20 April 2007

Pirates Preview: Good Pitch, No Hit

Here is the regular Pirates lineup over the past week:

OBP -- Pos -- Name

0.355 -- CF -- Duffy
0.328 -- SS -- Wilson
0.324 -- 2B -- Sanchez
0.250 -- 1B -- LaRoche
0.355 -- LF -- Bay
0.333 -- RF -- Nady
0.224 -- C -- Paulino
0.304 -- 3B -- Bautista

This collection of on-base percentages explains why the Pirates have scored only 50 runs in 14 games so far, about 3.5 runs a game. It's very early for meaningful stats, of course. Yet normally you'd expect some OBPs too high, others too low, and others right where you'd expect. The Pirates don't have any of the too-high kind right now, to their early misfortune. Even their co-leader in OBP, Jason Bay, is 40 points below his standard of the past two years. LaRoche is really struggling, and Sanchez has been hampered early by a sprained right knee and sore left wrist. The team OBP is below 0.300.

This isn't a team that will have a lot of high OBPs even when the stats start to normalize, though. Sanchez, in particular, won't likely reach the .378 figure he had last year, since he's very unlikely to reproduce his sky high batting average. He only drew 31 walks last year, so for him it's batting average or bust.

Why is Tracy having Bay bat fifth? For the same reason Tracy played Jason Philips at first base so much at the end of 2005, I guess. Because he's a self-styled managerial genius. Before Sanchez came off the DL, Bay was batting third, and he's seen a bit of cleanup action, and now has been fifth for the past week. It doesn't really matter how the Pirates jumble around this lineup, though. It's pretty bad, and the Dodger pitchers should make quick work of it, with lots of 1-2-3 innings. I expect Wolf and Tomko to turn in 7 or 6 innings with 2 or fewer runs allowed against this team, while Penny should do even better.

Anything can happen, of course. If I was going to predict the just concluded Rockies series, I would have picked exactly the opposite of what did happen in each game. It's sort of foolish to feel confident about what will happen in any one game. That said, I will be very disappointed if the Dodgers don't at least shut down the Pirate offense for at least 2 of the 3 games.

What has saved the Pirates from total disaster so far on their way to a 6-8 record has been their pitching. It's been pretty good. The Dodgers miss Zach Duke ( who has been roughed up early ), instead getting Armas, Gorzelanny, and Snell. Armas was awful in his one start this year, but Gorzelanny and Snell have been great so far, both with sub 2 ERAs in about 20 innings pitched each. Gorzelanny was called up late last year and was good in 11 starts, while Snell was mediocre last year. Snell is just 25, though, and he may be turning a corner in his second full season in the majors, so it may be that the Dodgers are facing two truly good pitchers on Saturday and Sunday, instead of just average pitchers with fortunate early-season stats.

The Dodgers have a better lineup, top to bottom, and they have better relief pitching, and they have a clear starting pitching advantage on Friday. The Dodgers should be kicking themselves if they don't take at least two out of three, and the only thing keeping them from a likely sweep are the Pirates starters on Saturday and Sunday and the wonderfully unpredictable nature of baseball.

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