Three up, three down: Pirates focus on winning now rather than later

Rather than trading away valued players such as starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, the Pirates are trying to win this season.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

A look at the trending topics this week in MLB:


Pirate flag: Kudos to the Pittsburgh Pirates, another team “trying to win” rather than “collecting controllable assets.” The analytical pundits suggested trading outfielder Andrew McCutchen and pitchers Gerrit Cole, Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero for prospects that might help the Pirates win in 2019 or 2020. But, hey, the Pirates entered play Saturday as winners in 12 of 14 games, including a four-game sweep of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. They just got outfielder Starling Marte back from an 80-game drug suspension, and now the NL Central is a four-team race among the Brewers, Pirates, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates might win in, you know, 2017.

White flag, right flag: In 1997, the Chicago White Sox made the infamous “white flag” trade, sending three veteran pitchers to the San Francisco Giants for six minor leaguers. Twenty years later, the Sox are collecting prospects again, and no one is complaining this time. The Sox snared elite prospects by trading away Chris Sale (for Yoan Moncada), Jose Quintana (for Eloy Jimenez) and Adam Eaton (for Lucas Giolito). Unlike the Pirates, the White Sox weren’t going anywhere; they haven’t finished within 16 games of first place in five years. Imagine if they hadn’t acquired veteran pitcher James Shields last year for Fernando Tatis Jr., 18, a shortstop with a 1.145 on-base-plus-slugging percentage this month at Class A in the San Diego Padres’ organization.

Lazarus to Astros: The Houston Astros need Carlos Beltran to hit, period. So, after the 40-year-old designated hitter had gone two months without playing the field, his teammates staged a funeral for his glove last Monday, complete with three foam tombstones and Brian McCann dressed in a robe as some sort of heavenly officiant. “I’ve not quite given up on the glove,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “even though they’re going to bury it in the outfield.” Two days later, Hinch started Beltran in left field. The glove was raised from the dead, and of course the first two batters hit fly balls to left. Beltran caught them both. He also struck out three times; he’s batting .229.



The Cardinal Way: The Cardinals haven’t had a losing season in 10 years, but that streak is in jeopardy this season. St. Louis has not been above .500 since June 1, and a team so renowned for fundamental excellence has stumbled so often that President John Mozeliak wondered aloud whether the team’s “attitude and culture” required a “shake-up.” The Cardinals lost Thursday when, for the second time this month, pitcher Trevor Rosenthal failed to cover first base. “It’s frustrating to give games away like that,” infielder Matt Carpenter said. “It just can’t happen. You can make errors. You can strike out. But you can’t do that. And he knows it.”

Bay ball blues: Monday was not a banner day for baseball in the Bay Area. The Giants’ sellout streak ended at 530 games, a streak that dated to 2010 and started in a loss to the Padres, in which Adrian Gonzalez played first base for San Diego and David Eckstein played second base. Across the bay, the Oakland Athletics sold 9,736 tickets, their lowest attendance for a game since 2011. The Giants and A’s each are in last place, and this season could be the first since 1995 that both Bay Area teams finished last. The last time the Dodgers and Angels finished last in the same season? Never happened.

Left in to finish: In the American Association, an independent league, rosters are limited to 23 players. So, after the Kansas City T-Bones had used their entire bullpen and their center fielder to pitch through the first 13 innings last Sunday against the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the team turned to right-handed starter Matt Sergey for the 14th inning. Sergey had thrown 105 pitches two nights before — but, no problem, he would pitch with his left hand. He walked the first two batters, gave up a sacrifice bunt, then gave up the winning run when he threw a wild pitch on what was supposed to be an intentional walk. “We remind you,” the Winnipeg Free Press reported, “he’s using his wrong arm to throw.”


Cubs at Brewers


Friday through Sunday

This could be the biggest series in Milwaukee since 2011. The Brewers won the NL Central that season and haven’t come within six games of even a wild card since then, but they’re in first place now. Outfielder Ryan Braun, bothered by a sore wrist all season and a sore calf now, hit seven home runs in April but has hit only four since then. They lost six consecutive games entering play Saturday, and they might trade some of their carefully curated collection of prospects for, say, pitcher Sonny Gray. The revived Cubs are looking at Gray, Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander. If they get one, they could move 38-year-old John Lackey (5.04 ERA) to the bullpen. “That ain’t going to happen,” Lackey said. “There’s two places for me to be — starting or at home.”


Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin