Reviewing Out of the Park Baseball: 14

Link to game website: http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/out-of-the-park-baseball/index.php

Out of the Park Baseball is a baseball management and simulation video game franchise. The commissioner of my fantasy baseball league brought a review of the new version for this year (OOTP 14) to my attention, and after looking into it some more, I decided to see what it was all about. Pirates blogger David Manel has mentioned OOTP on twitter in the past as well.

OOTP is not your typical baseball video game – the focus of this game is not controlling players on the field, but running every detail of an organization. You are put in control of a team and act as the GM, controlling every detail from the rookie leagues up to the major leagues. If you’re fascinated by the decision making required by a baseball GM, or wanted to see how your philosophy would play out in a realistic simulation, this is the game for you. It can kind of be overwhelming at first (this was my first OOTP game) to see just how many decisions you are responsible for, but once you get into it you can develop a better rhythm and feeling for what you should be aware of. The game is so robust with features and details that you will never feel bored, though.

While the management is the focus of the game, you can take control of your team for each game if you like. You don’t control each pitch or each swing, but you can set strategy for each at-bat, control steals and hit-and-runs, make substitutions, etc. So far I do this every once in a while if I feel like it or it seems like an important game against a divisional rival.

Some details:

- Graphics: I had no problem with the graphics. You spend most of your time on the various menu and player screens, and those graphics are fine. There’s a lot of information, so it is a little crowded, but it’s not unpleasant. The gameplay graphics, while not awful, are pretty basic. It’s like watching a game on a version of Gameday from a few years ago.

- Performance: I’m running it on a 4-year old laptop with Windows 7, and haven’t experienced any major issues. When simulating more than a few days at a time, it can freeze for a second or two, but nothing too bothersome.

- Depth of Features: This is where the game shines. It has essentially every feature you could think of. At the start of the year, I went over my minor league rosters and identified players to check back on in a month or two for a promotion. I had to make sure my MiL rosters were set up the way I wanted, with certain pitchers in the rotation, etc. You can set in-game strategy tendencies for individual players. At the major league level, you set your lineups and depth charts based on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. You can set exact roles for all your bullpen pitchers, their usage levels, and their secondary roles.

There’s also all the other player management features – a pretty solid trade system (although I did manage to get Oscar Taveras for Jose Tabata and some minor league pitchers) that will occasionally initiate trade offers to you from other teams, a fully formed draft system (I just finished negotiating with and signing all my draft choices), and an international free agent signing period (I was not as successful there in signing all the players I wanted). If you don’t want to have to negotiate with all your draft picks, there’s a setting to just have them auto-sign for their bonus demand, but that’s pretty boring. It was fun drafting the first ten rounds keeping an eye on their bonus demands and my pool.

You have to make 25-man and 40-man roster choices, players go on the DL often (very often, in my first season) and you must have capable depth, which is something this first year has taught me.

- Realism: Pretty realistic, although the trade system, as mentioned above, might undervalue prospects a little. I took control of the Pirates (obviously), and one thing that was difficult for me was to separate what has happened in real life this year from what the game said was going to happen. For example, Jeff Locke was a disaster in the game this year, and James McDonald stayed in my rotation most of the year. Similarly, it rates Jameson Taillon pretty low, so my planned mid-season promotion to AAA never came. Pedro Alvarez was a force this season, so that’s pretty realistic!

- Addictiveness: Totally, absolutely addictive. You will not want to stop playing. The game makes it so easy to constantly tinker and improve things with your team, but you can also just sit back and simulate games for a few weeks. No matter your approach, you will be entertained, and before long, totally immersed in your baseball universe.

- Online play: There is an online OOTP community with online leagues, but I haven’t tried that yet, so I can’t speak to its quality. I have heard good things in other reviews I’ve read.

- Value: I was hesitant to spend $39.99 on a game I had never played before, but it’s well worth it. The previous versions are cheaper if you want to try them out first.

