Game 124 lineups

PITTSBURGH — Sticking to their closely monitored recovery program, the Pirates are cycling through rest days for their everyday players. Yesterday, you saw Josh Harrison and Starling Marte get the day off — and it paid off quite well, with Adam Frazier and Matt Joyce setting the tone atop the order. Today, Andrew McCutchen and David Freese will get a day off their feet.

“We maintain a steadfast attitude, Game 1 or 81,” Clint Hurdle said. “These guys, when they need their rest, we’re going to get them down and continue to move forward. We believe in the depth of our club and the strength of the guys filling in for them.”

Josh Bell remains at first base for the fourth straight game, this time behind Gerrit Cole. Pittsburgh has lost each of Cole’s last three starts, and he’s gone 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA with opponents batting .375 during that span.

Here’s how the Pirates and Astros will line up.

PIRATES (63-60)
Josh Harrison, 2B
Matt Joyce, RF
Starling Marte, CF
Gregory Polanco, LF
Josh Bell, 1B
Francisco Cervelli, C
Sean Rodriguez, 3B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Gerrit Cole, RHP

ASTROS (65-61)
George Springer, RF
Alex Bregman, 3B
Jose Altuve, 2B
Carlos Correa, SS
Evan Gattis, C
Marwin Gonzalez, LF
A.J. Reed, 1B
Teoscar Hernandez, CF
Collin McHugh, RHP

Game 123 lineups

PITTSBURGH — With 40 games left on the regular-season schedule and the second National League Wild Card spot in the Cardinals’ hands, the Pirates are looking to snap a four-game losing streak tonight against the Astros at PNC Park.

Here’s how they’ll line up.

PIRATES (62-60)
Adam Frazier, 2B
Matt Joyce, RF
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Gregory Polanco, RF
David Freese, 3B
Josh Bell, 1B
Francisco Cervelli, C
Jordy Mercer, SS
Ivan Nova, RHP

ASTROS (65-60)
George Springer, RF
Alex Bregman, 3B
Jose Altuve, 2B
Carlos Correa, SS
A.J. Reed, 1B
Marwin Gonzalez, LF
Teoscar Hernandez, CF
Jason Castro, C
Joe Musgrove, RHP

Game 115 lineups and notes

LOS ANGELES — Before we look back at yesterday, let’s run through the lineups for today’s series finale at Dodger Stadium.

Pirates (58-56)
Josh Harrison, 2B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Andrew McCutchen, CF
David Freese, 1B
Jung Ho Kang, 3B
Francisco Cervelli, C
Sean Rodriguez, RF
Adam Frazier, LF
Chad Kuhl, RHP
(Starling Marte was initially in the starting lineup despite leaving yesterday’s game with upper back discomfort. He was scratched less than an hour before first pitch.)

Dodgers (65-51)
Chase Utley, 2B
Josh Reddick, RF
Corey Seager, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasmani Grandal, C
Joc Pederson, CF
Howie Kendrick, LF
Rob Segedin, 3B
Brett Anderson, LHP

About Last Night

Clint Hurdle and Gerrit Cole met with legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully this morning. I’ll have more on those meetings on the site shortly — but it’s really neat to hear the reverence with which they speak about Scully, who will be calling his last Pirates game today.

During their 10-15 minute chat, Hurdle said, Scully — who’s seen Jackie Robinson and innumerable historic moments in baseball history — wanted to talk about yesterday’s game. Here’s how part of their conversation went down, per Hurdle’s account…

Vin Scully: “I’m sorry about yesterday’s game.”
Clint Hurdle: “Well, we tied a franchise record!”
Vin Scully: “That’s just like you to spin that the other way!”

Fresh off an Adele concert last night, Hurdle watched video of yesterday’s game this morning and touched on what went wrong in that overall ugly performance. Here’s what he had to say.

