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31 March 2009

In Game Update - Karstens Sinks

A follow up to my earlier post regarding the battle for the #5 rotation spot of the Pirates pitching staff. Jeff Karstens took the mound earlier today against the Minnesota Twins in his final outing of the spring, hoping to claim the #5 spot, but things did not go well. Karstens pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up 5 runs on 10 hits, 2 walks, and 1 home run. Not a good showing at all, and nothing about it suggests he has earned or deserves a starting pitching job. Karstens ERA for the spring is 6.17.

Virgil Vasquez the other pitcher battling for the #5 spot, will receive one more start later this week. His spring training ERA is 7.62.

Neither option is too comforting.

The Pirates are currently losing to the Twins 12-7 in the top of the 9th.

TRADE RUMORS - I also want to pass along some strong trade rumor and/or free agent acquisition news. Gary Sheffield who is 1 home run shy of the 500 career home run mark was released by the Detroit Tigers today. Tim Dierkes of MLBTraderumors.com has mentioned twice in his daily chat that the Pirates could be possible suitors for Sheffield. He also thinks the Indians would be a good spot. The Philadelphia Phillies reportedly have already contacted Sheffield's agent. Two other names to keep your ears perked for are minor league SS Robert Andino of the Florida Marlins. Andino is out of minor league options and is stuck behind All Star SS Hanley Ramirez. During the winter meetings, the Pirates showed interest in Andino. Another name floating is Jeff Baker, an infielder with the Rockies. The Rockies currently have no where in their lineup to play the young utility man and reportedly are seeking a prospect that is MLB ready within 2 years. The Pirates, Yankees, Astros, and Phillies are reported as interested. The Astros may now be out of the mix, as they have acquired Jeff Keppinger of the Reds earlier today.

Expect a move or two over the next 3-4 days.

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Practice, Games, then Playoffs

I don't know if everyone here gets to read about all the things that go on in practice nowadays, but I am loving it. It seems that Coach Bylsma has a serious fun side to his coaching. They have skills practices as well as tough, positioning practices. The skills practices sometimes turn into competitions, which in turn produces winners and losers. The losers have to get drinks for the team or has to grow a ridiculous mustache, amongst other things. This is the way a player want to practice. This is a good thing for this team.

I am going to dip into my Army past to explain why this is such a good thing. As a soldier just coming up in the ranks, I learned that I was willing to do more for my superiors if I wanted to, rather than if I had to. I know this sounds confusing, but stay with me here. If you want to rule with an iron fist (Michel Therrien) then expect to get exactly what you ask for, nothing more or less. If you rule by example and to the strengths of your people (Dan Bylsma) you get more out of them. They have the desire to make things better for you. They tend to try harder, which in turn, makes you look better. They succeed further than your expectations. What Bylsma is doing now is forming a re pore with the whole team as a unit. He is making them want to excel under his command. He is making them trust him no matter what. They really don't realize this yet. What they had under Therrien was the fear factor. They had to fear him to respect him, but he was never going to get any more out of this group because he made them do what he wanted. Bylsma doesn't have to use fear, he uses trust and desire to drive this team now.

We have a big game tomorrow night against the divisional leading New Jersey Devils. We faced a potential playoff opponent last week in Philadelphia, but failed to come through. We need to make a stand and show we are ready to take out the big guns. This is the final match up between these two teams this year and they lead us by a game. This is also another home game, one of the last this season. We need to prove that we won't be pushed around. The Devils are looking at getting back into the win column. This is something they haven't accomplished in five games. That's right, five. That is not the way you go into the playoffs. They are also fighting for that all important second seed just in case they play the Washington Capitals at some point in the playoffs.

Just looking at the standings and where we currently sit, it is very disturbing. We went 10-1-2 in March, but you know what? If we didn't, we would be out of the race altogether. That might clue you in on what a hole we dug ourselves into this year. We are in sixth place right now, one point behind Carolina for fifth and two points behind Philadelphia for fourth. If you look behind us, the New York Rangers are only one point and Montreal is four points behind. We lose one and Montreal and New York wins one, we drop to seventh and are a loss away from being out of it. This is an incredible race, I must say, and I liked it a lot better when we were pretty much a lock for the playoffs. The way we are playing now makes me confident that we will not only make the playoffs, but give serious challenge to the Flyers for the fourth spot and home ice advantage in the first round. Carolina has won six in a row now and will falter soon, it is inevitable.
With six games remaining against the Devils, at Carolina, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, against Islanders, and at Montreal, we have our work cut out for us. There is only one team right now that is out of it completely, that is the New York Islanders. None of these teams are going to be easy wins, without a doubt, but mark my words, we will be better prepared for the playoffs than anyone. I am excited!

Let's Go Pens!

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News, Notes, and Buried Treasures 4.0

