A Smattering of Intelligence: Bucs Banter, Marvelous Melky, and Murphy’s Law
What in the name of Omar Moreno is going on in Pittsburgh?
With Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Pat Maholm making like Bert Blyleven,
Jim Bibby, and John Candelaria, the Pirates find themselves on a PNC
Park roll. They just completed a
stunning three-game sweep of the Marlins on Wednesday, a happening that becomes
all the more remarkable considering that Florida
entered the series a major league best 11-1. The Pirates are the hot and
fashionable team National League team now, with a record of 9-and-6, just a
half game off the pace in the NL Central.
The Pirates are managing to play exceedingly well in a
division in which just about every team was considered better than the Bucs. First
and foremost, they’ve turned around their fortunes with improved starting
pitching. Last year, the Pirates’ rotation teetered on the atrocious. Now they
have confidence that Maholm can be an ace, and have reason to think that
ex-Yankees Ohlendorf and Karstens can be contributors at the back end of the
rotation. All three hurlers pitched well in shutting down the Marlins’ offense,
which is among the most potent and diverse in the National League. The bullpen
has also chipped in heavily. The late-inning lefty-righty punch of John Grabow
and closer Matt Capps has yet to give up an earned run this season.
Offensively, the Pirates have lived up to expectations, highlighted by a
nucleus of Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Doumit.
Can the Pirates keep up the pace? Well, perhaps for a few
weeks, but there are indications that their early-season play may not be
sustainable. Ohlendorf and Karstens fit better long term as relievers, not as
starters. Grabow and Capps will start to give up runs eventually; they’re
capable relievers, but they’re not the latest incarnations of Grant Jackson and
Kent Tekulve either. Three of Pittsburgh’s
hitters–Morgan, LaRoche, and Freddy Sanchez are all hitting over .300–a
circumstance that figures to change as the season ages. And now the offense is
the facing the predicament of losing Doumit for as many as ten weeks with a
broken right wrist.
Putting the negativity aside, the Pirates have succeeded in
avoiding the kind of cruel start that has doomed them in recent years. They
have some young talent that has a chance to blossom, especially in the form of
Doumit, Morgan, McLouth, and Maholm. For the first time in years, Pirates fans
have hope. And that, for a flailing franchise, is worth something…
The Yankees may have found a doable role for Melky Cabrera.
A full-fledged flop as the Yankees’ center fielder in 2008, Cabrera has emerged
as an early supersub stud in New York.
Receiving only his second center field start of the new season on Wednesday,
Cabrera switch-hit home runs–including a game-ending blast in the bottom of
the 14th. Cabrera now has four home runs on the season, despite irregular
playing time and a reputation as a singles hitter.
Based on the bulk of his major league career, Cabrera
doesn’t hit well enough or with sufficient power to play every day. But his
line-drive swing, good defensive skills, and strong throwing arm play well in a
reserve role. He can play center field one day, as he did on Wednesday, or
right field another day. He can come in as a late-inning defensive specialist,
especially in the outfield corners. He can also pinch-run. In other words, he’s
a good player to bring off the bench–an area where the Yankees could use the
If his struggles continue in left field, the New
York media will start referring to him as
“Murphy’s Law.” Daniel Murphy has made just about every mistake that
can be made in the outfield. He’s dropped a fly ball, made a throwing error,
missed the cutoff man, even fallen down on the job, and generally brought back
memories of Dave “King Kong” Kingman trying to play left field at
Shea Stadium. Two of Murphy’s miscues have led directly to Mets losses, which
has led to early calls of panic from some members of the team’s rabid fan base.
Let’s not give up on Murphy too quickly. He’s still learning
to play the outfield fulltime after dabbling in a variety of positions,
including second base. He’ll get better with more repetitions and he’ll be
helped by playing next to a Gold Glove center fielder like Carlos Beltran.
Besides, Murphy’s bat is too good (maybe good enough to win a batting title in
the future) to sit him on the bench or plant him in Triple-A Buffalo. A better
plan would be to platoon Murphy with Gary Sheffield, who also needs at-bats. That
way, the Mets would take some pressure off Murphy and limit their defensive
foibles to left field, while giving Ryan Church a chance to play right field
every day. That’s a far more workable solution, one that would not involve
tossing the towel on the talented Mr. Murphy.