Monday, April 28th, 2008 by Matt Felser

Burning Questions for the Pittsburgh Pirates

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The Pirates have enough problems right now to fill a season’s worth of Jerry Springer.  Some problems have simple solutions, such as the release of Matt Morris, while others are a bit more complex, such as the teams massive weakness at shortstop.  Here are the five biggest questions right now.Who will be replacing Matt Morris in the starting rotation?

For the time being, lefty Phil Dumatrait will take the spot vacated by Morris.  Dumatrait performed admirably in relief on Saturday, retiring 10 consecutive batters before faltering a bit and letting up one run.  Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds this offseason, Dumatrait was an International League (AAA) all-star.  John Van Benschoten was recalled from Indianapolis to take Morris’ roster spot, but he will be in the bullpen.

What is wrong with Brian Bixler?

Bixler is completely overmatched at the major league level.  After losing Don Kelly to Arizona and Matt Kata to Colorado (he has since been reaquired) then demoting Josh Wilson to Indianapolis, the Pirates had no contingency plan should Jack Wilson get hurt.  Of course they had Luis Rivas, but he is no everyday MLB shortstop.  The Pirates had no choice but to promote Bixler and subject him to trial by fire, and thus far he has failed miserably.  He commited two awful errors on Saturday and is hitting a mere .182.  Still, I don’t think it is entirely his fault.  He deserved another season at AAA to work on his defense and to learn to hit curveballs.  Unfortunately, a lack of foresight by the organization has denied him that opportunity.

Why does Paul Maholm perform well at home but get rocked on the road?

The differences are profound.  Maholm sports an 8.10 ERA on the road, but is carrying a dominating 0.79 ERA at home.  I have no explanation for this, especially because the Pirates have little to no homefield advantage.  When the Penguins are playing, the Pirates are lucky to get 10 thousand into their seats.  On Saturday, the crowd was predominantly Phillies fans.  The Pirates were booed (though that may have come from Bucco fans too) and the Phillies players received loud cheers.  Nevertheless, I think the Pirates should tweak the rotation so that all of Maholm’s starts come at home.

How does Jason Bay have only 8 RBIs when he has 5 homeruns?

Anything is possible on a team whose regular cleanup hitter (LaRoche) is batting a whopping .165 with one homerun after two hits today.  Bay has been hit or miss thus far.  He is good for harmless singles, homeruns (one of which won a game and another kept us in a game long enough to lose in the 15th inning), or most frequently, outs.  Every single one of his RBIs have come from homeruns.  Don’t blame it on the people hitting in front of him.  Nate McLouth, Freddy Sanchez, and Xavier Nady are all getting on base consistently.  For some reason, Bay isn’t knocking runs in.

And the most frequently asked question lately…

Is Nate McLouth on steroids?

Though his hitting streak was snapped, McLouth has gone from competing for a starting job to carrying a .333 average.  He managed to hit three homeruns in a span of four at-bats stretching from the 8th inning Saturday to the 5th inning on Sunday.  We repeatedly referred to him as a “sparkplug” last year, but I don’t think anyone expected this kind of output from him.  Hopefully he’ll keep his speed and not end up like a certain former speedy Pirates outfielder. Don’t worry Nate. I’ll testify for you if you end up in court.

These aren’t all of the Pirates’ issues.  They need to figure out whats going on at first and third base, if they should keep Xavier Nady or trade him while he’s valuable, how they can work Ryan Doumit into the lineup more often, how they can open up a spot for Steve Pearce, and why Evan Meek is still in the bullpen.  Does anyone else have questions for the team?

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