Saul covers the bases: Dim lights still there in a darkening season


As the Pirates’ season continues to move in a downward spiral, Pittsburgh fans might find pre-season football more interesting that the upcoming slate of games for the Bucs.

Now 13 games behind the NL Central lead, the Bucs are hitting the point in the season where the best way to stay relevant is to beat teams that are still in the race. In fact, the team seems to be doing everything they can to drag the rest of the division down with them.

So far this week, they’re doing pretty well.

The Pirates took the first two games of their inter-division series against the Cardinals, 6-2 on Monday and 5-4 on Tuesday. The Cardinals, who are now seven games behind the lead, need to avoid the series sweep tonight and start racking up wins if they want to have a shot at the pennant.

While Andrew McCutchen’s slump might be coming to an end (the struggling slugger went 2-3 with a three-run homer and a walk Tuesday), the Bucs got their leadoff man – Jose Tabata – back on the diamond.

Tabata hasn’t seen a major league pitch since he went down with a quadriceps strain on June 26. The outfielder was hitting .265 with 39 runs scored and 14 stolen bases in 71 games. More importantly is that Tabata hit in the leadoff spot for 40 of those 71 games and maintained a .292 batting average in that spot before getting injured.

"It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Major League ball," Tabata said to on Monday. "I feel nervous a little bit because I want to do a good job. But at the same time, I don’t want to put pressure on me. I [have] come back here, and I’ll try to do my same job."

Manager Clint Hurdle, who is known to love Tabata, seemed excited to have the slugger back.

"He’s one of the best young hitters I’ve seen to be able to make in-game adjustments and handle breaking balls," Hurdle said. "Hopefully he’ll settle down and just go out and play. He wants to be a part of what’s going on. I do think he’s a nice player that could be a really good player that we need as we move forward."

While Tabata and McCutchen provide a dim light on a darkening season, the Pirates made a splash off the field this week when they set an MLB record for spending $17 million in signing bonuses to players taken in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft.

Eight of that $17 million went to the No. 1 overall pick, Garret Cole. Another five million dollars was spent on second-rounder Josh Bell.

The big spending on big talent strategy is exactly what the Bucs have been pledging to do – aggressively pursuing lots of talent. In the four years that the team’s new management has been in place, they’ve spent approximately $47 million dollars on the draft.

That number is tops among MLB clubs and doesn’t even account for the millions spent on international talent each year.

Over the next two weeks, the Pirates will get another shot at the Brewers and Cardinals. They are also set for a battle of mediocrity when they see the Reds, who currently sit a half game ahead of the Pirates for third place in the division.

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