Monday, June 30, 2008

A return to the NL

I had wanted to put some mid-season review stuff up today after reading Dejan's piece, but I delayed my return to NC until today, which meant a full day in the car spent not blogging (or working, but you don't care about that). I'm back in time for tonight's game, though, which means I get to watch the Pirates triumphant return to National League baseball after two long, strange weeks playing the AL. The interleague trip wasn't nearly as bad as it could've been (final record on the two weeks: 5-9 with one game left), which probably speaks to something about this team after two terrible losses in Baltimore and a brutal sweep at the hands of the White Sox.

Tonight the Bucs get to transition back to the NL against the Reds in Cincinnati. It's tempting to say this should be a cakewalk for the Pirates after their recent brutal stretch against the White Sox, Yankees, and Rays with only the Blue Jays as a breather, but the Reds and Pirates are pretty similar in a lot of ways. They're only separated by one game in the standings right now and just like the Pirates, are good at home and bad on the road. The Reds are 21-17 at Great American, while the Pirates are just 13-24 away from PNC. Paul Maholm gets to start tonight on semi-short rest, but it shouldn't matter since his last outing was cut after just two innings against the Yankees on Thursday. Hopefully he'll look a lot better tonight than he did when I was there last week, which saw the Yanks open the game up with four straight doubles. He'll face Aaron Harang, who's been pretty good this year and certainly much better than his 3-10 record indicates.

The final piece of intrigue in this one is John Russell's choice to bat Maholm eighth and Jack Wilson ninth. Batting a non-pitcher ninth is actually a technically sound move and it might work since Wilson's on base percentage is pretty high, though his .346 rate right now is an artifact of his high batting average (.311). He did manage to hit two doubles over the weekend, which almost doubled his season total for extra base hits (he had three going in) and he usually rakes at Great American, so maybe this is one of those situations where JR pushes a button that seems like a head scratcher, but it ends up working anyways.