May 19, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Houston Astros at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Walking the Plank: Rough road ahead for Pirates, but pitchers on the way

Alright, let’s get down to business. The Pirates beat the Astros Sunday at PNC Park to win two out of three games and take the series. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the sweep I was hoping for but it is what it is. For whatever reason, the Pirates have a habit of playing to the level of competition.

When playing a team like the St. Louis Cardinals, that’s a good thing. Barely winning a series against the Astros worries me.

May 7, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Justin Wilson (37) delivers a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning of an interleague game at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote the other day that dominant teams sweep weaker clubs and this series victory left me less then elated. First and foremost, I’m not going to get down on a team for losing one out of three baseball games, but winning two games they probably didn’t deserve to win sends a message of its own. They somehow found a way.

Although Friday’s game was a total gift from the baseball gods, Jeff Locke still managed to post seven shutout innings despite falling behind a lot of hitters Sunday. The fact he went seven and gave the “Shark Tank” bullpen some rest going into Monday’s off day is definitely a bonus.

  • I thought A.J. Burnett was finally going to catch a break and add another win to his total Saturday night when the Pirates got him the lead going into the eighth inning. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Besides his last start against the Brewers, he has been pitching a lot better than his record indicates. His ERA and strikeouts alone are a testament to that fact. By the end of the season, I expect his record to be more in line with his numbers, provided he continues to pitch the way he has been. The Buccos batters need to start giving their ace more help every fifth day.
  • I haven’t written about Pedro Alvarez yet this year because frankly I’ve been patiently waiting for him to get started. Yes, he hashit some titanic shots this year. Yes, he hit the winning homer yesterday, which meant he went deep in back-to-back starts. Even though the strikeouts are and I’m afraid will always be there, I think “El Toro” is starting to become a more complete hitter. Much has been written about his tremendous power. Yesterday’s line drive down the left field line was proof of it. While it wasn’t as pretty as his ball into the Allegheny the other night, it shows how truly strong this man is. Is he ever going to be the No. 4 hitter in the Pirates lineup on a regular basis? I just don’t see it happening, but that’s OK.
  • I think the cleanup spot messes with Alvarez’ mind and he is thinking “Mash it” every time he goes up to the plate. While I also think he is always going to be a streaky hitter, I think even with the strikeouts, the streaks should decrease and a more well-rounded hitter will emerge. I’m not saying Pedro is going to be a .310-40-125 guy by any means. The simple fact is the man can change the game with one swing of the bat. To see him start working deeper counts and not swinging and missing at balls 3 feet off the plate is a welcome sight. The home runs will always be there. The rest is a work in progress. It should be fun to watch.
  • How about Justin Wilson? All this kid does is do his job just about every time he has been sent out to the hill, and he has inherited some pretty ugly situations. This kid has not only the stuff as far as his pitching is concerned, he has shown he has the mental toughness to get the job done. Yes, we hear a lot about “Mac and Cheese,” but it’s been Wilson that has quietly been the dominant unsung hero out of the Pirates bullpen. All I know is I don’t get the same sick feeling I used to get when Chris Resop came in the game. Sorry Chris, I’m just saying…
  • Speaking of pitching, the Pirates will soon be choosing who will be replacing Jeanmar Gomez. Gomez has done an adequate job

    holding down the five slot in the rotation until someone is healthy. I thought Locke would also be still be biding his time until he was told, “Thanks, now sit down,” but after a few bumps in the road, he is doing his job to hold onto his spot in the rotation. Unless he has a meltdown, he is making it almost impossible to pull him out of his turn.

  • The Pirates have a couple more pitchers soon to be vying for a spot in the rotation. Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens are rehabbing at various affiliate levels. Gomez is definitely suited for long relief, but if that’s the case and whoever loses the starting spot is going to the bullpen. That means the Pirates either have to sacrifice a bat or send someone from the “Shark Tank” down to the farm. A good team can never have too much pitching. I know only time will tell with Liriano, but man, things could start to get pretty exciting with the Pirates pitching staff as a whole over the next month.
  • Why can’t Neil Walker be up with the bases loaded all the time? The Pirates are 26-18 and they haven’t seen the best out of Walker’s bat yet. Good things will be coming from the Pittsburgh Kid. That can only help the Pirates cause.
  • Last week I stated Gerrit Cole would be a likely candidate for a June call-up with him having a 3-1 record at the time. He proceeded to get torched in his next start Sunday but I’m not buying that the sky is falling for Cole. Jameson Tallion also lost yesterday. They are both still learning their craft and both pitchers have all the tools to hopefully be fighting over the opening day start for some years to come.

Now, let’s move on to the Chicago Cubs, who visit PNC Park this week. While their record indicates they are not a very good baseball team, Pirates fans know they are always a handful, especially that Jeff Samardzija who seems to love setting down Pirate hitters as much as chubby kids like candy. Top that off with Matt Garza starting the series Tuesday night and it’s definitely no easy series for the Pirates. I know it’s Garza’s first time back in the show since his injury, but when he’s on, he’s a weapon.

This is an important series not just because it’s with an NL Central opponent, but because of the Pirates’ schedule after these next three home games: three games at Milwaukee followed by a four-game home and home with the Detroit Tigers. A trip to Cincinnati at the end of the month will close things out. Now how important does a series win over Chi-town seem? Yep, I thought so too.

Tags: Aj Burnett Gerrit Cole Justin Wilson Pittsburgh Pirates

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