Overall: One of the best designed video games I’ve ever played, easily the best baseball video game I’ve ever played. Totally addictive, rich depth of features, and endless possibilities for you to explore. If you’re a serious baseball fan that loves the management side of the game, this game was made for you. If you’re a serious baseball fan that has never really thought about the managing an organization, this game makes it easy to learn. Terrific game. 9.5/10

Francisco Liriano Appreciation Day

Francisco Liriano once was a dominant starting pitcher, particularly in 2010, when he put up a 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, and racked up 5.7 fWAR in 191.2 innings. The last two seasons were not as kind to Liriano, as he lost his command and walked everybody in the ballpark. The Pirates needed a starting pitcher this year, and they took an educated gamble on Liriano, betting that they could adjust his delivery to help him regain fastball command. The returns have been very impressive in Lirano’s first several starts as a Pirate. His walks are down to 2010 levels (2.79 BB/9) while he is still showing the sweet stuff that has given him his highest strikeout rate since he was a rookie in 2005 (currently at a mind-blowing 12.10 K/9).

We can say that Liriano’s pretty ERA has not been a product of what we normally call “luck” (balls in play), but I wanted to see if Liriano’s underlying pitching indicators showed any change from his last two ugly years. I also will note what these indicators were like in his dominant year (2010). The encouraging results are below.

First, simple velocity. This has never really been Liriano’s problem, but his two-seam and four-seam fastball are at their highest average velocities since 2010 (93.0, 93.4 mph respectively). He was throwing 93.5/94.2 mph in 2010.

Next, I looked at some “plate discipline” stats, how often Liriano is inducing swings and contact in and out of the zone. In general, we like to see high swing rates and lowcontact rates.

O-Swing%

Liriano is getting more swings at pitches outside of the zone than ever before in his career (37.5%). In 2010 he got swings outside the zone 34% of the time. In his career, it has only been 30.2%. This is an excellent indicator that his stuff is consistently excellent, and that his command is good enough that batters have not felt like they can just never swing and he will eventually walk them.

Z-Swing%

Liriano is getting about the same amount of swings on pitches inside the zone as throughout his career. He is currently at 62.4%, with a career mark of 61.8%, and in 2010 he was at a career-low 59.9%. Since there’s very little variation year to year in this category, I’m not sure if there’s any deeper meaning here.

Overall Swing%

Liriano is posting a career high 47.1% Swing% (Career 44.7%, 2010 46.5%). The last two years, his swing% was down, so this tells me the same thing that O-Swing% did, his stuff and command is playing well enough that batters feel forced to swing the bat.

O-Contact%

This is contact made on pitches out of the zone. Liriano is again posting a career low at 47.7% (Career 53%, 2010 55.5%). This seems like a good sign to me that when he throws his offspeed stuff out of the zone, it is really fooling hitters. However, getting a high O-Contact% can be a good thing as well, as swings at pitches out of the zone often induce weak contact. It can depend on what kind of approach the pitcher is taking, clearly this year Liriano is hunting for strikeouts.

Z-Contact%

This is contact made on pitches in the zone, and again, Liriano has a career low at 81.1% (Career 84%, 2010 84.5%). This is a very impressive mark for a starting pitcher. Since 2010, MLB starting pitchers have posted Z-Contact% around 88.5%. Liriano is well below that, indicating that his stuff is so elite that even when it is thrown in the zone, it is much more difficult to make contact with than the typical MLB starter.

First Strike%

This is very important for a pitcher like Liriano. The ability to throw first-pitch strikes is a good indicator of walk rates. Liriano is posting his best F-Strike% (55.7%) since his 2010 season (61.7%). It would be nice to see it closer to that 2010 mark, but it still is a marked improvement from the past two years where he greatly struggled with walks (49.4% in 2011, 53.7% in 2012).

Swinging Stirke%

This is another way to measure a pitchers’ stuff, and as we would expect, Liriano rates very highly. He is putting up his best swinging strike% (16.6%) since his 2006 season. In 2010 he was only at 12.4%. This should hammer home that Liriano’s stuff is simply outstanding this year.

