Tag Archives: MLB

The Rotation is Priority #1 For the Bucco Offseason

The Pirates’ offseason, like most other teams, is significantly quiet. It’s mainly due to the looming December 1st expiration of the current CBA between the owners and players, but nonetheless, the Pirates need to fix their eyes on building a contending team again.We saw the Pirates go from three straight winning seasons and postseason berths to a -20 win variance from 2015 to 2016. And the main reason was the lack of quality pitching. In the Pirates three winning seasons, pitching was the key to their success. A huge drop-off in quality pitching produced a huge drop-off in win totals. Addressing the rotation HAS to be the Pirates number one priority this offseason. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon should be the two atop the rotation, but the remaining three spots are up for grabs. The Pirates will go internally for some help, but they have to use free agency or trades to address it as well. Here are some options:

Internal

Chad Kuhl
Kuhl will probably fit into the rotation at the start of 2017. Ideally, he’d be a number 5 starter, but if the Pirates don’t get enough depth or if injuries occur, he’s a fourth starter. Kuhl showed some promise in his rookie campaign. His numbers don’t jump off the page at you, but he’s the prototypical groundball pitcher the Pirates love to have. He just has to bring the walks down.

Tyler Glasnow
He’s been one of the top pitching prospects in baseball for quite some time now. He struggled a bit in his first exposure to major-league batters, but he also wasn’t healthy for most of 2016 once he was called up. He’s got great stuff and is a potential top-of-the-rotation starter that the Pirates have control of through 2022. If he’s healthy, his ceiling is high and could be a dark horse for rookie of the year in 2017. How he fast he progresses to pitch against big-league hitters will be telling for where he slides into the rotation. He’s done about all he can do in the minors. If he has a strong spring, he should fit in the rotation.

Trevor Williams
The 24 year-old right-handed pitched well in AAA Indianapolis in 2016, posting a 3.51 ERA in 110.1 innings, but his major-league experience last year, a small sample-size, was not so great. He has potential, being another young arm the Pirates love to hoard, but ideally, I only see him fitting in due to injury.

Drew Hutchison
The expectations for Hutchison for me are through the roof, especially if you take into consideration what the Pirates traded away to get him. They traded Liriano (a salary dump I’m ok with), but also traded away catching prospect Reese McGuire and outfield prospect Harold Ramirez. These were two players people had penciled in the Pirates major-league plans later on this decade. And Hutchison’s track record doesn’t bode well for the argument of those who favored the trade (and I have yet to hear one person outside the organization that did). He’s got big-league experience, but he has a career 4.93 ERA in 417.2 innings. Maybe Ray Searage can pull off another miracle, and that’s what it’ll take to make that trade look somewhat decent.

Free Agency

Ivan Nova
Nova had a short stint with the Pirates for the last 2 months of the season, where he pitched very well. He posted a 3.06 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 64.2 innings of work. He had very good command of his pitches, walking only 3 batters in 2 months. Searage might have continued success with him if the Pirates can lure him back. The price doesn’t seem too steep either. The rumblings right now are around 3 years for $36 million, very similar to the contract the Pirates gave Francisco Liriano. He turns 30 in January. There’s no guarantee he performs an entire season the way he did for two months in a Bucco uniform, but in an extremely thin free agency market for starting pitching, and at the price you could get him at, Nova as a number 3 pitcher would be a good “check mark” on the Pirates offseason shopping list.

Derek Holland
This guy could be the steal of the offseason. And he’s the only lefty on this list. He should come at a club-friendly price and Ray Searage could get the max potential out of this very talented pitcher. His biggest problem in Texas has been his health. He’s had a hard time staying healthy for the last three or four seasons. It’s hurt his value and the Rangers, who are very fond of Holland, have pretty much decided to not bring him back. Despite the health problems, he’s got great stuff to go along with playoff and World Series experience, including an almost-complete game shutout against St. Louis in 2011. If he stays healthy and comes at a bargain, the Pirates could land another winning reclamation project here. He’s already put the Pirates on his short-list. Let’s see if they can get a deal done.