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates spring training record is 15-13-2.
  • The Battle for #5 - The top 4 rotation spots have been secured. Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, and Ross Ohlendorf are locks. The battle for #5 is still on going with Jeff Karstens and Virgil Vasquez both getting one more start this spring to make their case for coming north with the club. To me, this is more than a sad affair, as neither has given any reason to be on the big club, but if I was a betting man, I'd give the nod to Karstens. The "loser" in this last rotation battle could possibly start the season in the bullpen.
  • Ohman Is Out - Well, another free agent, another disappointment. The Pirates recently ramped up their pursuit of relief pitcher Will Ohman. The pursuit of Ohman had jumped so much that his agent said the Bucs were showing more interest than anyone. However, Ohman made a visit to the LA Dodgers complex over the weekend, and with the money they have, it was almost guaranteed he would not leave with out a deal. Ohman signed a 1 year contract with the Dodgers with a club option for a second year.
  • The Business Before the Game - On Monday, prospects Brian Bixler and Andrew McCutchen were reassigned to minor league camp and both will start the season at AAA Indianapolis. Both players had been playing well and with McCutchen going 5-5 at the plate on Sunday with a home run and 2 doubles, the timing seemed almost not fair. I'm sure the wrath of fan opinion was not noticed in Bradenton, Florida, but back in Pittsburgh, what the little media coverage the Bucs draw, the move was not welcomed. This is a classic case of business over the game, and something that is not new to any MLB clubs. To keep from going into this deeper than need be, and making my already long posts, longer, the bottom line is this. McCutchen, by being assigned to AAA, and not being called up to Pittsburgh until after June 1st, will save one year of options on him, therefor guaranteeing controlling his MLB service time and rights by one more year. Not the most popular move on many accounts, as it shows they have not brought the best 25 players north on the big team, but a smart move for down the road, as one more year of the kid in his prime is guaranteed. Expect both Bixler and McCutchen in Pittsburgh later this year. Understanding the nuances of the business and understanding the big picture more so than the please me now attitude of the world is an odd thing, eh Mark Madden?
  • Pearce and Diaz Reassigned -Steve Pearce and Robinzon Diaz were both reassigned to minor league camp and will start in AAA as well. Diaz lost out to Jason Jaramillo for the backup catchers spot after spraying the ball all over the diamond going 11-26 this spring. Manager John Russell cited the need for a better defensive catcher early in the year and felt Jaramillo brought that to the team more than Diaz. It also doesn't hurt that you have played for the coach in the past. Pearce lost hope of making the big club early in spring training after suffering an injury and never getting the reps he needed. The Bucs plan to have him play first base almost exclusively in Indianapolis in order to groom him as Adam LaRoche's successor.
  • Jack a Bucco for Life? - Shortstop Jack Wilson and his agent have approached the Pirates management about a contract extension. The Pirates were very open to this , however neither party would comment. This news comes as a shocker, as Jack has been rumored of being traded for several years now. Jack Wilson in the past has said he would love to retire a Pirate and has expressed interest in only playing 2-3 more years beyond his current contract which ends after this year. Both sides will continue talks and don't be surprised to see a deal get down on a discounted level. It might be smart for Jack to get a no trade clause.
  • Flu Bug - The Bucs Spring training locker room has been raided by the flu bug, knocking several players out of commission over the last week or so. Evan Meek, Ian Snell, Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen and trainer Brad Henderson have come down with the sickness. Hopefully this bug works it's course and all are healthy come April 6 in St. Louis. UPDATE - It is being reported this morning that Evan Meek has also come down with bronchitis. This is a tough blow for the kid as he vies for one of the bullpen openings.
  • Bum Bullpen - I was going to try and break down the possible bullpen battles that have been on going, however it's almost disheartening to discuss. So, in the spirit of being positive, I am going to refrain from touching that area of the team until the roster is finalized. Basically, it is a need spot for our club, and something management is desperately seeking outside acquisitions to help stabilize. Here's to hoping they find help, and here's to hoping they are better than expected.
  • Maholm is the Man - Pirates #1 starter Paul Maholm was recently named the opening day starter against St Louis on April 6. This will be Maholm's 1st opening day start of his career.
  • Cardinals Set - The Cardinals will start Adam Wainwright in the opener followed by Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Chris Carpenter.
  • More to come.....
  • 6 days till opening day!!!!

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29 March 2009

Band of the Week!...Volume 13! -Allele

So, here is my newest installation all about what I will call my favorite band of the week. This weeks band is called Allele (pronounced Uh-Leel). You can click on the band name for a full bio, but as for this blog, I will give you the quick down and dirty. Allele has more of a harder feel to them. They remind me of Seether, Chevelle, and Shinedown. Ironically, because two of the members, Wally Wood and Lane Maverick used to play in the earlier versions of Shinedown. Another member, Kelly Hayes, came from Cold. If you know these bands, you may have a good idea of the sound they produce. Wood puts it best. "I want Allele to be in every single person's musical vocabulary. We have a message of unity we want to share with everyone." "We'd be happy just to pack clubs. I humbly think that we won't become an icon thing. That's rare. That's when music was to be innovated and you can no longer innovate because it's all been done. I think the time of being an icon is over. Obviously, I would love to get to a point where our band could headline arenas, who wouldn't? But that is such a huge goal. I would be happy headlining a 500 person venue, six days a week. That would be the greatest thing to us. If God had a sense of humor, and we were selling out arenas, I wouldn't even know what to say." They are currently finishing up their second album, called Something Cured, it will be released this year sometime.
Check them out!

Here is a link to some lyrics, so you can see if you like their message as well.
Basically, I am telling all of you to
check out this band and let me know what you think!

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Movie Reviews- Vol.1!- The Shawshank Redemption

I put the link up there quite a while ago with the intent of, well, giving movie reviews. I didn't like the idea of giving a review of movies that are lame and in theaters still, so I finally decided on trying for movies that you must see in your lifetime. I figure a great start is The Shawshank Redemption.
The movie takes place in the '60s and the main character, Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is a banker that is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. He is then sent to Shawshank Prison where he experiences the worst prison can give you, only to have hope throughout. He ends up using his brains to work for the prison by doing his job on the outside, well, sorta. He works taxes and in the library as part of his pennance. His longtime prison friend Ellis 'Red' Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, becomes concerned one day at sudden behavorial changes that Andy starts showing. This is only a brief glimpse of the movie because if you are reading this and have never seen the movie, I don't want to spoil it.
This movie has to be at if not on the top of your movie watching list. I know I can't give it justice in a paragraph, but if you believe anything I ever say on this blog, believe this, it is a must see.

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Panthers fall to Nova, 78 - 76

A wonderful season ended Saturday night for Pitt with a loss to Villanova on a Scottie Reynolds last second driving basket in Boston.

See Andy Katz's article here: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/ncaatourney09/columns/story?columnist=katz_andy&id=4024675

Pitt was behind and tied the score at 76 on two amazingly clutch Levance Fields free throws with 5.5 to go (interrupted in between by a Nova timeout), but the inbound pass went to Dante Cunningham, who got it to Reynolds who was waay to easily allowed to drive the lane and put the ball up over Gilbert Brown, as you can see in the picture above. No real resistance. Nobody hasseled him. It was a microcosm of the falloff of Pitt's defense this season compared to last year and years past.

It truly was a great season in which Pitt played brilliantly at times, especially in the two games against Uconn and against Marquette.

Pitt now loses its three seniors, Levance Fields, Sam Young, and Tyrell Biggs. There also is a 99.9% chance that it will lose All American center DeJuan Blair to the NBA draft.

Incoming is a great recruiting class to help replace them, but it will be tough to duplicate the success of this season next year.

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28 March 2009

Preview: Pitt vs Villanova

Scottie Reynolds vs. Levance Fields

There are two players in the Big East that can make a 5-of-15 shooting performance look good: one is Sam Young, and the other is Reynolds. That's what he shot from the field against Duke, and he still finished with 16 points. Reynolds, along with Reggie Redding and Shane Clark, were instrumental in shutting down Duke's offense. As Reynolds has been shaking off a case of the flu over the last few weeks, he has been shooting at less than 33 percent over the last four games. Fields is coming off another dramatic play. You can talk about him being a floor general, and everything that falls into that category, including his unmatched play as a passer. We all know the numbers. When push comes to shove, Levance Fields is the guy who wants the ball in his hands, and he proved that on Thursday night. He knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer against Xavier, and he came up with a steal on the ensuing possession that clinched the win. Big players come up in big games like that. With his injury out of the way, and his confidence increasing as the Xavier game went on, Fields is going to pick up where he left off on Thursday. The pressure is off.