Will Liriano be able to maintain the adjustments he made to keep these improvements up? Who knows. But these are very, very encouraging signs, and the entire Pirates staff deserves credit for identifying Liriano as a target that they could adjust and improve, and the coaches and Liriano himself deserve credit for executing these adjustments. If he can pitch even close to his 2010 levels of production, this could be the best FA contract of the offseason.

The Starting Rotation and ERA Predictors

I’ve always been fascinated by pitching advanced stats – so called “defense independent pitching stats” that claimed to predict a pitcher’s future ERA better than the pitcher’s current ERA. When I first stumbled across them, I wasn’t inclined to believe that at all. Over the years, I’ve come to be more accepting of these stats and even relying on them over ERA in many cases.

In this series, I’m going to take a look at notable members of the Pirates’ starting rotation and how their ERA has progressed with a few of their advanced pitching metrics. For me, things were always more interesting when I could see them in action – so I decided last year to start tracking ERA and xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) for JMac and AJ, and the results were fascinating (to me). You could see the regression (or progression) of their ERA to their xFIP plain as day. So I decided this year to expand this project to the whole rotation, and also include FIP (fielding independent pitching) and SIERA (skill-interactive ERA).

Quick explanation of FIP, xFIP, and SIERA: FIP uses strikeouts/9, walks/9, and home runs/9 as its components rather than earned runs like ERA. It applies weights to those values and then a constant is added to bring it to the scale of league ERA.

xFIP follows the same structure, but with one difference. Where FIP just uses home runs/9, xFIP looks at how many fly balls a pitcher gives up and how many of those fly balls become home runs. xFIP assumes that all pitchers HR/FB % will eventually regress to league average, so if a pitcher has given up very few home runs, but a lot of fly balls, chances are xFIP will be less kind to that pitcher than FIP.

SIERA is more complex than FIP and xFIP. Where as those two mostly ignore balls in play, SIERA makes an effort to use batted ball data and relate that to strikeout and walk numbers. For example, SIERA says that if you are a high-strikeout pitcher, you’re more likely to generate weaker contact, and therefore allow fewer hits on balls in play. Also, it says that walks are bad, but if you are a high-strikeout pitcher, they’re not that bad because you will limit further baserunners. Also, it claims that pitchers with greater groundball rates will get outs more often on those groundballs than a pitcher who gets fewer groundballs.

On to the graphs. (I’m excluding Jonathan Sanchez because he’s off the team, and Phil Irwin because he only had one start.)

AJ Burnett

AJ has been awesome, both by ERA and the advanced metrics. He’s right around where xFIP and SIERA say he should be, and FIP actually thinks his ERA should come down a little. Will he keep up this pace? Probably not, but it won’t be because he’s been getting lucky. He’s actually been this good in April.

Wandy Rodriguez

Wandy got off to a good, but lucky start. His most recent starts are partly regression, but as you can see his FIP has been dramatically increasing as well. That’s a sign that it may just not be luck evening out, that he actually is pitching worse recently. Something to keep an eye on going forward.

James McDonald

James has had a topsy-turvy season, but his advanced stats have stayed relatively steady, for this small sample. xFIP and SIERA have him sitting around a 5.00+ ERA, while FIP suggests he should be around 4.00. However, given his velocity drop this year, I am not sure whether we can expect a full progression to these projections, at least immediately. Again, it’s something to watch going forward.

Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke got off to a pretty poor start, at least with his advanced numbers. We’ve all been very encouraged by his last two starts, and while he’s obviously not a true-talent sub-3.00 ERA pitcher, his peripherals have improved greatly. It would be nice to see him continue the trend and have his peripherals settle in around 4.00. That would be more than adequate for a back-end starter.

I’ll be doing this each month. Let me know if there’s more things you want to see, or things you don’t want to see. (Twitter: @climbthewall)

The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s finally here. Opening Day 2013, perhaps the most important year for the Pirates thus far in The Streak. If the Pirates don’t win or show serious signs of contention, it will cost multiple people their jobs this year. If this team doesn’t build off of the last two years, it could start off another semi-rebuild and do a serious number on the fanbase. If the team can stay in the playoff picture, or somehow simply manage to win more games than they lose, this team will be remembered as one of the most loved in Pirates history.

