Sports: Pirates, Not Waiting Till June Too Take A Swoon

When we last took a look at the Pirates, they were 14-19, and were barely hanging on, to make something of the season. They nose dived, in more ways than one, to lose 14 of the next 20 games, gave up 20 runs in one game, and made one of the biggest bonehead plays, in the history of baseball. Two to the wins were walk offs, and one was in extra innings, or it could have been even worse. The collapse was a team effort, as all of their pitching, batting, and fielding stats fell dramatically. Their highest rank is FIP and Defensive Efficiency coming in at 19th and 20th, respectively. The rest of the pitching and batting stats are pretty pathetic with ERA+ and Runs scored coming in at 29th each. No one has hit less home runs than the Pirates. They have taken the deadening of the ball seriously. Even though I have called this a team “effort”, there have been players that have stood out by their extremely poor play. Some have not been surprising, but others had some better expectations.

Expected putrid players, that have lived down to their expectations, are Erik Gonzalez, Gregory Polanco, Wilmer Difo, Michael Perez, and 4 of the 5 in the starting rotation. The most disappointing players, who had higher expectations going into the season, are Kevin Newman and Phillip Evans. These players could be some of the worst players in Major League Baseball history. I am not going to waste my finger energy going over some of their pathetic slash lines. Some of their OPSes are not above the league leaders in slugging. As a group their plate discipline is terrible, with Erik Gonzalez being the worse, and they are all allergic to the walk. This group of players is the main reason the Pirates can not score runs. In the starting rotation there is only one pitcher, J.T. Brubaker, who has an ERA+ over the league average 100, at 107. OPS+ and ERA+ are statistics that compare player performances taking in ballparks and other conditions, with the league average being 100. Bryan Reynolds OPS+ is 143, and he has a WAR of 2.2. He is on his way to having an All Star season. Check out these OPS+: Gonzalez 50, Newman 40, Polanco 89, being paid 11 million this year, Perez 37, Difo 81, Evans 89. Now these ERA+: Keller 61, Kuhl 63, Cahill 59, Anderson 86, who if you listen to the Pirate announcers, you would think he is Sandy Koufax. Then, you had the Will Craig gaffe, with Javier Baez at first base, that cost the Pirates eventually 2 runs in a game they lost. I will say one thing in his defense. Why wasn’t someone on the field yelling at him, to tell him what to do. Both the radio and TV broadcast booths sure as hell were. Was it out of respect, or was the whole team dumbfounded speechless, on what they were seeing on the field. Perez could have taken one step, and tagged Baez, instead of trying to tag the runner. On one of the most bizarre plays in major league history, even though Craig took most of the heat, for the huge mistake, you could say, it was a team effort. Is there any hope for this team?

The short answer is no. I am always the optimist, however, and hopefully some good things could happen. Supposedly Hayes is going to be activated this week. That should move Gonzalez to the bench. Moran will come back this month I assume, and his bat, but not his glove, should be an improvement overall for the team. The sad thing about the rotation, is that the fill ins, have pitched better than the regular rotation. I see no hope for Chad Kuhl. The two, that I am hoping, will turn things around, are Newman and Keller. In 2019 Newman hit over .300 and I don’t mind typing this slash line, .309/353/.446, with an OPS+ of 109, and a solid WAR of 3. If he can approach those numbers anytime soon, it would be a huge lift for this team. Keller, who has become every other start Keller, needs to become every start Keller. Hopefully he can find some kind of consistency, and become a top of the rotation guy. I admit these last 20 games have been discouraging, in more ways than one, and I do not know what the schedule looks like this month, but if Hayes comes back, totally able to play, then maybe this team can have a competitive month. The rotation must improve, by finding some arms. If not, then sadly be ready for that 100 loss season. YUK!!!! I’ll next visit the Pirates, July 1.

