By Jim Sankey
Allied News Sports Columnist
Circling the basses.
FIRST BASE: When the Pittsburgh Steelers dropped three of their first five games, there was gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands among the Pittsburgh faithful. Making it worse was that two of the three losses had come against two horrible teams: Oakland and Tennessee (combined 6-11 so far). And the third came in the season’s opening, a revenge game against a middling Denver team.
With a 1-2 record after three games, the Steelers won four of five—albeit it against underachieving and overrated Philadelphia, uncompetitive Washington, and crumbling Cincinnati before beating the New York Giants.
And it just gets better: In the last half of the season, the combined record of the Steelers’ opponents is 15-35—20 games under .500.
Excluding Baltimore (6-2), only San Diego is even a .500 team, and the Chargers must come to Heinz Field.
Of course, two of the other games are against 2-7 Cleveland and another is next Monday’s game against 1-7 Kansas City.
The Bengals and Cowboys are both 3-5.
Let’s say the Ravens win both games, which they won’t. Assuming the Steelers whip all the cupcakes, Pittsburgh ends up with an 11-5 record, good for a wild card at the worst.
So much for the gnashing and wringing.
SECOND BASE: Doesn’t the hockey season usually start before now? What…there’s a lockout/strike. Well, who knew?
It seems like only eight years ago that the entire NHL season was canceled because millionaires and billionaires couldn’t agree on how to carve up the golden goose.
No NHL games will be played until at least January—with the Winter Classic falling victim last week.
The main lesson from the loss of the 2004-2005 season is that we all got along without hockey, thank you very much.
The only people anyone should be concerned about are those who work the restaurants, pubs, hotels, stores, and transportation in the cities where NHL teams usually play.
THIRD BASE: You read it here first: Joel Hanrahan has thrown his last pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“The Hammer” will probably be awarded $7 million through arbitration, which most students of major league baseball feel is unrealistically high for the Pirates. Such a financial award would allot 15 percent of the estimated 2013 budget for someone who pitched in just four percent of his team’s innings.
Certainly, on the Bucs’ must-do list is to find a catcher who can do better than the 37-year-old Rod Barajas, who made $4 million and hit .206 with .625 OPS. In addition, he threw out only six percent of base-stealers.
The free agent market is unbelievably barren. The “top” five available are as follows:
*36-year-old White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. For $6 million last year, Chicago got a batting average of .278 with a .827 OPS.
*33-year-old Detroit backstop Gerald Laird. A bargain at $1 million, he batted .282 with a .710 OPS.
*33-year-old Mets catcher Kelly Shoppach, who made $1.135 million. He hit .233 with a .733 OPS while playing for the Red Sox and the Mets.
*34-year-old Milwaukee catcher Yorvit Torrealba made $3.25 million in 2012. He hit .227 with a .623 OPS.
*33-year-old Kansas City receiver Humberto Quintero, who made $1 million last season while hitting .232 with a .598 OPS.
None of these is acceptable for the Pirates, but even if they were and you were any of these players, would Pittsburgh be at the top your wish list as a 2013 employer?
That means that the team’s only recourse is to acquire a catcher via the trade market, and who else could the Bucs make available that would bring back a quality player?
HOME: Playing in the Dominican Winter League, the Pirates’ top rookie of 2012—outfielder Starling Marte—is batting .346 with an on-base percentage of .452.
In contrast, in Venezuela, the Pirates’ top bust of 2012—outfielder Jose Tabata—has yet to appear in a game.
Just last year, baseball executives praised the Bucs for inking Tabata through 2016.