despite a 4.19 ERA, Burnett is striking out over 8 batters per 9, and has kept the Pirates in 6 of his 7 starts, surrendering no more than 2 runs (outside of a 2.2 IP, 12 ER albatross) in each. Of those 6 starts, A.J. went 6IP or more in 5 of them. That’s impressive.
Bedard’s last two starts (4 ER each) slightly weakened a very impressive statline that still reads to a 3.52 ERA, and over 1K/IP.
3. What has to be very frustrating for many of the Pirates starters is that their records should be much better than they are. Bedard is 2-5, despite giving up 2 runs or less in 7 of his 9 outings. Burnett is 3-2, but could easily be 6-1 with a quality offense behind him.
4. During his first 3 years on the job, Huntington struggled to assemble a bullpen comparable even to predecessor GM Dave Littlefield. But last year’s ‘pen was solid, and the 2012 edition may be the best during Huntington’s tenure. Outside of RP Evan Meek’s 7.59 ERA (now at AAA), every other member of the pen has an ERA under 3.60. Take out RPs Tony Watson (3.60) and Chris Resop (3.15), and…
Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Brad Lincoln, Jared Hughes, and Juan Cruz are all below 2.70. That’s dominant.
5. For what time he may have left, Huntington has some tough decisions to make on the trade front. He has few trade chips at his disposal, and of the ones he does have, it would serve him do deal these players rather quickly, before their numbers have a chance to trend south.
Burnett– Strong start and the most well-known name on the staff. Consistently starts seasons strong before he tapers off.
Bedard– LHPs with over 1K/IP are incredibly rare. If teams aren’t scared away by his prior fragility, there will be interest.
Hanrahan– Huntington missed a huge opportunity to deal his closer last trade deadline, when returns of young talent for similar arms were significant. After slumping down the stretch and beginning the 2012 season on rocky ground, Joel has saved 11 games, and boasts a 2.70 ERA with 20K in 16.2IP. A lot of contenders would find Hanrahan incredibly desirable.
With so little help available to the Pirates at the AA and AAA levels, they have to consider trading chips early, if teams are willing to part with solid, age-appropriate prospects. This offense simply isn’t capable of supporting the excellent pitching effort down the stretch; the Pirates need to accept that, and play for the future once again.
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