San Francisco shook off a rough Friday night loss due to Paul Goldschmidt's three run homer off Jeremy Affeldt and rebounded with two straight wins for a series victory over the weekend. The starting pitching has begun to come around a bit with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner giving quality outings. But the real surprise has been long reliever turned starter Chad Gaudin. The Louisianian got his second consecutive win going six innings, allowing two runs, and striking out seven batters. All this done with a stomach ache, which had Gaudin vomiting prior to and during the ballgame. The Giants improved to 12-18 on the road, but the worst part of the series came with injury news.
Angel Pagan was put on the 15 day DL with that nagging hamstring injury and Pablo Sandoval joined him after limping off the field on a groundout Saturday night. Joaquin Arias took his place and a MRI came back negative on Sandoval's foot strain. Bruce Bochy did tell Jon Miller on KNBR's pregame show Sunday that a DL stint is likely for Sandoval.
Since ex-Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle took over in 2011, the Pirates have taken on a different look not reminiscient of their 20 straight losing seasons to date. Pittsburgh opened a new ball park in 2001, one of the best looking parks in the bigs, but the process of overhauling the front office under owner Robert Nutting's watch has been lengthy. The past three seasons have easily been some of the most competitive in Pittsburgh since their last division title in 1992. The team had gotten off to solid starts the past two years. In 2011 they were at .500 at the All Star break and got to first place at one point in July. In 2012, they were in first place at the All Star break and eventually climbed to 16 games over .500. Both seasons saw implosions and losing streaks that enabled their ugly consecutive losing seasons streak to endure.
What outsiders may view as run-of-the-mill Pirate futility is merely the growing pains of a younger, talented team with promise to those within the organization. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is their superstar, but the core of this team is beginning to form around pitching. And the Pirates have amassed a lot of arms in recent years through drafts, trades, and free agency. What's crazier is the fact three starters in James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, and Charlie Morton have all been on the shelf. McDonald is the only pitcher of those three names to play this season. Crafty lefty Wandy Rodriguez has made 12 starts and former Indians great Jeanmar Gomez has started 7 games as well. Both are battling forearm issues, with Gomez on the disabled list. Rodriguez is hoping to avoid it and could make a start in this series with additional rest.
Then it's on to A.J. Burnett who's putting up great numbers, the unpredictable but talented Francisco Liriano (part of A.J. Pierzynski trade lore), and a 25 year old left hander from New Hampshire in Jeff Locke. Locke came over with Morton from Atlanta in 2009 as parts in the Nate McLouth trade. Closer Joel Hanrahan left for Boston, but his season is over due to elbow issues. So a well traveled 36 year old reliever originally drafted by the Giants filled the void. Jason Grilli and Sergio Romo's seasons mirror one another's with regards to their move to the closer role. Grilli was Pittsburgh's setup man last season. He's thriving as a closer so far with 23 saves to date.
Pittsburgh sits in third place in their division at 37-26, and despite the pitching injuries they own the third best ERA in the majors and best opponent batting average at .223. For all the talent Andrew McCutchen possesses, he alone cannot revive an offense ranked 25th at 3.6 runs per game. The Pirates are 28th in batting average and 26th in on base percentage. They are not hitting many home runs with 59 compared to the Giants 47. But the Giants have done better in situational hitting where the Pirates do not have as many of those hitters.
Pittsburgh has left field prospect Starling Marte, who was brought up near the end of 2012. He and McCutchen form a nice top of the lineup with Marte hitting leadoff and McCutchen usually in the third spot. Both are hitting in the .280 range with 31 combined steals. Other than that, Pittsburgh's offense contains a lot of .240 to .260 hitters. The hometown kid Neil Walker is a nice second baseman and Clint Barmes compliments him to make for a nice defensive duo up the middle. Pedro Alvarez leads the team with 13 home runs, but he's also hitting .203 for the season. Ex Dodger catcher Russell Martin has been around the block, and seems to be the perfect backstop for this team with his veteran poise and ability to get a clutch hit once in a while.
Of all the names currently on their starting staff, the one with the most potential will go Tuesday night against Tim Lincecum. Gerrit Cole was the Pirates' first overall pick in 2011 and has been called upon to start to give Wandy Rodriguez a few more days rest. The right hander out of UCLA had gone 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in Triple A, credentials impressive enough for Pittsburgh to warrant bringing him up to the big club. Cole has been projected to have the makings of a true ace, something that has been missing in Pittsburgh since Doug Drabek.
Lincecum can relate to such expectations hurled at his young counterpart when he first arrived on the scene in 2007. He will try to carry over his excellent start at home to the road. Last time he was in Pittsburgh, he failed to go four innings and surrendered six runs in a 13-2 loss.
After hitting a short rough patch, the offense resurfaced in Arizona the last two games. Teams cannot get Marco Scutaro out at this point. He gets himself out because it's shocking when you don't see him slap one into the outfield or against the foul pole for home runs. Hunter Pence enjoys hitting in Chase Field. In 26 career games, Pence boasts a .337 average, seven home runs, and 22 RBIs. The team's home run leader has his average up above .290 again. It was also nice to see youngster Juan Perez in center field Sunday. His speed and energy should help the outfield with Pagan still unavailable. The next time San Francisco plays Pittsburgh is a four game series in late August at AT&T.