Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 52, A Review of Day 2 of the NFL Draft

Just like the title says, Dave and I look at Day 2. The Steelers got an offensive lineman and a corner, finally. You can hear our thoughts on those players, what to look for in Day 3 and a lot more.

Thanks for listening.

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 51, A Review of The Royal Wed,...Er...Round 1 of The NFL Draft

Dave and I discuss one of the more entertaining rounds in recent memory. We take a look at the Steelers' choice of Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward and how he he'll fit into the team's defensive scheme. We also look at the two other guys the Steelers passed over at 31.

We then go through the round which included one of the biggest trade steals I can remember, two QBs jumping up the board and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey's brother getting family bragging rights. We conclude with our choice for Most Interesting Pick and make our predictions for the Steelers pick in Round 2.

I hope you have as much fun listening as we did talking about Round 1! We'll be back again tomorrow, Saturday, with a recap of Rounds 2 & 3.

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clint Hurdle's Second Strike in Three Days

On Sunday manager Clint Hurdle defended Andrew McCutchen's decision to try to score a meaningless run from third with two out in the bottom of the ninth of a game the Pirates were losing 6-3. McCutchen was out and the Pirates lost. Hurdle was wrong in defending Cutch's decision to tag and you can read my take on it here.

Last night with the Pirates leading 2-1 Ryan Doumit led off the bottom of the seventh with a single. Hurdle decided to pinch-run with Ronny Cedeno as Pedro Alvarez came to the plate. Alvarez was batting in the seventh hole in the lineup. Following him would be Brandon Wood, Jose Tabata (batting ninth due to a double-switch in the top of the inning) and Andrew McCutchen.

Hurdle asked Alvarez to bunt Cedeno over.

Let's just start with the facts as to why this was a bad decision. The 27 outs a team has are its most valuable resource. By sacrificing, Hurdle was giving one away while at the same time taking the bat out of the hands of the team's biggest power threat. Throw in the fact that the decision actually lowers the team's run expectancy and it doesn't make sense. Add to that the fact that the lineup was essentially turning back to the top one batter later and it clearly was not the right move.

Now the clincher. Pedro Alvarez turned pro in 2009. He made 820 plate appearances in the minors before being called up to the majors in June of last season. Going into his seventh inning at bat last night he had made 468 plate appearances in the majors. That's 1288 total plate appearances. How many sacrifice hits in those 1288 appearances? You got it. Zero.

On Sunday Hurdle argued his team needs to be aggressive to succeed. Maybe, but they also have to be smart, not foolish.

On Tuesday he took a ridiculously conservative approach that didn't put his player in a position to be successful and decreased his team's chances of winning.

Neither worked out, but more importantly, neither was a good decision. I expected decisions and answers like this from John Russell, not Clint Hurdle. It's been a bad start to the week for Clint.

(See all my Pirates coverage, including audio with Clint Hurdle here.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wide World of Sports Turns 50 (Video)

A great seven minute video looking at the history of ABC's Wide World of Sports which started 50 years ago. Awesome film clips from all over the world along with some of the crazy sports they used to air back then. Great stuff, particularly if you grew up waiting to watch this every Saturday afternoon like I did.

Clint Hurdle's First Strike of 2011

In his first two months as the Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has brought credibility and accountability to a franchise sorely lacking in both. Hurdle is a strong personality and a vocal leader and his honest and accurate assessment of the Pirates performance, good or bad, through the early part of the season has been refreshingly different from that of his predecessor John Russell. Until yesterday.

With one out in the ninth inning of a 6-3 game, the Pirates had Jose Tabata batting and Andrew McCutchen on third. Tabata hit a fly ball to right field. Jayson Werth camped under it and made the catch. McCutchen tagged from third. That's all you need to know. Results-based analysis is bad analysis. It's more important to analyze whether the thought process was a good one. In this case it wasn't.

Of course, in this case, McCutchen was out on a bang-bang play and the game ended with the Pirates on the wrong side of a 6-3 scoreline. After the game Hurdle was asked about the decision by McCutchen to try to score a meaningless run when the team was down three.
We get one there who knows where it takes us? But we're going to send that guy....A little shallower, probably not. But where it was? Look what kind of throw it takes. There might be two guys in the league that can make that throw, he's one of them.
Hurdle went on to say that he wanted his players to be aggressive and that the only reason the media was talking about it is because he was out. Nope that's not why.  People are talking about the play because it was a bonehead move. The media wanted to hear what the manager had to say because up to this point he has been very forthright in assessing such moves. He wasn't yesterday.

McCutchen's run was meaningless. The Pirates needed three runs to tie. If they are getting those runs, McCutchen obviously will score easily. Instead he takes a needless risk and the game ends. By identifying Werth as one of maybe two guys who can make that throw, Hurdle actually acknowledges it was a bad decision, but he didn't say that publicly.

Last season manager John Russell repeatedly protected his players when they performed poorly, failing to acknowledge either mental or physical mistakes. Russell lost credibility with the fans as a result. This year Clint Hurdle has had a different approach and the fans have embraced it. Yesterday he defended his young star's poor decision. There were a lot of was to handle it. He could have said, "Aggressiveness is good, but we probably want to stay put in that situation," or something along those lines. He didn't.

Let's hope it isn't a sign of things to come.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bobby Ryan Impersonating Mario Lemieux, circa 1992

This is a great one, but Anaheim couldn't get it done in the end. They gave up a goal in the last minute of regulation to tie and another less than to minutes into overtime. 4-3 win for the Predators.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Housekeeping & Some Disheveled Thoughts on the NHL & More

As host of the Pirates postgame show Extra Innings, I am posting many of my Pirates thoughts on the station's blog. The longer opinion pieces will be reposted here but the more granular statistical and newswire-type posts will only be there. Podcasts of the shows and interviews will also be available on that site which is finally up and running. You can access it all with this link. Bookmark it and check in daily if you're a Bucs fan.


I'm about 20 posts behind on the things I would like to write about and because many are time-sensitive they probably aren't going to happen. So here are some disheveled thoughts in an unorganized fashion.


