Toronto at Pittsburgh, September 2-4

Friday, September 02 2022 @ 11:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

The Jays will be making just their third visit to PNC Park in Pittsburgh. They lost two of three in 2014, when the Pirates were pretty good. They lost two of three in 2008, when the Pirates were pretty awful. I have my own reasons for worrying about the 2022 Pirates. But later for that.

The big news around here are the roster reinforcements. Casey Lawrence (huh?)  adds another arm to the bullpen, and Bradley Zimmer gives the team a seventh outfielder. That's surely one of those pressing needs we had all overlooked somehow. But as the reboot of the Bradley Zimmer Era commences, let us set aside the mockery for the moment. Consider this instead, the team's record with everybody in the starting lineup:

Danny Jansen       26-13  .667
Bradley Zimmer 14- 7  .667
Alejandro Kirk 57-44  .564
Lourdes Gurriel 65-51  .560
Bo Bichette 70-56  .556
Matt Chapman 66-54  .550
Santiago Espinal 58-48  .547
BLUE JAYS 70-59  .543
Raimel Tapia  45-38  .542
George Springer 52-44  .542
Teoscar Hernandez 54-46  .540
Vladimir Guerrero 68-58  .540
Cavan Biggio 31-29  .517
Jackie Bradley 4- 4  .500
Zack Collins 8-11  .421 
Gabriel Moreno 4-11  .267
Whit Merrifield  4-11  .267
Tyler Heineman 1- 5  .167
Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts. Do not expect me to explain the impact of Bradley Zimmer. There are mysteries that shall forever resist being understood. I do have a couple of theories. Is it not likely that the other hitters feel the need to make the most of every at bat, knowing that the Zim lurks below them in the lineup, as close to an automatic out as we've seen in many a year. It seems likely to me. Or perhaps the pitchers are reassured and full of confidence, knowing that the Zim is patrolling the outfield. Who can tell?

The real question is whether John Schneider is aware of this, and whether he will fully unleash the Power of Zim. I think we're all pretty sure he won't. I suspect we're all pretty happy that he won't. I know I am. But even so... 14-7 is not to be sneered at.

Incidentally, these numbers do suggest that perhaps the most significant misfortune to befall the 2022 Jays were the two injuries to Danny Jansen. It didn't help losing Hernandez for three weeks, especially as Tapia played badly while he was out. But then Hernandez came back and played just as badly for three weeks himself.  And it's not so much the gaudy W-L record with Jansen in the lineup, which is probably almost as flukey as what we see when Zimmer plays. No, it's the dreadful record when Jansen doesn't play. And that's not when Kirk is catching - the team did just fine (36-27, .571, a 93 win pace) when Kirk was catching. The problem was the 8-20 record when the likes of Collins, Moreno, and Heineman strapped on the catcher's gear.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a bad team, and they've been a bad team for most of the last 30 years. They made three straight trips to the NLCS at the beginning of the 1990s, they came up short each time, and each loss was more agonizing than the one before. After that last defeat, ace starter Doug Drabek and superstar left fielder Barry Bonds left as free agents and the losing began. From 1993 through 2012, the Pirates had no winning seasons. None. Zero. The best record in those twenty years was 79-83. They had a brief burst of goodness, three seasons during the Prime of Andrew McCutchen (ably supported by Starling Marte and Russell Martin) - but they lost in the NLDS once and the lost the Wild Card game twice. They resumed their losing ways in 2016 and have been losing ever since. Only three teams in the majors - Cincinnati, Washington, and (naturally) Colorado - allow more runs. Only two teams, the A's and the Tigers, score fewer. This is not a combination that leads to success - they're the sort of things that lead to a 49-81 record.

Three winning seasons. In thirty years. Three.

Because the Pirates are so very bad... I worry. I worry about over-confidence. I worry that I may detect it amongst some of you. Let me see if I can discourage that, just a little. Here's a charming split, courtesy of the 2022 Blue Jays:

Split      G   PA   AB   R   H  2B 3B  HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO  BAVG   OBP   SLG   OPS    

Springer  47  197  174  22  39   8  0   9  13  3  1  18  39  .224  .301  .425  .726
Guerrero  59  252  226  20  54  11  0   8  25  2  2  22  44  .239  .314  .394  .707
Kirk    52  187  165  15  38   4  0   6  15  0  0  19  22  .230  .316  .364  .679
Chapman   55  212  194  26  40   5  0  11  23  0  0  14  65  .206  .259  .402  .662
Espinal   53  188  178   9  42  13  0   2  12  1  2  10  37  .236  .277  .343  .619
Tapia    48  158  153   9  37   6  0   3  11  1  0   3  31  .242  .256  .340  .596
Bichette  57  244  231  18  51   9  0   5  19  3  2  13  64  .221  .262  .325  .587
Gurriel   51  207  192  15  43  10  1   1   8  2  0   8  50  .224  .277  .302  .579
Biggio    36  109   94   8  14   3  0   3   8  0  0  13  36  .149  .259  .277  .536
Jansen    14   49   43   2   7   2  0   1   2  0  0   5   7  .163  .245  .279  .524
Hernandez 48  186  175  11  31   7  0   3  12  4  1  11  64  .177  .226  .269  .495

If they play like that, it's going to be a long and dreary weekend and they're more than capable of playing like this. There's a whole group of games when this is what they did. We must assume nothing. Nothing, I tell you.

