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Cardinals 11, Pirates 6 - The Bullpen Strikes Again

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You know, these 1990s-Rockies-style games the Pirates have played recently are exciting occasionally, but they're exhausting, and you feel for the pitchers, and there reaches a point where you think, "Another home run? Booooring!"

Ian Snell got through the first couple innings of this one without a problem, but then the trainer came out for reasons that weren't immediately clear, and then he put a bunch of runners on and somehow allowed a three-run homer to Aaron Miles.

The Pirates managed to battle back and eventually even pull ahead 6-5. If the score had stayed that way, Sean Burnett would've been the game's MVP not for his pitching, but for starting a rally with a double in the sixth, then keeping it going by darting off third while Nate McLouth was stuck in a rundown. Both runners were safe, and Chris Gomez brought them both home with a double that gave the Pirates the lead. 

Unfortunately, Franquelis Osoria entered the game after that, and you can guess how that went. T.J. Beam and Tyler Yates then pitched and allowed runs, too. Part of the problem, surely, is the amount of work this bullpen has had recently, but another part is that John Russell just doesn't have any good options right now besides Damaso Marte, who can only pitch so much. (John Grabow seems to be battling some minor injury.) If your best options in close games include people like Burnett or Beam, or even people like Yates, the manager really isn't the problem.

In the grand scheme of things, the bullpen just isn't that important, and in a way I'm glad Neal Huntington recognized that this offseason and didn't spend a bunch of money on relievers. This team wouldn't be a playoff contender either way. 

There's a good article about the Rays (via Primer) in a Tampa paper today that shows why, although it's natural to get worked up when watching a game, it's not a great idea to waste a lot of energy worrying too much about the Pirates' bullpen. Rays GM Andrew Friedman spent two years trading for prospects before he started sweating the small stuff:

Between the talent inherited and acquired, Friedman realized last winter the Rays were ready to take a step forward. That meant filling in particular pieces of the puzzle...

So — and here's that intelligent risk thing — they traded [outfielder Delmon] Young for shortstop Jason Bartlett and pitcher Matt Garza. Between acquiring Bartlett and moving Akinori Iwamura to second base, the Rays figured their middle infield defense would improve dramatically. And it has...

"The Delmon trade really started our transformation because of the areas we were able to address," Friedman said. "The first two years, knowing we couldn't compete, was just collecting as many players as we could irrespective of fit. The pendulum shifted this offseason, and the emphasis became much more about constructing a 25-man roster. We felt we finally had enough talent in the organization that it was time to move past making moves in a vacuum and to start viewing all subsequent moves in the context of what it would mean in terms of run scoring and run prevention."

The Pirates aren't even at the point on the "pendulum" where the Rays were when Friedman arrived, because they don't have nearly as much young talent as the Rays did. So the Pirates' primary goal right now needs to be to acquire as much high-end talent as possible. And, really, that's it. If the best way to get talent in deadline trades is to acquire outfielders, you should go ahead and acquire them, even if you already have some good outfielders.

I shake my head a little when I see someone say that, for example, if the Pirates trade Jack Wilson, they need to get a shortstop back in return. No, they don't. Yes, putting up with 0-for-3vas and Brian Bixler the rest of the year would be annoying, but it won't be anywhere near as painful as yet another losing season in, say, 2012. The Pirates simply aren't yet at the stage where they "need" a shortstop, or a third baseman,  or whatever. It's like you haven't showered for a month and you're getting ready to go to the prom, and instead of getting clean, you put on your tux and ask your brother if your bow tie is crooked. Yes, it'd be nice if it were straight, but you're asking the wrong question.

A bad bullpen is like the crooked bow tie. Yes, you probably want to fix that before you stand in front of that trellis to have your picture taken, but you're never going to get your date to go to the trellis with you if you've got pizza sauce clinging to your peach fuzz and you smell like death.

So, painful as it might be to watch, and even though I personally have complained about it, I think Huntington has basically handled the bullpen the right way. He didn't hand out free agent contracts; instead, he just went with the guys he had and acquired a bunch of live arms to fill up spots in the majors and AAA. Evan Meek isn't working? Fine; how about Marino Salas? Not so good? How about Denny Bautista? Or Beam? Whatever. Just shuffle through them. (And, by the way, Romulo Sanchez was demoted today.) The one mistake I think Huntington made was in trading Todd Redmond for Yates, but even then one could probably make the argument that Yates had some upside despite being older, because his arm was so good.

Of course, the other, more important prong of the plan is that the Pirates need to acquire young talent and not worry about anything other than whether it's good, and on that count, we're still waiting. Hopefully, the Bucs' behavior at the deadline and in the last few weeks they have to sign draft picks will tell us a lot.