I think it was Meatloaf (?) who sang "Two out of three ain't bad." Well, what about one out of three? That's been the Pirates during the first half of the season. Their series against the Phillies summed up the first half as they won - you guessed it - one out of three. The Pirates come home to play good hosts to Major League Baseball's annual summer hodgepodge: (snubbing really good players from the All Star game) with a very tidy 30-60 record. That's one out of three for the mathaphobics like myself out there.
In fact, this weekends series was a perfect example of how it's gone for Pittsburgh's professional baseball franchise.
Ian Snell continued to look pretty good. He's been the best starting pitcher of a very young group before the All Star Break. He has the best stuff of the group and, if he can avoid early control problems, he's been about as close to lights out as a Pirate can be.
The rest of the group has been maddeningly inconsistent. Unless MLB adopts a rule where all first innings can be wiped out from the final box score, these struggles will continue. The Pirates are constantly falling behind in the first frame, and Paul Maholm (it's pronounced MA-HALL-UM for those who are interested) did the honors Saturday evening by spotting the sorta-Fightin' Phillies a 5 count in the bottom of the first. Of course, he looked great the rest of his outing, but it was too little, too late as usual.
Zach Duke and the King of the Not Ready to Pitch - Mr. Kip Wells have also done this plenty of times. Hard to win ball games when you come up to bat already down five runs.
So what to make of 2006? I have begun to look past the delusion of winning to remember that there is a pretty good young nucleus here. The average age of the starting rotation is only 24 years, by far the youngest in baseball. With Oliver Perez in exile in Indianapolis and lefty Tom Gorzelanny hopefully getting to spend the second half of the year with the big club (it would take an Ollie-like performance to send him down) and the hopeful recovery of Sean Burnett (another lefty) from elbow surgery, the Pirates are loaded with young arms that have proved they can get big league hitters out. Developing consistency is the key. Think Detroit Tigers.
And what about Kip Wells? Three words: Designated for assignment. It's time the Bucs cut their losses, eat the four million dollars and let the Angels, Blue Jays or (cough) Yankees take a flyer on him as a fifth starter for their playoff push. His trade value is about as good as an empty can of Dr. Pepper right now. Let Victor Santos come back off the DL and fill out the rotation. He's the "geezer" at 29.
The young bats have been a pleasant surprise as well. Freddy Sanchez has been a boon this year, making the All Star team. As good as his defense is, I always felt any offense he contributed would be a bonus. His .360 average has been the Powerball. The "Jose can you see's" (or should I say si), Castillo and Bautista, have been pretty good so far.
The good thing is veterans like Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa will hopefully be long gone by either the trade deadline or at least the winter meetings after the season. If worst comes to worst, the far end of the bench. Let the "youngins" rule the roost.
So, some things to look for in the second half? How about trying to win more than one out of every three games each series? How about eliminating the first inning blues? How about a pitcher being able to complete the daunting task of fielding a batted or bunted ball and making a successful throw to first base?