MINNEAPOLIS -- The rate at which the trade market progresses before the deadline is exponential. Each deal changes the landscape for the next one; teams on the cusp can change from buyers to sellers and back in a week.
Tuesday clarified the deadline slightly. Off the market went Ben Zobrist, acquired by the Royals. The Jonathan Papelbon shoe finally dropped as Washington received him from the Phillies. The Angels strengthened their outfield, adding David Murphy and David DeJesus after trading for Shane Victorino. And remember when Troy Tulowitzki changed hands?
The players can change the calculus as well. It wasn’t that long ago that Jeff Francoeur looked like a good right-handed complement to a struggling Gregory Polanco; it was reported here and elsewhere that the Pirates were interested. Now, with Polanco playing the best baseball of his brief career, is the need that great? And, as I’ve heard around baseball this month, given what Francoeur would bring in return -- not much -- is it even worth it for the Phillies to trade him?
The Pirates’ infield is more secure now, with Aramis Ramirez and Jung Ho Kang. The Ramirez acquisition probably takes the Pirates away from Cliff Pennington and Clint Barmes, whom I was told the Pirates had interest in.
So what’s left? The rotation, the bullpen, first base and the bench. The rotation market might not become clear until Thursday or Friday, when the Tigers, 3-7 in their past 10, losers of three in a row and 41/2 games out of the wild card, decide whether to go for it or sell. If they sell, David Price becomes the most interesting name available. James Shields and Tyson Ross of the Padres could be moved; so could Cole Hamels, in the never-ending soap opera surrounding the Philadelphia left-hander. But with Ruben Amaro possibly not long for his job, Pat Gillick stepping down soon and Andy MacPhail getting up to speed, who in the Philly front office will pull the trigger on a franchise-shaping trade?
Mike Leake could still go. Dan Haren? Yovani Gallardo?
Outside of closers like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, the relief market is less clear. The Pirates have done a good job building cheap bullpens in recent years, and this could be an area they strengthen in a waiver trade if nothing comes together by Friday at 4 p.m. I haven’t heard them on any specific relievers, but given what Arquimedes Caminero has done recently, another seventh-inning guy wouldn’t hurt.
Regarding the bench, a sample starting lineup against a righty in an NL Park:
Bench: Rodriguez, Ishikawa (L), Decker (L), Florimon (S), Stewart
Now consider the possible Aug. 31 lineup:
Bench: Harrison, Mercer, Rodriguez, Stewart, take your pick
The question is, can they find a bench player who is enough of an upgrade to make it worth acquiring him for a month, but can be had for a small enough acquisition cost?
First base is the conundrum. I’ve heard since the winter meetings that Alvarez has been available, even offered; that has picked up this month. But they’ve had no takers. Pedro Alvarez is having a poor offensive season, not showing the power potential nor the ability to get hot and carry the team. His defense at first base is by all measures the worst by any regular player at the position. And if they can’t trade Alvarez, they can’t upgrade. With a five-man bench, they will be hard-pressed to carry two players who play only first base.
Even if they could trade Alvarez, they would have to have the replacement deal all lined up because they have nothing in the minors. Their best triple-A first base option, Brent Morel, just declined an outright assignment and elected free agency. Josh Bell is in his first year learning the position at double-A. They can’t replace Alvarez without trading him, and right now they can’t trade him.
Fun facts from tonight’s Yankees -- Rangers game: Yankees starter Chris Capuano didn’t make it out of the first, allowing five runs in two-thirds of an inning. That meant the Yankees needed 51/3 innings from Diego Moreno, who went to New York in the A.J. Burnett trade, and did he ever deliver: 51/3 innings, no hits, no runs, one walk, five strikeouts.
The Yankees would win, 21-5, in part because they scored seven runs in an inning of work against former Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez, pitching Tuesday night in relief.
INDIANAPOLIS (58-46) lost to Columbus 4-3. RHP Jeff Inman (0-1, 4.26) gave up a run on 2 hits in 1 1/3 innings pitched. RF Willy Garcia (.252) was 2 for 3 with a home run, and CF Gorkys Hernandez (.277) was also 2 for 3 with a run scored.
ALTOONA (56-48) defeated Richmond, 3-0. LHP Steven Brault (4-3, 3.24) allowed 2 hits in 6 shutout innings, walked 1 and struck out 9 for the win. 2B Max Moroff (.316) was 2 for 4 with a double and 1 RBI, while Brault went 2 for 2 and drove in a pair of runs.
