I originally planned (as you can see by the archives) to provide pre-game and post game wraps for the rest of the 2010 baseball season being slogged through by the Pirates.  It didn’t take long for me to realize it was pointless.  Since the time I started this blog, I could’ve written the same game summaries of nearly every game they’ve played (that’s not an exaggeration; go take a look for yourself).  Here’s how nearly every game has gone:  Pirates lose, pitching is awful, offense is ATTROCIOUS, and John Russell needs to be fired ASAP for the horrific job he’s done.  So, I chose to spare myself the time and not do that.  There are many other blogs that can show you the statistics on the offensive production that isn’t even worthy of a AAA team.  You have other options for viewing the tally of near record-setting strikeout rates Pedro Alvarez is putting up in the cleanup spot.  Other sites exist where you can find the exact numbers on a starting rotation where four of the five don’t even deserve to be on a major league starting rotation.  And nearly ALL baseball blogs (particularly the Pirates sites) are unanimous in their hatred of John Russell. 

Somebody shoot me in the face, please.  I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

Losing is one thing.  As a Pirate fan, I got used to losing a long time ago.  Want to know how long?  Well, tonight, Pittsburgh is in a class of their own, as the Pirates Baseball Club has set an American sports record by clinching their 18th consecutive losing season.  This years graduating high-schoolers have never seen a Pirates team break .500 in their entire lives.  Wow.  That’s a long way from my youth, when I remember a mashing lineup of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke etc, backed up by 20 game winners and standout starters like Doug Drabek, John Smiley, Zane Smith, the breakout arrival of Tim Wakefield and the like.  Watching the Pirates win the then-National League East Division Championship year in and year out gave me authorization to rub the black and gold in the faces of all my friends (many of them Cubs fans).  Ah.  The good ‘ol days.

So like I said, I can deal with losing.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate it, but as a Pirate fan, you’re conditioned to struggle through a bad major league product while taking solace in the off-the-field things that brought hope that the cavalry was on the way.  This week is a great example of it.  While the Buccos have been getting their heads bashed in, the Pirates pulled off an unprecedented front office coup, signing Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and the top prospect from Latin America, Luis Heredia.  Few in baseball thought that task could be accomplished, but the Pirates nailed it, adding three of the premier pitching prospects in baseball to their system in a single week.  These are the things Pirates fans cling to in order to maintain their sanity, and in order to rationalize why being a fan of this club isn’t the sports equivalent to Battered Woman Syndrome.

However, the performance of the big league club is killing me.  Not only are they losing which is par for the course, but they’re awful.  Losing is one thing, not even being competitive game in, game out is quite another.  Basic, fundamental, Baseball 101 skills are unknown on the big league squad.  The pitching is not just bad, it’s awful.  The hitting is not just bad, it’s pathetic.  The defense is not just bad, it’s unworthy of moderately talented minor league teams.  And the effort and management is by far the worst in the league.  It’s not even close.

I am a huge baseball fan.  Always have been.  But I cannot wait for this season to be over with.  I pray that the offseason brings wholesale changes to the Pirates staff.  2011 cannot be anywhere near where the 2010 Pirates are.  That cannot be tolerated.  But to prevent another nightmare season next year, changes must be made THIS YEAR.

As my beloved Pirates continue to flounder this season (hey, at least they won a game this week, and it’s only Wednesday! ), I figured I’d do a brief post on the most popular of newly established Pirate traditions:  building for the future.

This week the Buccos set a record in spending on the first year player draft, signing both their number one and two picks, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie.  These guys are just 18 years old, throw in the upper-90′s, and the Pirates spent a boatload of cash (around 9 million bucks for these two alone) to lock down the two hurlers and lure them from playing college ball.

Now, there has been much talk of the “core four” already playing in Pittsburgh, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata.  Pedro should be a slugging star in the relatively near future (and first baseman, I hope), and I see now reason why McCutchen and Tabata won’t improve to be good with the bat (they aren’t bad now), add a lot of speed to the basepaths, and they have many years to improve their work in the field.  Walker I’m not near as confident about.  Walker has shown versatility and athleticism (number 1 pick as a catcher, switches positions to third base, and now the Bucs starting 2nd Baseman–that’s versatility!), and has put up good numbers with the stick in his first year as the starting 2nd basemen with the big club.  Many fans see the 24-year-old performing this well in his first full big league season and imagine how good he’s going to be with some experience and growth as he enters his physical prime.  For some reason, I see a very handy, reliable utility man.  I pray I’m wrong.