  • Regarding the 18 runners left on base, Hurdle pointed to their six bases-loaded at-bats — three of which resulted in a run scoring. When it didn’t work out, Hurdle didn’t feel like the Pirates were hacking or swinging out of their shoes. “It just goes back to reinforcing the fact that you work in a certain mentality to get them on base. You’ve got to stay in that mentality to score them.”
  • About Cole’s approach against the Dodgers’ left-handed hitters: “Fastball execution was better. The spin pitches, secondary pitches, were thrown for strikes and chase — just more execution. Yesterday, the execution with the fastball was a little inconsistent, which was problematic. His effort and competitive fire, the dialogue we had in the dugout, was outstanding. He actually tried to make a couple adaptations during the game to change some things. He was engaged, listening and aware. The misfires on some offspeed pitches cost him against some left-handed hitters. Overall consistency of the secondary pitches and the fastball command was the difference. The execution versus the left-handers yesterday and maybe a couple other games versus the execution against the left-handers in the game against Seattle, the complete game.”

Cole has been characteristically stingy against right-handed batters this season, holding them to a .229/.291/.294 batting line. But lefties have hit .316/.363/.439 off him, much worse than the .227/.287/.310 line he held them to a year ago.

Hurdle said the difference between yesterday and Cole’s July 27 complete game against a lefty-laden Mariners lineup is relatively minor, speaking to what happens when a pitcher is “a touch off — and how hard it is to dominate up here, sometimes how tough it is just to compete up here. People take it for granted.”

“For me, it goes back to everybody else’s expectations,” Hurdle continued. “This guy wants to do well every time he touches the ball, as does every player that goes out there with an at-bat or a glove or a play. When you don’t do it, you’ve got to figure out how to reset and regroup and get back in it. A little bit off here can be that fine, dividing line between winning and losing, good and average and mediocre.”

Game 113 lineups, pregame notes

LOS ANGELES — The Pirates made their way out west after yesterday’s 4-0 win over the Padres at PNC Park. They’ll begin a three-game series against the Dodgers here at Chavez Ravine before heading north to face the Giants for three games in San Francisco.

Here is tonight’s game preview, on Ivan Nova looking to repeat his debut success and Ross Stripling stepping in to start for the Dodgers.

Before we look back at yesterday’s coverage and a few notes, here are tonight’s lineups…

Pirates (57-55)
Josh Harrison, 2B
Starling Marte, LF
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Gregory Polanco, RF
David Freese, 3B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Sean Rodriguez, 1B
Eric Fryer, C
Ivan Nova, RHP

Dodgers (64-50)
TBA

Links and Notes

  • We’re waiting for further updates on catcher Francisco Cervelli, who isn’t in the lineup. In the meantime, here’s yesterday’s story, in which Cervelli briefly explains the left wrist/hand pain he’s feeling. I’d imagine Elias Diaz, who was in Pittsburgh yesterday, will hang around in case the Pirates need to make a roster move.
  • The Pirates announced that Saturday, Sept. 10 will be a Zambelli fireworks night at PNC Park, replacing the previously scheduled Francisco Liriano Bobblehead Night…for obvious reasons: Liriano plays for the Blue Jays now.
  • Pittsburgh just played 20 straight games against subpar competition, Seattle excluded. They went 10-10 in the stretch against the Brewers, Phillies, Mariners, Brewers again, Braves, Reds and Padres. They’re still only two games out of a playoff spot. Nobody’s really running away with that second Wild Card.
  • Their schedule’s about to get a lot more difficult, though, with 12 straight against the Dodgers, Giants, Marlins and Astros. According to our friend Joe Frisaro, Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is lined up to start the series opener a week from today.
  • The Pirates’ rotation is in a better place to compete against those teams, however, as we’ve seen over the last week. Pittsburgh tore down its Opening Day rotation and built a new one in its place, and that group — Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Ryan Vogelsong and Chad Kuhl — has performed well so far.
  • There is no segue into Starling Marte playing the accordion, so here you go: Starling Marte played the accordion.
  • Manager Clint Hurdle praised Taillon’s “rhythm and pace” on the mound after yesterday’s gem. Time of game: two hours, 37 minutes. As someone who had to hustle from the ballpark to the airport and catch an evening flight to Los Angeles, I’d like to say that I also appreciated Taillon’s rhythm and pace…

Let’s talk about the Trade Deadline…

PITTSBURGH — Here is a story running down what the Pirates did on Monday. Here is a story about what they did on Saturday, when they traded closer Mark Melancon. Here, in this space, we can look at (and talk about!) what they did in the bigger picture.