Sports: Pirates, They Made It, Barely

The Pirates were 5 and 8, and heading into what I called a tough stretch of games, where they would play 15 of the next 20 games on the road. I wrote if they wanted this season to remain viable, they would need to be somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500, at this point. After a promising 6 and 3 road trip, they really hit the skids, but managed to win yesterday, and are at 14 wins and 19 losses, 5 games below .500. The offense became putrid, which was the main reason for the slide. The OBP dropped to 21st from 8th. Their OPS+, which was 11th in the league at the 13 game mark, fell all the way to 29th. This team could not score runs when they were hitting, so naturally their run production went from 17th to 27th. Their fielding and pitching improved, which allowed them to go 9-11 during this 20 game stretch. The Defensive Efficiency Rating rose to 14th from 22nd, which is one of their highest rankings in about 6 years. Interestingly, their strike out rate took a big drop, to 25th from 11th. All the other pitching stats moved up significantly. Whip was 13th, ERA+ 18th, and FIP 14th, all up, from the mid to high 20’s after 13 games. The most disappointing stretch of games, were the 5 homes games, where they lost 4 out of 5 to the Royals and the Cardinals. The other disappointment, during this stretch, was the continuation of bone head plays. Come on guys, this is the Majors. The loss of Colin Moran will hurt an already struggling offense. Despite what Bob Walk says, Moran does not play 1st base all that well, and who knows, maybe if Todd Frazier gets some steady playing time, he may start to hit. He certainly fields the position better. All in All, the Pirates held it together, barely

I thought some things would have to happen for the Pirates to have success during this 20 game stretch. Most of them, did not happen, and yet the Pirates went a respectable 9-11 during this time. Ke’ Bryan Hayes did not come back, and now appears he won’t be back until at least June 1. This loss just keeps getting bigger and bigger, especially when you consider who is playing third base, but more on that, later. I felt that Polanco may start to contribute, but that did not happen. I guess you could say, he is missing in action, and really, it is no big loss. The K twins got better because one of them is not pitching and hopefully Keller finds a way to have two good starts in a row. Right now, he is on an every other start run, which I suppose is better than nothing. They did get rid of the strike out happy centerfielders, and got more production out of the position, but it was almost impossible to get any less. The starters seem to be going deeper, with Anderson going 8 innings yesterday. I think the bullpen was in such shock, that they almost blew the game. Until yesterday, the Pirates have not really had any good luck. Things were particularly bad in San Diego. They hit a lot of liners right at people, and San Diego just seemed to be able to find the hole, when needed. Yesterday, the Pirates did put on a bloop hit show to score 6 runs, so maybe that will turn this team’s luck around.

The next 20 games will get us through the month of May. The Pirates will play 13 of the next 20 at home, which despite the last home stand, should be a plus. This is what I would like to see happen, with the personal, over this stretch of games. Erik Gonzalez needs to sit. In 110 plate appearances, he has walked twice. This has been his MO his entire baseball career, and it is not going to change. For what ever reason, he looks pretty good until he gets 3 balls on him, and then he swings at anything. The worse plate discipline I have seen in a long time. Try somebody else at third base. I don’t care who, there are numerous candidates. Gonzalez can always be used as a defensive replacement late in games. His OPS+ of 54 is horrific, with the league average being 100. He is good defensively, but not that good, to warrant him in the lineup, on a team that can not score. We are not talking about Javier Baez here. If and when Chad Kuhl gets healthy, he should be moved to the bullpen. He might fare better there, and I feel the rotation is better without him. Phillip Evans needs to get out of his slump. At least he walks, but his OPS+ is down to 88. This will be one of the keys during this 20 game stretch. If he continues to slide, then he needs to sit next to Gonzalez. Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds seem to have recovered from their 2020 hitting slumps, but Kevin Newman has not. It would be nice if he can start to hit. Finally, I do not understand what the Pirates see in Clay Holmes. Hopefully, they are right, and I am wrong. I think the Pirates have better talent on their roster, than him. If he proves me wrong, then these 20 games may be alright, because the Pirates use him a lot. Only Sam Howard, has appeared in more games this year. The Pirates have to play at least .500 ball through this stretch, if they are going stay competitive in the division. In order to reach this goal, this team has got to find a way to score runs. We will revisit the Pirates June 1.

Sports: Baseball, The 60 Game Season.