The Pirates have been inexcusably bad this year (and last year for that matter, but this year is abysmal).  Manager John Russell’s complete incompetence, without basic baseball 101 knowledge, and actions that have at times put young players in dangerous situations, more than warrant his firing, even aside from the total lack of results.  Add in some of the secretive incidents like the power struggle then subsequent firing of Gary Varsho and Joe Kerrigan by Russell and GM Neal Huntington, and you get the impression that this club is a seriously dysfunctional organization, even aside from being an incompetent one.  That isn’t the kind of news that inspires confidence.

That being said, there is something that this front office does that previous Pirate regimes refused to so:  build from the bottom up.  Now, whether this rebuilding process works or not is not at all certain, and whether this regimes talent development skills are good enough are highly in doubt.  BUT, a team like Pittsburgh has to build through an aggressive draft, and spend the money for development through the minor leagues, and have a foreign presence throughout Latin America and Asia.  These Pirates with this owner and Huntington HAVE at least done that.

If you can’t keep up with the spending of the big boys like the evil Yankees at the major league free agent-level market, you had best be able to provide your own talent.  It can be done:  Cleveland has done it, Oakland ditto, and the Minnesota Twins are perennial contenders because they can provide their own home-grown talent, wave-after-wave.  To be fair, Huntington and team President Coonelly had alot of work to do before they can even begin to show results due to their predecessors completely neglecting the Pirates system and investment in the amateur draft.  However, as I said, I’m not convinced Huntington is a good enough talent evaluator to make it work, but the effort is there.  Huntington did tear down the piecemeal team he inherited (though the trades can be debateable), and owner Bob Nutting has at least ponied up to build a bottom up system.  Kudos to them.

Make no mistake, an ideas of Tallion making it to Pittsburgh in 3-5 years and being anointed an ace is not just not a given, it’s unlikely.  However, as a Pirate fan, I’m far more willing to wait with high-ceiling players working to make their way than I am waiting on another 26 or 27-year-old like John Bowker, or the littany of others that have fit that bill over the last 20 years.  Tallion, Allie, Bryan Morris, and the many other prospects the Pirates have acquired may never be the stars (or even make it to Pittsburgh) that the Pirates and their fans want them to be.  Regardless, this is the right way to try to build, and signing Taillon was a must.  Huntington, Coonelly, and Nutting deserve credit for that.

The Pirates lost another one to first place San Diego, and that isn’t a surprise.  What is becoming alarming to me are the voices around the Pirate Nation.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen more and more quotes from other bloggers, fans, and even professional reporters talking about the Pirates having the making of a tough, productive lineup.  I can’t figure out if they are indeed speaking of my beloved Pirates or some other ball club.

The Pirates were shut out tonight.  Again.  I’m under no illusion that Pittsburgh is mired in yet another phase of the never-ending rebuilding process.  I’m even happy to say that players like Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker may be the first players in YEARS that the Pirates have developed into good major league players.  God knows, I wish there were many more like them (even if they are defensively handicapped).  But a dangerous lineup???  Really???  Them and who else?  My goodness, the Pirate system may be the worst in baseball as far as offensive talent goes, and the Major League cupboard is all but bare.

Who do they have coming?  Another Brandon Moss experiment?  That worked out well the first two times.  Is there anyone else?  And the pitching!  Talk about underwhelming performance and development!!

Look, this year is a dismal failure.  Even worse than what was expected for the lowly Buccos.  That may be a warning sign in and of itself.  As bad as this team is, it may be even worse than what the cellar dwelling fans had braced themselves for.  The minor league system is in SERIOUS need of a huge money influx for proven, results-oriented coaches at all levels.  Pirate fans have watched for nearly TWENTY years as accumulated prospects fall smack on their face in the Majors, and that’s if they make it to that level at all. 

CHANGE IS NEEDED!

Anyone could see that UFC 117 was a well loaded fight card, even if the main event looked to be weak.  However, MMA is the most unpredictable sport on earth, and just when you think you have it figured out, your outlook gets turned upside down.

The obvious:  Chael Sonnen single-handedly sold this fight, and made a main event that nobody cared about a few months ago a must-see card, that perhaps will go down as the greatest of all-time.  Sonnen did the impossible, backing up the months of smack talk by taking the Champion Anderson Silva down at will, and holding him there and delivering a nasty dose of ground and pound.  He was about 90 seconds from being the crowned the new champion when Silva slipped in a triangle choke to pull out a miracle victory. 

Kudos to Silva for, for the first time, showing the heart of a champion.  However, credit Sonnen for doing what no man on Earth has ever been able to do, and perhaps more importantly, he has destroyed the aura of invincibility that Silva has carried his entire career.  Sonnen outstruck Silva on the feet, which that alone registers a “Holy Cow!” performance.  But to make Silva look totally outclassed and beaten for over 22 minutes is a feat that we may never see again.  Unless of course, Dana White and the UFC do the right thing and schedule an immediate rematch.  Sonnen took himself from being an unknown, anonymous mid-card fighter, to one of the best fighters on the planet, that can single-handedly carry a pay-per-view event.  His performance, both in and out of the Octagon, was amazing.