Amid all the shock and awe on Twitter yesterday, the most common question I got on Trade Deadline day was this: How do you make sense of all this?

First, let’s see what the club looks like in the wake of those moves. Second, let’s consider what they did and didn’t accomplish with the trades they made: Melancon for Rivero and Taylor Hearn; two players to be named for Nova; Jonathon Niese for Bastardo; and Francisco Liriano, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire for Drew Hutchison.

After that, we’ll take a trip to fantasy land and play out their best- and worst-case scenarios.

The Roster
Rotation: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeff Locke. (Locke’s spot, and maybe Vogelsong’s as well, could be a revolving door that also loops in Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow down the stretch. But this is it for now.)

Bullpen: Tony Watson, Neftali Feliz, Felipe Rivero, Antonio Bastardo, Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes, Juan Nicasio. (With A.J. Schugel on the Option Express.)

Lineup: Francisco Cervelli, John Jaso, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Jung Ho Kang, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco

Bench: Eric Fryer, Sean Rodriguez, David Freese, Matt Joyce, Adam Frazier, Max Moroff. (Moroff won’t be around for long, most likely, because they’ll send him down to make room for Vogelsong. Chris Stewart could replace Fryer soon, if his rehab goes well.)

The Pirates did…
-…Admit to their mistakes. The Niese trade wasn’t popular at the time, but it was a reasonable (albeit low-upside) gamble and, GM Neal Huntington insists, their best available return for Neil Walker. Maybe they should have taken those two famous fringe prospects and used Walker’s salary elsewhere, but my God, imagine the outrage over salary-dumping The Pittsburgh Kid!

Similarly, Liriano’s three-year, $39 million contract was a reasonable bet for a pitcher who performed well under their watch. But it’s also a significant deal for a club that won’t push far, if at all, past $100 million in payroll. Rather than ride out Liriano while arguing that he’s “their guy,” the Pirates let him loose.

-…Get rid of a pitcher who wasn’t helping their chances to win in 2016. His 5.46 ERA was the third-worst in the Majors among qualified starters. He led the Majors in walks. There were signs of progress, like that 13-strikeout game against the Brewers, but never enough to believe he was back for good. The way he pitched this season, the move from Liriano to Not Liriano (in this case, Nova) might be an upgrade.

-…Clear salary and a 2016-17 rotation spot. This seems to be the part that upsets everyone, wary of ownership interference and payroll restrictions. (For what it’s worth, Huntington said there was “absolutely not” a mandate by ownership to lower payroll.) But quite frankly, Liriano would not have been worth 1/10th of the Pirates’ 2017 payroll. “Gave up on him” is a harsh assessment, but they clearly didn’t believe he was going to get back to being 2013-15 Francisco Liriano. So they shipped him away and got someone to eat all of his remaining 2016-17 salary.

Believe it or not, teams don’t do such a thing out of the kindness of their hearts. In fact, only one team was willing to do so. “Dumping salary” isn’t always as simple as finding a landing spot; you either have to offer a player of some value (like Charlie Morton with the Phillies, who could have flipped him yesterday if he pitched well and didn’t get hurt), eat some of the cost yourself or give up something to convince the other team. The Blue Jays were not going to eat $16-17 million for nothing. They weren’t just going to give the Pirates a pitcher like Hutchison, either. Fans may be tired of hearing it, but young/controllable pitching — even relatively unproven pitching like Hutchison — does not come cheap. It costs money, or it costs players/prospects. That’s why Hutchison and Liriano’s full salary relief cost two good prospects. Could the Pirates have given up one prospect, or one of them plus a lesser prospect, and eaten some of Liriano’s salary? Probably. Would that have been the right move? Maybe. But on that note…

-…Give up two prospects they can survive without. Yes, Ramirez and McGuire are highly regarded. McGuire was a top Draft pick. It was weird to write that they gave up two top-10 prospects in their system for a guy with an ERA approaching 5.00. The possibility of one or both developing into stars is the biggest risk they’re taking on in any of these deals. But both have seen their stock fall. What if Ramirez turns out to be nothing more than a stocky singles hitter? What if McGuire is a backup, all glove with little bat?