Next Thursday, the 2020 Major League Baseball season, will get underway.  It will be a 60 game season.  Just like everything else in 2020, this will be unchartered waters, for our American pastime. This will be the least amount of games played, for a season, in the history of baseball.  Even though many of the experts that cover baseball, feel that anything can happen, everyone thinks  that the cream will rise to the top, and the best  teams will make the playoffs, and world order will return.  Of course, once  opening day and the schedule was announced, the in-depth analysis has been going on and on and on. There is this obsession with Shohei Ohtani, the universal DH, and the extra inning rule.  Despite all of this, I think there has been things that have been overlooked  and because  I’m about to lose my mind, I will make my own predictions for the coming season, sort of.

I think, one of things, that has been over looked, is the lack of travel, that has been built into the schedule.  A lot of teams will hardly leave their time zones.  This should help more veteran ball clubs, from a fatigue standpoint.  There should be less need for days off.  This means your better players, should be able to play almost every game.  A team should be able to ride the hot streak, of a player, and not worrying about tiring him out. I know injuries, and testing positive for the virus could be big factors, but with a shorter schedule, I feel, with any luck at all, depth may not be a big issue, for some teams. Let’s face it, you do not have to be lucky, for as long, to avoid injuries, this year.  You can not say that a 60 game season is a sprint, but it is far from a marathon.  Pitchers, down the stretch of the last 10 to 15 games, can be used more than they would be at the end of a 162 game schedule.  The other factor, that seems to be overlooked, is that there will not be any of those cold weather games that you see in April and May.  I feel this affects some teams more than others.   Many people feel that teams, like the Blue Jays, Padres, White Sox and Rangers could be contenders, because of all the young talent they have.  I feel that it will be the more veteran teams, that will be fighting for the playoffs. The short season may make bullpens less important, down the stretch.  The bullpen may be important to start the season, since some starters will need to stretch out early in the season.  However, this is the perfect season to ride the starting pitching the last 14 games and right through the playoffs.  One of the big factors will be, what team can remain the coolest, when things start to go wrong. Panic mode will be hard to avoid with only 60 games to be played. So, what do I think might happen.

There are seven teams, the Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Tigers, Mariners, Pirates, and Giants that are given no chance to make the playoffs.  I feel that one of them will make the playoffs.  Of these teams, I feel the Pirates may have the best chance.  I think the NL central, is by far the weakest division in baseball, and that the winner of the division may finish at .500 or below. For lack of a better term, with the whole division floundering around, the Pirates may be able to flounder up a hot streak at the end, and pull out the division.  The Giants have a veteran presence, and may be able to slip in as a wild card. The other teams would be a bigger surprise, but in 60 games anything can happen.  On the other side of coin, I feel the Astros will not make the playoffs. Without playing a game, the Astros have caught a couple of  breaks, by having the season delayed, and with no fans in the stands, to harass them.  However, this team has a stigma surrounding it, that will be hard to overcome.  If they get off to a shaky start, they would have to live in a cocoon, not to hear all the insinuations, that the only reason they won, was by cheating. This, like any sporting endeavor, is a game of confidence, and theirs could be shot by the 10th game.   When spring training started in March, I thought it was a foregone conclusion, that we would have a Dodger-Yankee World Series.  I still feel that way, but I think there may be one team, that could spoil the party.  The Oakland A’s could be a team, that will benefit the most from this shortened season.  They have always been a team that has waxed hot and cold.  I think they will win the division, if the Astros decline, like I think they will.  They can avoid the one and done wild card game, which may be enough to get them into the World Series.   In this crazy year, it would be nice to see this Oakland regime finally get a ring.

So, there you have it, the baseball season preview, with some rare predictions by yours truly, which I will revisit in about 2 months.  Let’s hope most of all, that the players stay safe, and we can enjoy this very unique baseball season, that is about to start. PLAY BALL!

Sports: Spring Training

Spring Training, everybody knows what that means, without saying anything else. In other sports they all have camps.  If you say summer camp, this could be something your kid is doing, not the start of the NFL season. When you say Spring Training, you know baseball has started, thank God.  This year, Spring Training is taking on a different feel for more than one reason.  You have teams apologizing, managers and general managers just acquiring jobs, and this weird feeling that the season is already over. I will explain that later. Spring Training, just has a nice ring to it.  Spring is coming, wonderful. The players are training, because that is what baseball requires. It is the most difficult game to play, but that will be for a future blog.  The game is swimming in money, and there is just something about baseball, that  makes you feel good.  But let us look at what is making this Spring Training, very unique.