You’ve read all kinds of season previews already, so I’m going to focus mine on the sentiment expressed above. This is a Pirates team that is very boom or bust, and it’s almost impossible to predict how all the little things that make up a baseball season will break for this particular team. It wouldn’t totally shock me if the team collapsed and won 70 games, but it also wouldn’t be  impossible for the team to somehow win 90 games (just really unlikely). Let’s take a look at some of the make-or-break aspects of the upcoming season.

AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are approaching the end of their careers and are the Pirates 1-2 starters. They were very solid last year, but will they be healthy all year? Will they be as effective?

James McDonald – will he ever get harness his command enough to become the 3.50 ERA guy we all think he should be?

Starting Pitching Depth – This is the deepest starting staff the Pirates have had in a long time – but will any of them be any good?  Locke, McPherson, Liriano, Sanchez, Morton, Karstens, Irwin. None of these players are guarantees for 2013. (It sure is nice to have that much depth, though).

Gerrit Cole – He’ll be here by June. Will he struggle or will he give the rotation a weapon that Pirate fans of my generation probably have never seen?

Pedro Alvarez – You know what goes here.

Neil Walker – How will his back hold up?

Starling Marte – Marte’s defense and speed will give him a baseline value that makes him not as risky as some of the other players on this list, the issue to me is will he reach true superstar status? He’s going to slug extra base hits all over the place, the question is will he take enough walks and not strike out enough to be the valuable leadoff hitter we’ve been searching for?

Snider/Tabata/Jones/Sanchez – Will they be properly managed? Will two or three of this group be quality middle of the order hitters? If this group doesn’t produce, it’s going to be very difficult to score runs this year.

There’s a ton of possibilities up there, and I don’t have the slightest clue which ones will come to pass. All we can do at this point is hope enough break right for the Pirates, especially early in the year.

It’s Opening Day 2013, and it’s the start of the most important year the Pirates have seen in the past two decades. Let’s enjoy the ride, shall we?

Let’s Go Bucs!

Has Clint Barmes Really Been the Best Defensive SS in Baseball This Year?

During the broadcast of last night’s Pirates-Cubs game, Greg Brown made a statement that has sparked a little conversation amongst Pirates fans – he said that General Manager Neal Huntington had recently expressed that the Pirates defensive metrics have shown Clint Barmes to be the best defensive shortstop in the majors this year. Now, most Pirates fans will willingly admit that Barmes has been quite good with the glove this year, and perhaps claim that he is one of the best in the game, but it seemed like a jolt to hear him called the very best in the game this year. In order to take a deeper look at Neal’s claim, I’ve decided to delve into the murky waters of advanced defensive metrics and define what being the best defensive SS in a particular year really is.

First, let’s just get right into what the various metrics say. Defensive metrics in 2012 are not perfect, and I’ve said as much in earlier posts when I ignored defensive contributions to WAR. However, since the purpose of this post is purely to evaluate defensive performance, we’re going to have to look at them and see if we can paint a clearer picture.

The main idea behind most defensive metrics is to determine how many runs a given fielder “saves” in a year based on what balls in play he converts into outs. That’s a very, very basic distillation of the process, but I don’t want to get too technical here. Since these metrics can fluctuate from year to year, we’re going to look at Barmes’ history as a fielder and also use multiple defensive metrics to be sure one faulty measurement doesn’t lead us to a bad conclusion.

Let’s start with Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone Runs metric. This is essentially a measure of how much above or below average a player is as a fielder using a number of smaller metrics, things used to calculate the total zone of a player, their ability to turn double plays (relevant for Barmes), as well range and arm in the outfield (not relevant). Here is the current SS leaderboard for 2012:

Total Zone Runs as SS

Barmes PIT 13
Simmons ATL 11
Janish ATL 11
Espinosa WSN 7
Crawford SFG     6

So far, so good for Barmes. I’m surprised to not see Brendan Ryan appear on this list, as I would’ve said he’s probably the best defensive SS in the game, but that’s why we’re taking the time to look at multiple metrics. It doesn’t surprise me to see Andrelton Simmons and Brandon Crawford on this list, as they constantly receive praise as outstanding defenders.

