Poll: Which action or inaction frustrated you most last night? Removing Wandy Rodriguez (83%) Pinch-running d'Arnaud (17%) Not pinch-hitting for Barajas (0%)
Bob the Builder: I watch the Pirates from here in the South. Last night, in the 8th, was the first time it appeared the Bucs lacked any spirit. Jared Hughes, whether intentional or not, seemed to have some issues with the player after HBP. I saw A.J. Burnett go outside the dugout, but no one else. So, how will this effect Burnett, and is this a measure of the team's cohesion? Suddenly, it seems as if no one wants to pick up the other.
Bill Brink: I found that interesting as well, that Burnett was halfway to the playing field, ready to go, and no one else was. I couldn't see into the dugout and I was watching Phillips and Hughes, so I may have missed something. It was curious. We know Burnett is tough and cares deeply about his teammates so it wasn't surprising he's the first guy over the railing. I thought he would have company.
Joel Lesher: Is it just me, or does this season feel like Groundhog Day, which incidentally was released in 1993? It's so frustrating watching Meltdown, Part 2
Bill Brink: Very similar. Same type of issues: Pitching declines, trouble winning close games (I'm thinking back to that Cubs series in early August 2011, when Castro it a homer in the eighth to give the Cubs a win). Just happened about two weeks later this year and after a better first half of the season.
Bob the Builder: Another question - did it appear that Clint Hurdle put players into the game just because he could? With Jones doing okay (not great, but better than pinch hitters) against lefties, and now a slow man (though not necessarily a great base runner), it would seem that the hottest player should stay in the game. He was on first and, at the worst case, would cause the loss of an insurance run. I don't know the game, and also don't know the personality of the players. Should we just trust the manager?
Bill Brink: The only explanation I could come up with is Hurdle wanted to pinch-hit for Mercer and knew he needed a defensive replacement. D'Arnaud's run was not important at that time except for insurance purposes. That move took Jones out of the game and the game was extended to the point where Jones may have helped.
Bill Brink: To answer your question about trusting the manager: Whatever decisions Hurdle makes, he has done the research to back them up. He's aware of the splits, or the history, or whatever he needs to be aware of. That doesn't mean he always makes the right decisions or that his reasoning for them is sound, just that he is informed.
It's generally a good idea to trust the managers -- they have a great deal of experience in the game -- but they're not perfect. We see that with Hurdle at times (bunting, batting Barmes second) and we saw it in the playoffs with Tony La Russa and Ron Washington as well.
BenderHeel: So what's up with Hurdle going with Rick VandenHurk, a free-agent journeyman starting pitcher who has been trending badly in the second half of the year, rather than Bryan Morris, an actual relief pitching prospect? Hasn't gotten attention, but another head-scratcher from Hurdle.
Bill Brink: Guessing he made that move because van den Hurk was stretched out and could pitch multiple innings. He may have wanted to save Morris for a lead ... though he still had Grilli available.
Hunter: I get the lefty/righty splits with Navarro and all but Wandy looked good, has solid careers stats vs. Navarro and made him look silly in his previous at bat. That all being said were you surprised Hurdle pulled him?
Bill Brink: I was surprised. Wandy was at 89 pitches and cruising. Hurdle got too cute with the matchup there.
Hunter: Since this season is getting a little depressing ... what do you think about next year's rotation? The top four spots look secure so how about the fifth spot? Are we more likely to see guys like Locke and McPherson battle for it or do you think they would bring in another veteran?
Bill Brink: I'm not so sure about the top four. I see A.J., McDonald and Wandy as your top three guys right now. Karstens will be in there but he had so many injury issues this season it is tough to project him being in the rotation.
They will almost certainly sign or trade for at least one starter and I think you could see McPherson win that fifth spot. He throws mid-90s with movement and control.
It wouldn't shock me to see Cole in the rotation Aug. 1 either.
Mike in Downtown: Who among the minor league players has to be put on the 40 man this offseason or be subject to loss?
Bill Brink: Good question, but I personally haven't compiled my list yet. It all depends on how old a player was when he was drafted and how many years in the pros he has. I will post the list, along with thoughts on who might be added or passed over, on the blog in the fall. Off the top of my head I believe Tony Sanchez is one of the big names who needs to go on.
BenderHeel: With the second consecutive free-fall in the second half of the year - this one more egregious considering the team's success and playoff position - plus some "questionable" in-game moves and line-ups (I put it mildly), what are the chances that Hurdle is released? Do they need another manager in order to "take the next step"? He seems to be a great guy, has brought a lot of intangibles, but two straight collapses?
Bill Brink: I think the chances the Pirates fire Hurdle are slim. I understand the concerns. In-game managing, lineups, small ball, the offensive performance early in the season.
But he is under contract and will lead the Pirates to higher win totals in two consecutive seasons. Also, for Huntington and Coonelly to fire him, they have to know for sure that another manager is out there who can do better than Hurdle and wants to manage the Pirates.
Kevin: Has anything been made of the decline since the trade deadline? The team has not seemed the same since July 31. Was the loss of Mcghee and Lincoln a big loss in the locker room? Or maybe it was the fact that management did not do enough?