First there is the “apologetic” Houston Astros.  The Astros would have been better off, just letting the media talk to individual players, rather than have Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, make those pathetic statements of apology. Then to top it off, their owner, Jim Crane, said that he did not feel the Astros sign stealing methods, affected the outcomes of games.  If that doesn’t prove that money is not synonymous with brains, then nothing does.  It also supports the theory that one of the biggest factors in being successful, and making a lot of money is luck.  Just think about what he said for one moment.  He said, that knowing what pitch is going to be thrown, is not really that much of an advantage.  REALLY REALLY.  Why not lobby to make what the Astros did, to be within the rules. Why did you fire your manager and your general manager.  I have never seen an organization make things worse for themselves, on a daily basis.  Because of the illegal sign stealing scandal  we had three teams scrambling for managers and a general manager to run their teams.  We will see how this affects the Astros, Red Sox, and Mets.  If the Astros win the division, I will be shocked.  I also look for the Mets and Red Sox to perform below expectations.  The other thing that makes this Spring Training unique, is that you have the feeling, that you could go to sleep, wake up around October 20th, and be certain that the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, will be playing in the World Series.  MLB Network likes to talk about the super teams in baseball, and will name 2 to 3 teams, in each league,  that they feel fall into that category.  This year, the Dodgers and Yankees have separated themselves from the rest of baseball so much, that both of their years could be historic.  The Yankees could break the all time record for wins in a season.  I think 120 wins would not be unrealistic, considering some of the bad teams, that are going to be in the American League, again this year. The Dodgers could do this too, but face stronger competition, in a more balanced National League.  Yes, I know the games have to played on the field, and injuries could affect any team severely, but if nothing unusual happens, I don’t see anything stopping these two teams from dominating the entire season.

Then there is my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, who enter spring training with a whole new regime of coaches and a team that is basically unchanged. In my view, a team that has done so little during the off season, is harder to evaluate, than a team that has made a lot of moves. I will not do a final analysis, until just before the season starts, but you still have to wonder, what are they doing?  I was not for a complete tear down and rebuild.  I thought this team needed a third baseman, right fielder, and one or two starting pitchers, and they would be able to contend for the division title.  This is not a long list.  They did none of this. In fact, they lost their center fielder and really have not found a replacement, that approaches his value.   The few additions they have made, were  large defensive upgrades, at their positions.  That makes sense.  The Pirates were one of the worst fielding teams in baseball, no matter what defensive metrics are used.  There are moves that still can be made.  Even if the Pirates stay exactly as they are now, I do think that they are going to be better than most projections. The one on USA Today had them losing 102 games.  I still have to take a wait see attitude on the new regime.  So far, they have not done a lot to impress anyone, but the season has not even started.  Like I wrote, spring training has begun, and it still gives me that nice warm and fuzzy feeling, even though it is only 20 degress outside here in the Burgh.

Sports: Pirates Rebuild, Just One Problem

When the Pirates finally traded Starling  Marte, the media jumped on this, as the sign that the Pirates, were going into rebuild mode.  There were chants of tear it down, and a list of other players to trade, to make this happen.  Ben Cherington on a radio broadcast gave the impression, that this might not be the case.  Many would say that he is not being has forth right as he should be, because this tear down and rebuild mode, is not being looked at too kindly, by major league baseball.  Since Baltimore and Kansas City seemed to have tanked the last two years, there is the feeling that every team should try to compete every year, to be fair to their fan base. This tanking  formula is credited to  the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros, who had some really bad years before they became World Series Champions and recent perennial contenders. Now, tanking is being frowned upon by MLB.  Giving the benefit of the doubt to the rebuild proponents concerning the Pirates, lets say that this is what the Pirates are going to do.  It appears that the target years for the Pirates to contend, would be 2023 and 2024. Before we look at future moves, the Pirates may make to do the rebuild, lets look at the Marte trade.

