Well, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said the team didn’t necessarily need to make a flurry of trades at the trade deadline. True to his word, after trading veteran pitchers Jose Quintana and Chris Stratton to the St. Louis Cardinals the day before and Daniel Vogelbach to the New York Mets earlier, there were no deals on deadline day, save for a last-minute cash purchase of pitcher Jeremy Beasley from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Coming to the Pirates were pitchers Colin Holderman (from the Mets) and Johan Oviedo (from the Cardinals) and double-A corner infielder Malcom Nunez (also from the Cardinals). Holderman joined the team on Tuesday. He was immediately sent to triple-A when he was acquired on July 22 so he could get accustomed to the Pirates’ way of doing things. In 15 relief appearances in the heat of a pennant race with the first-place Mets, he was 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA, 1.019 WHIP and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. I’d say Holderman was doing just fine doing things the Mets’ way, but what do I know?
Oveido and Beasley are expected to join the Pirates at some point this season. Oveido had a taste of the major leagues with the Cardinals for parts of three years beginning in 2020. Results have been underwhelming but there’s some thought that the Cardinals brought him up too soon. Cherington was familiar with Beasley from his days as the Blue Jays’ vice president of baseball operations.
Cherington hopes the lack of action on deadline day signals the team is concentrating on the major league roster. It’s not a big surprise Newman and Gamel remain, as they are playing regularly and playing well. Newman’s bat has been hot lately. The big shocker was the retention of VanMeter, who is hitting .184. The only possible reason I can think of is that his departure would leave Michael Chavis as the only true first baseman on the major league roster. Recently converted outfielder Bligh Madris has been playing there this week.
It was inevitable Tsutsugo would go. He seemed to have unlocked his potential with the Pirates when added late last year. His .268/.347/.535, 8 HR, 25 RBIs stat line in 43 games landed him a $4 million contract this year. His early 2021 season struggles were attributed to a back injury that eventually landed him on the injured list. However, since returning, he didn’t fare any better. The Pirates gave Tsutsugo plenty of time to find himself in 2021. In fact, he was given enough time to find himself and several other people, too. He leaves Pittsburgh with a stat line of .171/.249/.229, 2 HR, 19 RBIs for the season.
Now that the deadline has passed, one senses a palpable feeling of relief on the part of the Pirates’ players. The Pirates lost 12 of the 14 games preceding the deadline, including the last seven in row. As I write this, they’ve just completed a three-game sweep of the first place Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. On Tuesday, Brewers ace Corbin Burnes was cruising along, leading 3-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth. With one out, he uncharacteristically allowed two walks. Next up, budding superstar Oneil Cruz reached for an outside pitch that may not have even been a strike, and crushed a long tying homer into the Brewers’ bullpen past the 399-foot mark in center field. The Pirates went on to win, 5-3.
The next night, with the Pirates up 5-4 in the seventh, it was Cruz’s turn again. This time he hit a rocket off lefty Brent Suter with a man on base, a mighty projectile that landed past the center field stands, clanging off a protective rooftop that covers the concession stands. The Brewers tied the game at 7-7 in the eighth. But in the bottom of the ninth, Bryan Reynolds, facing Devin Williams, won the game with a long home run that landed close to where Cruz’s had landed. It was the first run Williams surrendered in 30 games.
Cruz-ing too far off base
Cruz continues to thrill Pirates fans but remains an unfinished product. On Saturday against the Phillies, Cruz was the “automatic runner” at second base to start the 10th inning and promptly got picked off, putting Madris in the rare and unique position of being a leadoff batter with one out. The last time I saw that was 18 years ago in one of my son’s Pony League games. (His team had just nine players on that day. One of the kids got ejected from the game for running over the other team’s catcher. They were permitted to continue with eight players. However, when the ejected player’s turn came up in the batting order, by rule it was an automatic out.)
The Pirates completed the sweep with a 5-4 win on Thursday afternoon, coming from behind twice and winning in the bottom of the 10th on a run-scoring wild pitch. The three games featured stellar relief pitching and good defense, but the big story was, at last, the timely hitting. The Pirates’ team batting average with runners in scoring position is the worst since the 1969 expansion San Diego Padres. That Padres team featured Jose Arcia (10 RBIs in 302 AB) and Tommy Dean (9 RBIs in 273 AB).
Getting back to the trade deadline, Pirates fans aren’t sad to see the big, hard-throwing reliever Josh Hader leave the Central Division after the Brewers sent him to the Padres. Of course, they were also glad to see Pirates killers Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong seemingly leave the division, only to return with other division rivals. Watch the Cardinals get Hader when he becomes a free agent.
Finally, this week Pirates pitcher Chase De Jong, who played in the Dodgers system, remembered first meeting the legendary broadcaster Vin Scully, who passed away on Tuesday: “I’m thinking, his voice is like silk. I could listen to him read the phone book.”