I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to baseball schedules, other than when am I going to my next game and what team are we playing in the next series. Unlike football schedules, you know you are going to play your division a bunch of times, a handful of AL teams once, and everyone else in the NL once, home and away. There’s not that much mystery to it. It’s a long season of ups and downs. Because of this, I hadn’t really appreciated the difficulty of the Buccos April schedule until this week.
After a brief three-game series to open the season, the rest of April features 6 home games and 13 road games. The Buccos have just completed a rough West Coast swing against the division’s 3 best teams — no Padres or Rockies this time around. Oh yeah, they had three opening days: one at home, one in LA, and one in San Fran. That means facing their best pitchers each time. So far, the Pirates have faced nothing but the best teams in the NL, and some of the league’s best pitchers, including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, 2o11 Cy Young-winner Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Daniel Hudson, and Ian Kennedy.
We’re two weeks into the 2012 campaign and it has been painfully obvious that the bats are silent.
I don’t mean that we are hitting in the low .200s; I mean we’ve got guys hitting below .100. In fact, the combined team batting average right now is .205. This is beyond embarrassing. Still, it is too early to panic. My philosophy is that hitting is streaky. It gets cold and it gets hot. Pitching, not so much. Sure, a pitcher can have a rough outing, but overall, good pitching stays good and bad pitching stays bad. So, I guess I’d rather see the Pirates pitching well and slumping at the plate than the reverse. But still, it’s gonna come around, right? If not, this could be a train wreck of a season.
We’ve got four starters who have been beyond horrible:
- Rod Barajas (off-season free agent) .074
- Pedro Alvarez .074 (2 for 27, but both hits were home runs)
- Clint Barmes (off-season free agent) .111
- Jose Tabata .111
That’s half our starting lineup. Automatic outs, all of them. A few days ago, Neil Walker was on that list. Thankfully, he has started heating up. In his last four games, he’s gone 8 for 16 to raise his average to .244.
We are last in the National League in hits, runs, doubles, average, on-base pct., slugging pct., and total bases. Second to last in taking walks. I guess if you are an optimist, you could say that we are fortunate to be 5-7 at this point. It could be worse.
Staying in the optimist camp, there are a few Buccos who have been pulling their weight. Chief among them being Andrew McCutchen. Cutch is doing what superstars do. Currently, he’s hitting an even .400, including 2 doubles and 3 stolen bases. He only has 2 RBIs because he rarely comes to bat with men on base. Alex Presley is adequate at .277. Casey McGehee has been a nice find, hitting a solid .290. Even Garrett Jones has shown some life recently, hitting .269. And how about my wife’s favorite Pirate, part-time catcher Michael McKenry, hitting .273 in limited play.
Also encouraging has been the pitching. Our team ERA is 2.80, 4th best in the NL. We have given up the fourth fewest walks. But continuing a trend from last year, our pitchers are last in the league in strikeouts. That means the other team puts that ball in play, which can come back to bite you at some point. But so far, the Pirates have pitched well enough to be above .500. It’s the hitting that has us chasing the pack.
The hitting must come around. The schedule does us no favors. We come home to play the Cardinals before finally getting a break in the form of a visit from the Rockies. Then we go back on the road to Atlanta. Soon, however, May will be here, a month in which we have 18 home games and only 10 road games. May will tell the tale of whether or not this team can show some of the spark they showed last year. Or, whether this team is as good as they are ever going to get. That would be an ugly turn of events.
Closing that road trip with 2 wins was huge. After starting the trip 0-5, they were able to take 3 of the last 4 to return home with a little Mo! Now, we play the first-place Cardinals. Another big test.
All I can say is that these April showers better bring some friggin’ May flowers in the form of more hits.
Let’s go Bucs!