BRADENTON (52-49) split a doubleheader with Clearwater, losing the first, 4-1, and winning the second, 2-1. In the first game RHP Henry Hirsch (1-2, 3.09) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits in 2 2/3 innings to take the loss. LF Jeff Roy (.200) was 1 or 3 and drove in the only run. In the second, RHP Luis Heredia (4-4, 5.55) gave up 1 run in on 4 hits 6 innings for the win. RF Harold Ramirez (.371) was 2 for 3 with a triple and 1 RBI.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (59-42) defeated Hagerstown, 13-3. RHP Austin Coley (12-5, 4.00) became the South Atlantic League’s first 12 game winner as he allowed 3 runs on 3 hits in 5 innings. 1B Chase Simpson (.255) was 3 for 5 with a 2-run homer and 4 RBIs, while DH Cole Tucker (.293) went 3 for 5 with a double, 1 RBI and scored 3 times and RF Michael Suchy (.280) was 3 for 4 with a triple, 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored. CF Tito Polo (.244) was 1 for 5 with 3 RBIs.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (20-17) had its 9-game winning streak snapped in a 5-1 loss to Tri-City. RHP Dario Agrazal (4-2, 2.57) allowed 2 runs on 6 hits in 5 innings. SS Kevin Newman was 2 for 4 with 2 doubles and scored the Power’s only run. 1B David Andriese (.220) was 2 for 3.
BRISTOL (13-19) lost to Greenville, 12-4. RHP Logan Sendelbach (0-2, 9.50) was knocked around for 5 runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings in the loss. 1B Carlos Munoz (.395) was 3 for 5 with a double, a triple and 1 RBI, LF Henrry Rosario (.234) went 2 for 5 with 2 doubles and 2 RBIs and CF Sandy Santos (.275) finished 2 for 4.
GCL PIRATES (16-11) swept a doubleheader against GCL Phillies, winning a suspended game and the nightcap by identical 4-3 finals. In the first game, RHP Adam Miller (1-0, 0.00) pitched a scoreless second inning and was credited with the win. LF Edison Lantigua (.158) was 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs. DH Jhoan Herrera (3.10) was also 2 for 4. In the second game, the Pirates scored 4 runs in the bottom of the seventh, capped by a 3-run walk-off homer by Herrera. RHP Yunior Montero (1-1, 3.50) pitched 2 scoreless innings of relief striking out 4 for the win.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Rob Scahill traveled to the Pirates’ facility in Bradenton, Fla., to begin his formal rehab for the forearm tightness that sent him to the disabled list.
Scahill will throw a couple of bullpen sessions, then pitch in a simulated game Monday. He is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment Aug. 6 with Class A Bradenton, going two innings or 35 pitches.
***Gorkys Hernandez is eligible to come off the DL today, but he is still on his rehab assignment with Class AAA Indianapolis. Clint Hurdle spoke with Indy manager Dean Treanor Monday and will do so again Wednesday to determine what they’ll do with Hernandez.
***Pirates prospects will play for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League this year, along with players from the White Sox, Astros, Dodgers and Phillies systems. Class AA Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage will be a Glendale pitching coach and Drew Scott will serve as an athletic trainer. Fun fact: Rod Barajas will manage the Peoria Javelinas.
***Gregory Polanco since the final game of the Cardinals series before the break: .326/.367/.522, seven extra-base hits.
“I know it was tough at some times because there's a lot of external noise and he wanted to do well and he wasn't,” Hurdle said. “He probably had some anxiety. He's played through that and he played his best baseball, for me, that he's ever played in a Pirate uniform. We can finally stop talking about the first two weeks up. This is much better than that.”
Polanco has said a shorter swing helped his improvement.
“It's the only way he'll have offensive success,” Hurdle said. “The more length to the swing, the more problematic it is for him. It's very difficult for him to maintain and catch up to plus velocity [with a long swing], and we've got a whole game full of plus velocity now, 95 and higher. And then you get exposed with the breaking balls down, whether it be curveballs, sliders back foot, there's just too much going on. Those long levers he's got, it's really not going to work. We've seen some periods of time when it just wasn't working.”
***Hurdle on Twins DH Miguel Sano: “A lot to like. Powerful man, good swing. They talk about plate discipline. One of the names that got my attention was one of the guys dropped a Frank Thomas [comp] on him. That's impressive company. Just to paint a picture, big man with some plate discipline and power.”
***Scouting report on Mike Pelfrey: He throws a two-seamer 45 percent of the time and a four-seamer 28 percent of the time, both about 93 mph. ... Throws a slider at 85 mph, 12 percent of the time, and a splitter at 85 mph, 9 percent of the time. ... Slider usage increases to 18.5 percent against righties, only 6 percent vs. lefties. ... Has failed to complete more than four innings in three of his past seven outings, but pitched six innings and 72/3 innings in his previous two. ... Allowed a .338 batting average against in his past three starts.
Game: Pirates (57-41) at Twins (52-46)
Time: 8:10 p.m. ET
Site: Target Field
TV, radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: 81 and cloudy
MINNEAPOLIS -- Here are the lineups for tonight’s game.