Next comes Fangraphs’ metrics. There are multiple metrics listed on their leaderboard, so I’ll discuss them shortly here but I encourage you to click the hyperlink and examine them for yourself. The main metric I’d like to focus on is UZR (or UZR/150). UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating and has a similar definition to B-R’s metric above. It shows the number of runs above or below average a fielder is using range, outfield arm, double plays, and errors. UZR/150 is the same statistic divided by 150 defensive games.

Here’s Fangraphs top SS in UZR in 2012

Clint Barmes PIT 15.4
Brendan Ryan SEA 13.7
Jhonny Peralta DET 10.5
J.J. Hardy BAL 9.8
Brandon Crawford SFG 8.1

Another win for Barmes. If you clicked the link above, you notice that in the other major defensive statistic Fangraphs uses, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Barmes is not leading. He is actually tied for fourth place in that statistic. I’m not sure why Brendan Ryan, JJ Hardy, and Yunel Escobar rate so much higher in DRS than they do in UZR, given that Fangraphs claims that “DRS and UZR will occasionally disagree on how to rate certain players, but they agree more often than they disagree.”

Ok, now that we’ve covered what a few big defensive metrics say about 2012, let’s take a look at Barmes’ defensive history according to these metrics. *BIG NOTE* I’m only looking at his SS defense here, he played a lot of 2B with the Rockies in 2008-2010 and was just  above-average there. When he was signed this offseason, he had a reputation as being solid defensively, and his recent UZR and DRS history back that reputation. Barmes has been above-average in both metrics since the 2009 season, and each successive season his UZR has increased (his DRS has also increased, but plateaued from 2011 to 2012). His UZR/150 has varied more than his pure UZR, but it still has been excellent.

So, what do we know? We know from watching Pirates games in 2012 that Clint Barmes has been excellent defensively. We know that there are other shortstops that many consider to be better defensively than Barmes (Ryan and Simmons are the two big ones to me). We also know that according to (admittedly imperfect) metrics, Barmes has been the best defensive shortstop in 2012, due mostly to his outstanding range.

Does this mean Barmes is the best defensive shortstop in baseball? That’s a tough question. Most answer that question based on scouting reports and tool-based evaluations rather than metrics, which can only record which balls were turned into outs. It’s likely that Brendan Ryan and Andrelton Simmons indeed possess better defensive skills at short than Barmes, but it’s also just as likely that in 2012, Clint Barmes has outperformed them both. This is the distinction between best defensive SS and most-valuable SS in a given year that I alluded to earlier.

Barmes may not be the actual best defensive shortstop playing now, but it’s a very real possibility no other shortstop has matched his defensive contribution in 2012.

Pirates vs Cubs Series Preview 9/7 – 9/9

The Pirates managed a much-needed series win against Houston and look to take another against Chicago before heading to Cincinnati next week. It probably goes without saying, the Pirates can’t really afford to lose this series. I’m not saying they need a sweep, but winning fewer than two games would be a disaster.

Opponent Pitching

Fri: Travis Wood (4-11, 4.64 ERA, 5.29 FIP, 4.70 xFIP)

Travis Wood is not very good. He gives out a lot of walks and home runs, and while his strikeout rates are respectable, they’re not nearly enough to compensate for his other flaws. His ground ball rate is also quite poor at 34.6%. A fly ball pitcher who gives up a home run on 15% of his fly balls pitching against AJ Burnett. Sounds like a good opportunity for the Pirates to start strong to me.