*Colin Campbell, the NHL's Mitigator of Discipline obviously has a thankless job, but the league has really butchered how they are dealing with headshots. GMs, coaches, fans and most-importantly players all seem to be uncertain about what exactly is and isn't legal.

Nobody liked how the NFL went about getting rid of headshots and unsafe hits during the season this year, but they got their message across and the game was and will be better for it. In the NHL the recently enacted Rule 48 only penalizes certain types of hits to the head, while having others remain leagal. There is a simple solution. Penalize all hits to the head when a player is standing upright and have a well-defined suspension system in place This isn't hard.

*Marc-Andre Fleury was not named one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy when they were announced today. Tim Thomas of Boston, Pekka Rinne of Nashville and Roberto Luongo of Vancouver made the list. They were the top three is goals against average and among the top four in save percentage. There will be outrage in Pittsburgh, but it is worth remembering how bad Fleury was to start the season. I'm actually more surprised that the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist isn't on the list. He posted a ridiculous 11 shutout (Fleury had three) and carried the Rangers to the post-season. Carey Price probably could have made it as well.

*Speaking of Luongo, he is again proving that he is not a big game goaltender. Vancouver won the first three games in their first round series with the defending Stanley Cup champion Black Hawks but then Luongo got shelled two games in a row. He gave up six and four goals and got pulled each time. He now has a career playoff record of 20-19. Marc-Andre Fleury? 41-25 in the playoffs. Give me the Flower every time.


*There are going to be a lot of people eating crow if the Heat make the Finals. And even more if they win. I love it. Everybody wanted to jump to conclusions a month into the season. So many "experts" piled on and buried the Heat when James and Wade lost a bunch of games in the fall. Where are they now? The Heat are a flawed team for sure, but still are probably the best in the East.

*Here is a good article with the Heat's James Jones discussing what really makes a player a good defender in the NBA.

*The Spurs are going down. Memphis is very dangerous and they will be a tough out in the second round. Before this series the last playoff win by a Memphis team was against the Kentucky Colonels.

*If Pitt junior Ashton Gibbs stays in the NBA draft it will be the dumbest decision in a long time. He can't create his own shot. He isn't quick enough and doesn't have a good enough handle to play the one. He isn't big enough to play the two. If he stays in, I hope he enjoys his time in Europe.

*Here is a video of Blake Griffin's dunks. All 214 of them in a little over four minutes.


*Albert Pujols has finally gotten hot with five homers in his last seven games, Mike Leake is an idiot and the Pirates have claimed Brandon Wood.

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 47 (4/20)

In Episode 47 Dave & I discuss the recently released NFL schedule. As I pointed out here the Steelers strength of schedule may be misleading. We get into the Sports Business Journal report that a breakaway group of 70 players is seeking legal representation and may want a seat at the bargaining table. This is not a good sign for the players.

With the draft coming up in a week, we continued to review what draft-eligible players have visited the Steelers South Side facility and talk some more about who the Steelers might like in the first round. We close by talking about ESPN's rankings of the top 10 cornerbacks and Pete Prisco's list of the top 100 current players.

Thanks for listening.

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marathon News: Running Fast & Dying, Mutai & Waitz

Monday was Patriots Day in Massachusetts. The locals take the day off and have at it, the Red Sox play at 11:00 am and, of course, they run the Boston Marathon. This past Monday Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya ran 26 miles, 365 yards faster than it's ever been run. He knocked it out in 2:03:02 and beat Haile Gebrselassie's sanctioned world record by an astounding 57 seconds. I say sanctioned because Mutai's record probably won't be recognized (though officials are applying to have it sanctioned). Boston, despite being generally acknowledged as a difficult course, drops over 450 feet in elevation from start to finish and does not begin and end near the same spot. In this case a starting wind of 21 mph certainly aided the runners. Big deal. This guy ripped off 26+ miles at a better than a 4:45/mile clip.

This got a few friends and I into a conversation about whether we will see a sub-two hour marathon in our lifetime. Sub-4:40s for 26 miles. As opposed to most other Olympic records, guys are taking chunks out of the marathon record. Since 1908 it's come down over 50 minutes and just since 2002 it's come down 1:39. More than a handful of guys are running half-marathons in under an hour. Barriers like the four-minute mile are artificial ones that are culturally created. The two-hour marathon is another. It will get broken. But if I had to bet, it won't happen before 2040.


The day after the Boston marathon Grete Waitz died in her native Norway. She was 57-year old. If you lived in New York City in the '80s you remember her. She won nine New York City marathons, setting a world record in 1978 in her first-ever race at that distance. She captured the city, as Geroge Vecsey writes, like no female athlete ever. Calling her the greatest female distance runner ever would not be overstating it. Here is the Times obituary.

Steelers Hoping for a 12 Game Season? A Look at the First Four Weeks

The NFL released their 2011 schedule last night. Based on last year's records, the Steelers have the 28th-hardest schedule in the League. That's due partly to the fact that the Bengals and Browns finished a combined 9-23 in 2010 and partly because the AFC North gets to play the NFC West where no team had a winning record last year.

Don't be fooled.

First, every team in the AFC North plays the NFC West, so that is not an advantage within the division. That only helps in competing for the wild card. Second, Baltimore plays Cincinnati and Cleveland twice so that doesn't help against the strongest division rival. Third, the Steelers come out of the box with one of the most difficult four game schedules ever. Think last year with Atlanta, @Tennessee, @Tampa and Baltimore, all without the starting quarterback, was tough? Take a look at this year.

Week 1, 9/11 @ Baltimore, 1 PM: The first of three matchups? That's the way it seems to go these days. Ben Roethlisberger has owned Joe Flacco, but every game between these two teams is like a battle from Braveheart. Was Baltimore a playoff team last year? Yes. The Steelers knocked them out in the Divisional round. Will the game be nationally televised? CBS will promote this to the max. It will definitely be their marquee 1 pm matchup.