The Pirates might have never had a place for Ramirez, so he was ultimately expendable. McGuire wouldn’t have seen the Majors as a starter until Francisco Cervelli leaves, maybe not until Elias Diaz leaves. McGuire seems like the bigger loss here — good catchers are hard to come by, he’s an outstanding defensive prospect and you can never have enough catching depth, as the Pirates have seen this season — but it’s not like they traded Austin Meadows or Josh Bell.

On that note, the Pirates did their due diligence on the pitching market. According to sources, clubs were asking for various combinations of their top-five prospects — Glasnow, Meadows, Bell, Taillon and Kevin Newman — for any starter. Those are all core, near-ready players at important positions. Giving them up wasn’t worth a Matt Moore/Jeremy Hellickson-type starter, which is all they would’ve received in return. And a Moore/Hellickson-type starter wasn’t going to save this season, anyway.

-…Get a pitcher, Nova, who can eat innings and keep them from having to force Glasnow (injured and, as some fans might now agree, still in need of refinement) into a bigger role than he’s ready for. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring acquisition, but the Pirates believe he’ll be better away from the AL East and working with their catchers/coaches.

-…Get another pitcher, Hutchison, they say they really like. Pittsburgh had been on Hutchison for two years, identifying him as someone who fits their criteria and does the things they like. They say his peripheral numbers will add up to a better pitcher than the one who put up an ERA near 5.00 in more than 400 Major League innings. Maybe he will. He’ll be around for a while, too; if he stays in Triple-A until September, he’ll be under club control for three seasons after this one.

“Part of it is the league and the ballpark,” Huntington said. “We believe there are some things that we can help him with in terms of pitch sequencing, pitch selection, how he attacks hitters and how he utilizes the quality of individual pitches that he has a little bit differently. We believe he can step right into our rotation next year.”

-…Improve their bullpen, or at least keep it net-neutral for now while improving in 2017. Bastardo was quietly really good for the Pirates for most of last season, and he’s a better fit there than Niese was. Over 58 games, how much will you notice the drop-off from Melancon to Watson, from Watson to Feliz, from Feliz to Rivero and do so on down the line? We’ll see.

As for next year, Rivero will be back while Melancon would have been a free agent. Even if that trade wasn’t popular, everyone seems to understand the baseball logic of that deal — five years of a late-inning reliever is more valuable than two months of a better one. Bastardo is under contract as well, giving them a bullpen core of Watson-Rivero-Bastardo-Caminero-Hughes heading into next season.

The Pirates didn’t…
-…Dramatically improve their chances to make the postseason in 2016.

-…Ease anyone’s anxiety about the role money/payroll plays in their baseball decisions.

That’s pretty much what it comes down to, isn’t it? They didn’t go out and make that move, the one that clearly pushes them from one game over .500 on Tuesday morning to a clear Wild Card favorite by late September. Nova might be better than Liriano. Hutchison might help after September. But did they really do enough to address their most glaringly immediate need, the rotation?

As for the second part, having to deal two top prospects for salary relief and a Triple-A arm is not what they call “good optics.” The D-backs were ridiculed for trading prospect Touki Toussaint in order to rid themselves of Bronson Arroyo’s contract. Already, this part of the move hasn’t been well-received by fans or industry observers. It’s a high price to pay, in baseball terms, to rid themselves of their highest-paid player. But again, we won’t know what Ramirez/McGuire are for years to come. And we don’t know now how the Pirates will use their salary savings. Suffice it to say people will be watching on both fronts, though.