Sat: Jeff Samardzija (8-13, 3.91 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 3.41 xFIP)

Jeff Keyboard Smash dominated the Pirates the last time he faced them, and has been having himself a very solid second half (3.27 xFIP in July, 2.89 xFIP in August). He is a strikeout machine, and as we saw back in July, the Pirates lineup is not exactly the best around at avoiding the strikeout. He does issue some walks though, so maybe they can scratch a couple runs across and hope McDonald doesn’t implode. Someone needs to tell James that he’s pitching against the Cardinals in this game.

Sun: Chris Rusin (0-2, 9.00 ERA, 8.28 FIP, 5.66 xFIP)

Rusin has only made two starts, so it’d be silly to draw any conclusions based on his big-league results. However, he does have a pretty mediocre track record at AAA, and doesn’t seems like he’s a strikeout machine, so the Pirates should be able to score against the rookie. However, we’ve seen the Pirates get shut down by many a rookie in 2012, so that’s probably a foolish assumption.

Opponent Hitting

 The Cubs’ offense is not very good, but the last time the Pirates faced them, the pitchers made a few mistakes to the wrong batters, and things went quite poorly. Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano are the danger spots here. Bryan LaHair does damage against righties and Starlin Castro has a ton of hitting talent (and seems to kill the Pirates), but none of them are true world-beaters. It just seems that way because they all hit well against the Pirates (at least, we perceive that they do). The starters should be able to keep the team in each of these three games.

It’s about as big a series as you’ll have against a team 31.5 games back in the division. PNC should be packed this weekend. Let’s hope the fans get to see a couple wins. Let’s Go Bucs!

Climbing the Wall’s Super-Scientific Win Predictor Update

You may remember my Super Scientific, Very Proprietary, Definitely 100% Serious, 2012 Pirates Win Predictor that I debuted on July 28th. You can click that link for more details about how the Win Predictor works. I’ve been doing updates on Twitter every now and then since then, but figured now was a good time to do a more involved breakdown on the blog.

On July 28th, the Win Predictor was showing just over 93 wins for the Pirates. As you now, things have taken a turn for the worse. As of tonight, the Win Predictor now predicts 86.4 wins, a pretty dramatic drop. That’s probably not going to be enough to make the playoffs.

With only a month left in the season, the Pirates only have games left against 6 different teams. They play the Braves (x3), Cubs (x7), Reds (x6), Astros (x3), Brewers (x3), and Mets (x4). Obviously the Cubs and the Reds are going to have the biggest impact on the Win Predictor. The Pirates have been good against the Cubs (6-3) and held their own against the Reds (6-6) so far in 2012. The key for the Pirates to overachieve the Win Predictor’s current projection is to win the series’ against the Brewers and the Braves, and at least split the Mets series. That would give them a few extra wins over the projected value.

Final disclaimer: As always, this is completely for fun and my own entertainment and should not be taken very seriously as a true predictor of the future. Carry on with your lives (mostly) unchanged.

This is Going to Be a Weird Game

The Pirates play the Astros tonight.

The Astros make hilarious errors and are generally terrible.

The Pirates have Clint Barmes, he of the .246 OBP, batting second tonight.

The Pirates have Kevin Correia starting tonight.

The Astros have a pitcher named “Abad” starting tonight.

I have no idea what’s going to happen tonight, but it’s either going to be hilariously awesome or hilariously depressing. It sure doesn’t feel like pennant-chase baseball though, that’s for sure.

Pirates at Brewers Series Preview 8/31 – 9/2

Welcome to meaningful baseball in September. The Pirates kick off the month with a visit to Milwaukee, with a solid chance at winning the series and keeping the momentum going from the Cardinals series.

Opponent Pitching

Fri: Mark Rogers (2-1, 4.28 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 3.51 xFIP)

Rogers could pose some danger to the Pirates, as he’s the typical high-strikeout high-walk pitcher they can struggle with at times. However, he’s got a fairly low ground-ball rate and a high HR/FB ratio, and since the game is at Miller Park, it’d be fair to expect the Pirates (especially Pedro) to hit at least one over the fence. They showed nice plate patience in the final game of the Cards series to draw walks in front of Pedro, so let’s hope that carries over to this game/series. Rogers opposes Jeff Karstens (we presume, the rotation could be shuffled with the off day Thursday and the hole in the rotation).

