Pity the poor Pirates. A year ago it appeared that the Bucs were building a strong young rotation with Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell on top and Zach Duke and Paul Maholm in the middle. They then overhauled their management both in the front office and on the field in the hope of building around that quartet of young starters. This season, their offense has surged to become the fourth-best attack in the NL thanks to a career year from Xavier Nady (.321/.379/.537), breakout seasons from 27-year-old catcher Ryan Doumit (.318/.362/.568) and 26-year-old All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth (.286/.361/.540), and Jason Bay's rebound from a 2007 season hampered by leg injuries. More recently, first baseman Adam LaRoche, a second-half performer to rival Robinson Cano, has joined in, hitting .365/.455/.662 since mid-June.
The problem is that their good young rotation has gone belly-up. Gorzellany lost his ability to throw strikes (6.26 BB/9 vs. 5.34 K/9) and has been sent back to the minors for reeducation sporting a 6.57 ERA, and Snell has been only mildly better (5.84 ERA, 5.34 BB/9, 6.55 K/9). That has more than erased the improvements made by Duke and tonight's starter Maholm, and undermined the strong showing of both the offense and the back of the bullpen (which itself has been hurt by the recent injury to closer Matt Capps). Altogether, the Pirates pitching staff has the worst ERA in baseball.
Worse yet, of those breakout performers on offense, all but Bay stand a good chance to regress to their past level of performance as McLouth is the youngest of the quartet at 26. Just look at Freddy Sanchez, who won the batting title at age 28 in 2005 and is hitting .226/.253/.307 thus far this year. Oh, and Bay will be a free agent after the 2009 season.
So despite the new administration's willingness to think outside of the box (witness rookie manager John Russell using Doug Mientkiewicz as a four-corners utility man and becoming the third NL Central manager to bat his pitcher eighth), any hope for a meaningful improvement in Pittsburgh has once again receded into the future.
Tonight's game makes up for one rained out exactly two weeks ago after the Yanks and Bucs split the first two games of a three-game set and, neatly, rematches the two pitchers who started the game that was rained out with the Yankees leading 3-1 in the third inning. Having had that outing erased from his ledger, Paul Maholm has posted a 2.57 ERA in his last four starts and a 2.74 mark over his last seven, and hasn't taken a loss since May 20. Mike Mussina is coming off his six crucial shutout innings against the Red Sox and has a 2.70 ERA in his last six starts with 30 Ks against just six walks and three homers in that span.
Jose Molina, who starts his sixth straight game behind the plate, continues his personal catching duties for Mike Mussina. Righty-hitting Justin Christian starts in left field over lefty Brett Gardner against the lefty Maholm. Christian bats eighth with the entire order shifting up a spot and Derek Jeter leading off. With no DH, Jorge Posada starts at first base with Jason Giambi looming as a late-game pinch-hitting option.
For what it's worth, the Yankees outscored the Pirates 15-12 in the first two games of this broken three-game series, with the Pirates scoring all of their runs in Game One.
Manager: John Russell General Manager: Neal Huntington
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): PNC Park (98/98)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Nate McLouth inherits the playing time of Chris Duffy (minors)
Ryan Doumit takes the starting catcher's job from Ronny Paulino (minors)
Raul Chavez replaces Doumit on the bench
Doug Mientkiewicz replaces Jose Castillo and Josh Phelps
Chris Gomez replaces Cesar Izturis and Matt Kata
Jason Michaels replaces Nyjer Morgan (minors)
John Van Benschoten is replacing Tom Gorzelanny (minors)
Phil Dumatrait replaces Matt Morris and the starts of Tony Armas Jr. and Shane Youman
Tyler Yates replaces Shawn Chacon
Sean Burnett replaces Salomon Torres
T.J. Beam replaces Jonah Bayliss
Romulo Sanchez is replacing Matt Capps (DL)
1B - Adam LaRoche (L)
2B - Freddy Sanchez (R)
SS - Jack Wilson (R)
3B - Jose Bautista (R)
C - Ryan Doumit (S)
RF - Xavier Nady (R)
CF - Nate McLouth (L)
LF - Jason Bay (R)
L - Doug Mientkiewicz (3B/1B/OF)
R - Jason Michaels (OF)
R - Chris Gomez (IF)
R - Luis Rivas (IF)
R - Raul Chavez (C)
R - Ian Snell
R - John Van Benschoten
L - Paul Maholm
L - Zach Duke
L - Phil Dumatrait
L - Damaso Marte
R - Tyler Yates
L - John Grabow
R - Denny Bautista
L - Sean Burnett
R - T.J. Beam
R - Romulo Sanchez
15-day DL: R - Matt Capps, R - Franquelis Osoria
L - Nate McLouth (CF)
R - Freddy Sanchez (2B)
S - Ryan Doumit (C)
R - Jason Bay (LF)
R - Xavier Nady (RF)
L - Adam LaRoche (1B)
R - Jose Bautista (3B)
X - (P)
R - Jack Wilson (SS)