New Castle News

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July 15, 2014

Greg Huston: Boosting the Buccos and — yep — LeBron, too

NEW CASTLE — The final road trip before the All-Star break was a bit of a downer, as the Buccos finished 2-5 in the seven games with the Cardinals and Reds, but no one should feel too bad about where they stand today. Yes, they are in fourth place in the division, but with only 3.5 games separating them and the first-place Brewers, it's not a bad spot to be in, especially considering their horrendous start to the season and the injuries they have suffered. All things told, 3.5 games back is pretty remarkable.

•Andrew McCutchen was the MVP of the National League last season, and it looks as if he may just get it again this year. Last year, for a full season, he hit .317 with 21 home runs and 84 RBI. This year, he already has 17 home runs, 68 RBI and is batting a stellar .324. On top of that, he had 78 walks a year ago, and is at 58 already this year. Everything is pointing up for McCutchen in terms of his stats, which means he has an excellent chance of repeating for MVP.

•Speaking of McCutchen, he must have read my blog post from last week. In it, I stated that he had a tendency to try to do too much when the Pirates were trailing at the end of games, leading to him swinging out of his shoes and striking out. Well, he made me eat my words on Saturday night as he homered in the 9th inning to tie the game at 5, and then once more in the 11th inning for the 6-5 win. Now, since I apparently have the power to make these guys make me eat my words, I'm going to say that maybe Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez need to give the Buccos anything, and I mean anything, at the plate from the first base position. There you go, problem solved.

•If you look at the declining power numbers in Major League Baseball over the past few years, I think it is safe to say that one of two things is going on. Either Bud Selig and the Players' Union have done a good job of cleaning up steroids in the game (questionable) or the more likely scenario that the ball has been deadened to make it appear that way. Last year in the National League, Pedro Alvarez and Paul Goldschmidt led the way with 36 homers, less than half as many as Barry Bonds had in his steroid-laced 2001 campaign, when he hit 73. When the home run explosion took off in the late ’90s, a juiced baseball was often cited as the reason to cover for the now obvious steroid use. It seems just as plausible that a deadened baseball would be employed to help similarly cover a problem that probably hasn't totally gone away.

•The Buccos top priority this off-season has to be re-signing catcher Russell Martin to at least a three-year deal. He will command a pretty large salary, but he is the main reason that they made it over the hump to get into playoffs last season and a huge reason they are pushing to return again this year. In the two years before he arrived, Pirates catchers failed to control the base paths on defense and good Bucco teams missed the playoffs in both years. Since Martin has arrived, Pirates pitchers don't have to worry about guys running wild on the base paths, because Martin is an assassin behind the plate. For those who think that Tony Sanchez is the answer, consider that he is already 26 years old, has more passed balls and errors in fewer games at Triple-A Indianapolis this year than Martin does with the big club, and Sanchez has hardly ever thrown anyone out at any level. Martin may not be the best hitter on the Pirates club, but Sanchez's near .200 average at Triple-A does nothing to solve that problem either. Paying Martin, who is only 31, whatever he wants, within reason, has to be priority one if the Pirates want to remain a contender over the next several years.

•Well, I was wrong about McCutchen last week as mentioned, but I was right about something else from a few weeks ago. LeBron James announced late last week that he would be returning home to Cleveland, which I called in my blog after he opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat a few weeks ago. As I stated then, I was not a fan of his post-Cleveland antics, but I will be rooting for him now that he has decided to come home. If the Cavaliers can somehow score Kevin Love from the Timberwolves without giving up this year's number one pick Andrew Wiggins, he might just be able to bring home Cleveland's first professional trophy, in any major sport, in the last 50 years.

(Questions, comments, ideas? Email Greg at: hustongregor@hotmail.com)

 

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