1. Gregory Polanco (L) RF
2. Starling Marte LF
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Jung Ho Kang SS
6. Neil Walker (S) 2B
7. Pedro Alvarez (L) DH
8. Francisco Cervelli C
9. Travis Ishikawa (L) 1B
Charlie Morton RHP
1. Brian Dozier 2B
2. Torii Hunter RF
3. Joe Mauer (L) 1B
4. Miguel Sano DH
5. Trevor Plouffe 3B
6. Eddie Rosario (L) LF
7. Aaron Hicks (S) CF
8. Kurt Suzuki C
9. Eduardo Escobar (S) SS
Mike Pelfrey RHP
Gerrit Cole leads the league in wins this season. (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
The aces from two of the National League’s best rotations pitched Sunday. Gerrit Cole won his major-league best 14th game for the Pirates and Dodger Zach Greinke saw his consecutive scoreless streak stopped at 45⅔ innings in a well-pitched, hard-luck no-decision.
The Dodgers have the best front two, front three and front four among NL rotations with Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Bolsinger and Brett Anderson. The latter two aren’t aces but they’ve been solid enough with Greinke and Kershaw at the top. We’re stopping at four-man rather than five-man rotations because at playoff time that fifth guy won’t matter much.
What team is second to the Dodgers? The Pirates? The Cardinals? The Nationals? How ’bout those Mets? Those first three teams ought to make the playoffs and Mets also have a shot.
It says here the second-best front two belongs to the Nationals. The Pirates have a strong argument for the best front three, but it’s very close with the others, particularly because baseball is like Wall Street: Past returns don’t guarantee continued success. Going beyond three pitchers, St. Louis has the deepest rotation by far.
Let’s take a look at the stats through Sunday. The two columns on the far right are Fielding Independent Pitching, which is based on outcomes that are in the pitcher’s hands: strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and home runs; and Adjusted ERA, which adjusts for the ballparks the man has pitched in. (The average pitcher is at 100, and anything above 100 is above average.) All tabulations come from baseball-reference.com, with league leading stats in bold.
Dodgers W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Zach Greinke 9-2 138.1 91 21 24 120 1.37 2.62 268
Clay Kershaw 8-6 140 105 39 27 185 2.51 2.11 146
M. Bolsinger 5-3 84 71 26 28 75 2.79 2.78 132
B. Anderson 3-3 110.2 117 41 30 79 3.33 3.56 110
Pirates W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Gerrit Cole 14-4 132.1 115 33 28 130 2.24 2.70 165
AJ Burnett 8-4 131 135 39 34 110 2.68 2.94 138
F. Liriano 6-6 120.2 82 39 42 136 2.91 2.98 127
C. Morton 6-4 64.2 64 33 20 36 4.59 4.57 81
The Pirates might have the biggest dropoff after their front three, but the Nationals and Mets should have concerns there, too.
Cardinals W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
C. Martinez 11-4 119.1 99 31 48 121 2.34 3.41 160
John Lackey 9-5 131.1 130 39 32 94 2.88 3.45 130
Lance Lynn 7-5 109.1 100 34 34 119 2.80 2.68 133
*Jaime Garcia 3-3 48 35 9 7 32 1.69 2.98 222
Mike Wacha 11-4 118.1 103 43 29 99 3.27 3.30 114
*A. Wainwright 4-0 25 23 4 3 18 1.44 1.99 263
*Wainwright has been out since April with a torn left Achilles tendon but says he could pitch in the playoffs. Garcia has been out since late June with a groin strain but is scheduled to pitch tonight. It’s hard to say who their front three or four would be in the playoffs, but it’s easy to say they’ll be good.
Nationals W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Max Scherzer 10-8 143 103 37 16 166 2.33 2.35 159
J. Zimmermann 8-5 122.2 130 45 21 90 3.30 3.16 112
Gio Gonzalez 8-4 105.2 111 45 39 92 3.83 3.16 96
Joe Ross 2-3 32.2 28 11 3 34 3.03 1.84 123
Ross, 22, has done a good job subbing for Stephen Strasburg, who went on the disabled list July 5 with strained left oblique. Both Strasburg (5-5, 5.16 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 61 IP) and Doug Fister (3-6. 4.50 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 74 IP) have disappointed this year.
Mets W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Jacob deGrom 10-6 127.1 89 37 16 166 2.33 2.35 159
Matt Harvey 9-7 125.1 106 44 31 116 3.16 3.69 118
N. Syndergaard 4-5 78.2 70 26 20 82 2.97 2.81 126
Jon Niese 5-9 115.1 124 48 35 74 3.75 4.31 100
Bartolo Colon 9-9 117.1 131 60 14 92 4.60 3.59 81
Five pitchers are listed here because it’s hard to say who the fourth-best Mets pitcher is. Colon, 42, started very well but has faded. He got the team off to a strong start, but it’s been the young front three who have carried the punchless team since.
Notable in their absence from this comparison are the world champion San Francisco Giants. Madison Bumgarner is still their ace (11-5, 3.16 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 131 IP) and Chris Heston (10-5, 3.18, 3.18, 119 IP) has been very good, too. But Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum all have ERA and FIP above 4.00.
You still don’t want to face Bumgarner in a wild-card game, though.