Pirates can they stay on Top?

The Pirate team of 2013 is the first team since the 1992 squad to be competitive and above 500 for the season. They go into the series against the Cards with a three game lead and will retain first place by themselves as long as they don’t get swept. This is a Pirate team that I wrote about before the season began that I had figured as being competitive and above 500. I knew they had some strong pitching but didn’t figure for them to be in first place this late in the season.

The Pirates are in the best division in the National League and will need to play some very good baseball to beat out the Cardinals and Reds. I predicted the Reds and Cards would be battling it out for the top of the division and the Reds would win in a close race.

For this discussion I will compare the Pirates position by position with the Cardinals.

Catcher

Cardinals – Yadi Molina is the best all round catcher in the game. He is another coach behind the plate and has no defensive peers in MLB. Molina is a professional hitter that can drive the ball to all fields. The MVP of the Cards and the one player if injured is difficult to replace. He has been on the DL and will come off on August 15 and will be ready to go. Matheny will give him a lighter load and will be counting on backup Tony Cruz to do a good job.

Pirates – Russell Martin has been on a downward slope for a few years but he seems to be playing some better ball this year. His average is up along with his OBP.

Advantage – Cardinals by a wide margin.

First Base

Cardinals – Allen Craig has become one of the best players and most clutch hitters in the game. This is another of the Cardinals professional hitters and all he does is drive the ball to all fields. He always works hard and is doing a good job at first base.

Pirates – Garrett Jones had his best year in 2012 with 27 home runs and 86 RBIs. His stats are way down from last year and the Bucs are anticipating a hot finish from the big lefty.

Advantage – Cardinals by a wide margin.

Second Base  

Cardinals – Matt Carpenter was a deserving All star in 2013 and is the catalyst for the team. As Matt goes so goes the Cardinals. Matt is a professional hitter that hits the ball to all fields and is also a clutch hitter. Matt has been a third baseman in the past, but shifted to second this year and is doing very well.

Pirates – Neil Walker in the last three seasons put up some real good numbers for a second baseman. His numbers this year are not close to what his past numbers have been.

Advantage – Cardinals by a wide margin.

Shortstop 

Cardinals – Pete Kozma started out well but has fallen off the cliff in the last month. I had him figured for a 260-270 hitter and above average shortstop. I like his short compact swing but he is just missing the ball and I would advise using the thin bat with small ball or beans. This always worked for my players; it makes the baseball look bigger. His glove has been a plus and I think he can still finish around the 250 mark.

Pirates – Clint Barmes is a veteran shortstop that has a good glove and has showed some offense in the past. Unfortunately he hasn’t done anything with the bat this year.

Advantage –  Barmes gets the slight edge being a veteran and having hit some in the past.

Third Base

Cardinals –  David Freese has had a difficult season with a bad back from a fall into the dugout. This occurred in spring training and the injury set him back in trying to get his timing down for the season. Freese had only 2-3 games on rehab and then was brought North with the team to open the season.

I have written before that Freese needed to stay on the farm to get his hitting together. He had a terrible early season and then he went on a hot streak. After the hot streak he cooled off and now he is starting to drive the ball to the right side which is a sign that he is in the groove.

Pirates – Pedro Alvarez is the Pirate third baseman and the organization has always had high hopes that he would be one of the players to build around. This was not happening and the Pirate fans were giving him a lot of heat. Pedro has 28 home runs and 75 runs batted in. He has a 236 batting average and an OBP of 296 which isn’t anything to brag about. His defense is mediocre at best and with very little range.

Advantage – Alvarez gets the advantage because his season totals are a lot better but I expect Freese to relax and to finish the year strong.

Left field

Cardinals – Matt Holiday has had a down year but since the All star break has taken off and is hitting the ball extremely well. Matt is the kind of player when he gets hot he can carry a team for a long time. There are very few players that hit the ball as hard as Matt in the major leagues. His defense has been subpar this year and he has had some criticism from some in the media. I am a fan of Holiday and appreciate his hitting ability.

Pirates – Starling Marte is the young leftfielder of the Bucs and is regarded as a possible impact player. He is hitting a solid 282 with an OBP of 343 and with 33 stolen bases. He is very athletic and it seems he could have a bright future with the Pirates.

Advantage – Holiday has the edge because of his years in the game and his potential to carry the team the rest of the year and into the post season.

Centerfield

Cardinals – Jon Jay is the Cardinal center fielder that slaps the ball and uses the whole field. He has been a 300 hitter in the past, but has had a rough year at the plate. He has a tendency to be a very streaky hitter and is hitting under 200 this year against the south paws. Jay plays an above average center field but has a below average arm.

Pirates – Andrew McCutchen is an excellent baseball player that can do it all. He is a 5 tool player that will keep improving and is the anchor for the team. I love to watch him hit, his hands are just so quick and he has excellent power for a man that is not real big. He is excellent on defense and can really cover some ground.

Advantage – McCutchen by a wide margin because of his all round ability.

Right Field

Cardinals – Carlos Beltran is the veteran right fielder that still has gas in the tank. Beltran has had another very good season for the Cards and with proper rest should finish strong. He is a switch hitting potential HOF player and if he can stay healthy for 2-3 more years he could get his own bust.  I have been critical of the handling of Beltran and Molina by Cards manager Mike Matheny. He needs to give these two more time off so they don’t get run down!

Pirates – Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones share time in right field. They are 250 hitters with some pop and cannot compare to Beltran.

Advantage – Beltran by a wide margin because of his potential to carry the team on his shoulders.

Pitching

The Pirates have the number 1 ranked pitching staff in the National League.  The Cardinals have very good pitching, but rank 5th in the league.  http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/team/_/stat/pitching/year/2013/seasontype/2/league/nl

Advantage – The Pirates have the advantage and good pitching can beat good hitting.

Ace in the hole goes to the Cards with Matt Adams on the bench. Matt is a power hitter and plays first base when Beltran, Holiday or Craig needs a rest. He is also an excellent pinch hitter who has had some clutch hits.

Can the Pirates hang on and beat the Cards and the Reds to the finish line? The Cards have not been able to beat teams with a 500 record and up. They are dominating the teams under the 500 mark.   I think the Cards will win the division because of having the superior position players. The Bucs lack quality everyday players and I think we will see the Cards and possibly the Reds pass them. I think there will be a one game playoff between the Reds and the Pirates.

Bob Brown

 

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