Edinson Volquez
Try to get the 2014 Wildcard Game out of your mind. Volquez pitched very well in a Pirate uniform and could fill the number 3 spot in the rotation. He’s older than Nova, but could cost the same price. Volquez might be a good pitcher to look to if still available if they can’t land Nova.

No other big names have popped up in trade rumors other than pitchers like Chris Sale, who the Pirates are very unlikely to trade for, giving the fact that they’d have to sell the farm to get him and Neil Huntington doesn’t strike me as the GM to mortgage the future (except when trading for Drew Hutchison).

The Pirates NEED to land one of the three free agent pitchers listed here. Even if Holland is the one, it’s something. The Pirates desperately need pitching help. They have to utilize both the farm and the market to address the situation. Ideally, land Nova as your number 3 AND sign Holland to a club-friendly deal and have your rotation look like this:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. JamesonTaillon
  3. Ivan Nova
  4. Derek Holland
  5. Chad Kuhl

I do think it’s unlikely the Pirates land two free agent starting pitchers, but if they spend in the right places, landing Nova for around $12 million per year and Holland for $6-$8 million per year isn’t a ridiculous thought. Pitching was the key to success for the Pirates in 2013-2015. It needs to be again in 2017. Let’s see what Huntington pulls off. And, how much progress is hindered by the looming CBA deadline.

LTB will keep tabs on all Pirates rumors and any other pitchers that get tied to the Pirates.

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2016 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview: A Season With Something to Prove

Tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 PM, the Pirates will kick off their 2016 season against Adam Wainwright and the arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals. PNC Park will be electric, willing the Pirates to victory, but after that there will be 161 games to play. The baseball season is long and grueling. Six months of playing almost everyday takes its toll. This upcoming season is one that the Pirates hope to finally finish atop the NL Central. The way the team looks in April is always much different than it looks in October, but I don’t have a DeLorean, so I have to base what I believe this team will do on how they look now.

During the winter, GM Neal Huntington made a few moves that did not take very well to many Pirates fans, including trading away “Pittsburgh Kid” Neil Walker to the Mets for pitcher Jon Niese. Huntington had plans to fill Walker’s void with Josh Harrison’s versatility and the emergence of Jung Ho Kang. First base, however, has been a revolving door for the Pirates. Last year, all logic pointed to Pedro Alvarez being the everyday first baseman, but his defensive woes forced Huntington’s hand to non-tender Alvarez this offseason while they still had one more year of club control. Despite his defensive inabilities, Alvarez led the Pirates in home runs last year. And by not bring Pedro back, Huntington had to fill the hole somehow. His answer was another righty-lefty platoon like he did for the previous few seasons. 2016’s version will be righty Michael Morse and newly signed lefty, and converted first baseman, John Jaso. Because of the lack of success with the platoons at first base in years past, this move was not necessarily popular with Pirates fans either. Where Huntington did make some moves that were hard to argue were signing former-Pirate Ryan Vogelsong to a cheap deal, pitching reclamation project Juan Nicasio, and veteran bullpen pitcher and former Texas closer Neftali Feliz. These moves added even more pitching depth to a great pitching team. The team will gain even more depth mid-season when prized prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow are expected to make their Major League debuts.

Going into spring training, the team knew they’d have a hole to fill while Jung Ho Kang is out until he’s ready to go after last season’s collision against the Cubs. During Spring Training, Huntington signed veteran third baseman, and former Cardinal, David Freese. Freese will play third base until Kang comes back, then Freese is expected to play all over, including some, you guessed it, first base. Another big story out of spring training was Juan Nicasio, not Ryan Vogelsong as expected, landing the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Nicasio impressed everyone in spring ball, striking out just about everyone he faced in 15 innings, and not giving up any runs in the process. Nicasio could end up being another beneficiary of Ray Searage’s magical work.

Going into the season, the Pirates have Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart handling catching duties, John Jaso and Michael Morse at first base, Josh Harrison at second, Jordy Mercer at shortstop, David Freese starting out at third until Kang is ready, and the dream outfield of Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco. Non-roster invitee Matt Joyce made the club as the fourth outfielder and Sean Rodriguez will be the utility man again. It’s a solid lineup with some speed and the ability to get on base, but does lack power. McCutchen, Marte, and Kang are the only legit threats to hit 20+ home runs. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates generate runs without hitting as many home runs. Home runs aren’t the only way to manufacture runs, but it’s hard to win playing small ball in this division.