Week 2, 9/18 Seattle 1 PM: This is the cupcake in the first quarter of the schedule. Seattle has to fly across the country and play a 1 pm game which is never good. If I were making this line this morning it would be -9.5. But remember, Seattle did crush New Orleans in the playoffs last year and they do have some offensive weapons. Was Seattle a playoff team late year? Despite finishing 8-8, yes and they beat the defending Super Bowl champions once they got there. Will the game be nationally televised? Fox doesn't get to carry the Steelers often, so it's possible. The Bears play the Saints at 1, so Pittsburgh-Seattle may be #2 on Fox's board.

Week 3, 9/25 @Indianapolis 8:20 PM: Peyton Manning is getting older. While that's a positive it hasn't made any difference so far. I'd much rather get Peyton later in the season when he's been banged around a bit and the Colts have suffered more-than-their-annual-share of crippling injuries. The building, the host stadium for this year's Super Bowl, is also one of the loudest in the League. Even when they aren't piping in the noise. Was Indianapolis a playoff team last year? As always, getting nipped by the Jets in the last play of the game. Will the game be nationally televised? It's the Sunday night game on NBC.

Week 4, 10/2 @ Houston 1:00 PM: Back-to-back AFC South foes. The Texans always seem to be the team that pundits like to pick to make the leap. I had them playing the Steelers in the AFC Championship game last year in my preseason forecast. This is probably the best offensive team the Steelers face in the first four weeks and this year Wade Phillips has been brought in to run the defense. Was Houston a playoff team last year? No, they fell a game short as always. Will the game be nationally televised? Looking at the schedule there is no doubt this one will have CBS's #1 announcing team.

Conclusion: Starting the first four weeks of the season with road games at Baltimore, Indy and Houston is about as tough as it gets. It won't play out this way if some games are actually lost to a lockout, but just cutting the schedule down to 12 games and axing the first four would probably be just fine with the Steelers and their fans.

Being realistic, a 2-2 start would be fine. But just like last year, if Pittsburgh wins the opener a 2-2 start will be a big disappointment. If the Steelers go 3-1, with a division win against Baltimore, Steeler Nation will be aggressively waving their Terrible Towels with visions of another Super Bowl dancing in their heads.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Notes from the Road: Pittsburgh Pirates

*Last night the Pirates won their seventh road game and third road series of the season. They are now 7-3 on the road, a .700 winning percentage. Last year the Pirates went 17-64 on the road a .210 winning percentage. They won four road series the whole season. The Bucs could lose their next 20 road games and still be ahead of last year's winning percentage.

*Kevin Correia pitched a complete game in the Pirates 9-3 win over the Reds on Monday night. It was the second complete game of the series following Charlie Morton's 6-1 complete game win on Friday night. Last year the Pirates had one complete game the entire season when Paul Maholm went the distance to beat the Houston Astros 9-0.

*Coincidentally, in both complete games against the Reds, the only earned runs came on home runs with two out in the bottom of the ninth, a solo shot against Morton and a two-run shot off Correia.

*Courtesy of Elias, it is the first time the Bucs have had more than one complete game in April since 1992 when they got three, two by Zane Smith and one by Doug Drabek.

*Courtesy of Bucs Insider, last night was the first time the Pirates and seven players record multi-hit games in a road game since May 13, 2004 against the Rockies in Colorado (pre-humidor).

*The Pirates now have a winning record in three different major league stadiums this season--Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium and Great American Ball Park. They had a winning record in only two last year.

Monday, April 18, 2011

NBA Playoffs, Best Ever?

It's tough to beat the NHL playoffs for intensity and sheer drama, but the NBA got off to a damn good start this weekend. An unbelievable performance by Derrick Rose brought the Bulls back against the Pacers. Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans won on the road in Orlando, San Antonis and Los Angeles. The Heat went down to the wire and Sunday night's games, Knicks-Celtics and Nuggets-Thunder, were completely different but equally awesome. The two biggest margins of victory, 10 by Atlanta and nine by New Orleans, were in games won by underdogs.

This picture from TrueHoop says it better than any words can. Check it out. FAN-tastic.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ray Shero's Best Trade: One You Don't Even Remember

On May 25, 2006 Ray Shero, assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators, was hired to be the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He took over a team loaded with extraordinary young talent. Sidney Crosby, Evegeny Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury were just coming of age. But that team got bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, so the makeover began. Now, the only players from Shero's first team still with the Penguins other than Sid, Geno and the Flower are Brooks Orpik, Max Talbot, Kris Letang (played seven games that year) and Jordan Staal, who Shero drafted as his first pick in the role of GM that summer. The rest are players Shero has developed or acquired.

Last night that team opened their 2011 playoff campaign with a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Fleury was brilliant, the Orpik-Letang pairing was a force on both ends of the ice and though both Crosby and Malkin were out with injuries, the Penguins earned the win. The first goal was scored by Alexei Kovalev, a former Penguin who Shero re-acquired at the trade deadline for a conditional seventh-round pick. It was assisted by James Neal, another trade deadline pick-up and Paul Martin, an off-season free agent signing. Aaron Asham, another off-season free agent signing, got the second, and Chris Kunitz, acquired via trade in February 2009, sealed the deal with an empty-netter.

It was a great night. Fans saw a win in the first playoff game in the new Consol Energy Center. Ray Shero, the architect, the man who has steered the Penguins to two Stanley Cup Finals in his four years at the helm, had every reason to be proud.

But it was a trade that no one remembers that laid the foundation for the success last night and, the Penguins hope, years to come. It was a trade for a player not wearing a Penguins sweater. It was a trade that cost the team a high draft choice. It was a trade in which the Penguins ended up getting nothing in return. It was also a trade that will go down as being as important as any trade that Ray Shero has made.

For years the Penguins have been searching for a winger to play with Sidney Crosby. In 2008 it looked like they had found that player when Shero acquired Marian Hossa in a deadline deal with the Atlanta Thrashers. Hossa and the Pens made it to the Cup Finals that year, but in the off-season Hossa spurned Pittsburgh's offer, electing to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, the team that defeated the Penguins in the Cup Finals. Although they won a Cup the following year, the Penguins spent most of the next two seasons trying to find Gretzky's Jari Kurri to play with Sidney Crosby. With cap space cleared, all the hockey pundits figured the 2010 off-season would see the Penguins finally hit paydirt.

