August 1, 2012
What You Need to Know
Wednesday, August 1
The Tuesday Takeaway
But as the dust settled and the sun set, A.J. Burnett grabbed the spotlight at Wrigley Field. Acquired from the Yankees in a salary-dump trade in February, the 35-year-old right-hander has gone from unpredictable in New York to unbeatable in Pittsburgh. After allowing four or more runs in 15 of his 32 starts last season, Burnett has held his opponents to three or fewer in 16 of his 19 outings in 2012, including last night’s 5-0 victory over the Cubs.
Burnett entered the second game of the three-game set having pitched at least seven innings in each of his three previous starts, his longest such streak since Aug. 10-20, 2010. And instead of simply pitching into the eighth inning on Tuesday, he did so without allowing a hit.
The Pirates handed Burnett a four-run lead on Neil Walker’s first-inning grand slam, and until Adrian Cardenas singled with two out in the eighth, the veteran barely broke a sweat. Four outs—including two strikeouts—later, Burnett had earned his first complete-game shutout since June 27, 2006, and his first nine-inning effort with fewer than two hits allowed since his no-hitter on May 12, 2001.
Wednesday’s blanking at Wrigley marked the fourth time this season that Burnett has been charged with fewer than four hits and his seventh consecutive start with two or fewer walks. His ERA fell from 3.52 to 3.27, the lowest it has been since June 22. And if you were willing to forgive Burnett’s 2 2/3-inning, 12-run disaster in St. Louis on May 2, his 2.44 ERA would rank fifth in the league.
With their win last night, the Pirates improved to 59-44, kept pace with the first-place Reds, and drew one victory closer to their first winning season since 1992. They are 16-3 with Burnett on the mound and 43-41 behind everyone else.
Call it a product of returning to the senior circuit, of moving from the pressure cooker of New York to the relative calm of western Pennsylvania, or simply of honing his craft. Whatever factors have spurred Burnett’s resurgence are making general manager Neal Huntington look like a genius.
Now in his fifth season at the helm, Huntington was a buyer in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s deadline, a year after acquiring Ryan Ludwick from the Padres, only to watch his team fade during the ensuing weeks. Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, and Chad Qualls represented Huntington’s 2012 deadline haul, and amid all the wheeling and dealing, the team’s well-stocked pipeline remained intact.
The mid-July rumor mill had Justin Upton or Carlos Quentin heading to Pittsburgh, but instead of razing his farm system, Huntington focused on buy-low opportunities that could improve his current roster without mortgaging the future. Under-the-radar additions like Burnett have enabled the Pirates to return to their winning ways. And if Huntington strikes gold with either Snider or Sanchez, their pennant window—sealed shut since Barry Bonds left town two decades ago—may inch open again.
What to Watch for on Wednesday