Starling Marte would be considered one of the best three players on the Pirate team.  You could argue for him being any number, from 1 to 3, but third would be the worst position that you could rank him on the team.   Once he became an Arizona Diamondback, this made the Diamondbacks the number one challenger to the Dodgers for the division title, and an immediate wild card contender, according to many media sites.  In other words this was a significant acquisition for the Diamondbacks.  What did the Pirates get in return?  They got two top 10 prospects that are 19 years old, one pitcher and one shortstop.  They were labeled as high risk, high reward returns.   You do not want to emphasize high risk, but you can not totally ignore it.  On face value, I have no problem with the trade.  Starling Marte is heading into his age 31 season.  He is already showing defense decline.  His abilities to steal bases is not going to improve.  He is not an analytic favorite, because he never has had plate discipline.  His walk percentage has always been low.  Watching Starling Marte play everyday, was at times frustrating, because at times he seemed to have mental lapses out there. Even considering all of this, he is a top 3 player on the Pirates.

So who is left to trade.  The names mentioned are Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, and possibly Joe Musgrove.   Let me add Bryan Reynolds to the list.  What would be the return? Are any of those players going to bring more than Starling Marte.  Josh Bell may bring a little more in the American League, because teams would not have to put up with his way below average defense. These players may bring a little more value at the trade dead line when teams are making a stretch run.  Musgrove’s value may increase at that time if he can improve , as teams are always looking for pitching down the stretch. Even if you want to stretch reality and say that these 4 players could bring back exactly what Marte did, do you really want 8 more high risk, high reward players.  Maybe you get one prospect for them that is closer to being major league ready but teams  do not like parting with prospects, unless the return is solid.  There are teams that are more prospect rich, and if they are in contention at the deadline, may be more receptive to such a deal. You are probably not getting much in return, for the Pirate  players that may be available. The  reason is, that none of them have had that long of a track record.  Bell had a great first half but became mediocre in the second half.  Even Reynolds had a bad September.   Frazier’s first year at second base, was a double surprise, as his fielding improving greatly but his bat seemed to falter.  From a fans perspective, if they stay on the Pirates, there is a good possibility  that they all can improve and build on their success in 2020.  From another teams perspective, they are all players that a wait and see attitude may be the best path before you give  up anything to acquire these player.

Whatever the Pirates do from this point on may be dictated by how they perform in the first 90 games of the season.  Last year, at the All Star break the Pirates were 44-45 and 2.5 games out of first place.  This was a two edged sword.  Two and a half games out of first place was nice but one game under 500 is really not all that great.  Most people feel that the Pirates have no chance of repeating this in 2020 for the first 90 games. We  do not know what, if any, more moves management will make.  If the Pirates could get in that same position that they were last year at the 89 game mark, you have to wonder what they will do.  They certainly will a lot of room to spend on some trade deadline pick ups.  This could be the shortest  rebuild in history.  There is the problem.  Just what do the Pirates have, to rebuild with.   What kind of prospects can they get.  In my view, not much, in order to win in 2023 or 2024.   That could change in a big way if the above players make a big leap forward. Are you listening Joe Musgrove?   I do not know how well the Pirates are going to do, but I do know this could be one of the most interesting seasons in Pirate history.  This would just be fitting, if Pirates became the team that tried to tank, but couldn’t.

Sports: Thoughts

Lot’s going on in the sports world, and not all of it good or uplifting news, but I will discuss some of the bigger stories, and some things going on in Western Pennsylvania. Most of the problems in sports are, in my view, media driven.  The media, a lot of times, even creates the problem, and does little to come up with a solution.  Every problem has a solution, but sometimes it is never found.  One media driven problem is that baseball will have a strike when the labor agreement ends. It is the example of the media’s obsession with predicting gloom and doom.  The media, whether its the sports or news, thrives on trying to create fear, anger, and stress.  They like to call it keeping everyone informed. Do they ever keep you informed of good things?  The answer is rarely.  But now to the world of sports.