Ray Shero had a different plan.

In the off-season the Penguins brain trust had come to the conclusion that their problem was not an inability to score goals, it was that they were giving up too many. They decided to upgrade at the blue line. They would add a winger if possible, but only after Shero had solidified his defense. He identified his targets.

First up, his own free agent-to-be Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar had had a tremendous run during his five years in Pittsburgh. He anchored the power play and moved the puck quickly, a key to the Penguins style of play. But he was 36 and Shero didn't want to offer more than a two-year contract. Negotiations were slow.

So on June 25, 2010, Ray Shero made the trade.

He acquired Dan Hamhuis from the Philadelphia Flyers for a third-round draft choice. Hamhuis, due to become a free agent on July 1, had played the previous season with the Nashville Predators. On June 19 his negotiating rights had been traded by Nashville to Philadelphia. The Flyers had until July 1 to complete a deal before free agency kicked in. Realizing they weren't going to come to terms, the Flyers traded his rights to the Penguins. Shero had six days to get something done. He knew Hamhuis from their days in Nashville and he was the defenseman the Penguins coveted. Hamhuis was 27, in his prime. Solid and mobile, he was exactly the core-type of player around whom to build the defense.

Shero worked hard over the next week to get both blueliners signed. Paired with the solid and rugged Orpik and the offensively explosive Letang the Penguins top two defensive pairings would provide a great combination of skill and versatility. They could possess and move the puck quickly while also being physical in their own end.

But when noon on July 1 arrived Gonchar  hadn't budged off his demand for three years and Hamhuis, wanting to play closer to his native British Columbia, couldn't be convinced to stay east. Shero had no signatures on contracts. His plan lay in ruins, or so it appeared.

And this is the genius of Ray Shero. He knew the four or five defenseman that he wanted to target in the open market. He had the rights to Gonchar and knew how much he was willing to offer. He acquired the rights to Hamhuis and but came to realize he couldn't get it done. But that knowledge was the key. Knowing he couldn't get those two into the fold on his terms he could focus all his energy on his other targets.

When Gonchar signed a three-year deal with Ottawa minutes after noon (tampering anyone?), the rush for defenseman was clearly on. But Shero, knowing exactly who he wanted, was also able to strike quickly. Zybnek Michalek (27 years old, 5-years, $20 million) was a Penguin within an hour and Paul Martin, viewed by some as the best defenseman on the market, (29 years old, 5-years, $25 million) was signed shortly thereafter. Michalek, more of the physical, stay-at-home type and Martin, a good-skating, puck-moving, offensive-minded type filled out the top four pair just as Shero wanted. To the shock of many, the Penguins were able to upgrade their defensive corps despite losing Sergei Gonchar.

When asked about giving up a third-round draft pick for Hamhuis, Shero had this to say:
I would do it again. It's competitive to get defenseman when they are free agents. I had four days to talk to Dan Hamhuis and I didn't have to spend time talking to him today. If I didn't have that opportunity maybe I would have missed out on somebody. I think it worked out well.
With names like Derek Morris, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov, Gonchar and Hamhuis (6-years, $27 million) all signing within hours of the opening of free agency, I have no doubt Shero is right. Only get one of Michalek or Martin and this is a very different team.

Without Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins have established a new identity. The foundation of that identity is smart, mobile, physical defensemen. Last night, the organization got to cash in on their investment for the first time in the playoffs. With Michalek and Martin playing as the shut-down defensive pairing against Tampa stars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Penguins shutout the high-flying Lightning.

The wheels behind that win were all set in motion when Ray Shero traded for a guy he never got to see wear a Penguins sweater. But he did get to talk to him.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Round Predicitions: Eastern Conference

Here is a look at my picks for the Eastern Conference. I'll be back with a look at the West tomorrow.

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers:

A tough matchup for the Capitals. As James Mirtle notes the Rangers scored more goals than the Capitals this season--hard to believe. An edge in goal for New York as well. Rookie Michal Neuvirth will get the Game 1 start for the Caps after a solid season, but New York has King Henrik. Lundqvist recorded 11 shutouts in the regular season including two against the Caps. New York will miss Ryan Callahan big time, but I see another 8-seed upset here with the Rangers in 6.

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres:

Another matchup where the lower seed has the advantage in the nets. The Flyers have been medicore down the stretch and the Sabres have been dynamite since the change in ownership. You would think after all these years the Flyers would have solved their goaltending issues. They haven't. Everyone likes Buffalo in the upset. I do to. Last year 7 and 8 played in the Eastern Conference Finals, this year I think they both get out of the first round. Sabres in 7.

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens:

Bad blood all around. As E.J. Hradek points out the Bruins were the league's best even strength team and both goalies were great during the regular season. I don't see the Bruins sweeping as they did in 2008, but I do see them having a surprisingly easy time as they stay out of the box and outwork the Canadiens. Bruins in 5.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning:

Sidney Crosby won't dress for Game 1, but I do expect to see him later in the series. I think he is days from coming back. Tampa has a dynamite offense. They are going to have to dominate special teams if they are going to win, but the Penguins PK was the best in the league and they have an advantage in goal with Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh has been getting it done with hard work and defense, a new formula. They will continue to win and continue to hope their Captain gets to put his sweater on soon. Penguins in 5.

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 46, Talking Draft with Sigmund Bloom

In Part 1 of Episode 46 of The Terrible Podcast we open with the minor controversy surrounding Ben Roethlisberger's conversation with Ed Bouchette in which he suggested the team would have liked to pass more often but couldn't. We then take a look at the list of players who have visited the Steelers facility on the South Side as the team conducts their pre-draft interviews. After discussing the reported interest of the San Francisco 49ers in restricted free agent QB Dennis Dixon we finish the segment with listener Gregg's draft questions.