Edge: Pitt

Reggie Redding vs. Jermaine Dixon

Redding came up with 11 points and nine rebounds in the win over Duke. The nine rebounds can be attributed to the combined 9-of-45 (20%) three-point shooting between the Wildcats and Blue Devils. Even though there were a lot of long rebounds, still, a guard that can rebound as well as Redding, is impressive. Dixon is still not getting in a rhythm, however he did come up with a couple big layups against Xavier. Still okay, but to think what this Pitt team could do if he was back in his midseason form. He has shot 5-of-21 in postseason play, and needs to get in a rhythm. Redding has been quite the opposite, as he has been on a roll - not just in the tournament, but throughout the second half of the season. Redding is doubling his season scoring average, with 14 points a game in the last two tournament games. Redding is a three-point threat - not a multiple three-point threat, but enough cause for concern.

Edge: Villanova

Shane Clark vs. Sam Young

Interestingly, Clark made his first start at the three after Pitt's loss at Villanova. Since then, the Wildcats are 13-3. Clark is more of a defensive threat, because of his height. For Young, it's a favorable matchup because he should be able to use his athleticism and pick his spots. Clark is prone to foul trouble, and has fouled out of two of the last six games, including the win over Duke. Still, in a 23-point win over Duke, he chipped in seven points and grabbed five rebounds. Not a dominant performance, but his defense on the perimeter was also a big factor in Duke's abysmal shooting performance. It's not too much to expect Young to outscore Clark…the real question is how well Clark can defend Young. If he does, the Panthers could be in trouble. If Young has another big game, this gives the Panthers a significant edge.

Edge: Pitt

Dwayne Anderson vs. Tyrell Biggs

Anderson plays the four the way Sam Young has played it in his career - a smaller, but more athletic type of a four. The last time these two teams played, Anderson matched up with Young at the three. The very next game, he moved down to the four, and has averaged 11.4 points and 6.5 rebounds since making the switch. Though he still grabbed seven rebounds in the win against Duke, Anderson was one of three Wildcats who got into foul trouble. Biggs had an okay game against Xavier - he didn't hurt the Panthers, but he didn't exactly help them either. Pitt has not needed the scoring from Biggs. It has three prime-time players in Fields, Blair and Young to take care of the scoring. If there were ever a time for Dixon and Biggs to get a 10-point game, this would be the time to do it. I'm sure for this game, much like the other games in this tournament, any extra rebounds Biggs can help with is a bonus. Biggs had to defend both Derrick Brown and C.J. Anderson on Thursday, and they both outrebounded him. Pitt is going to need significant help from Biggs on the boards against Villanova.

Edge: Villanova

Dante Cunningham vs. DeJuan Blair

This matchup is not for the faint at heart. Cunningham poses one of the toughest matchups Blair has seen all season. He came up big with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Duke. The move of Dwayne Anderson down low has helped Cunningham immensely. He can stay in the low post and play inside, while Anderson has the chance to be a versatile player from anywhere, offensively or defensively. One player who has been consistent for Pitt through this tournament, has been DeJuan Blair. He has finished with a double-double in each game of this tournament - not the typical numbers for your average sophomore, but Blair has proved more than once that he's not your typical sophomore. Blair is averaging 15.7 points and 15 rebounds in three tournament games this year. This matchup is comparable to Blair vs. Thabeet. Despite Cunningham getting in foul trouble, and having his worst shooting performance of his last five games, both players will excel in this matchup. Blair may have had a more physical matchup from Xavier, heading into this game, which may give him a slight edge.

Edge: Pitt

Depth: Villanova Bench vs. Pitt Bench

Fisher was arguably the top bench player in the Big East this past season, and had been taking is game to a new level in recent weeks. Fisher is an excellent free throw shooter, and pretty solid from three-point range, before he went 0-for-3 from three-point range against Duke, including 0-for-6 from the field. It still didn't matter. Stokes is another big-time scorer off the bench at guard, averaging around nine points a game. Both can be threats on the perimeter, but in a similar fashion of Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs - they'll take a few good looks when they're win, but don't expect more than one or two. Antonio Pena only comes in when the starters get in foul trouble. If that's the case, expect Pitt to gain an advantage there. Those are the three bench players that get the bulk of the minutes. Frank Tchuisi appeared in 23 games this season, and somehow had more field goals than Duke's Gerald Henderson - take that for what it's worth. The x-factor is Gilbert Brown. Brown quietly had seven points and six boards in the win over Xavier. Again, with his athleticism, he might be able to fill in and get some defensive rebounds. Though Stokes and Fisher have started games this year, and play like starters, the trio of Wanamaker, Brown and Gibbs have a chance to show their versatility in this game. We know Stokes and Fisher are strictly guards. Gibbs can play either of the guard spots, Wanamaker can play the one, two or three, while Brown is going to be an athletic four in this game.

Edge: Pitt

Overall: Villanova vs Pitt

Pitt 67
Villanova 57

The question this whole time has been whether Pitt was going to show up in this tournament. It's safe to say, after a 31-18 run in the second half against Xavier, they showed up when it counted most. The Panthers are in an interesting momentum flow right now. This team is much less of a defensive team than other Dixon-coached teams of the past. This team also has more offensive firepower. Thursday, they went back to their roots a little bit. We also saw Thursday, the advantage of having a veteran point guard in Levance Fields. Take your pick of clutch Fields shots over the years—the three-pointer against Duke last year, the two three-pointers at the end of the first UConn game this year, or last night's go ahead three-pointer with less than a minute to go. All three were clutch situations, all three were against big name programs with a lot at stake. We'll assume that Fields is healthy, and even if he isn't, now that the Panthers have finally advanced to that next level they've been so often criticized. Not just Fields - Young, and even Blair, have been trained to play in a game like Saturday. For Villanova - it's mind boggling to think they won by 23, while they shot just 4-of-23 from three-point range. They made up for that with a +14 in rebounding, and a 44-18 margin in the paint. That kind of play can work either way for Pitt. The Wildcats have a rebounding specialist at the three, an athletic four, and a bruiser on the inside. With that kind of variety, there's really no excuse to not have an advantage in the Pitt. Sure, big win over Duke, but Duke is a shooting team—live by the sword, die by the sword. Remember…a little used bench player in Frank Tchuisi outscored Duke's big guy inside, Gerald Henderson. It will be much tougher to stop playmakers like Sam Young and DeJuan Blair. If Pitt's backcourt, not just Fields, gets active, Pitt will have a significant edge. Also working for Pitt - revenge. Pitt has so much pride in its Big East opponents, that even with a Final Four trip on the line, getting the Wildcats back for the loss in January - two months ago to the date - might be more on the mind.

