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Ferguson: Why are the Pirates doing better than the Jays?

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Scott Ferguson
6/3/2013 10:53:24 AM
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If you look at the Toronto Blue Jays and the Pittsburgh Pirates it's as though they are playing in parallel universes, where everything seems to work out for one team no matter what twists and turns fate throws at them, and nothing seems to go right for the team that can't seem to catch a break.

I don't think I have to tell you the first team is the Pirates and the second is the Blue Jays.

In Sunday's games, both teams played 11 inning marathons. The Blue Jays lost their starter in the bottom of the third inning, 40-year-old Ramon Ortiz, to an elbow injury that could be career-ending. The Pirates lost their starter, Jeanmar Gomez, to forearm tightness after he gave up four runs in the first inning.

Down early, both teams rallied for dramatic victories; the Jays beating the Padres on the road, 7-4, with veteran utility man Mark DeRosa putting the Jays ahead for keeps with a homer leading off the 11th.

The Pirates got a mammoth home run from Garrett Jones that travelled an estimated 463 feet and became just the second ball to land in the Allegheny River on the fly. That blast sent the game into extra innings. Then, ex-Jay Travis Snider singled home the winning run in walk-off style in the 11th.

The Blue Jays bullpen and the Pirates pen were both outstanding. Six Blue Jays relievers gave up just two singles in nine scoreless innings in relief of Ortiz.

Pittsburgh's pen was equally good against the Reds, as five of their relievers combined to pitch 10 scoreless innings after picking up for Gomez.

At the end of the day, the Pirates were still tied for second with Cincinnati in the NL Central, with each club sitting at 35-22 and each holding a Wild Card position.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are still wallowing in last place in the AL East at 24-33,  and they are eight games behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card slot with over a third of the season gone.

The Blue Jays have out-homered Pittsburgh 72-55 and outscored them by 40 runs - 254 to 214. In fact, the Pirates' offensive numbers are just this side of abysmal. They are 22nd in the Majors in runs scored, 25th in batting average, 23rd in on base percentage and 23rd in slugging percentage.

The Jays' bullpen has been a strength on the team this season, but the Pirates has been even better. Jason Grilli, getting his first real chance to close in his mid-30s, has an incredible 22 saves. The set-up man, Mark Melancon, who came over from Boston in the deal for the Pirates' old closer, Joel Hanrahan (who's injured and out for the season), has a 0.93 earned run average.

The Pirates pitchers as a whole have a glittering 3.12 ERA and have the second most strikeouts in the Majors. Yet, the Pirates rotation doesn't blow you away with big names.

While the Blue Jays added the likes of R.A Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in the offseason, the Pirates went the bargain basement route and picked up Francisco Liriano, Jeanmar Gomez and Francisco Liriano and were paid dividends with the continued devotement of lefty Jeff Locke, who came over in a June 3rd, 2009 deal with Atlanta, along with Gorkys Hernandez and Charlie Morton for outfielder Nate McLouth, who's now with Baltimore.
 
Locke is 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA.
 
You can point to the Blue Jays starting rotation, where only Dickey and Buehrle have avoided time on the DL this season and says the club has been ravaged by injuries, for the 2nd year running.
 
However the Pirates have problems with their rotation as well. Jonathan Sanchez, was a disaster out of the gate.  He went (0-3) and was cut loose. Liriano got a late start after breaking his arm around Christmas time, while pranking his kids in a stunt that went awry. James McDonald is on the DL and rehabbing a shoulder injury and now Jeanmar Gomez has the same sort of forearm issue that's put Brandon Morrow on the disable list for the Blue Jays.
 
There are those who suggest the Pirates are doing it with smoke and mirrors. They point to the clubs record at the mid-point of the last two seasons, 47-43 in 2011 and 48-37 in 2012, and the subsequent collapses in the second halves of both seasons as evidence it will happen again this year.
 
The critics may be right, but the Buccos' ERA at this point is about a third of a run better than it was mid-way through last season - 3.12 to 4.47 - and if anything, they should be battle-hardened by what's happened the last two seasons.

The Giants, Washington and maybe even Colorado all have the talent to take a run at Pittsburgh, but there just seems to be something special about this team; a team that hasn't finished about .500 or in the postseason since 1992.

The Blue Jays, sitting nine games under .500, will have to go 16-10 or 17-9 in June to have any hope of getting back into the Wild Card hunt in the American League.
 
Ortiz is on his way to Florida to get an MRI on his elbow. If this is indeed the end of his Major League career, it ended on an unusual note. In the second inning against the Padres, he gave up a three-run homer to Padres starter Edinson Volquez. It was the first home run of Volquez's career and the first-round tripper ever given up by Ortiz to a pitcher in 3-3 career games.
 
The Blue Jays are 5-4 in inter-league play so far, 3-1 at home and 2-3 on the road under, heading into a two-game set with the Giants starting Tuesday night at San Francisco. Josh Johnson returns from his rehab stint to make the start in the series open. Johnson is still in search of his first victory as a member of the Blue Jays.

Rogers Centre (Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
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  • [1] Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
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