Best-Case Scenario for the Pirates
Nova is J.A. Happ 2.0, putting together a strong stretch run and becoming the Pirates’ clear No. 3 starter behind Cole and Taillon. The rookie pitchers get mixed into the rotation, holding their own and earning valuable experience for 2017-on. Glasnow gets more time to improve, emerging in ’17 as a fully developed starter. Ryan Vogelsong joins the rotation and becomes the feel-good story of August and September, and Hutchison is a solid No. 3 starter from 2017-19. Rivero, Feliz and Watson are an equally effective 7-8-9 trio, with Bastardo thriving alongside Nicasio, Hughes and Caminero in an improved “B” bullpen.  Andrew McCutchen and Co. get hot at the right time, and the Pirates ride a second-half surge into the Wild Card Game. (Where they will face…Clayton Kershaw. Sorry, I can only be so positive for so long.)

Ramirez turns into Jose Tabata, and Meadows is ready when they need him to be. McGuire never hits, and Diaz is a big league backup and eventual replacement for Cervelli. Niese finishes the disappointing season he started in Pittsburgh. Liriano puts even more pressure on himself to perform, eventually pitching his way out of the Jays’ rotation and into their bullpen. The Pirates use their savings to retain all of their controlled players while upgrading their rotation, bullpen and bench in the offseason.

Worst-Case Scenario for the Pirates
Nova is no better than Liriano, putting up an ERA near 5.00. The Pirates are forced to rely more on their rookies, who get overexposed in their first extended taste of the big leagues. Glasnow is rushed into action and struggles. Vogelsong and Locke falter, Hutchison doesn’t turn a corner, and the rotation aside from Cole and Taillon is no better than it was in the first half. Rivero’s results don’t match his stuff, and Watson blows an early save opportunity. Bastardo pitches more like he did in New York than Pittsburgh. The lineup never comes together like it did in April, and the Pirates don’t make the postseason. (And thus don’t have to face Clayton Kershaw in a win-or-go-home Wild Card Game. See, it’s not so bad!)

Ramirez turns into a Major League outfielder, developing power as he gets closer to the Majors while maintaining his high-average bat. Meadows remains plagued by injuries, leaving the Pirates without a reliable long-term replacement for McCutchen. McGuire’s bat catches up to his glove, and he’s an All-Star catcher by 2020. Niese thrives in the Mets bullpen, and the Two Fringe Prospects share a laugh somewhere in the Mets’ system. The Pirates can’t find anywhere on the market they feel comfortable spending their 2017 savings. Liriano rediscovers himself in Toronto, forming a 1-2 lefty punch in the postseason with…J.A. Happ.

Game 84 lineups: Brault’s MLB debut

ST. LOUIS — Settle in, folks. This is going to be a busy afternoon and evening on the baseball beat.

Let’s start with the news.

  • Jameson Taillon was placed on the disabled list with “right shoulder fatigue.” We should hear more about that today. In his place, the Pirates called up lefty Steven Brault, their No. 17 prospect, to make his Major League debut. Against the Cardinals. At Busch Stadium. On ESPN. No pressure!
  • Gerrit Cole will make a rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis, throwing three innings or 50 pitches. Something to keep an eye on.
  • Ryan Vogelsong and Francisco Cervelli will pitch and catch in a four-inning simulated game here in St. Louis. Hopefully we’ll get a better sense of where they’re at in their respective recoveries — both of which seem to be going quite well thus far.
  • Chris Stewart is on the disabled list and was scheduled to undergo tests in Pittsburgh today.
  • Triple-A catcher Jacob Stallings, who made his MLB debut last month, has been designated for assignment to make room for Brault.
  • Oh by the way, teams for next week’s All-Star Game will be announced tonight. At this point, it’s highly unlikely the Pirates will have any starters but quite likely they’ll have at least two representatives. (My guess: Mark Melancon and Gregory Polanco, with Starling Marte deservedly finding his way onto the National League roster as an injury replacement.)
  • Speaking of All-Star festivities, prospect Austin Meadows won’t play in the Futures Game. I’ve been told it’s right hamstring tightness/discomfort, not considered to be anything too serious.

