Mired in a nine-game losing streak, the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't had a lot to be excited about lately. One thing that has created a buzz around PNC Park, however, has been the callup of some of the top talent in the farm system.
It was Neil Walker in late May and then Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln on June 9. But there's been one player everyone has been waiting for: Pedro Alvarez. The wait is over now as Alvarez should arrive in time to be in uniform against the Chicago White Sox for the Pirates' second Interleague game against Chicago on Wednesday night.
"He's a tremendous talent," Walker said. "I don't think it's fair to say he's going to come here and be hitting home runs every game and driving in a bunch of runs, because that's the type of pressure you don't want to put on anybody. But I think he's going to handle himself tremendously.
"He's prepared himself well since Spring Training. From seeing him in Triple-A when I left, he was hitting the ball hard almost every single at-bat and playing really good defense. I'm sure that's going to carry over."
Alvarez leaves Triple-A behind with a .277/.363/.533 line, shaking off a horrid April with a solid May (.294/.393/.588) and an outstanding June(.327/.403/.600). The Pirates had wanted Alvarez to show better success against left-handed pitching before calling him up to Pittsburgh. The 2008 first-round selection responded by hitting .323/.408/.661 against southpaws in Triple-A this season.
As luck would have it, the White Sox are sending left-hander John Danks to the mound. That might not be the stiffest test for Alvarez in his debut, as Danks has allowed left-handed hitters to hit .290 with a .774 OPS against him, compared to .204 and .559 for righties. That's not just a small sample size. Over the course of his career, Danks has allowed lefty hitters to compile a .762 OPS, a stat that drops to .720 against right-handed hitters.
Regardless of who's on the mound for the White Sox, the Pirates are beyond excited to have their top prospect join them for the remainder of the season, not just for what it means right now, but for what it could mean for the organization in the future.
"It will do a lot," Andrew McCutchen said. "It will bring another left-handed bat to the lineup, a guy who can take advantage of that short porch in right field. He's that guy that when he comes up to bat, any time possible he can hit a home run. He's that bat that we're looking for. He's going to help this lineup out a lot. We can't wait for him to get here."
White Sox: Not a good team yet
Yes, the White Sox are playing a better brand of ball lately. Yes, with winning five out of their past six, and six of eight, it might be the best prolonged stretch of success they've seen all season. But manager Ozzie Guillen isn't quite ready to proclaim the White Sox a good team just yet. And he certainly won't refer to success against recent opponents -- namely the Pirates and the Cubs -- as feeding off the lesser teams in Major League Baseball.
"I cannot say average to below average, because we're the same way," Guillen said. "I think we're not playing well. We played good against the Cubs, we played good against Detroit. We come into here and hopefully we continue to play better.
"Every team at the Major League level is a dangerous team. If our team was in first place, maybe it'd be a little bit different, but we struggle the way [the Pirates] struggle, the same way the Cubs struggle. But hopefully we continue to play good against the National League, continue to play good against them and see what happens."
Pirates: Top of the lineup paying dividends
What Alvarez brings to the table in terms of offensive production remains to be seen, but he'll be joining an offense that has already gotten a boost from a revamped top.
In Tuesday's loss to the White Sox, the top three in the lineup were responsible for five hits, an RBI and four runs. And that's with leadoff man Jose Tabata going 0-for-4.
It's been Tabata that has been a catalyst for the success, despite Tuesday's collar. Since his recall on June 9, in games he's hit leadoff, the trifecta of Tabata-Walker-McCutchen has gone 18-for-61 (.295). It shouldn't surprise anyone that cleanup hitter Garrett Jones has a six-game hitting streak during that stretch, raising his batting average nearly 20 points and driving in six runs over the past four games.
This is the ninth Interleague meeting between the White Sox and Pirates and the fifth time the teams have met in Pittsburgh. The Sox have played the Pirates more than any NL team other than the cross-town Cubs. Chicago now leads the series 15-9. Chicago is 9-3 at home and 6-6 in Pittsburgh.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.