In Part 2 we have a great interview with Sigmund Bloom of and Sigmund is a native of Western Pennsylvania who now resides in Austin, Texas. He has some great insight into the draft, the "Steelers Way" and what he thinks of a bunch of this year's prospects. He closes with his thougths on who the Steelers will take. Great stuff and thanks to Sigmund. You can follow him on Twitter @SigmundBloom.

Thanks for listening.

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Handing Out the Penguins Regular Season Awards

The Penguins finished the regular season with 49 wins and 106 points, tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and third overall. (Many writers are noting where these numbers rank in franchise history, but because of the new shootout rules that isn't comparing apples-to-apples.) Even with injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik, Chris Kunitz and host of others the Penguins season was successful by any standard. Let's hand out some awards before the second season begins tonight.

MVP: There is zero question in my mind that Sidney Crosby would have filled his trophy case had he stayed healthy this year. He certainly would have won the Hart for League MVP and the Lindsay for Most Outstanding Player. He probably would have won the Richard for most goals and let's toss in the scoring title as well. But Sid missed the second half of the season and Penguins fans are anxiously waiting to see if he returns for the playoffs. It's worth noting that Sid led the team in scoring by 16 points despite missing 41 games.

You can't argue with the players' choice of Marc-Andre Fleury as the team MVP. Fleury had a terrible October, but was strong the rest of the year. He finished 36-20-5 with a .918 save percentage and was spectacular in shootouts, though that won't help in the playoffs. Despite his great work I have trouble giving the MVP to a goalie. The position is so unique in all of sports that it really deserves it's own category, so Fleury wins the team Vezina.

I am giving the award to Head Coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma did an outstanding job of keeping the team focused and consistent in its style of play despite the onslaught of injuries. The Penguins didn't change their game, they just plugged different guys in and continued to roll. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, the standard is the standard, and Bylsma had the Penguins play at a high level all year. He will certainly be a finalist for the Jack Adams and was rightly rewarded with a three-year extension during the season.

Most Underrated: Former Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek was signed to a five-year, $20 million contract in the off-season. So far he has been worth every penny. With the Penguins scoring punch decimated by injury, the defense had to elevate their play and nobody did more than Michalek. Along with new-signee Paul Martin, Z is constantly paired against the other team's top line. Quietly he has had an outstanding year. His offensive surge the last 20 games has been a nice added bonus as well.

Most Surprising: TY-LER KENNEDY! KENNEDY! 21 goals and 45 points for a guy who might not have made the team out of training camp were it not for injuries to some other forwards. A breakout season for a guy literally willing to shoot from anywhere, as evidenced by his 9.0 shooting percentage.

Most Improved: There are plenty of guys nominated for this one. Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland are obvious candidates, although each had a few rough patches during the season. Chris Kunitz and Pascual Dupuis both elevated their play in the absence of Crosby and Malkin. Tyler Kennedy chipped in with 21 goals. But I am giving the award to Mark Letestu. Letestu really settled in at center when he was asked to play a top six role. It will be interesting to see how Bylsma uses him in the playoffs and what happens next year when everyone is healthy.

Breakout Star: Kris Letang emerged as one of the top offensive defenseman in the game this campaign. Tanger, who turns 24 later this month, was squarely in the Norris conversation at the midpoint of the season, but his play tailed off slightly with his heavy minutes and the absence of defensive partner Brooks Orpik. Reminding fans of a young Paul Coffey at times, Letang should be a perennial all-star going forward.

Most Frustrating: This is a no-brainer and it goes to the guy who sometimes seems to play without a brain, Matt Cooke. Loved in the locker room and known as a kind and charitable guy off the ice, Cooke continues to frustrate the team, their fans and the League with his head shots and dirty play. With the Penguins taking the lead in trying to cutdown head shots, Cooke embarrassed everyone with his elbow to the head during a nationally-televised game. The good news is Cooke finally seems to understand. The bad news is that if it happens one more time, he may never play again.

He's Gonna Be Missed: This is a tough one to give out because I, along with most of the team's fans, have come to really appreciate what this team has done. So many role players have stepped-up and worked hard every night and played with a ton of passion despite losing so many guys to injury. But, the reality is the Penguins have a ton of unrestricted free agent forwards and they aren't going to be able to sign them all. Dupuis, Kovalev, Talbot, Rupp, Asham, Goddard, Adams, Comrie and Connor are all UFAs after the season. Keep that in mind when you watch this playoff run. While I doubt Kovalev and Goddard will be back, they haven't been instrumental in the team's success this regular season. This award goes to Maxime Talbot. Forever etched into Penguins lore with his two goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and loved by teammates and fans, there is at least a chance Superstar won't be back next year. If so, he will be missed.

The Man: Mario is, was and always will be The Big Man. Sidney is the heir apparent. But this award goes to Ray Shero. Shero continues to do an extraordinary job of managing the roster and salary cap. Strong drafts, smart free agent signings, not overvaluing his own players and great trades have made the Penguins the envy of a lot of organizations. This year he added James Neal, Alex Kovalev and Matt Niskanen at the deadline. The fact that you can point to the Alexei Ponikarovsky deal last year as one that didn't work out means the exception proves the rule. Shero is the man behind the curtain pulling all the strings and nobody does it better.

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 45, Talking Draft with Guest Shawn Zobel

In Part 1 of The Terrible Podcast Dave and I discuss the ESPN Power Rankings of current NFL head coaches in which Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was ranked second behind the Patriots Bill Belichick. We discuss a few coaches we think were ranked too high and get into why Tomlin didn't receive any Coach of the Year votes.

In Part 2 we talk draft and prospects with Shawn Zobel of Zobel recently released his 2011 Draft Preivew and his latest mock draft. We discuss several players the Steelers may be considering along with some local names and names at the top of the draft.

Thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Pirates-Red Sox Trade

Trade speculation is generally pretty silly, particularly this early in the season. Nobody wants to press the panic button. But the Red Sox, the preseason Best Team in Baseball, are 2-8. The Pirates, sitting at 5-5, don't have a panic button. They also don't have a shortstop. I think this makes sense:

It is well-known that the Pirates have been looking to move Ryan Doumit and his $5.1 million contract. It also seems pretty clear that there is a gaping hole at shortstop at the major league level and no real identifiable prospect in the minors.

After last night's pasting it's possible the Red Sox might be willing to part with Dice-K. The big caveat here is he has a full no-trade clause in his contract. The Red Sox also have some questions at catcher. The key is an infielder I think would fit perfectly in Pittsburgh.

So how about this deal. The Pirates trade Ryan Doumit ($5.1 million in '11 and $500K buyout after this year) and Paul Maholm ($5.75 million in '11 and $9.75 million option for '12 or $750K buyout) for Daisuke Matsuzaka ($10 million in '11 & '12) and Jed Lowrie ($434K this year, 1st year arb eligible in '12). If the Red Sox so desire the Pirates can throw in Ronny Cedeno ($1.85 million in '11, free agent after).

How the finances break down: This year is almost a perfect wash money-wise. The Red Sox would take on a couple hundred thousand or about $2 million if they wanted Cedeno. I think the Pirates might send them the $2 million if they took Cedeno.

In 2012 the Sox are on the hook for nothing except $1.25 million of buyouts. If either Doumit or Maholm is great they have a team option. So they save about $9 million. The Pirates take on $10 million of Dice-K and probably $2 million for Lowrie in his first arb year. You have to pay someone to play shortstop and they are paying Cedeno the same amount this year, so that part is a wash. The money is obviously a big component of this trade.

Why it makes sense for Boston: Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek are the catching tandem in Boston. Salty is a 25 year-old switch-hitter who has some upside but is certainly a question mark. He has gotten off to a terrible start in 2011. Varitek, also a switch-hitter, is 39. Doumit has about an .800 OPS batting left-handed about 100 points better than right-handed. Salty has a bad platoon split batting right-handed so it doesn't lead to an ideal platoon with Doumit, but Varitek's platoon split is the opposite and he has an OPS of .828 in his career against left-handed pitching. Doumit, a bad defensive catcher, could catch a couple days a week and give Big Papi a day off once a week at DH while providing a solid left-handed bat off the bench.

Maholm, a pitch-to-contact lefty could potentially thrive in front of the Red Sox's excellent infield defense. He has proven to be very durable and would slide in as Boston's fifth starter.

While Lowrie would be missed, Cuban-born Jose Iglesias is the shortstop of the future. He's 21 and should be in the majors next year.

Why it makes sense for Pittsbugh: With the hole at shortstop, the 26 year-old Lowrie would step in and start immediately and most likely fill the position for the next couple of years at a bargain price.

It would be a roll of the dice with Dice-K. Certainly the contract looks a bit like the Matt Morris contract, the one where the Dave Littlefield-Pirates ate $13 million, got nothing in return and gave up a young outfielder to boot. But Matsuzaka is only 30 and has been pitching in the AL East. A move to the NL Central would be a big step down in competition and it's clear a change of scenery wouldn't hurt. DK would slot into the roatation in place of Maholm.

With some young pitching coming in the Pirates organization, there is a chance the team would end up just eating $10 million next year if Dice-K proves to be washed up. That's a huge amount for the Pirates, but they have virtually no contractual obligations for 2012 and will have to spend $25 million just to get to a $40 million payroll. They have to view it as the cost of doing business to get their everyday shortstop on the cheap. If Matsuzaka straightens things out, $10 million for a league-average starting pitcher would be just fine for one season.

Neal, call Theo. Let's get this done.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Early Season Observations about the Pirates, Part 2

Eighteen straight losing seasons. A league worst record of 57-105 last year. A horrendous 17-64, .210 winning percentage, on the road. Virtually no noteworthy free agent signings. Coming in, there weren't a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 season. But after winning two of three on the road against the Cubs and Cards and splitting their first two at home against the Rockies, the Pirates are a surprising 5-3. You can read part 1 of my observations here. Here are some other things that stand out.

Neal Huntington & the Bullpen:
General Manager Neal Huntington has repeatedly stated that he doesn't feel a need to spend a lot of money when constructing his bullpen. Relievers are the most fungible of commodities. It's clear Huntington likes hard-throwers and he has been willing to sift through a lot of players to find a few who have proved useful. 

Last year the Bucs signed Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez, D.J. Carrasco and Brendan Donnelly. Donnelly was ineffective and released and is out of baseball, but the other three were relatively cheap and effective and the Pirates were able to trade them all at the deadline and turned them into James McDonald, Andrew Lambo, John Bowker, Chris Snyder and Pedro Ciriaco. (Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby, both currently out of baseball, where included in the deadline deals as well.) I'm not sure you can do much better than that.

This year Huntington signed Jose Veras to a 1-year, $1million deal and acquired Garrett Olson as a waiver wire claim ($430,000) from the Mariners in mid-March. Added to Joel Hanrahan ($1.4 million; acquired with Lastings Milledge in a trade for Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan), Evan Meek ($461,500; Rule 5 pickup), Jeff Karstens ($1.1 million; acquired in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade), Chris Resop ($431,500; waiver claim from the Braves last August) and Mike Crotta ($414,000; the only Pirates draftee in the group), Huntington has been able to put together a very effective bullpen for $5.235,500. Adding the injured free agent signees Joe Beimel (stands to make up to $2 million if and when he's added to the major league roster) and Scott Olsen who may end up starting ($550,000; with varied performance bonuses), Huntington has nine guys at a total cost of about $8 million. 

Hanrahan and Karstens will be in their second year of arbitration after the 2011 season, Meek, Resop and Olson their first. Veras, Beimel and Olsen are on one year deals and Crotta is under team control through at least 2016. When individuals are critical of the Pirates and their unwillingness to spend money, just point to the bullpen and add that John Grabow and Damaso Marte are making $8.8 million between them this season.