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26 March 2009

Breaking It Down

So, I have been watching NHL statistics, like always, and something caught my eye. I looked at a lot of things this time and came to several conclusions...one is that stats don't really matter come playoff time and another is that if a team changes style and/or coaching, that team inherits the statistics from the previous administration. Of course, you probably figured out that is the Penguins circumstances right now.
I took the teams that are most likely able to make the playoffs or that are already a lock in the Eastern Conference and evaluated them. I am going to compare individual team statistics from the Penguins to the teams they could face sometime in the playoffs to see where we stand. I also have a graphic so you can see all the actual stats at the bottom of this article.

My first look was at the hits, which is usually my favorite statistic, and I was surprised at how we compare to other teams as well as past Penguin teams. There is only one team that tops our 2051 hits thus far this season and they are, surprisingly, the New York Rangers with 2131. The top four "powerhouses" are not even within 600 hits of the Penguins. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It can be looked at either way. I mean, if we are the aggressor in the playoffs, it will knock the other team off of their game and frustrate them. They will feel they have to match us hit for hit to beat us, which they won't be able to. You can also look at it in the respect that they all have better records than us at this point in time. I think that is weak, though, because there are so many aspects to a game you can scrutinize. If you compare this year's hit count to the Penguins of the last two year's, we are way more aggressive than in the past. For instance, 2006-07 we had a total of 1472, and last year we had 1671. They were both from all 82 games. Take that however you want.

The next stat I looked at is really, in my opinion, an art form. You have to master blocked shots so you can get the timing down and avoid injury. You also stand to help out your goalie a ton if the shots your opponent is taking isn't getting through. A bad point about having a high number of blocked shots is that it means the opponent had control of the puck alot and was open enough to take a crack at scoring. Once again, there is only one team in the top nine that has more than our 1211. Take into consideration something I said earlier, though, we changed coaches and styles, so we are a different team now. The Montreal Canadians are the only team with more blocks than us at 1259. The top three hover around 1000 and Philadelphia is not far behind us with 1186. We are pretty much on the same tract as the 2006-07 and the 2007-08 totals of 1215 and 1268 respectively.

The next two categories go hand in hand, but in my opinion, doesn't factor in as much as it should in respect to overall records. These two categories are giveaways, takeaways and their combined differences as well as goal differential. If common sense tells us that if you have more giveaways than takeaways that you would have more goals allowed than most teams. It also should tell us that if it is the other way around, it would show just the opposite. I will tell you neither is an absolute or even a remote science because of one variable involved in this. The goaltender. We are a +13 in goal differential, but a -137 in giveaway/takeaway differential (GTD). I think this is a better measuring stick to the quality of a goaltender than most other statistics. If we give it up that much and are still a +13 overall, I consider Fleury a success. Boston is a +72 in goal differential and a +8 in GTD. That says that Thomas is good, but not incredible at this point. He is doing what is necessary to win. New Jersey is a +44 in goal differential, but an amazing +204 in GTD. That shows to me that the goalie isn't great, but look who is between the pipes. Ok, so Brodeur wasn't there all season and Clemmenson is now in the minors, so what. The next thought I have is a poor offense, but their offense is on par with everyone else. Washington is a +21 and an incredible -256 in GTD. That shows someone incredible in between the pipes. I know Theodore isn't known for this at this point in time, but maybe we need to look at him a bit closer considering how much his team, specifically Ovechkin with his league leading 100 giveaways, leaves him out to dry so often. Our possible first round opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers are +27 to a GTD of -139. They are almost our equals here with Biron in net. You may be wondering at this point how we measured up against the last two Penguin playoff teams, well, we were a +31 in goal differential both years, but were a -190 in GTD in 2006-07 and a better -68 in 2007-08. So we fall in the middle this year. The only difference is that Fleury's numbers have changed. In 2006-07 he had a save percentage of .906 and a goals against average of 2.83. In 2007-08, a save percentage of .921 and a goals against average of 2.33 was achieved. Remember that this year he only played half of the games. He seems to play significantly better in the second halves. This year, he has a save percentage of .913 and a goal against average of 2.67. So, as we can see, as Fleury goes, so does this team. I think we need to appreciate him a lot more.

Like I said in the beginning of this piece, it really isn't the stats that tell the tale, it is the way a team is playing at the end of the season. Are they making more mistakes than not? Are they having fun? Are they excelling in their "system"? Are they winning? If the answers are yes to all of these, then you deserve to be in the playoffs.

Let's Go Pens!

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24 March 2009

My Crystal Ball Could Be Right!

My Stanley Cup Final preview.
You may ask what I am talking about. I will tell you. Way back before the NHL season started, I made some crazy predictions on the playoff atmosphere and all the teams involved. I will tell you that I predicted a Calgary-Pittsburgh finals. It sounds cray, but not so much anymore. I was, at the time, picking them despite Detroit. Honestly, that was the only reason. Now, looking at everything, I see it is actually possible. It makes me look like a genius if you never read this article I am writing right now. I mean I am admitting to hating Detroit so much that I am picking against them in the finals regardless of what I truly think.
If the playoffs started today in the East, we would play Washington. I would love to see this. I know alot of people are thinking that this isn't the easiest route, but what better way to start off the playoffs with a victory against one of the top teams in the East? It is a better way to prove who is better, Ovechkin and Semin or Malkin and Crosby. We all know what I think and we all should know, but to prove it on the ice in seven games would be incredible. I love this idea.

If the playoffs started today in the West, Calgary would be playing Columbus. The Jackets would be in their first playoff race ever, and as the saying goes, you have to lose one before you win one. It makes you hungrier. Right now the Flames lead the season series 2-1. That isn't saying much.

The way we are playing right now, clicking on all cylinders, we are going to be hard pressed to lose this post season. I know, I may be jumping the gun too quick here, but it is what I think. We lost in the finals last year. We have a very young team. We know how to get there again, better than most of the teams out there. Our strengths are our physicality, our scoring touch, and our goaltending. Our weaknesses are portions of our special teams and some team defense. I believe that Coach Bylsma is resolving these weaknesses so they aren't as glaring when the postseason hits. We want the teams to fear us coming into their city. Bottom line. We want them to be thinking twice about showboating and trash talking. We want them to know that no matter what they do, we can still win the game, no matter what the score is. We are almost to that level. We had a small hiccup in the last game against the Flyers, but logically speaking, we can't win them all, and they had a really hot goaltender in Biron playing that day.
I like our odds and I am going to stick to my prediction....
Let's Go Pens!

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22 March 2009

Panthers beat Ok. State, 84 - 76

The Panthers are headed to the Sweet 16 for the 5th time in 8 years after a win today.

