Meadville Tribune

April 9, 2013

WALK TALK: Pirates once again make 'bad' look easy

By Dan Walk
Meadville Tribune

— 1 Trust me, I’m the first one to say that the first week of a 162-game MLB season does not mean everything. But the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense is really stretching the boundaries of what can be defined as a “bad start.” Entering Monday night’s late game in Arizona, Pittsburgh was batting .119. More than half of the teams have scored more runs than the Pirates have hits. Kansas City’s Billy Butler had more RBIs (7) on Sunday than Pittsburgh has runs scored this season (6). On Sunday, Boston’s Will Middlebrooks hit three times as many home runs (3) as the Pirates have hit through six games. It’s yet another historically bad start by the worst professional sports franchise we’ve ever seen.

2 The biggest mistake Pittsburgh made this offseason was not adding at least one bat to help out superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez, who many expect a lot out of after hitting 30 home runs last season, is 2-for-22 with 10 strikeouts. The only bit of solace Pittsburgh can take from its horrid first week is its 10 runs allowed — second-best in baseball. Surely, the Buccos’ batting average will climb above .200 at some point this season. Just don’t hold your breath on winning 81 games.

3 The area’s other MLB team, the Indians, hadn’t looked much better the last few days. Like Pittsburgh, Cleveland did not score on Friday or Saturday. Things changed on Sunday, as the Tribe scored 13 times and beat reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price to salvage their season-opening roadstand with Toronto and Tampa Bay by finishing 3-3. After previously tallying just seven earned runs in 38 1/3 innings against Price, Cleveland put eight on the former No. 1 overall pick on Sunday. The Indians had gone 20 innings without a run from Thursday to Sunday and certainly must be more confident after pounding a pitcher they’ve struggled against since he arrived in the majors.

4 Sunday’s 13-0 Indians victory was encouraging for more than just the offense. Justin Masterson improved to 2-0 and dropped his ERA to 0.69 after seven shutout innings. The Indians will only get as far as their top of the rotation takes them. Though Masterson is still walking batters at a high rate (7 BB through 13 innings), he’s gotten out of jams and is off to a brilliant start that is reminiscent of his 5-0 April in 2011.

5 The Angels’ 21-year-old star Mike Trout has the ability to develop into a middle-of-the-order power hitter, but Los Angeles shouldn’t be in any sort of rush to push him out of the leadoff spot. Power hitters who drive in runs get much of the credit, but a talented leadoff hitter with both speed on the basepaths and pop in his bat like Trout shouldn’t be taken lightly. As the leadoff, it can be argued that he’s the most important hitter in the order — he’s the table setter, the guy who sets the tone for the rest of the game.

6 There’s a chance you may have heard former Rutgers head basketball coach Mike Rice’s name in the news lately. He’s the man who routinely threw basketballs at his players’ heads during practice. He has since been fired after a media firestorm. The truly shocking part in all of this is he got off with a three-game suspension and $50,000 fine by the school in December after Rutgers’ athletic director viewed the footage. It’s doubtful he would have been fired if not for all the negative attention the school has received since the footage hit the national airwaves.

7 The Rice situation isn’t just a sports story. It’s gotten a lot of play in the news media, which has likened his actions to bullying. I’ve been around enough athletic practices to see coaches, even at the high school level, yell at their players. But what was Rice trying to prove by throwing balls at his players on numerous occasions? How could that possibly make the players any better?

8 Accept it or not, we’re in the midst of a current sports culture that nearly enjoys the transaction as much as the action (the games themselves). Free agency, trades and annual drafts garner almost as much interest as the games on the field. With that in mind, the next two weeks leading up to the 2013 NFL draft should be interesting. Forget about a discussion between which quarterback should be drafted first — such as the debate between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III last year. For the first time since 2008, a QB will not be taken first overall. The Chiefs, instead, have an offensive tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end from which to choose with the top pick. Even if those are three of the most important positions on the field, we’re in for a boring draft this season.

9 Unless you’re an MMA fan, there’s a small chance you’ve heard of Uriah Hall. He’s quickly turning into one of the biggest names in the UFC — and he’s yet to have a non-exhibition fight in the organization. Hall is currently competing in the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter competition, and his last two fights resulted in two of the most spectacular knockouts the show has ever seen. He used a spinning hook kick in the first round to end Adam Cella’s night. Then, he finished Robert McDaniel in just nine seconds with a right hand that broke McDaniel’s face in three different places. Watch The Ultimate Fighter tonight on FX to see his next bout. Though he does have a previous loss in another organization to now-UFC contender Chris Weidman, Hall might be a title contender already. At the very least, he is someone to keep an eye on.

10 There’s no denying that Bellator Fighting Championships, which is the UFC’s top competition, has some talent. Michael Chandler is already among the sport’s elite, and Ben Askren has the wrestling ability to stick with anyone in the world. Last week, Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran was dominant during his second title defense. Chandler and Askren have unblemished professional records, while Curran hasn’t lost since dropping to featherweight years ago. It’s a shame, however, that we won’t see just how great the trio is until one of them leaves Bellator and heads to the UFC. UFC’s depth greatly trumps that of Bellator, leaving the aforementioned trio with a lack of quality opponents.

The preceding was The Walk Talk 10, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at dwalk@meadvilletribune.com.