The performance of the group as a whole thus far has been excellent. Friday night after starter Ross Ohlendorf left the game injured, the bullpen went a scoreless 11.1 innings, giving up 6 hits, 7 walks and striking out 12 in the Pirates 14-inning, 4-3 win. On the season the bullpen is 2-2 with a 2.37 ERA (2.66 FIP), the sixth lowest in the majors despite having pitched the second most innings. The group is sporting a WHIP of 1.32, a 2:1 K:BB ratio, an ERA- of 63 and a FIP- of 68, lower being better. Early days for sure, but the bullpen may again be the most solid aspect of this year's team and Hanrahan looks to be a dominating closer.

This may be the most difficult thing to discern so far this year. The word I have coined to describe it is erroratic. I'm having trouble deciding if this is a poor defensive team or an average one. On the right side of the infield Lyle Overbay has been an excellent addition at first notwithstanding his costly error in the second game of the season. Overbay seems to be above average in all aspects defensively and that is a recognizable improvement. At second, Neil Walker seems to be flashing improved range (excellent going back on pop flys) and has done an outstanding job standing in on double plays and making the turn. His tosses to second when starting double plays have been less than stellar, but that should be a relatively easy thing to correct in the big picture of things.

The left side is more problematic. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno has quickly taken the lead as the player most disliked by the fanbase. While Cedeno occasionally makes the highlight play, has good range and a strong arm, he doesn't make the routine play every time which is why he is so vexing. Unfortunately the Pirates don't have an everyday shortstop other than Ronny in the organization at the moment. I've advocated going after someone like Jed Lowrie of the Red Sox, but the Pirates would have to be willing to give up some of their best minor league talent to get someone of that caliber (Meek, Lambo and a top Class A prospect?) More likely fans are going to have to live with Cedeno's physical and mental lapses in 2011 and someone from outside the current organization will be manning the position in 2012.

Pedro Alvarez is the most interesting and debated defensive player on the team. Some believe this will be his last year at third while others, including Neal Huntington and Pedro himself feel that doesn't have to be the case. While Alvarez is never going to win a Gold Glove, he has shown that he can play a solid third base and has made two of the best plays of the season, coming in fielding a bunt in Chicago and diving to stop a smash down the line and throwing out the runner from his knees in extra innings against the Rockies. His arm is outstanding and is a huge asset. Like most third basemen lateral movement is not Pedro's strong suit, but I am warming to the idea that Pedro doesn't need to be moved off third anytime soon, particularly if the Pirates draft Gerrit Cole as opposed to Anthonly Rendon.

In the outfield Andrew McCutchen has looked good thus far. He covers a ton of ground and his issues generally seem to be with balls hit right at him and I haven't seen to many of those this year. Cutch larger issue is getting his throws down to the cutoff man. He has airmailed too many in his brief career. But he clearly has all the skills to be an above average defender. Jose Tabata also covers a lot of ground. While better than Lastings Milledge I'm not sure Tabata always takes the best routes. Being only 22, he's only going to get better. Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz platooning in right is just something we'll have to live with this year.

The catching position has been discussed endlessly. With Chris Snyder about to be added to the roster after his rehab stint, the defense should be at least solid. Doumit and Jaramillo have been passable so far and have thrown out two of six would-be base stealers.

Overall I think the team defense, while not above average, will be better than last year.

Stirke Zone Control & Hitting:
A couple of good articles here and here do a good job of breaking down the Pirates issues of too many strikeouts and not enough walks. The reality is three guys are off to great starts, Walker OPS+ 167, Tabata 154 and McCutchen 150 and three guys have gotten off to terrible starts, Cedeno OPS+ 65, Doumit 48 and Alvarez 33. Alvarez, a notorious slow starter, is the big concern, but it's too early to draw many conclusions. The issue thus far is Alvarez constantly falling behind in counts. He's had some trouble recognizing breaking balls and seems determined to pull every ball. If Pedro comes around the top five in the order will be a formidable group and go a long way to keeping this team competitive day in and day out.

Last Night's 14-Inning Win:
Clint Hurdle managed circles around Jim Tracy in the 14th inning. With runners on first and second and one out in the top of the inning Hurdle had Garrett Olson pitch to Carlos Gonzalez. Cargo was third in the MVP voting last year and was 0-6 with two strikeouts coming into the at bat, having left seven men on base. 

Hurdle went with the lefty-on-lefty matchup and Olson struck out Gonzalez putting a bow on the worst night of his major league career. Realizing the pitcher's spot was up after Troy Tulowitzki, Hurdle elected to walk the all-star shortstop loading the bases. Tracy called on Todd Helton, a late lineup scratch because of a sore back. Hurdle knew Helton was hurting and rolled the dice that Olson would get Helton as well. He did on a ground ball to second.

In the bottom of the 14th, the Rockies quickly got two outs before Josh Rodriguez walked. This brought Jose Tabata to the plate. Because of a double-switch in the top of the 10th, Garrett Olson was due up after Tabata. Olson has six career at-bats and hasn't batted since 2009. In a bit of gamesmanship Hurdle sent Andrew McCutchen into the on-deck circle even though McCutchen was up after Olson. Some of the Pirates players think the rouse worked and the Rockies thought Cutch was up next. Possible but hard to believe. Tracy inexplicably decided to pitch to Tabata even though the Pirates had no other position players available to pinch hit and no one left in the bullpen. As I tweeted during the at-bat, it was an idiotic decision and I hoped Tabata would double to end it. That's exactly what happened. It's nice to feel for the first time in about ten years the Pirates have a manager who may actually help rather than hurt them on a nightly basis.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Observations After 2.5% of the Pirates Season, Part 1

Eighteen straight losing seasons. A league worst record of 57-105 last year. A horrendous 17-64, .210 winning percentage, on the road. Virtually no noteworthy free agent signings. Coming in, there weren't a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 season. But after winning two of three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field and taking the opener against the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Pirates are a surprising 3-1. Here is what stands out thus far.