Oklahoma state played supurbly, nailing 10 3 pointers in the first half to keep it close. The game was tied at the half at 49. In the second half they only made 2 threes as they came back to earth.

Sam Young was a monster, posting 32 points and 8 boards. He had 23 points in the first half. Pitt outboarded Ok. St. 41-21, a dominating performance.

Here's a video with game highlights: http://www.cbssports.com/video/player/play/videos/u_vfGtJ5Adq2uXN65XROKELBd3a12IB

The Big East Conference has a record 5 teams in the Regional semi-finals (Sweet 16) this year.
It's time for Pitt to get past this place that they have gotten stuck at every time this millenium. Ironically, they will try to do so against Xavier, coached by former Panther star point guard Sean Miller. They will play on Thursday, March 26 at 7:27 pm.

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Pitt readies for Oklahoma State

Today at roughtly 2:50 pm Pitt will take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in a NCAA Tournament second round game at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

Below is a listing of the individual matchup breakdowns and an overall overview from Pantherlair.com.

Keiton Page vs. Levance Fields

Fields is the player that Pitt needs most right now. It has been proven all year that anytime Fields scores in double-digits, shoots at least 40 percent from the field, or even makes just a couple three-pointers, it makes a huge difference. Even if he doesn't put up the points, he's almost always good for a high-assist/low-turnover output. On Friday, none of those things came to fruition, as Pitt had to survive against East Tennessee State. Page is a true freshman that has worked his way into the starting lineup this year. Since making his first start against Iowa State on February 14, following a 25-point loss to Texas, Oklahoma State is 9-2. He doesn't have great assist numbers, doesn't put up a lot of points, but is an accurate three-point shooter, and has led his team to nine wins. It's a tall task for the freshman to defend as decorated a player as Fields, but more than anything, for Pitt to win, they need Fields to snap out of it.

Edge: Pitt

Byron Eaton vs. Jermaine Dixon

Dixon is also in a slump. He may have a quickness advantage on Eaton, but Eaton is a strong player. Dixon hasn't been the same for the last three games. He has a total of 11 points in the last three games, sat out a considerable amount of time due to foul trouble against East Tennessee State, and fouled out against UConn. Eaton is prone to foul trouble, which can be good or bad: he'll either draw people into getting fouls, or he himself gets called. It all depends on how the game is called. Eaton is not afraid to drive to the net, and when he's in the paint, he has the strong presence of a low-post player. His only drawback is that he's a hit-or-miss kind of shooter. He was an impressive 7-of-10 in a win over Tennessee, but was 0-for-7 in the Big 12 tournament loss to Missouri. The key for Dixon will probably be to stay with him on his drives. Both players picked up four fouls in their first-round games, and it might be a battle to see who can keep it under four.

Edge: Even

Terrel Harris vs. Sam Young

After Levance Fields, the player Pitt needs most is Sam Young. To his credit, Young's 11 second-half points helped separate the Panthers, but they certainly needed more than three points in the first half from him. Perhaps what hurts the most is the fact that Young was 0-for-4 from two-point range. Young is lethal for any opponent, but he's lethal to Pitt when he tries to create too much. While Young has the athletic advantage over mostly anyone he goes up against, he's going up against someone just as athletic in Terrel Harris. The only real differences between the two are that Harris is not as much of a threat as Young is in the three-point department and is in no way close to the rebounder that Young is. Harris is the most consistent overall shooter on Oklahoma State's team, and is a near perfect free-throw shooter. The key for Young: stay with Harris on his drives and take good shots, and he might be able to take over this game.

Edge: Pitt

James Anderson vs. Tyrell Biggs

Biggs is going to have to stand his ground; whether he scores or not is not the issue. Anderson is a threat from many areas. He can shoot the three-pointer, but he is also a very good slasher, something that creates a lot of mismatches for a lot of power forwards. Both players can be physical inside, but it's likely that Anderson will try to drive from the wing as he did against Tennessee. Biggs' defense will be tested, while anything he can come up with on offense will be a bonus for Pitt.

Edge: OSU

Marshall Moses vs. DeJuan Blair

Blair and Moses match up in a battle of the two leading scorers from their respective first-round games. Blair has the size advantage, and has proven to be a monster against everyone all year. A big reason for Blair being so successful is not his size as much as it is how quick and athletic he is for someone his size. Moses now creates that challenge for Blair. The Oklahoma State frontcourt is going to be outmanned by Biggs and Blair, but they've made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, so they are obviously doing something right, and part of that is using their quickness and athleticism. Moses paced his team with 11 rebounds, giving the Cowboys a rebounding edge on Friday. Blair did a similar thing for Pitt. The only drawback for both players is that they are both prone to getting in foul trouble, and both teams are not the same without them.

Edge: Pitt

Depth: OSU Bench vs. Pitt Bench

If there was one thing besides DeJuan Blair that went well for Pitt on Friday, it was the bench play. Freshman Ashton Gibbs showed no signs of being nervous in his first NCAA Tournament game, getting 10 points for the Panthers, which literally made the difference in the game. Brad Wanamaker wasn't able to get many shots off, but filling in for Jermaine Dixon after Dixon got his third foul, he helped Pitt out more than the scoreboard showed. Gilbert Brown's eight points was also a nice surprise. All three need a similar performance or better against Oklahoma State, simply because the Cowboy bench is represented by two players with minimal contributions. Obi Muonelo and Anthony Brown are the key bench players for the Cowboys. Muonelo is a hot-and-cold three-point shooter. In the Big 12 Tournament, Muonelo shot just 3-of-11 from three-point range in a loss to Missouri, knocking the Cowboys out. He connected on 2-of-4 three-pointers against Tennessee, not a huge difference, but in a game decided by two points, made somewhat of a difference. Brown's minutes are sporadic. If someone else gets in foul trouble, he's usually in to play some minutes. The Brooklyn native shouldn't affect the Panthers on the boards one way or the other.

Edge: Pitt

Overall: OSU vs. Pitt

Pitt 75

OSU 73

Pitt and Oklahoma State played polar opposites in their first round games. Pitt shot a decent 43-percent from the field, but turned the ball over 18 times. Oklahoma State shot over 55-percent against Tennessee, and won on a buzzer-beater. If both teams play to those same standards on Sunday, the outcome could be much different. The keys for Pitt are simple: hold Oklahoma State to a shooting percentage of 30 percent, cut down on the turnovers, and play more disciplined. For as disciplined a program as this has been over the last eight seasons, it's hard to believe when they have their best shot at a Final Four, they are not playing as disciplined. If Byron Eaton (7-of-10 against Tennessee) and Marshall Moses (8-of-10 against Tennessee) shoot as well against Pitt, and the Panthers don't get things corrected, Oklahoma State could pull the upset. The Panthers have a size advantage in the paint, while the Cowboys have a size advantage in the backcourt. This game could also come down to who exploits the other first. One area where both teams are similar, is how they are both prone to getting in foul trouble. Three Oklahoma State players picked up four fouls in Friday, yet still held on. Another player picked up three, and Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford was called for a technical.

