Pirates: Same old story
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MIAMI -- It's too soon to panic about the Pirates.
It is not too soon, however, to throw your arms up in despair, shake your head with frustration and maybe pound your fist against the wall. That is, if you care at all.
Five games into the season and little has changed with what has become Major League Baseball's worst franchise. New president, new general manager, new manager -- same old Pirates.
With 157 more games to play, beginning this afternoon against the Florida Marlins, a lot could change. For now, though, this is awful.
The Pirates lost to the Marlins last night at Dolphin Stadium, 7-3. It was their second consecutive loss to the Marlins, a team with a payroll of about $21 million. The Pirates' payroll is about $51 million.
The eight position players Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez sent out last night make a combined $3.2 million, which is barely half of what Jason Bay is paid and about $2 million less than Adam LaRoche takes home.
As the big-market teams like to say, it's not all about size of payroll.
The Pirates are 2-3, which is a lot better than 0-5, and this kind of a record is hardly unexpected. It's the quality of play that is so bothersome.
The Pirates are hamstrung by injuries to Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, who now have been out of the starting lineup for two consecutive games. Wilson definitely won't play today and Sanchez will probably be a late-morning decision. Their absences hurt, both offensively and defensively, but it's not like their replacements are the ones hurting the Pirates.
LaRoche and Bay continue at a ridiculous pace. Sure, they'll snap out of it. They're both above-average major-leaguers. But when will they end their funk? It must come soon.
LaRoche struck out two more times last night while going hitless in three at-bats. He's 0 for 20 since opening the season with two hits. He has struck out 10 times and is batting .091.
Bay had one hit, a double, in four at-bats to raise his average to .167. Neither Bay nor LaRoche has an RBI.
Against left-hander Mark Hendrickson, who at $1.5 million was the highest-paid Marlin on the field at the start of the game, manager John Russell stuck with the left-handed hitter LaRoche in the No. 4 spot, and this good faith paid no dividends. He also stuck with Bay in the No. 3 spot, which meant the heart of the batting order hadn't driven in a run all year.
"They're a big part of the lineup," said Russell, "whether they're struggling or not. For us to have success, we need them."
The lineup screamed for a shakeup. Maybe Nyjer Morgan, who hasn't started a game this season, could generate some offense with his speed. But Russell was sticking with his guys.
And what is it they say about those men who keep their head when all those around him are panicking? He doesn't understand the situation.
A good start was -- and is -- imperative for the Pirates. Any confidence the team might have built up as a result of the change of administration and the general sense of optimism that usually accompanies a new season is fragile, at best, and could dissolve quickly if the losing continues.
Russell wouldn't commit to his lineup for this afternoon when right-hander Rick VandenHurk pitches for the Marlins but made it sound like Bay and LaRoche would start.
"We'll see how it goes for the next few days," he said.
There were some high points. Starter Paul Maholm, for example, struck out nine Marlins, a career high and was exceptionally sharp most of the game. He also gave up a grand-slam home run to Mike Jacobs, the player whose ninth-inning homer beat the Pirates Friday. What really hurt is if Maholm had fielded his position better, Jacobs would not have come to bat with the bases loaded in the fifth inning.
With one out, Maholm could only knock down a ball hit by catcher Matt Treanor. But the time he retrieved it, he threw wild to first base. The next batter struck out, which meant the inning would have been over if Treanor was retired.
"It's a play I should have made," Maholm said.
The Pirates scored their final two runs in the sixth on a single by Chris Gomez, who is replacing Sanchez at second base.
After that they went quietly into the night, getting only one hit, a single in the ninth, the rest of the way. The final two batters, Nate McLouth and Luis Rivas, looked at called third strikes thrown by Matt Lindstrom.
Baseball fortunes have been known to change quickly. But for the moment, at least, the Pirates have the look of a team headed for another 90-loss season.
First Published April 6, 2008 12:02 am