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Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Report

July 3, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

The Pittsburgh Pirates have taken nice strides forward this year, especially offensively, as they continue to hang around within striking distance of .500.

After winning the final two games in Cincy, Pittsburgh has carved out sole possession of fourth place in the NL Central, but despite holding their own lately, the Bucs are losing ground on the hot Brewers and need to watch out for the recently resurgent Astros below them.

At 40-44, Pittsburgh sits ten and a half games behind the division leading Cubs and eight back of the Wild Card leading Cardinals, so it’s going to take a miracle to pull this one out of the fire. On the plus side, the Pirates get a chance to go right after the third-place Brewers next, a series that should give us an indication whether Pittsburgh will make any noise in the Central or not.

Kudos to the Bucco offense, third in the NL in runs after finishing 12th a year ago.

Pitching and team speed, however, remain works in progress. Pittsburgh is dead last in the NL in steals, team ERA, BAA, OPS against (814), WHIP and quality starts.

Nate McLouth has been absolutely money this year, emerging as a must-own fantasy outfielder. A slump last week and a sore knee led to a day off on Monday, but he’s roared back with three hits, including two doubles, in nine at bats in the two games since, drawing a pair of walks to boot. McLouth has been slipping since a torrid start to the season, so perhaps July is the beginning of good things for him again.

Luis Rivas, however, has scuffled badly this year. He enjoyed a rare big game Wednesday, with two hits, including a double, a run and an RBI, but after a big May, Rivas was just awful in June, batting only .190 and managing just 21 at bats. If he could learn to get on base a bit more often and carve out some more PT, Rivas might be someone worth watching in NL-only leagues – especially with that multi-positional eligibility – but for now, he is a non-factor in any format.

Then you have Jason Bay, and the Canadian boy is clearly back after a sub par 2007. He snapped a mini-slump with two hits, a run and an RBI on Wednesday, so hopefully July will be a better month for Bay than June. But in looking at his overall results, Bay is enjoying a fine season at the plate, and has almost reached his entire 2007 total for doubles already.

Another must-own Pirate and perhaps the biggest fantasy surprise on the team this year is catcher Ryan Doumit. He snapped a brief slump Wednesday with two hits and three runs, and is hoping to build on a big June during which he smacked five dingers and drove in ten despite spending a chunk of the month on the DL. Doumit is enjoying the classic age 27 power spike, having already set a new career high in dingers as he finally is getting his chance as the Pirates’ No. 1 catcher.

Xavier Nady is yet another must-have Buc in the midst of a career year. Wednesday, he decided to set off some early fireworks, smacking two homers among a three-hit, three-RBI game, to run his current his streak to five games. Nady was relatively cool in June (just one homer and four RBI), but clearly, July will be a better power month for the 29-year-old right fielder. He’s well on his way to career highs in many offensive categories, including runs and hits. Enjoy the ride if you own Nady.

First baseman Adam LaRoche has been a particularly more frustrating player to own this season, but he looks to be getting hot right now, so astute owners in need of an infusion of offense will consider him. After singling and tripling in two runs Wednesday, LaRoche has now recorded three straight multi-hit efforts and has at least one hit in five straight games. June wasn’t an overly successful month for LaRoche, but he’s blazing now and could be poised for a big second half. While his power is way down this year, recall what he’s capable of doing in just a half-season: In 2006, he launched 19 home runs while batting almost .325 after the All-Star break. I’m not saying that’s going to happen again, but anytime this dude starts to heat up, like he is now, you’d be wise to pay attention.

Over at the other corner of the infield, I’d suggest it’s time for second look at third baseman Jose Bautista. He delivered an RBI groundout and solo homer Wednesday, the second straight game he’s produced an extra-base hit and at least one RBI. While April was a total writeoff for Bautista, he’s actually been a very solid player since: .292 BA with nine homers and 30 RBI. Yet another 27-year-old experiencing a power spike, Bautista is headed for his first 20-homer season and is helping out in BA. I’d definitely say he’s flying under the radar right now, especially in NL-only leagues.

I sort of had John Van Benschoten on my sleeper list (if for no other reason than Pittsburgh is currently a land of opportunity for pitchers), but he took a serious beating Wednesday, giving up five hits – including three home runs – and five runs in just 2 1/3 IP. I keep waiting for this now 28-year-old righty to come close to living up to his prospect status, but it’s getting frustrating doing so. I can’t recommend him in any format at this time, and in fact, won’t be shocked if he is sent back to Triple-A despite the Pirates’ pitching woes. Because of his pedigree, JVB is always someone to at least watch, but we can’t consider him a viable option until he actually shows us something.

The biggest fantasy news out of Steel City right now is, of course, the injury to closer Matt Capps. His shoulder won’t require surgery – that’s the good news – but will keep him out for eight weeks – ugh. Considering how money Capps has been this season, it was pretty clear something was awry after he blew back-to-back save chances earlier this week, giving him five blown saves since June 10. In Capps’ absence, you better jump all over Damaso Marte while you can. Before he came to Pittsburgh, Marte served as a co-closer for the White Sox, so he will likely get the first crack at the job.

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