Bill Brink: It's really the pitching. The staff ERA has climbed by about a run since the All-Star break. James McDonald is no longer pitching lights out, which hurts, and the bullpen has dropped off slightly as well.
There are several reasons for it, but I see the pitching as the main one.
BenderHeel: Speaking of the rotation, when would Morton be on track to return?
Bill Brink: Morton had the surgery in June 2012, so assuming everything goes well -- and Huntington told us Sunday that everything was indeed going well -- I think the 2013 All-Star break is a reasonable expectation, though not at all a certainty.
Hunter: Is there a point where Barajas can't be trotted out for 50% of the remaining games or will they push through with him until the end?
Hunter: Barajas follow up... no way the pick up his option for $3M is there?
Bill Brink: Barajas is hitting .178 with one home run and a .470 OPS since Aug. 1. I think we're past that point. Hurdle has started him up to this point, though, so I think it continues.
I don't think they pick up his option this offseason. However, there are not many catchers available so unless they can find or trade for another one, or believe Sanchez is ready, they may be forced to.
Bob the Builder: Last one. The Pirates rebuild the bullpen each year. Who do you think we'll see next year? Resop usually does well in tight games, but Jared Hughes seems to have slipped. Does Grilli come back? Do we "build" in JUN/JUL so we can have some endurance in AUG/SEP? Also, do we give some players a few more periodic days off? It seems the Bucs cannot make it through AUG. On the other hand, if the 2011 decline started in AUG, the 2012 decline started in AUG, then 2014 could be the year.
Bill Brink: I think you see Hanrahan (unless they trade him during the winter), Hughes, Watson, Leroux for sure. Resop and Grilli are question marks. Grilli deserves it but the Pirates may be concerned about his age.
It will be interesting to see if Morris gets a shot, and if Justin Wilson stays a reliever.
One thing that can be said for Hurdle: The bullpen did not wear down from overuse. Hurdle changed the way he used his bullpen this season: Nobody more than two days in a row except for certain circumstances. They track pitch counts, how often a guy got hot and how many pitches he threw in the bullpen on a given night. He has taken every precaution there.
Hunter: Hurdle has obviously had some questionable in games calls (see the poll for today here) so is there someone on the bench to say "Hey, Clint maybe we should think about that" or is he making most of these calls on his own?
Bill Brink: Hurdle encourages feedback from his staff. He used to, and I assume still does, hold weekly meetings with his coaches to talk about decisions they made or the way they handled situations, and they are encouraged to give him feedback as well. Bench coach Jeff Banister would be the main guy on the bench in this role, though he says he often consults with pitching coach Ray Searage when deciding whether or not to remove a pitcher.
Guest: This year a significant missed opportunity, or will the Pirates contend again next season?
Bill Brink: The division will not be this close again, is my guess. I think the Brewers add some pitching to strengthen their bullpen, the Cardinals improve their rotation and the Reds continue to watch Joey Votto get on base 50 percent of the time and next year will be much tougher.
Also, look at who they're competing against for the wild card: Dodgers (just got a hell of a lot stronger) and Braves (a solid team with a good core).
Bill Brink: Lightning round, everyone. What do you got?
Guest: Any beneath the surface reasons that Presley does not play more often or appear to not be a favorite of Hurdle/Huntington (they brought Tabata back before him)? He has excellent speed and some pop...
Bill Brink: He hasn't shown it at the major league level this year. He strikes out 21 percent of the time and has a .383 slugging percentage this season.
Guest: Has Frank Coonelly gone MIA?
Bill Brink: He is still at the park, and often on the field for pre-game ceremonies and such. We met with him recently to discuss playoff ticket sales. It does seem that he is not, however, out in the public eye as often this season.
Guest: J-Mac's heater is down in terms of the gun - cause of his troubles?
Bill Brink: It has lost about half a mile per hour this season down from last season. He is approaching his innings count from last season (I think he'll surpass it in his next start) and the diminished velocity isn't helping. I think location is playing the bigger role though.
Guest: Most surprising player that has a lot of stroke with teammates in the clubhouse? (teammates have a high opinion of said individual's baseball ability)
Bill Brink: I'll say Barajas because of the impact he continues to have on his teammates despite how poorly he has performed at the plate.
Guest: Better player - Mercer or d'Arnaud?
Bill Brink: Keep in mind I'm no scout. But, d'Arnaud is the better pure athlete and if he can polish his defense and plate discipline probably has a higher ceiling than Mercer. Mercer is currently the better player.
Guest: Better pitching prospect - Wilson or McPherson?
Bill Brink: McPherson, because he is currently a starter and that has more value to the club in the long run.
Guest: Is this season over?
Bill Brink: Think we still have 22 games to go. :)
Bill Brink: Sorry; the e-mails and tweets over the past 12 hours have been all gloom and doom. I'll try to lighten the mood on the pre-game post this afternoon. Thanks, everyone, for a great chat.
PhillyJake: 5 way ? 4 way ?
Bill Brink: Four way extra onions and it's delicious.
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