Thankfully, the Pirates strength is pitching. A rotation of Cole, Liriano, Niese, Locke, and Nicasio is a solid one. Cole is a bonafide ace, Liriano is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, Niese can be good (which is all he has to be. Nobody brought him here to be an ace), Locke has his moments, and Nicasio can dazzle fans if he can do a shade of what he did in the spring. And we can’t forget the duo of prospects in Taillon and Glasnow. The bullpen is arguably the best in baseball. Watson and Melancon are 8th and 9th inning masters and Hughes, Caminero, Vogelsong, Feliz, and offseason additions Cory Luebke and Kyle Lobstein make up the rest of the bullpen. Pitching will be strong for the Pirates. There’s very little to argue that it won’t be.

For me, I expect the Pirates to be good. Really good. 98 wins? Probably not. I’m saying 91 wins. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s good enough to win the tough NL Central. I do think it’s good enough to make yet another wildcard game. McCutchen will hit 30 home runs and finish at least top three in MVP balloting. Gerrit Cole will win 20 games and be a Cy Young finalist. Liriano will pitch 200 innings. Glasnow will shine as Cole did as a rookie.

Here’s to a great Pirates season Bucco fans! RAISE IT!


412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content. 

CH COLUMN: Pirates Trade Deadline Coverage; What’s the Biggest Need for the Pirates?

It’s trade deadline week for the Pirates and the rest of Major League Baseball. It’s the time of year where buyers and sellers make themselves known. Some teams throw the towel in on the season and sell just about every hot commodity they have, and some teams sell the farm and go all in. Pirates GM has notoriously stated just about every trade deadline since the Pirates became buyers in the last few years, “The World Series isn’t won at the trade deadline.” And recent memory proves that to be true. Last season’s trade deadline winner, the Oakland A’s, were bounced out of the playoffs early in the one-game Wildcard Playoff by the eventual AL Champion Kansas City Royals. So, where do the Pirates stand at this year’s trade deadline? Currently, the Buccos are six games behind the division-leading Cardinals, and it seems like that gap will never be closed. They do hold the number one wildcard spot, which would lead to a third straight one-game wildcard playoff at PNC Park. The Pirates want to avoid that this year. Their goal set at the beginning of the season was to win the division. Winning the division not only guarantees avoiding the wildcard round, it will likely mean the Pirates would have home field in both the Division and Championship Series based on where the other two division-leading teams stand. If the season ended today, they would host the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and playoff wizard Madison Bumgarner. The Pirates don’t want a deja-vu. The Cardinals are going to make a move; they always do. It’s never ground-breaking, but it’s significant enough to make them legit World Series contenders every year.

So, what can the Pirates do? What can make them a threat to the Cardinals and take the NL Central Crown? They have already filled their largest need in acquiring third baseman Aramis Ramirez from Milwaukee to fill a desperate need on the left side of the infield where they are missing Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer to significant injuries. The Pirates’ faithful for the most part have loved this acquisition, and I do too. It’s nice to see Aramis in a Bucco uniform again. It was awful to see him go in the first place, especially for what was on the receiving end of the trade that sent Ramirez away 12 years ago. He’s 37, so I’m not expecting the 2002 version of Aramis Ramirez, but his experience at the plate can provide stability in the middle of the lineup. But, what else do the Pirates need? I’ve broken it down to three priorities:

Priority One: First Base. As of right now, the Pirates have a platoon of Pedro Alvarez and Sean Rodriguez at first base. Pedro is a very streaky hitter, but hasn’t been able to sustain a hot streak longer than several at-bats, or at least it seems that way. He is also the worst defensive first baseman in baseball. Enter Sean Rodriguez; every seventh or eighth inning actually. Rodriguez is often put in late in games to provide actual defense at first base, but when he’s asked to bat, Rodriguez’s value plummets. He’s barely batting .200 and he’s usually only in the lineup against lefties, where he’s batting a horrid .186. The Pirates have announced today that they are not shopping Pedro, but they need an upgrade. They need another guy who can provide a good bat for the middle of the lineup and good defense. There’s really only one guy who I think the Pirates should go for: Mitch Moreland. He’s a solid left-handed bat who’s battled injuries for the majority of his career and is showing what he can do when healthy. He’s having a very solid year at the plate (.285/.329/.516 along with 16 HR and 51 RBI’s), provides good defense, and is very cheap at $2.95 million with another year of club control after this season. The Rangers are not shopping the 29 year-old, but they aren’t completely opposed to moving him if the price is right. According to Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, they want a young arm in return. It would be a highly sought-after arm too like Taillon, Glasnow, or Kingham. I think it’s worth the risk to give up a guy like Kingham for Moreland. I would even see if Texas would be interested in Pedro to be a part of the package since Moreland is an everyday first baseman. Pedro could then be on an AL team and be the DH he’s meant to be. Other attractive options for the Pirates could be Adam Lind or Mike Napoli. Lind is being targeted by the Cardinals to fill in for Matt Adams and Napoli could provide the proper righty-lefty platoon with Pedro, especially since Napoli hits left-handed pitching well with an OPS of .823.

Priority Two: Starting pitching. If baseball fans have learned anything in recent memory, it’s that starting pitching wins the World Series. Cole and Liriano are two great pitchers that can win games in the postseason. Burnett has been great this year, but his last two starts have been a concern. His age may be becoming a factor, but he’s battled back before and I think he still can. I’d love for him to be the fourth starter. The Pirates will more than likely not throw their hat into the Cole Hamels or possible David Price sweepstakes. Jeff Samardzija, J.A. Happ, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and Yovani Gallardo are names the Pirates could go after. I would like to see them get Samardzija. He’s had success at PNC Park and knows the division. He shouldn’t cost too much in terms of prospects, but his sizable contract could get in the way.

Priority Three: The bullpen. Melancon, Watson, and Hughes are arguably the best trio at the back end of any bullpen in baseball. But, the other four spots are all in question. Worley isn’t a bad option as the long reliever, but Guerra, Bastardo, and Caminero have become liabilities in the bullpen. I’d like to see the Pirates add an arm or two to really stabilize an already strong bullpen. Of course, deep starting pitching makes the bullpen even stronger.

Follow me on twitter @chalicke for continued Pirates coverage of the trade deadline.


412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content.

Pirates First Half Recap: Made of Mettle

The 2015 Pirates season is at the midway point; when the all stars of the NL and AL face off against each other to determine which league will have home-field advantage in the World Series. The American League winning the 86th All-Star Game was not the scenario the Pirates wanted. The 2015 Pirates are legit contenders to represent the National League in the World Series, and they would’ve loved the opportunity to “Black Out” the possible AL opponent for four games instead of three.

It’s not so crazy anymore to think the Pirates could actually make a World Series, maybe even win one. The Pirates boast a 53-35 record at the All-Star Break, giving them baseball’s third-best record; second-best in the National League. Unfortunately, the team with the better record in the NL is the hated St. Louis Cardinals, who stand 2.5 games ahead of the Pirates in the NL Central. But let’s put this in perspective. It wasn’t that long ago, June 28th in fact, the Pirates were NINE games behind the Cardinals. It seemed that no matter what the Pirates could do, they couldn’t gain any ground on the Cards. This is also a Cardinals team that has lost ace Adam Wainwright and first-baseman Matt Adams for the year, and has been without all-star outfielder Matt Holliday since June 8th, yet they keep winning. They have baseball’s best record. The Pirates set their primary goal for the season to win the NL Central. No more one-game playoffs.

The season didn’t start the way the Pirates wanted it to. An average April with a record of 12-10 was followed by a 14-14 May. Only two games over .500 through the first two months wasn’t going to get the job done, especially with St. Louis playing as well as they were and the Chicago Cubs becoming a threat in the division as well. June faired much better for the Buccos, going 17-9, but they still found themselves trailing the Cardinals in the division by a wide margin.