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21 March 2009

News, Notes, and Buried Treasures 3.0

  • The Pirates spring training record is 11-8-2. The Bucs have lost 4 of their last 6 games.
  • Andy LaRoche offered up his first hit less game this spring against the Minnesota Twins on 3/18 then followed that with a hit less effort on 3/20 vs the Boston Red Sox. Andy with a batting average of .438 has surrendered his MLB spring training batting title lead to Cory Hart of the Milwaukee Brewers who has a BA of .450. Andy now sits in 3rd behind Red Sox country boy Jed Lowrie who has a .439 BA.

  • Vince Lascheid Pirates Pride - Long time Pirates organist Vince Lascheid passed away early Friday morning at the age of 85. Anyone who has been lucky enough to have heard Vince in action knows just what he brought to the ball yard. Personally, without even thinking, I can hear that organ playing right now. It's sound and Vince's style are forever imprinted in my memory. Vince spent 29 of the last 31 years of Three Rivers Stadium existence playing for the Pirates and the first 6 seasons at PNC Park doing the same until his health forced him to retire in 2007. Vince also spent several years playing the organ at the Civic/Mellon Arena for the Penguins. Many people will remember Vince for playing different songs, in an a joking manner, when players stepped into the batters box or took the mound. My personal favorite is "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" when Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock would step to the plate. I was young , but it's one of those things that sticks with you forever. Thank you Vince for everything you have done and meant for the Pittsburgh Pirates. REST IN PEACE Vince Lascheid.
  • More on Gorzo - Apparently, the timing of Tom Gorzelanny's demotion was not as unexpected as many outside the organization thought it was. In the eyes of Bucco management, Gorzo needs work, and lots of it. After compiling a 14-10 record his rookie season in 2007, he slid backwards in 2008 compiling a 6-9 record and ultimately being sent to AAA Indy by mid summer. Now, Gorzo has been demoted from the big league camp and the emotional aspect of being demoted twice in 2 years could be his biggest challenge. Gorzo was demoted after 4 laboring outings this spring and management cited a need to make his delivery more consistent, gain better command on his breaking ball, his change up and his fastball, and better conditioning. Geesh, is that all? GM Neil Huntington commented, "While he did great work to get himself in better condition [shedding about 20 pounds in the off season], he really just evened the playing field and put himself where he should have been all along. We need Tom Gorzelanny to make some adjustments and work his way back to the big leagues and earn a spot in this rotation."
  • Rotation Set? - With the demotion of Tom Gorzelanny, the starting rotation looks to be nearly set. Four pitchers remain in the "running", however Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens are expected to be named the #4 and #5 starters in the rotation behind Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, and Zach Duke. The 2 other starting pitcher candidates are Virgil Vasquez and Jason Davis however neither are deemed serious challengers.
  • The Pride of Pine Richland - Neil Walker was also demoted to AAA on Wednesday, but not for lack of good play. Walker fell victim to a technicality in his contract deeming it necessary to designate him to AAA Indy now to prevent his major league service clock from starting. Walker was made aware by management that this would happen, and he was assured that when the time came, he would be promoted accordingly. GM Neil Huntington called Walker the best defensive third baseman in the Pirates organization, which is a huge compliment and accomplishment considering he just began playing the position a little over 2 years ago. Walker was drafted as a catcher.
  • Professor Lanny - Lanny Frattere after leaving the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a play by play announcer for 33 years has found a new way to occupy his time. Professor Lanny was hired by Waynesburg University on March 18th as the assistant professor of communication. He also will serve as special assistant to university relations. Professor Lanny's teaching duties will include sportscasting, news announcing, and public speaking courses. He also will work with student sportscasters for the Waynesburg University Sports Network. It had long been rumored that Frattare was seeking employeement after leaving the Pirates. There were rumblings of him applying for several Pittsburgh area high school athletic director jobs, however nothing ever materialized. This bit of news hits home, as yours truly lives only 7 miles from Waynesburg Univeristy and attended the then named Waynesburg College for a few semesters.
  • WBC Defeat - Pitcher Ian Snell and Utility Infielder Ramon Vazquez have returned to Pirate City after a heart breaking defeat to the USA in the World Baseball Classic on March 17th. Puerto Rico lost to the Americans in a 2nd round elimination game on a 9th inning 2 RBI walk off single by the Mets David Wright. John Grabow now is the only Pittsburgh Pirate remaining in the World Baseball Classic.
  • Upcoming TV Games - TODAY! 1:05pm vs Cincinnati Reds on FSN Pittsburgh and MLBTV. This is the 2nd and last spring training game to be aired on FSN Pittsburgh this spring. Your next glimpse of the Bucs will come on April 6th in St Louis at 4:15pm on FSN Pittsburgh HD.
  • 16 Days till Opening day!

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20 March 2009

Pitt wins, 72 - 62

Well, Pitt played by far its worst game of the year but still won by 10. Had they played this bad against West Virginia in their last lost they would have lost by 40-50. They won today simply because the team they played is that bad and ETSU shot terribly today. Had Pitt played any team that was half decent today they would have been sent packing home. This is not a good sign going into the second round againt Oklahoma State. In fact, had they played Oklahoma State today, they would have lost by about 30. DeJuan Blair carried the team with 27 points and 16 rebounds. He was the only player to show any enthusiasm throughout.

It was the 161st win for Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, tying him with North Carolina State's Everett Case (1947-52) for the best start ever in the first six seasons of any college basketball coaching career.

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Let's Get it On!

Today, at roughtly 2:45-2:55 pm, Pitt will play East Tennessee State in a first round game of the NCAA tournament.


With a victory today against No. 16 seed East Tennessee State (23-10) in an East Region first-round game, Coach Jamie Dixon will tie the Division I record for most wins by a coach in his first six seasons.
How did he get to be so good? He said he was smart enough to figure out he needed good players.
Here's an article on Coach Dixon, talking about how he's as intense as ever: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/college/s_616951.html.
Here is a breakdown of the individual player matchups, courtesy of Pantherlair.com

East Tennessee St. vs. Pitt

No. 1 seed Pitt opens its 2008-09 NCAA Tournament run this afternoon when the Panthers open up against East Tennessee State. In advance of the game, PantherLair.com senior writer Tony Greco breaks down the matchup.

