How many times this year have we Pirate fans sat down on a Monday, looked at how the team had been playing lately, looked at the lineup, and wondered what direction things were headed in? It's been more than this one, that's for sure. Things seem kind of crummy today; the Bucs have lost four of six against mediocre teams and are now hosting a good Oakland A's team at PNC Park for the next three days. Even if you, like me, don't believe that Collapse III is coming, it's impossible not to admit that things could get hairy over the week before the All-Star break.
And you know what? The exact opposite could be true, too. If the Pirates play well against the A's and put together a strong series against the Mets in the upcoming weekend, literally everything about the lingering Cub and Phillie series will be washed away. It's that easy.
On to the task at hand: the Oakland A's. The Pirates never beat the A's. I mean that literally; the two franchises have existed in parallel for well over 100 years. The Pirates got their name by stealing Louis Bierbauer from an ancient proto-A's type franchise. They have played nine times and the A's have won all of them. This year's A's are a lot like last year's A's and this year's Pirates; without a ton of fanfare or anything jumping out at you off of a stats column, they're a very smartly-constructed team that creates a whole that's more than the sum of their parts. Their biggest weak point is their starting pitching, as only Bartolo Colon has an ERA+ of over 100 in their entire rotation.
Bartolo Colon starts against Jeff Locke tonight. Neil Walker is out of the lineup again and Clint Barmes is starting at shortstop tonight, which means that the Pirates have willingly decided to field 2/3rds of a Major League lineup behind Locke tonight. Congratulations on the All-Star selection, kid! The first pitch is at 7:05.