Baseball elected two new members to the Hall of Fame.   Derek Jeter and Larry Walker became the newest members of the Hall.  Both players were deserving, and it is a shame that Walker had to wait until his last year on the ballot to gain entrance. The steroid issue came up, with Bonds and Clemens making very small gains, around 1 to 2%, which does not bode well for their future chances. Many of the same people that are appalled at the Astros sign stealing methods, still voted for Bonds and Clemens.  They acquired their astronomical statistics from cheating.  You hear all kinds of excuses for voting for Bonds and Clemens.  I am not even going dignify these lame reasons by listing them.  Here is a possible solution to the problem.  Take away all the stats they acquired while on PED’s.  Everybody knows when they started to take the drugs.   All you have to do is look at Bond’s and see when his head got as big as a basketball.  This may help Bonds and Clemens get into the Hall of Fame because their stats are that good before they took PED’s.  The record book will look a lot better with Hank Aaron at the top of the career leader board and Roger Maris the season leader in home runs.    Of course the media is still talking about the Astros.  They want the players to apologize and if they do, then everything will be fine. Please move on from this but I know this will not happen.

Then there is the Pittsburgh Pirates.  What are you doing? I don’t mean the what are doing, when you see someone putting peanut butter on a medium rare filet mignon. I mean, the what are you doing with the rest of your life.  Are they going to rebuild or not.   Of course, by the time I get to the end of this sentence Starling Marte could be traded, but lets assume the Pirates are going with what they have in 2020.  What  they have is 6 solid players at 1st, 2ond, SS, LF, CF,and catcher. In fact they have a top 10 first baseman, left fielder, and center fielder, in all of baseball.  The two big holes are 3rd base and right field. There are two things that this management team must be hoping for, or counting on. One, that Gregory Polanco can play 130 to 140 games. I don’t think they even care how well he plays them, just that he plays them.  Two, Ke’Bryan Hayes is ready for the major leagues.   The other big weakness in 2019 was the pitching staff.  Without any additions to the staff, management is hoping for the new coaching staff to really improve the performance of this staff.  It could happen.  As a long time Pirate fan I am very comfortable with the current situation, and I think this team could contend with the above happening.  Even though the moves of this team have been very very modest to say the least, they have upgraded a horrible defense.  We are about 2 months from opening day and a lot could still happen, which could change the outlook, but for now I say things are looking up.

A couple of brief comments to finish up.  I only follow college basketball peripherally, during the regular season, but it does seem that the top 5 in basketball, is losing on a regular basis.  I often think, that there will be an NCAA basketball tournament someday, that will have the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th seed as the final four.  Maybe this will be the year.  Another week, where a couple of NFL players were arrested, which still makes me think that there should be a clock on NFL.com running with the caption, it’s been this long since an NFL player has been arrested.  A week from Sunday is the SUPER BOWL, between Budweiser and Frito Lay.  I think that Budweiser will win the commercial battle by 2.  I have one final question. Does anybody watch all of the Super Bowl pre game shows, from beginning to end, even just on one network.  I hope not, but there probably is. There is something wrong when the event is bigger than the game.  Congratulations NFL for making your championship game, irrelevant.

Sports:1965-66 Pittsburgh Pirates the Team Time Forgot

The Pittsburgh Pirates last World Series Championship was 1979, with the Willie Stargell, we are family Buccos, and a thrilling 7th game win over the Baltimore Orioles. The other championship seasons for the Pirates were 1909, 1925, 1960, and 1971.  The group that won the championships in 1909, 1925, and 1971, had some good runs of 3 to 4 years, that included a championship season.  The 1960 and 1979 Pirates had, that one year, of a magical combination of camaraderie, skill, and luck that led to a world championship. Then there was the  run of the Barry Bonds Pirates, that won three straight division titles in 90, 91, and 92, but could never quite make it to the world series. They are still talked and written about today. But a team that is rarely mentioned is the Pirates of 1965 and 66. For 1.9 seasons, they played some of the best baseball, this town has ever seen. From May 21 1965 until Oct 3 1966 the Pirates won 173 games and lost 108. From May 21 in 1965 they finished the season 81 and 48 for a winning percentage of .628.  Translated into a 162 game season that would be 102 wins for the year. In 1965 they were 90 and 72 and in 66 they were 92 and 70.  Unfortunately, there was a team out in Los Angeles that was simply better.