Courtney Pigram vs. Levance Fields
The only question with Fields right now is his health. It's a toss-up for Jamie Dixon: does he play Fields, risking the chance of aggravating his groin injury, or does he rest him, putting him at risk of accumulating rust over the weekend? The ideal scenario would be for Dixon to get Fields 10-15 minutes, then turn it over to his bench. On the flipside, Pitt's biggest challenge will be controlling ETSU's backcourt. Pigram, a senior, is a threat as a three-point shooter and is the Buccaneers top assist-man. Pigram averages over six three-point attempts a game and has converted 33 percent of those. With Pitt having a size advantage inside, expect Pigram's three-point attempts to be in the double-digits. This is NCAA Tournament time, and entering as a 16-seed, ETSU will have to be aggressive in situations like these.

Edge: Pitt

Kevin Tiggs vs. Jermaine Dixon
Tiggs is the Buccaneers' leading scorer, averaging 21.5 points a game. If anyone causes the biggest matchup difficulties, it will be him and Mike Smith. With that said, don't be surprised if Tiggs lines up at the three with Smith at the two. Tiggs, though standing at 6-4, is a guard with the presence of a big-man, which may make up for ETSU's lack of size. Tiggs has turned the ball over more than any player on his team, while also leading the team in steals. Unfortunately for Tiggs, Dixon is Pitt's best perimeter defender. Tiggs has the task of helping out as much as possible in the rebounding department. Dixon has gone up against every good guard in the Big East and hasn't disappointed. His best games offensively (19 points vs. Louisville) haven't really factored much in Pitt losses, just as his worst games. He fouled out against UConn, but the Panthers didn't really need him on offense. Dixon's main focus for this game is defense.

Edge: Pitt

Mike Smith vs. Sam Young
Smith could also line up at the two against Dixon. He is really a forward with guard-like skills. He is the Buccaneers' best overall shooter, best three-point shooter, and the team's top rebounder. Smith has the biggest challenge he has faced all year in facing Sam Young. Down the stretch, no player was more consistent than Sam Young. Despite leading the Panthers with 15 points in the loss to West Virginia last week, Young shot around 33 percent, well below his season average. If he stays within the realm of Pitt's offense, getting good looks instead of trying to make the big play every time down the court, Pitt will be fine.

Edge: Pitt

Greg Hamlin vs. Tyrell Biggs
A matchup between two players that average around five points and five rebounds a game. Both are the forgotten players in their starting lineup, mostly because of the star power surrounding them. Biggs showed ability to get a key three-pointer or hunt down a loose ball earlier in the season, but that really hasn't been seen since the conference season began. However, being a senior that is playing every minute for his career, and a senior who has played in five NCAA tournament games in his career gives him the edge over Hamlin - that and the 40-pound weight advantage he'll have inside. Hamlin is a senior and does bring experience. Biggs has already played in some bigger games though.

Edge: Pitt

Isiah Brown vs. DeJuan Blair
DeJuan Blair has already played on many big stages this season. He's established himself as one of the top overall players in the Big East and as an All-American. It's safe to say Blair has established himself as a Pitt legend. Now he attempts to take that next step as a college basketball legend. Tournament success in March comes from performance from big-time players showing up in this two-week stretch, and Blair has that opportunity. Brown worked his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman, and though he has been an average rebounder, he shoots at a clip of 67 percent. He's got a tough task in going up against Blair. Look for freshman center Seth Coy, at 6-11, to come off the bench early and often to help provide a double on Blair.

Edge: Pitt

Depth: ETSU Bench vs. Pitt Bench
If the Panthers get up in this game, it will be a good opportunity to get the bench players some experience. Fortunately for the Panthers, a few of the bench players have at least played on this main stage before. Gilbert Brown played in both NCAA games last year, and Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee both played in the first round win over Oral Roberts. For now, Wanamaker and Brown are the key bench players. The Panthers should get in a situation where McGhee and freshmen Nasir Robinson and Ashton Gibbs get in the game. ETSU uses a comfortable rotation of eight and sometimes nine players. This Pitt game looks like one where they will use nine. Adam Sollazzo is the key bench player, appearing in all 33 games and making 12 starts. Jarvis Jones and Micah Williams played in all but one game this year, and freshman center Seth Coy appeared in 24. Sollazzo, at 6-6, is a bit of a matchup problem at the two. Jones, Williams and Sollazzo could appear at any of the three guard spots, allowing starters Smith and Tiggs to move around in different spots. If these teams have anything in common, it's definitely the versatility of their rosters. Expect to see a lot of players in a lot of different spots.

Edge: Pitt
Overall: ETSU vs. Pitt


Lets face it: history is on Pitt's side for at least this first round. A No. 16-seed has never knocked off a No. 1 seed in the tournament. The only comparison these two teams have, are deep benches. ETSU's backcourt players are the go-to guys, and there's really no reason for Pitt to have any problem dominating in the paint. ETSU might employ a zone, similar to West Virginia, which has given the Panthers problems all year. They almost have to employ a zone, given their lack of size, and the odds facing them. The most important thing for Pitt in this game is to shake off the rust, since this will be the Panthers' second game in two weeks. The time off is good, but this team has shown in recent years that it struggles out of the gate after long layoffs. The second big question is team health. Does Jamie Dixon play Fields, and how much does he play? By not playing him, Pitt's offense changes completely. If Fields does sit, is Ashton Gibbs ready to step in and run the point, or does Wanamaker slide over? If Fields plays, is he risking himself aggravating his groin even more, and if he does that and Pitt wins, is he making things worse for two days later? Those are the biggest questions that need to be answered on Friday afternoon. The rest is in good hands.

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18 March 2009

On The Right Track

I looked at the roster from last year's Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers and couldn't think of anyone else I would want on this team. In saying this I mean that I figure if we sign a majority of our free agents and come in next year with the same team, we would be in good shape to repeat. I know, I know, Coach Mike Tomlin says we aren't allowed to say that word because every year, every team is different, but I am saying it because it is so close to the same.

I see us only getting better now that we have resigned some of our key players. I know we lost Bryant McFadden to Arizona and Nate Washington to Tennessee, but out of the starters, the only important piece that we lost is McFadden. We have some strong backups in William Gay and Fernando Bryant. Grant it, they aren't as strong and McFadden, but I see him as replaceable. I mean that players like Troy Polomalu and Ben Roethlisberger aren't in the replaceable category. Out of all the Free Agents we have signed from last year, I believe the most important was Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu.

I know its our dreaded offensive line, but we need some players to bridge the gap until we get the proper replacements. I figure the draft will help us there. We did release Kendall Simmons and didn't try to sign Marvel Smith, but I think those were very smart risks to take, as the Steelers always seem to do.