That seem like enough to keep you busy? No?

OK, about tonight’s game: The Pirates have won five in a row and eight of their last 10, the best record in the NL over their last 10 games. They’re handing the ball to their 10th starting pitcher in 84 games, the fourth one making his first Major League start.

The Pirates enter tonight’s action 3 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot, 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. A reminder: If they can hold their ground this week and coming out of the break against the Nationals, 34 of their last 70 games are against the Reds, Brewers and Phillies.

PIRATES (42-41)
John Jaso, 1B
Gregory Polanco, RF
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Starling Marte, LF
David Freese, 3B
Josh Harrison, 2B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Eric Fryer, C
Steven Brault, LHP

CARDINALS (43-39)
Matt Carpenter, 2B
Aledmys Diaz, SS
Matt Holliday, LF
Stephen Piscotty, RF
Jhonny Peralta, 3B
Jedd Gyorko, 1B
Tommy Pham, CF
Brayan Pena, C
Mike Leake, RHP

Game 83 lineups: Pirates vs. Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — Happy 4th of July from cloudy, drizzly Busch Stadium, where the Pirates and Cardinals will begin a four-game series at some point this afternoon. IMG_3093

The Pirates have won four straight and seven of their last nine games after dropping eight of nine. They’re back at .500 for the first time since the morning of June 17, but they have a tough 10-game stretch coming up — with the All-Star break splitting up series against the Cardinals, Cubs and Nationals. After that, the schedule eases up on the Pirates, with 34 of their final 70 games coming against the rebuilding Brewers, Reds and Phillies. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that these seven games heading into the break are critical for their standing heading into the stretch run.

Here are today’s lineups.

PIRATES (41-41)
John Jaso, 1B
Gregory Polanco, RF
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Starling Marte, LF
David Freese, 3B
Josh Harrison, 2B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Erik Kratz, C
Jonathon Niese, LHP

CARDINALS (43-38)
Matt Carpenter, 2B
Aledmys Diaz, SS
Matt Holliday, LF
Stephen Piscotty, CF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Yadier Molina, C
Brandon Moss, RF
Jedd Gyorko, 1B
Carlos Martinez, RHP

Game 82: Pirates at A’s

OAKLAND — Welcome to the second half of the Pirates season, which officially begins this afternoon at the Coliseum. Francisco Liriano will face A’s rookie Daniel Mengden, and he’ll have a different-look lineup behind him as Pittsburgh tries for the road series sweep.

PIRATES (40-41)
John Jaso, 1B
Gregory Polanco, DH
Jung Ho Kang, 3B
Starling Marte, CF
Matt Joyce, RF
Josh Harrison, 2B
Adam Frazier, LF
Jordy Mercer, SS
Erik Kratz, C
Francisco Liriano, LHP

A’S (35-46)
Coco Crisp, CF
Marcus Semien, SS
Josh Reddick, RF
Danny Valencia, 3B
Khris Davis, DH
Billy Butler, 1B
Jake Smolinski, LF
Matt McBride, C
Tyler Ladendorf, 2B
Daniel Mengden, RHP

PREGAME NOTES

  • Andrew McCutchen is out of the lineup, and it’s neither a typical rest day or anything related to the swollen right thumb that bothered him earlier this season. It’s a bruised heel, something that came about Friday night. Check Pirates.com later for more on that.
  • The Pirates have reportedly claimed catcher Eric Fryer off waivers from the Cardinals, this according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo. You might think this move is to bump Erik Kratz off the roster, but don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh puts Chris Stewart on the disabled list after the move becomes official. Stewart is out of the lineup for the second day in a row, and he’s been playing through a number of left leg injuries lately.
  • The Pirates bullpen has put together 28 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings with 27 strikeouts dating back to June 24. Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio and Mark Melancon got the job done last night.
  • Liriano’s last win was May 24 against the D-backs. Since then, he’s 0-5 with a 7.12 ERA, and opponents are batting .300/.416/.500 against him. With Cole on the shelf for a little while longer, the Pirates could really use an effective Liriano atop their rotation to start the second half.
  • Have you seen the video of Clint Hurdle rocking out to Grand Funk Railroad yet? Go watch it again. I’ll wait. As Hurdle said, “You tell these players to go out and play like they’re 6 in the backyard and have some fun…”