1.) Manager Clint Hurdle:
Many studies including this one have tried to assess the impact a manager has on a team's performance. While still heavily debated, the most prevalent opinion is a good manager may add about five wins over the course of a season. Clint Hurdle is a big man with a big personality and from the first day of spring training it was apparent he was nothing like his stoic predecessor John Russell. Hurdle has brought a level of confidence and optimism not visible in season's past. While we can debate the wins Hurdle will add, there is no question his leadership and confidence are valuable for a young team looking to find its way.

Refreshingly, Hurdle has been candid and straight-forward when discussing the team's early season mistakes. Accountability, at this early stage, is no longer questioned. When Pedro Alvarez misplayed two pop flys in the opener Hurdle put the blame squarely on Alvarez and said it will be addressed and corrected. When Evan Meek didn't have his command in the second game, Hurdle didn't shy away from it. He said Meek wasn't good, but provided full support for his pitcher saying Meek will continue to get the ball in that situation. When Ronny Cedeno made a ridiculous and potentially costly throwing error in Sunday's win, Hurdle said it was a bad decision and it has been stressed to Cedeno that he can't be careless. Simple examples, but honest evaluation. John Russell never provided that at any point last year.

There is no question that since coming to the Pirates Hurdle has emphasized being aggressive and smart, both on the bases and at the plate. His conversation with Garrett Jones after his Saturday home run is one humorous example. Jones is a career .390 hitter when he swings at the first pitch, but it is something he doesn't do often, preferring to take a couple pitches to settle in at the plate. After his first-pitch homer off Carlos Zambrano in the seventh inning Jones came back to the dugout and Hurdle asked what was that second pitch, the one he hit for a homer. Jones responded that he hit the first pitch. Hurdle laughed and said he didn't know you could hit the first pitch. Point made. At the same time we saw free-swinger Ronny Cedeno take two walks in his first seven plate appearances and continue to hit the ball the other way, two things he rarely did last year. Working with each player to have a good approach and good at bats is clearly a point of emphasis and something Hurdle did very successfully last year as the AL Champion Texas Rangers hitting coach. The early signs are positive.

At this early stage it is still hard to evaluate Hurdle's managerial style and tendencies. This is a great article that provides some insight by looking at Hurdle's strategy while managing the Rockies, but it is difficult to assess the level the team's personnel played in those decisions. Strategically this season I have disagreed with having Jose Tabata bunt in the fifth inning of a game with a man on first and no outs (may have been a botched sign) and I didn't like the decision not to pinch-run for Jason Jaramillo late in Sunday's game, but overall I have liked Hurdle's approach. And never more so than last night.

With the Pirates up 4-1 going to the bottom of the eighth inning, Hurdle called on Evan Meek, as promised. Meek gave up a broken-bat single, a four pitch walk and another single. He got pulled. This move was a bit surprising, but one I fully endorsed as Meek again lacked command. Needing a ground ball Hurdle turned to rookie sinkerballer Mike Crotta--a bit of a surprise since Crotta had only made his major league debut the day before. Crotta delivered, getting a grounder and a strikeout. Two outs. Then Hurdle really won me over. He called on closer Joel Hanrahan to get the last out in the eighth. So many managers live by the conventional wisdom that you only bring your closer in in the ninth, that this was almost a shocking move, particularly this early in the season. (Hurdle addressed this in his postgame interview saying if Hanrahan's pitch count had gotten into the twenties in the ninth it would have been a problem.) Using your best pitcher in high-leverage situations tends to be a good strategy. Hanrahan came through, getting the tough-to-strike-out Yadier Molina (8.5% carrer strikeout rate vs. MLB avg. 17.3%) to chase a hard slider in the dirt. He then closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth. If you ever want to give a manager credit for a win, you should probably chalk that one up for Clint.

The Pirates talk a lot about and point to the great potential talent in the minor leagues. It is something which certainly gives management and the fanbase hope for the future. But Clint Hurdle has stressed that he is focused on the present. From day one he has said his goal is to win at the major league level. Now. His early influence on this team is tangible and the early results very encouraging.

2. Starting Pitching:
To say that the Pirates starting pitching was a question mark coming into the season would be massively understating things. The guy penciled in at the number four spot in the rotation made 17 starts last year, went 2-12 and had a 7.57 ERA. Two guys competing for back-end spots went down with minor injuries in spring training. While the Royals starters look historically bad on paper, the Pirates aren't far behind. That is why the first four outings of the season are surprising and encouraging. And incredibly similar.

                               IP     H     R     ER     BB     K     Pitches
Kevin Correia        6.0    7      3      2         1       3       92-61     
Paul Maholm         6.2    5      0      0         2       3       92-63
Ross Ohlendorf     6.0    8      4      4         4       3       96-64
Charlie Morton      6.0    3      1      1         5       2       97-57

All four starters were able to go at least six innings and do so in fewer than 100 pitches. As a group they have only given up eight extra base hits and one home run (4 and 1 by Ohlendorf). Clearly the lack of strikeouts is an issue because the Pirates defense has been erratic thus far. As a pitch to contact staff, that doesn't bode well going forward. James McDonald, who had trouble going deep in games last year because of high pitch counts and a lot of strikeouts will take the hill tonight as the fifth starter to complete the first time through the rotation.

In terms of swinging strikes, Correia got 6, Maholm got 8, Ohlendorf 13 and Morton only 3. This is a bit surprising because clearly "Electric Stuff" Morton has the best stuff of the group. (By comparison Mike Crotta got four swing strikes in nine pitches and Joel Hanrahan got five in 16 in relief after Morton.) It will be something worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Early days to evaluate starting pitch when a team has only played four games, but with a bullpen that should be a strength, Meek's early struggles not withstanding, if the Pirates continue to get this kind of starting pitching they will sail by my optimistic win projection of 75 and possibly approach .500. While I still view this as a big longshot, if your a fan, there is a little bit of a reason to get excited.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A New Venture

I will be hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates post-game show Extra Innings this year. The season starts today as the Bucs take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field. First pitch, weather willing, will be 2:20 EST. The post-game follows right after the game. You can listen online here. I also have a new twitter account dedicated to the Pirates: @DTonPirates.