On the undercard, there were a slew of stories.  Clay Guida broke the jaw of Rafael dos Anjos, and forced dos Anjos to submit to the punishment.  Guida has shown improvement since moving to Greg Jackson’s camp, and there are many fans of the “The Carpenter” that are hoping this is the start of a run into the upper level of the lightweight division.

Your’s truly was one that was completely convinced that Matt Hughes days as a relevent fighter in the UFC were long gone, and that he was about to catch a beating at the hands of Ricardo Almeida.  WRONG!  Hughes looked fantastic, stunning Almeida with a left hook, then pouncing and using his brute strength to choke Almeida, a Gracie Blackbelt, unconscious.  Truly an impressive performance by Hughes, who just may have a little left in the tank.

Simply put, if you missed UFC 117, you missed a classic card, and perhaps the single greatest bout in history in the Sonnen/Silva matchup.  Let’s see what the UFC does for an encore!

UFC 117 kicks off in a little more than an hour, and fight fans are in for a treat.  Those that get the pay per view or venture to their local watering holes will get a relatively rare occurrence:  a fight event loaded top to bottom with names and quality fighters, with story lines wound throughout.

We may be watching the final appearance of one of the all-time greats of the sport when Matt Hughes faces off with Ricardo Almeida.  Hughes streak of bouts with Gracie fighters continues with this fight.  Hughes’ skills have deteriorated greatly in recent years, but he’s still a strong welterweight.  Still, Almeida is a tough fighter with a great ground game.  I’m sure Hughes will be competitive, but I just don’t see how he pulls off a victory against this Gracie disciple.

The next number one contender spot is probably on the line when TUF winner Roy Nelson faces off with Junior dos Santos.  Nelson doesn’t exactly look like, um, an athlete, but make no mistake, he’s a skilled fighter. Still, Junior Dos Santos looks to be a star in the division for years to come, and I don’t see how he doesn’t land some lightning-quick strikes and win by stoppage.  Dos Santos is a complete fighter, and should simply outclass Nelson.

Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves go head-to-head in a rematch that will decide the number one contender spot for the welterweight title.  Fitch has been the perennial number one for years, but Alves has made a splash in recent years, shooting to the top of the division.  Fitch is a grinder, without having standout skills in any one area, but just consistently wins decisions over everyone in his weight class.  Alves is a huge welterweight with power in his hands, and is making a return after a year layoff that included a procedure to clear a pack of blood vessels in his brain.  In reality, this fight is the definition of a pick ‘em, but I’m giving the edge to Alves based on his natural ability and athleticism.

Finally, there is your main event for the middleweight title, featuring Anderson Silva, undefeated in UFC competition, defending against Chael Sonnen.  Sonnen has done a masterful job of getting into Silva’s head with a trash-talk offensive that may be unparalleled in sports history.  That being said, titles aren’t won by talking smack, so he’ll have to use his high level wrestling and ground and pound in order to wrest the championship from the elusive Silva.  It’s hard to imagine that Sonnen, who was catapulted by his upset win over, could throw Silva down and pound him for 25 minutes. Still, that’s why they have the fights, so we will have to wait and see!

Two of my LEAST favorite MMA fighters both managed to hit the news on the same day for flapping their ignorant gums.  I love being able to pile on, particularly when there is an element of schadenfreude involved.

UFC Middleweight and world-class British loudmouth Michael Bisping managed to make these comments about his chances at a title shot in the near future:

“If Chael Sonnen comes into the octagon in the right frame of mind, he will give Silva problems. But I can see Silva winning this by submission, because when Sonnen fought Nate Marquardt he was ­dominant on top, but left himself open at times. I’ll be watching the fight closely, because I believe I am two wins away from fighting for that belt. I think I have seen chinks in [Akiyama's] armor. I’m going to come in very strong, very fit, and I’m going to exploit him by setting a fast pace.”

WHAT?!?!  What universe is this guy living in that he thinks he’s two wins away from ANY championship bout?!  If I were Bisping, I’d be more worried training for his upcoming fight with Yoshihiro Akiyama than any pipe dream of a 2 win title shot.  Bisping is, IMHO, one of the most overhyped, overrated fighters in UFC history, and Akiyama is not a cake-walk.  He showed alot of heart and toughness in his brawl with Chris Leben, and has way more power in his hands than the jab-happy Brit.  Bisping is just 2-2 in his last four fights, including a decision loss to Wanderlei Silva, and a spectacular knockout loss to current Strikeforce middleweight, Dan Henderson.