Oh, I have The Fear. I generally have The Fear. It's baseball. On any given day, anything can happen. Not only can a bad team beat a good team - they can do it again on the very next day. The mighty Dodgers came to pretty PNC Park in May, doubtless feeling good about their 19-7 record. But Jose Quintana tossed a four-hitter at them in the opener. This irritated the Dodgers sufficiently that they pounded out an 11-1 victory the very next day. But the Pirates took the rubber match with a couple of late runs against the LA bullpen. The Dodgers were so shocked that they lost their next three as well, to the Phillies, before recollecting that they were in fact the Los Angeles Dodgers. And so they won 13 of the next 15, that being How They Roll most of the time.

But then the lowly Pirates came to Dodger Stadium, and in the immortal words of Spike, the not-quite-immortal vampire - wackiness ensued. In the Monday opener, the Pirates scored twice in the ninth inning - walk, wild pitch, single, error - to beat Craig Kimbrel 6-5. Mitch Keller beat Julio Urias the next day, which also wasn't on anyone's bingo card. In the finale the Pirates pounded on Mitch White and a couple of relievers for eight runs and there you are. This was, and will remain, by far the most stunning, the most unlikely series sweep of the 2022 season. The Dodgers were knocked so thoroughly off balance that they coughed up two more three game losing streaks over the next two weeks. They then righted the ship, of course, if the 53-16 streak they've been on since can be regarded as Righting the Ship. It might be better described as Blowing Everyone Out of the Water.

Let us divert ourselves for a moment and note that we've already made passing reference to the great and terrible Dodgers getting swept, twice, within the span of a few weeks. Is it common for teams playing .600 ball to get swept? Not this year - the Braves and the Mets haven't been swept once. The Yankees got swept once, in St.Louis, the Astros got swept once, in Oakland. The Dodgers didn't merely get swept twice - they got swept at home, by one of the worst teams in the league. And they didn't merely get swept twice, now that you mention it - they got swept three times (because besides the series in Philadelphia, they would also get swept in San Francisco, This is why they're only 10-3 against the Giants this year.)

But you see what can happen. Anything can happen! Anything! It's baseball, folks! It's weird!  Nothing is easy. And nothing is given, ever.

The Pirates have rethought things since originally pencilling in Beede to open and Wilson to close this series. September callup Johan Oviedo kicks things off tonight. He'll be making his Pirates debut - he went 0-8 over two seasons as a starter with the Cardinals but was more effective working out of their bullpen this year.  He came over in the Quintana trade. Roansy Contreras is a young RH from the Dominican who seems to be emerging as the Pirates best starter, now that Jose Quintana has been donated to the Cardinals. Contreras seems to be getting better as his rookie season moves along. JT Brubaker now gets the call in the finale.

Aside from centre fielder Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates don't really have any good baseball players. But there are some players with a lot of talent and some very impressive tools - they just haven't quite put the talent and the tools together in any really productive fashion. Yet. Third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes is an outstanding defender and shortstop Oneil Cruz can apparently throw a baseball harder than peak Aroldis Chapman. I'm sure that's made his first baseman as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.

It's been so long since the Blue Jays played in Pittsburgh that half the roster has never played in this ballpark, and the others - being, with one exception, career AL players - have just a few games there. And even Raimel Tapia, the one ex-National Leaguer among the position players, has only played in seven games at PNC (he went 8-25, .320.)  Matt Chapman did seem to like it, though, on his one visit - he went 5-15 with a homer.  Ross Stripling is the only one of the three starters who has pitched here before - he's 1-0, 2.25 in four appearances, one of them a start, at PNC Park. Jose Berrios has faced the Pirates twice, both times in Minnesota (1-0, 3.72) and Alek Manoah has never pitched against Pittsburgh.


Fri 2 Sep - Manoah (12-7, 2.60)  vs Oviedo (2-1, 3.20)
Sat 3 Sep - Stripling (6-4, 2.94)   vs Contreras (4-4, 3.57)
Sun 4 Sep - Berrios (9-5, 5.32)  vs Brubaker (3-11, 4.39)