Fortunes changed for the Pirates when the calendar rolled over to July. The last day of June was the start of a three-game set in Detroit, then the Pirates would finish off the first half of the season with a 10-game home stand with Cleveland, San Diego, and St. Louis; four of those games against the Cards. The Pirates went 11-2 in those 13 games, losing only one game to Cleveland and the series opener against the Cardinals. What’s not shown in the numbers is how the Pirates won those games, especially in the San Diego and St. Louis games. They displayed mettle. They displayed mental toughness. They showed that they never give up, no matter what the circumstances are. The final two games against the Cardinals were the most exciting games off the Pirates first half, walking off in extra innings in both games. If the Pirates were going to actually make a run for the division against the best team in baseball, and avoid yet another one-game wildcard playoff, they would have to send a message. They need to beat the Cardinals. They can’t rely on other teams to do it for them. When St. Louis shows up on the schedule, they need to find a way to win. That’s exactly what they did in the crucial four-game series. Andrew McCutchen walked it off with a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 14th on Saturday night; the third time the Pirates came back in the game. The following night, Gregory Polanco hit a bases-loaded line drive into right field to cap a 3-run 10th inning to win 6-5. It was the perfect way to end the first half. The Pirates gave themselves all the momentum in the world to carry into the second half, while giving the Cardinals a really bad taste in their mouths. There’s no better way to bookend the first half of the season.

The Pirates have many players that have contributed to the success that is the 2015 season so far, but have also had some let-downs. Here are my first-half team awards:

Most Valuable Player: Andrew McCutchen. He started the season by hitting an abysmal .194 in the month of April. Many sources believe he struggled due to a tweaked knee from Spring Training. McCutchen has turned it around though, batting .325 from May 1st through the All-Star Break. He is also on pace to set a career high for RBI’s. He’s having another stellar season, throwing his name into the conversation of National League MVP. And let’s face it, if Cutch isn’t in the lineup everyday, the Pirates aren’t 2.5 games behind the Cardinals. He’s irreplaceable.

Least Valuable Player: Gregory Polanco. He hasn’t been terrible, but he has yet to go on a hot streak and has been a liability on the bases, even with his 17 stolen bases. Right field is a position of interest at the trade deadline for the Buccos, and it’s mainly because Polanco hasn’t shown much improvement from his rookie campaign.

Most Valuable Pitcher: Gerrit Cole. He has used his third year in the big leagues to show that he’s the ace the Pirates thought he could be when the drafted him first overall in 2011 out of UCLA. He has 13 wins, the most in baseball, and has a more than solid 2.30 ERA. He’s on pace to surpass 20 wins and has the right to be in consideration for the NL Cy Young Award. He needs to continue what he’s doing for the Pirates to make a run.

Biggest Surprise: Francisco Cervelli. The Pirates and their fans wanted Russell Martin back very badly, but the writing on the walls was there all along with the type of season Martin had: he was going to get a massive contract from somewhere else and the Pirates weren’t going to pay $16.4 million a year for a catcher. Instead, they traded a possibly valuable bullpen arm, Justin Wilson, for Cervelli with the intention of making him the everyday catcher. Cervelli’s biggest foe has always been his health. When healthy, he’s shown massive potential and the Pirates are reaping the benefits of a healthy Cervelli. He has brought well above average defense, excellent pitch-framing ability, and a .294 average hitting in the bottom half of the lineup. Cervelli’s performance has made people ALMOST forget about Russell Martin, and that in itself is quite an accomplishment.

Needs to step up: Pedro Alvarez. In just about every aspect and statistical category, Pedro has met expectations EXCEPT for his home run total. Since adjusting his swing to reduce his strikeout rate after the 2013 season, Pedro’s home run production has gone down significantly. Granted, he was inured for a good portion of the year last year. However, in the time he played, his adjusted swing only saw his average and strikeout rate slightly improve and his home run rate go down. He has 12 home runs right now and at the rate he’s going, he won’t even crack 25. After hitting 30 in 2012 and 36 in 2013, the expectation for Pedro is home runs. The Pirates need the 2013 Pedro to show up. It’s that force in the middle of the lineup that can give protection for hitter like McCutchen and Marte and change the game with one swing.