The beginning of the 1965 season marked the end of the first Danny Murtaugh era in Pittsburgh.  He had managed the Pirates to the 1960 World Series victory over the Yankees and the Pirates had mostly good years under his regime which began in mid season of 1957.   The new manager of the Pirates was Harry “The Hat” Walker.  Nicknamed the hat for way he always adjusted his hat between pitches, when he was batting.  There were no helmets in those days, when Walker played.  He was one of the most respected hitting instructors in baseball, and the Pirates developed into one of the best hitting teams in baseball during the next 2 years.  The Pirates still had a good core from the 1960 team which included Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente Bill Virdon and pitchers Vernon Law and Bob Friend.  But this was a team with lots of new faces.  Don Clendenon was at 1st, Gene Alley was the new shortstop, and a young Willie Stargell was the left fielder.  Bob Bailey, the new Pirate bonus baby as they liked to call them in those days, was the third baseman.  Jim Pagliaroni  and veteran Del Crandell anchored the catching.    The pitching staff besides Friend and Law had the fire balling Bob Veale and Don Caldwell to round out a solid rotation and Tommie Sisk was a spot starter. The season did not get off to a great start to say the least.  Bill Mazeroski had a broken foot suffered in spring training, and would not  field his position until mid May.  Roberto Clemente suffered a thigh injury in winter baseball, that would hamper him the first half of the season, and cause him to miss about 10 games in April.  Despite all of this the Pirates jumped out to a 5 and 2 start thanks to some very strong starting pitching, particularly by Bob Veale. But then they went on a skid, that would take them to 9 and 22.  Bill Mazeroski started his first game at second base on game 32, but even that could not get the Bucs going as they lost their next 2 games to drop to a season worse 9 and 24. At this point in the season, Harry Walker was considered more of a pain in the ass with his incessant talking and constant hitting instruction.  He really seemed to bug the great one, Roberto Clemente.  But from that point on this team really jelled.  They won their next 12 games, and became one of the best hitting teams in baseball the rest of the season and into 1966. After the 12 game winning streak, they lost their next 2 games, but then ran off another 7 in a row.  For the rest of the summer they treaded water, and finished at the All Star break 44-43.  They continued to have ups and downs after the break, until about mid August, and then they ran off a nice 12 and 2 streak.  The streak was highlighted by a great double header win over the Dodgers at Forbes Field. They beat Sandy Koufax in 11 innings in the first game 3-2, and Vernon Law out dueled  Don Drysdale 2-1 to win the second game, and move the Pirates to within  2.5 games of first place in the National league.  But alas, that would be as close as they would get. Even though they finished strong, by winning their last 4 games to finish 90-72, it would not be enough and they finished 3rd.  But it was one hell of a run in 1965. Vernon Law got the comeback player of the year, as well.

There was great hope entering the 1966 season with that great finish of 65.  The Pirates now loved the fact that Walker talked so much.  Even Clemente was getting use to hit. The 66 season saw the Pirates contend from the beginning. They got out of the gate quickly and were in first place from April 18th to May 4th.  They stayed near the top the rest of way until they regained first place on July 14th.  They remained in first or second except for one day until September 28. They were only 1.5 games out of first place with 3 games to play but were swept by the Giants and finished 3rd again only 3 games back.  It was the first year that Steve Blass contributed to the season in a big way with a an 11 and 7 record and ERA of 3.87.  This team could hit and they were a grinding team.  Their longest win streak was 6 and longest losing streak was 4.  They were never below .500 for the entire season.  They did everything well.  They seemed like a team that could take it all in 1967.  But again, it was not meant to be.  They acquired Maury Wills in the off season and it seemed that this would be the catalyst to propel the Pirates to the World Series.  The 67 team did not jell, however, and Walker was fired in mid season with Murtaugh taking over, but the results were the same.  It would only be Blass, Stargell, Clemente, and in a minor way Mazeroski, to be around for the run in the early 70’s that would bring the next title to the Pirates.  But, for  that two year period, this Pirate team played some great baseball, and was an exciting group to watch. They just couldn’t get to the big stage.  In my mind, it still does not diminish the way they played the game. I will always remember them and that magical stretch they had from mid May of 1965.