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Soup of This Day #339: Part 2, The Bong In This Reggae Song

October 7, 2013

Roberto Clemente Bridge
The Roberto Clemente Bridge, and behind it, PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Completed in 2001, this ballpark on the banks of the Allegheny River, had never seen a postseason game until last Tuesday – Photo: David Trainer, 2007. David Trainer is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

In my last post I ran a magnifying glass over the American League (AL) contenders for 2013 World Series glory. For sure it was 1 of those cheaply made barely-make-things-bigger units that you get at the bottom of a cereal box – Which allowed me to see the AL postseason playing out in a half-arsed way that suited me to an embroidered red B. Still though, I feel like I should complete the job – The AL is just 1 half of the big leagues story and so to stop my review there would be like checking out his skis but ignoring that Eddie the Eagle was piloting them.

Here then is the 2013 Longworth72 MLB Postseason Preview – Episode 5: The National League (NL) Strikes Back.

What a season it was in the NL. The lack of the designated hitter role and the Houston Astros proved no bar to the unrivalled entertainment on offer from the AL’s chaste sister. There was a champion falling down the beanstalk (The Giants), a former big-game contender flopping around on the beach like a something out of water (The Marlins) and a team from the national capital that talked a lot but failed to deliver (The US Congress).

When it was all said and done though, most of the expected candidates made it through to October – Atlanta, St Louis, Los Angeles, Cincinatti and Pittsburgh.

Ummmm… Pittsburgh?

Yep, Pittsburgh. The Pirates. And no, there isn’t another Pittsburgh Pirates. There is just the 1 outfit going by that name and it’s the 1 that seemingly last had a winning season in 1889, when they inspired Gilbert and Sullivan to write a light opera about them.

The Gondoliers.

In fact, as late as just last season the Pirates went 79 and 83. There were, to be fair, some signs of a revival even in that 2012 effort – They’d last been that relatively good in 1997. They’d actually last made the postseason in 1992 when Jim Leyland was their skipper and a 25 year old Tim Wakefield was starting for them, throwing butterflies into letterboxes.

Now in 2013 Jim is guiding the Tigers through the AL, Tim is a recently retired 17-year Red Sox legend and the Pirates are boarding the postseason cruise in a professional capacity. And man, have they swung on board with style…

Pittsburgh finished with a 94 and 68 record, locking down a wild card slot with home field advantage over NL Central rivals Cincinatti. That the game was played in friendly territory proved to be a boon – The Pittsburgh faithful roared their swashbuckling crew on and with Yankee discard Russell Martin bagging 2 long bombs, the Pirates took a 6-2 victory and a ticket into an NL Division Series against St Louis.

And they’re not just making up the numbers either – The Pirates were just 4 wins behind top-seeded St Louis and they have a surprising rotation – Francisco Liriano has been a decent ace, while the rest have been ably bookended by wily veteran AJ Burnett and young tyro Gerrit Cole. If there is a weakness it’s on offence – The Pirates rank well down the order – 12th in the NL for hits and 9th for runs.

Still, PNC Park will be a ferociously parochial venue and plus their success-starved fans the Pirates can also call upon a flotilla of neutrals – Pretty much the only folk this swaggering crew have against them are Cardinals fans and those without a heart. And since the far right of US politics is busy trying to destroy the world right now then the latter group are otherwise occupied.

Yep, these Pirates are the coolest since Keira Knightley cast off her corset and set sail with Johnny Depp.

Their NL Division Series opponents are not as easily cool – They’re more like the sensible British navy chasing after the unrestrained Keira Knightley. Yep, the St Louis Cardinals are effective but lack that automatic aura of likeability that being a Pirate just seems to attract right now.

What they lack in style though they make up for in comprehensive play – Their rotation is unspectacular, ranking just 5th on ERA, but still found a way to post more wins than anybody else in the NL. Their offence follows that template – They ranked a lowly 13th for home runs yet led the NL in runs scored. How they managed the latter feat is impressive and speaks to the depth of their roster – 5 of their starting 9 clocked over 75 RBIs, yet none topped 100.

For all of that, the Pirates lead their NL Division Series 2-1 with Game 4 in Pittsburgh. I’m tipping baseball’s buccaneers to make good on the wind in their sails – Pittsburgh to win through 3-1. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

The other NL Division Series features Atlanta having home-field advantage over the Dodgers. Atlanta are a similar outfit to St Louis in terms of profile – They somehow keep winning, seemingly while nobody notices. There though, the comparison ends – Atlanta ranks 1st in home runs in the NL but 4th in runs. The distribution of scoring too is un-Cardinal-like – Freddie Freeman has 109 RBIs but the next best, Justin Upton, has just 70. This might be in part due to the relatively young ages of their regular starting bats – Freeman is 23 and the average across the 8 is a boyish 26.5.

That’s a trend repeated in Atlanta’s starting rotation – Ace Mike Minor is 25 while their winningest pitcher in 2013 was 22 year-young Julio Teherán, who went 14 and 8. The kids are alright though because Atlanta still managed to rank 2nd amongst NL teams for wins.

Which is 2 places better than their opponents in this series – The Los Angeles Dodgers though boast a 25 year-old ace of their own in Clayton Kershaw and he’s got October stardom writ all over his stats – The lefty went 16 and 9, which is pretty good but doesn’t begin to cover off the truly impressive stuff…

Across 236 innings Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA and a 0.915 WHIP.

Back that all up with Hyun-jin Ryu (if fit) and Zack Greinke and the Dodgers are potent on defence. Which is good because they’ve been ordinary with the bat so far in 2013. They rank 7th in runs and 10th in home runs. Former Red Sox 1st base Adrian Gonzalez has had a 100 RBI year but the next best is a relatively paltry 57 for Hanley Ramírez – Also a 1-time Red Sox. If there is 1 thing counting for them though it is that the average age of their regular 8 starting bats is 30.6 years of age – These guys are experienced and so are more than capable of shifting up a gear for October.

That’s what I’m predicting too. Mostly because they hold a 2-1 lead with Game 4 in the friendly climes of Dodger Stadium. In Game 3 they overcame a poor start by Ryu and overwhelmed Atlanta with 13 runs to 6, supporting my Dodgers-make-it-good-in-October theory.

Which I developed before Game 3. Honest.

So that will mean a Dodgers/Pirates NL Championship Series and it’s tailor-made for a big screen epic – You’ll have those cool Pirates playing a scant few blocks from Sunset Boulevard. There’s too much magic in that for the Bucs not to win through to a World Series against the Red Sox.

Avast me Bostonian hearties and stand by to repel boarders from Pittsburgh.

The Bong In This Reggae Song

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