Rock solid: A.J. Burnett and Mark Melancon. These two guys can’t go the first half of the season without being recognized. Burnett signed with the Pirates for one final season in his stellar career and he has been a crucial part of the pitching staff and leadership in the clubhouse. He has a 2.11 ERA and was selected to his first All-Star Game ever, deservingly so. In regards to Melancon, the Pittsburgh faithful were just about ready to give up on him as the closer when he struggled early. After recording his first save, he blew the next opportunity and showed significantly decreased velocity. Since then, he has recorded 28 straight saves and been nearly impossible to score on. These two guys are without a doubt rock solid and the Pirates have needed their contributions to get where they are.

The trade deadline is just two weeks away. Neal Huntington and the rest of the Pirates front office will try to make the right moves to piece together a run at the division title. That’s their goal: the NL Central Crown. They have the ability to do it. They’ve shown the ability to win at all costs and if the first half of the season has shown anything, it’s been mettle; the will to never give in.


412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content. 

Un-Locked: Cards Top Pirates 4-1 In Crucial Series Opener

The most crucial and anticipated series of the Pirates’ season so far did not get off to a good start Thursday night. The Buccos dropped game one of this 4-game series with division rival Cardinals by a score of 4-1. Jeff Locke had things under control for the Pirates until the fifth inning, when the Cards put up a 4-spot on two bases-loaded 2-run single by Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. Thanks to a fielding error by Jordy Mercer, only one of the four runs was earned by Locke.

The Pirates were kept off the scoreboard until the bottom of the ninth, when McCutchen led off the inning and hit the eleventh pitch of the at-bat 447 feet to center field. Jung Ho Kang nearly went back-to-back after, but was caught in left field at the warning track. Francisco Cervelli and Pedro Alvarez both struck out to end the game. McCutchen’s home run extended his hitting streak to a career best 16 games.

This series is insanely important for the Pirates. The pressure is all on them. The Cardinals now hold a 5.5-game lead in the division. The time to take advantage of moving up in the standings is when you are facing the team ahead of you. There’s still three games left here, and the Buccos are sending their three best pitchers in these games. A 2-2 split in the series can suffice, but if the Pirates want to send a message, they need to win these last three games.

The Pirates will try to answer back tomorrow, sending all-star Gerrit Cole (12-3, 2.28 ERA) to face St. Louis’ Lance Lynn (6-4, 2.53 ERA). First pitch is at 7:05 pm at PNC Park.

El Toro Walks It Off for Buccos; Four Pirates Named to All-Star Game

Things might be awkward between Pedro Alvarez and his father-in-law during the next family visit. The Pirates (48-34) defeated the San Diego Padres, managed by Pedro’s father-in-law, in walk-off fashion on a 2-out RBI-single by Alvarez. It was an event-filled night at PNC Park, and any time Jerry Meals is one of the four umpires in a Pirates game, things tend to get just a little interesting. With a tie game at 1-1 in the eighth inning, A.J. Burnett appeared to strike out Derek Norris swinging to end the inning, but home plate umpire Paul Emmel motioned that Norris tipped the pitch. After allowing another base hit, Burnett’s night was done, leaving the 23,000-plus fans irate at the umpiring crew. Tony Watson came in and struck out Matt Kemp to end the inning, setting the scene for Pedro to walk-off just an inning later.

Just before first pitch tonight at PNC Park, four Pirates found out they were selected to the National League All-Star team. Andrew McCutchen was named to his fith All-Star Game, as a starter in place of injured Marlins slugger, Giancarlo Stanton. Mark Melancon was named to his second All-Star game, and Gerrit Cole, the Major League-leader in wins, was named to his first. Also named to his first All-Star game in his 17-year career was tonight’s starter, A.J. Burnett.