Next up on the stupid comment trail is non other than former (and I mean VERY former) light heavyweight champ, Tito Ortiz.  Ortiz has had a rough time of it in recent years, including multiple medical procedures on his neck and back, a legal run-in over a domestic dispute with wife Jenna Jameson, and oh by the way, the last guy Tito Ortiz ever beat in a fight was KEN SHAMROCK.  Ortiz was supposed to take part in the 3rd installment of a grudge match trilogy with Chuck Liddell in the coaches bout of the Ultimate Fighter season this spring, but another injury forced him to pull out. 

Dana White has slated the Huntington Beach Bad Boy to return later this year to face off against a man Ortiz coached previously on The Ultimate Fighter, Matt Hamill.  It is well known that Hamill, who most recently sent Keith Jardine packing from the UFC, is deaf.  Ortiz, in an interview with Inside MMA, made a point to discuss Hamill’s disability.  Ortiz stated the Hamill had no equilibrium because, “he’s deaf so he has a soft head and you hit him with more and more shots“.  Ortiz continued, stating that Hamill has been “…babied his whole life coming from being deaf. He’s gonna be babied after, when I knock him out and look for a little snuggle.”

Holy cow.  I don’t even know what to do with that.  This is one of the few times where a statement was so ignorant and bizarre that it defies comment.  I’m well aware that for some reason, Ortiz is still a favorite of many MMA fans.  Make no mistake about one thing though.  Ortiz is a has been, a remnant of a bygone time in MMA history.  Ortiz has always been a ground-and-pound fighter, with little else, and the game has evolved far past the era where one-trick ponies dominated the sport.  Ortiz struggles against fighters that he can’t get on the ground, and his shot diminished long ago with the on-going injuries.  There is a very good chance that Ortiz may find that the student has bypassed the teacher, and Hamill may wind up “Hammering” Tito.  After these comments, I’m beginning to hope that that’s the case.

 

 

Last nights game ran late due to the rain delay, and today is a getaway day, so I’m combining my thoughts on last nights game with a very brief, late, pseudo preview of of series finale.  I’m hoping that the Bucs can pull manage to pull a series victory out against long odds.  As it stands, the Buccos are down 3-1 to the contending Reds, in the 6th inning.

Last nights game started out pretty well for the hometown Pirates, exploding for a 6 spot, which is a weeks worth of offense for the team lately.  Paul Maholm had a serviceable performance, but it was Reds rookie starter Mike Leake that attracted the biggest attention for Pirates fans, when he unintentionally beaned Andrew McCutchen in the head, dropping the outfielder immediatly.  Apparently it looked worse than what it was, as McCutchen is back in the lineup today, and actually got the game started with a HR.  I was pleased by the fallout of McCutchens’ beaning Tuesday night, when Paul Maholm took the mound and plunked Mike Leake in retaliation.  It was great to see Maholm give it back the old-school way, a rarity for this team. Kudos to Leake as well, as he took his beaning like a man, didn’t complain, didn’t antagonize, just took his base and that was that.  THAT is the way baseball is supposed to go, with players acting like men and governing themselves, without the interference of overly touchy umpires, and without the escalation of overly sensitive batters that have no respect for the code.  It was handled well all around.

The 2nd half of the game was a whole different story.  The Pirates, holding a 6-0 lead at one point, began to hemmorage runs.  Evan Meek bailed the Bucs out of a mess in the 7th, but inexplicably, manager John Russell left Meek to flounder in the 8th inning, allowing Meek to throw FIFTY pitches over two innings.  I understand wanting to give the arms in the bullpen a rest, but is it a good idea is ensure that your All-Star reliever is unavailable for the next 2 or 3 days because of it?  Russell is VERY lucky that Meek battled back and managed to escape the inning maintaining a one run lead.  Had Meek surrendered the lead, with his pitch count through the roof for a reliever, without even so much as another arm in the bullpen even getting off the bench to get warm, Russell would’ve caught hell for standing idly by while a rare Pirates win slipped through his hands without so much as an attempt to halt the bleeding.

As the year goes on, I’m more and more frustrated by the lack of development of the young players, which I have to imagine is (mostly) the responsibility of the coaching staff.  I’ve seen too many Midre Cummings’ and Paul Wagners promised to me as the ‘next big thing’ that were dismal failures.  By the same token, I’ve seen too many guys like Jason Schmidt flounder in Pittsburgh under mediocre coaching, only to leave and magically turn into Cy Young/MVP caliber players.  It may be time to loosen up the purse strings to try and woo some legitimate staff and coaches.  Then again, maybe that won’t help either.  For every Lloyd McClendon we tried to bring up from within, there was a Gene LaMont who won in Chicago, and of course Jim Leyland.  Lamont and Leyland had far better records (for what that’s worth for a losing team) than Tracy, McClendon, Russell and the like.

Got sidetracked there…..here’s hoping for a Pirate comeback and series victory!!