Sat: Marco Estrada (2-5, 4.02 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.57 xFIP)

Estrada, like Rogers, has underperformed his peripherals and is another high-strikeout, high-walk, high-homer pitcher. Estrada gets even fewer ground balls than Rogers (34% GB) and also has a higher-than-most HR/FB ratio. Same story here. Strikeouts are gonna happen, but work a couple of walks at the right time and hope for a multi-run homer or two. Burnett is scheduled to pitch this game, but again, this is tentative at this point.

Sun: Yovani Gallardo (14-8, 3.52 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 3.52 xFIP)

See above two paragraphs. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Lots of strikeouts, but hopefully lots of walks and home runs as well. Gallardo dominated the Pirates the last time he saw them and struck out approximately a billion batters, so maybe the Pirates will have a better approach this time. Maybe pigs will learn how to fly. Anything’s possible, right? Oh, and James McDonald looks to have a good start for consecutive outings, and 3 out of his last 4.

Opponent Hitting

The Brewers have a solid offense, but let’s make this simple. Pitch around Ryan Braun, ok guys? The rest of the lineup is decent but a little righty-heavy (A-Ram, Hart, Lucroy) and Braun is just ridiculous again this year. Avoid letting him hit balls a long way, and the Pirates will have a better-than-good chance of winning the series. Stunning analysis, I know.

Milwaukee has been a house of horrors for the Pirates in recent years. Also, the Pirates haven’t played meaningful September baseball in my conscious lifetime. Things can change. Time to start making a playoff push.

Pirates vs Cardinals Series Recap: Here Comes September. PIRATES WIN

Not going to bother with a game-by-game recap here, because I’d rather focus on some of the specifics of what happened in the series and the big-picture implications they have.

  • Pedro went from a moderately warm streak to a full-on assault on Cardinals pitching. He had 19 total bases in the series, and hit a combined three home runs in the Pirates’ two wins. His season line is now .249/.328/.494, and here is his OPS by month: .767, .635, .926, .820, .902. He’s now a full three months removed from Terribad Pedro and he will be a contributor down the stretch. The x-factor is whether he’s a moderate contributor like in July, or a monster like he was in June. I am a huge Pedro fanboy and this season has been very vindicating for me, and Pedro hitting bombs in a September pennant chase would be almost as perfect a scenario as I could’ve imagined before this season.
  • Wandy & JMac pitching shutouts. Before tonight, Wandy had essentially stunk as a starter, and I was pretty nervous with him pitching against Holliday/Craig/Freese/Beltran, etc. He only struck out 3, but he wasn’t throwing as many meatballs and his stuff was getting more weak contact. It’s hard to complain about any aspect of a pitching performance when they shutout the league’s best offense. The same statement applies to James’ start in game 2 of the series. He was obviously turning up the pace from his first pitch, and he looked quite sharp. He did the same thing to the Cardinals a couple of starts ago, so let’s just hope someone tells him he’s pitching against the Cards everytime he goes out there from now on. Both Wandy and JMac are keys to the Pirates’ success (duh, the whole rotation is), and watching them pitch in this series was more than slightly encouraging.
  • Tiebreakers. If the Pirates and Cardinals end up tied for a wild-card spot, they have a one-game playoff (to get into the Wild Card One Game Playoff), and the Pirates would have the home field advantage in that game. With the Cardinals righty-heavy lineup and the Pirates left-handed power hitters (Pedro, Jones, Snider, even Walker), I’d much rather have that game at PNC.
  • Finally, the most obvious point of all. The Pirates gained a game on the Cardinals in the standings!
The Pirates have officially won the season series against their main competitor. They should be feeling quite confident going into a pretty easy 9 game stretch only 1 game back of the Cards. Pedro’s bat along with JMac and Wandy’s arms have just jolted the Pirates into meaningful September baseball. Let’s go have some fun.