Burnett showed tonight how deserving he is of the selection, battling with San Diego’s James Shields throughout most of the night. Burnett allowed his only earned run of the night on an Amarista sac-fly in the 2nd inning, but Burnett was dominant the rest of the way until the debacle in the eighth inning. He finished with a line of 7.2 innings pitched, 5 hits, 1 ER, 4 strikeouts, and 3 walks, lowering his season ERA to 1.99. Shields was arguable even more dominant for the Padres, but allowed an unearned run in the bottom of the 7th when Pedro Alvarez hit a sharp ground ball towards third baseman Yangervis Solarte, which he snagged on a dive, but threw away at first base, allowing McCutchen to score the Pirates first run. McCutchen extended his hitting streak to 13 games tonight on a double earlier in the inning.

The Pirates and Padres play game 2 of this 3-game series tomorrow night at 7:05 ET. Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.99 ERA) will face off against San Diego’s Tyson Ross (5-7, 3.63 ERA).

Buccos Ride the Cole Train; Offense Has Big Fifth-Inning

The Pirates (47-34) won the rubber match of a 3-game set with Cleveland on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at PNC Park with a score of 5-3. The day was highlighted by a 5-run 5th inning offensive explosion that was enough to sustain a lead until the final out was recorded. Gerrit Cole captured his league-leading 12th win on the afternoon, pitching eight strong innings and Mark Melancon recorded his 27th save of the year. PNC Park was the place to be this weekend as the ballpark had a combined attendance of 113,580 fans over the 3-game weekend series.

Gerrit Cole (12-3, 2.28 ERA) struggled early in the game, allowing 3 earned runs in the first 3 innings. He settled down after the Michael Brantley RBI-single in the 3rd inning, retiring the final 16 batters he faced. The line on Cole was 8 innings, 5 hits, 3 ER, 5 strikeouts, and 1 walk on 106 pitches. Cole’s ability to bounce back from a rough start has shown why he has been one of the most successful pitchers in the Major Leagues, and possibly furthering his cause to make the National League All-Star team.

The offense had Cole’s back again, scoring all 5 runs in the game in the bottom of the 5th inning. Jung Ho Kang led off with a single, then Pedro Alvarez put one in the seats near the north side notch in left-center field, his 12th home run on the year. Jordy Mercer flew out, Chris Stewart reached on an infield hit that was overturned by a Pirates challenge, Gerrit Cole moved Stewart to 2nd base on a sacrifice bunt, then Josh Harrison reached on an infield single of his own. Neil Walker tied the game on an RBI-single, then on the very next pitch. Andrew McCutchen nearly hit one in the Cleveland bullpen in center field. It bounced off the wall and two more runs came across to give the Pirates the 5-3 lead they would hold on to.

Mark Melancon continues to dominate as the closer, notching his NL-leading 27th save. After blowing his 2nd save opportunity early in the year, he has recorded 26 straight saves, putting his name as a candidate for the NL All-Star team. Melancon’s consistency has played a large role in the Pirates’ success this season.

PIRATES NOTES
Cutch misses out: 
The National League All-Star starters were announced Sunday night and Andrew McCutchen was left off of the starting roster. He finished 5th in the voting for the outfield spots, behind starters Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Holliday, and 4th place Nori Aoki. There’s a very good chance he can make it as a reserve, maybe even as a starter due to the injuries to Stanton and Holliday. Stanton is definitely out, but Matt Holliday could possibly be ready to play in the game. Only time will tell. The reserves, pitchers, and Final Vote candidates will be announced tomorrow evening at 7 p.m.

Welcome back Travis!: No, not Travis Snider, but Travis Ishikawa. The Pirates claimed the 31 year-old first-baseman off waivers from the Giants on Sunday afternoon. No roster move has been made yet to make room for Ishikawa, but that should be happening before the Buccos’ next game.

Marte leaves early: Starling Marte left Sunday’s game after fouling off a pitch in the 4th inning. He swung and missed at two pitches in the at-bat, showing some discomfort in his side afterward. Manager Clint Hurdle and a trainer came out and had a chat, but left him in the game. He then fouled off a pitch then took a ball while still showing discomfort, prompting Hurdle to pull Marte from the game. Gregory Polanco finished the game in Marte’s spot. Marte will be evaluated tomorrow.