Game 81: Pirates at A’s

OAKLAND — Back at the Coliseum for the second game of this weekend series, the midway point of the season for both clubs. Win or lose, the Pirates will hit the halfway mark with a losing record for the first time since 2010.

Quick notes followed by tonight’s late-night lineups…

  • Gregory Polanco, you’ll notice, is back at DH after starting in right field last night. Clint Hurdle said they’re still monitoring Polanco’s sore left leg, and they had no intention of sending him out to right two days in a row, especially when they can take advantage of the DH spot in an American League ballpark.
  • Jordy Mercer is hitting .318 with a .400 OBP and an .885 OPS in 17 games at the leadoff spot this season.
  • Sean Rodriguez, starting in right, has hit safely in each of his last nine starts, going 11-for-30 with eight RBIs.
  • Pirates relievers have retired 24 of the last 25 batters they’ve faced. You can read more about how they’ve turned a corner lately.
  • Wondering about that “Respect John Jaso” sign hanging in the stands of the Coliseum last night? So were we. Jaso said it stems from this incident, when the typically reserved Californian charged out of the dugout to confront Manny Machado.
  • As you may have seen, the Cubs used three pitchers in the outfield in a wacky game Tuesday. The idea came up with Hurdle today, and he mentioned Tony Watson as a candidate to do the same if the situation ever presented itself. Why Watson? “He’s one of the most athletic guys we have in the bullpen,” Hurdle said. “He’s pretty adept at shagging.”
  • Congratulations are in order for Matt and Brittany Joyce, who announced Saturday that they’re expecting a child.

PIRATES (39-41)
Jordy Mercer, SS
David Freese, 1B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Jung Ho Kang, 3B
Gregory Polanco, DH
Starling Marte, LF
Sean Rodriguez, RF
Josh Harrison, 2B
Erik Kratz, C
Chad Kuhl, RHP

A’S (35-45)
Coco Crisp, LF
Jed Lowrie, 2B
Josh Reddick, RF
Danny Valencia, 3B
Khris Davis, DH
Stephen Vogt, C
Marcus Semien, SS
Yonder Alonso, 1B
Billy Burns, CF
Rich Hill, LHP

Game 80: Pirates at A’s

OAKLAND — Tomorrow marks the midway point of the season, the Pirates’ 81st game. After a much-needed, full day off in San Francisco yesterday, can they start their second-half surge here in Oakland?

At the midway point last season, Pittsburgh was 47-34. In 2014, the Pirates were 41-40. At this point, the best they can hope for is a .500 record coming out of Game 82.

The Pirates are coming off a miserable June, going 9-19 with a 6.06 ERA from their rotation. They’ve lost 15 of their last 21 games. Once they get through this three-game weekend series, they’re looking at seven games against the Cardinals and Cubs heading into the All-Star break.

Here’s a look at how both clubs will line up tonight in a late (10:05 p.m. ET) start at the Oakland Coliseum, the Pirates’ first trip here since 2010.

Pirates (38-41)
John Jaso, 1B
Gregory Polanco, RF
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Starling Marte, LF
David Freese, 3B
Matt Joyce, DH
Josh Harrison, 2B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Chris Stewart, C
Jeff Locke, LHP

A’s (35-44)
Jed Lowrie, 2B
Marcus Semien, SS
Josh Reddick, RF
Danny Valencia, 3B
Khris Davis, LF
Billy Butler, DH
Jake Smolinski, CF
Josh Phegley, C
Yonder Alonso, 1B
Sonny Gray, RHP

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.