Another plus that will make us stronger this upcoming year will be the return of Daniel Sepulveda. I know he is only the Punter, but come on, look at our statistics from one year to the next and it is like day and night. In 2008, we were a combined, between Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster, 78 punts averaging 39.8 yards per punt. We had 4 total touchbacks and 23 inside the 20. Now, looking at 2007, Danial Sepulveda had 68 punts for an average of 42.4 yards per punt. A significant improvement, also, he had 2 touchbacks and 28 inside the 20. Those are much needed yards.

I am excited to see how our top two rookies from last year pan out this year. I know Rashard Mendenhall only had 19 ruches last year before breaking his collar bone, but he showed alot of spark that we needed. Willie Parker definitely need the break to keep his career going longer. Limas Sweed is the other important player now with Washington gone. I am interested to see how he answers all the criticism from last year. I would love to see him as everyone in the draft saw him, a big threat.
The last item I want to cover is the defense. We have the exact same defense as last year, minus McFadden. We should rank in the top 5 at least. I would love to see us accomplish #1 in all categories, unlike last year where we came so close, but didn't quite get there.

I am prepared to say that with this team, and the 4th easiest schedule next year, we should make another huge splash in the postseason. I am hoping, as always that we give a 7th reason for all other fans to hate the Steelers!

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Gorzo Gonzo!

In a move that is slightly shocking, however never something that was deemed impossible, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tom Gorzelanny has been demoted from the major league camp at spring training to the minor league camp and is expected to start the season at AAA Indianapolis.

Gorzelanny showed signs of greatness when he started his career in 2007 with 14-10 record and 3.88 ERA however, last year he struggled with a 6-9 record and 6.66 ERA which lead to his demotion to AAA. He had been considered an odds on favorite to reclaim a rotation spot this spring.

The move leaves 3 pitchers battling for the 2 remaining starting rotation spots, Virgil Vasquez (who yesterday was hammered by the Yankees), Ross Ohlendorf, and Jeff Karstens (both of whom were received via trade from the Yankees for Xavier Nady last year).

Gorzelanny was notified this morning and left the clubhouse without comment.

Jose Tabata, a top prospect within the system, was also optioned to minor league camp this morning and will begin the season in AA Altoona.

I will follow up with more on these two in a later post.

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17 March 2009

News, Notes, and Buried Treasures 2.0

  • The Bucs Spring Training record is 10-7-2.
  • Andy LaRoche continues to lead all of Major league Baseball with a batting average of .538.
  • Craig Monroe leads MLB with 6 homeruns. He went bonkers on March 12th against the Minnesota Twins hitting 3 homeruns. The Pirates spring training homerun record is 8, by Craig Wilson in 2005.
  • The Bucs pitching has struggled as of late, more so in part due to younger players getting looks as bullpen possibilities. It’s not that teams are smashing the ball, it’s more a sign of pitchers not hitting the strike zone and allowing batters to gain the base paths by way of walks. The Bucs pitching staff is currently ranked 14th in team era at 4.79 but 2nd in opponent batting average at .239. The Bucs have given up the 4th most walks with 72.
  • Roster moves are soon to be coming at a rapid pace as we are now less than 3 weeks until opening day. Eight players were reassigned on March 16th to minor league camp and designated to their minor league teams. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez and RHP Ronald Uviedo were designated to high Single A - Lynchburg. Catcher Steve Lerud and RHP Jeff Sues were sent to AA Altoona. RHP Jimmy Barthmaier, P Daniel McCutchen, 2B Shelby Ford, and RHP Juan Mateo were sent to AAA Indianapolis.
  • Monroe vs. Morgan - The left field starting position battle might just be heating up. Morgan, who I previously outlined in a my season preview/lineup project post on March 9th, has not been doing a whole lot, while Craig Monroe as stated above is leading MLB in homeruns this spring. The 2 players offer a different dynamic to the lineup. Morgan is going to bring speed and lots of it. He will have the legs to cover the large left field at PNC park as well as provide a jumpstart to the top of the lineup. Monroe brings a much needed power bat from the right side of the plate, something the Pirates desperately need. Up until this point, Monroe was penciled in as bench player getting spot starts, however, if it his bat continues to whack balls over the wall, the management group and manager John Russell will have no choice but to get that bat in the lineup on a daily basis. Eye witness accounts however have been critical of Monroe’s hustle and that ultimately might spell trouble for him gaining that starting nod.
  • Brandon Moss Injury Update - Brandon is making great progress and could be playing in a Spring training game as soon as Thursday of this week. The thumb sprain/bruise is holding up and healing well. On Monday he took swings in the batting cage and today planned to participate in batting practice. If that went well, another round of batting practice would occur on Wednesday and game play on Thursday. This is outstanding news, as some speculated if he would be ready for the April 6th opener in St. Louis.
  • Hinske Returns - Eric Hinske who has been out of action since Feb. 26th with a left rib cage injury played in a minor league game on Monday and was expected to return to the lineup Wednesday as a designated hitter.
  • The Pirates had 14 players within their system taking part in the World Baseball classic. Four players from their major league roster were involved and until last night all remained “alive” as second round play continues. The one player not remaining in tournament play is infielder Luis Cruz for Mexico. Those remaining are pitcher Ian Snell and infielder Ramon Vazquez for Puerto Rico, and relief pitcher John Grabow for the USA. Puerto Rico and the USA were playing this evening in an elimination game, ensuring that at least one of those 3 remaining players will be returning to Pirates City in Florida after tonight.
  • When was the last time the Pirates minor league system was anything but the bottom of the barrel? The last known prospect to come thru the Pirates minor league system was Aramis Ramirez in 1997 and we all know what and where that lead to. Hardball Times recently ranked all 32 MLB teams minor league systems, basing each teams ranking on players within the top 100 prospects in MLB. The Pirates routinely and almost expectedly are usually in the bottom half of the league, until this year! Our Bucco’s came in at #11! Three players are among the top 100 in baseball and they are Pedro Alvarez (12), Andrew McCutchen (19), and Jose Tabata (60). The only bad news, had the Pirates and Dave Littlefield in 2007 drafted Orioles superstar catcher Matt Wieters, the Bucs would be a top 5 minor league system. Neil Huntington and Frank Coonley need a pat on the back for acquiring 2 of those 3 players under their short time her in the ‘burgh.
  • Props to HEINZ77 for his earlier post on his first hand account of the future of Bucco’s baseball. I had a small snippet ready to go on that occasion, but he did well enough for me to leave it alone.
  • Upcoming game(s) on TV - Saturday March 21 vs. Cincinnati Reds 1:05pm on FSN Pittsburgh and MLB.TV.

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