Think your Diamondbacks stink? What to make, then, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, before their 8-5 victory against the Brewers on July 20, had been Milwaukee's bitch for more than a year? Before that W, the Pirates had choked away 17 straight to the Brewers (the Brewers!) over 14 months. It was the longest winning streak by one MLB team over another in almost 40 years (or the longest streak of baffling impotence, as the put-upon fans in the Burgh looked at it).
What the D-Backs see when they scout the Pirates, who visit Chase Field for a four-game series tonight through Sunday, is a slightly distorted impression of themselves. Like the Diamondbacks, Pitt has no real stars (though rookie center fielder Andrew McCutchen is a budding five-tool threat à la Justin Upton), a hot-and-cold offense, middling starting pitching (anchored by 2009 All-Star backup Zach Duke), and a young and intermittently problematic bullpen. In fact, if you compare the teams' styles of play and overall records (Bucs: 42-52; Snakes: 40-55), you'd think they were twinkies who'd been separated at birth.
But the Pirates are better, and deeper, than they appear on paper. Arizona's worse, and shallower.
While the Diamondbacks are underachievers in a historically underwhelming division, Pittsburgh's a decent team fighting traffic in the overcrowded and ultra-competitive National League Central. Much more frequently than they'd like to, the Bucs have to face the Cardinals, Cubs, Astros, and, God help 'em, the Brewers.
Another major differentiator between Pittsburgh and Arizona is the bonehead factor (or lack of one, in Pitt's case). With its potent double-play combo of shortstop Jack Wilson and 2B Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh's ranked second in the league in team fielding, right behind the world-champ Phillies. The Diamondbacks are -- doh! -- next to last, mere percentage points ahead of the execrable Washington Nationals.
If Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and the rest of the Pittsburgh brain trust can avoid doing what Arizona managing general partner Ken Kendrick and GM Josh Byrnes have done here -- i.e. royally screw the pooch -- the Pirates might actually be a team with a future. Even though they're in last place in the NL Central, the Bucs are only eight games behind mighty Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals.
That team-with-a-future stuff's a mighty big if, though, 'cause the Pirates brain trust always mucks things up, usually by offloading the salaries of good players when they climb above poverty level (read: Adam LaRoche; Andrew McCutchen, this is your future). Still, the glorious win over the Brew Crew (the Bucs ended up taking two of three from the Brewers) and the Pirates' decent play out of the second-half gate have sown seeds of optimism in BuccoNation. As one fan wrote in a recent online posting: "Good time to be a Bucco fan. Winning baseball will be back in the Burgh soon."
Well, maybe -- if they can find a way to move Milwaukee to another continent.
Here are the scheduled pitching match-ups for the D-Backs/Pirates series:
Tonight, 6:40: Dan Haren (10-5, 1.96 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (2-2, 3.21)
Friday, 6:40: Yusmeiro Petit (0-4, 7.15) vs. Zach Duke (8-9, 3.38)
Saturday, 5:10: Doug Davis (4-10, 3.95) vs. Ross Ohlendorf (8-7, 4.59)
Sunday, 1:10: Max Scherzer (5-6, 3.86) vs. Virgil Vasquez (1-4, 5.54)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona. Radio: KTAR-AM 620, KSUN-AM 1400 (Spanish). More info: www.dbacks.com.
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