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Bucs in deep trouble

| Monday, April 17, 2006

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Relentlessly optimistic Pirates manager Jim Tracy has nothing on me.

I'm going to predict right here, in this very sentence, that the Pirates' pitching will improve significantly.

It will improve today if management makes the obvious choice to promote left-hander Tom Gorzelanny from Triple-A Indianapolis.

Gorzelanny outperformed every member of the season-opening rotation at spring training and has yet to yield an earned run through two starts at Indy.

Surely, he'd be a better option than Ian Snell, who didn't make it out of the sixth inning in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

The loss, witnessed by rows and rows of empty seats at PNC Park, dropped the Pirates to 4-10, one step closer to oblivion in a season that is rapidly falling apart.

We'll get to that in a moment.

First, back to the drubbing yesterday, when the Cubs beat the Snell out of Ian in the first and sixth innings. Todd Walker got things started with a two-out, three-run blast, smashing an 0-2 pitch into the left-field seats.

Pirates pitchers have failed to retire the side in order in the first inning 13 times in 14 tries, so at least they're consistent in one phase of the game.

Aramis Ramirez (the ultimate Pirates giveaway) rocked Matt Capps for a two-run homer as part of a four-run sixth that made it 7-0. The shot came after Snell allowed a solid single to Juan Pierre on another 0-2 count, plus a two-run double to Derrek Lee.

Has Snell gotten anybody out since he learned he'd be part of the rotation?

Not even Tracy could find a silver lining in allowing two crucial hits on 0-2 counts.

"Those first five or six innings, you cannot make mistakes like that on this level and succeed," Tracy said. "There's no way. You can't have it."

Sean Burnett, who's been almost as impressive as Gorzelanny at Indianapolis, better be here before the All-Star break. Kip Wells should arrive around then, too.

The Pirates have some options with their pitching staff.

Now, the bad news: The hitting's only going to get worse -- you didn't think this team would lead the National League in home runs, did you• -- and there aren't any offensive versions of Gorzelanny or Burnett to call upon when it does.

Worse news: Six of the Pirates' next nine games are against Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that won 12 of 16 from your Buccos last season.

Pujols' seven-year contract is worth $100 million, by the way, or more than twice the Pirates' payroll this season. Albert has a chance to get real fat against Paul Maholm, Oliver Perez and Victor Santos, whose combined earned-run average is 22.88.

Snell's is standing firm at 9.60.

In between two series against the Cardinals, the Pirates play three in Houston.

"Those are the two best teams in the division," Jason Bay said. "We'll find out where we stand."

At the moment, the Pirates appear to be standing in quicksand. Their much-anticipated season could be dead before the first snap of Steelers minicamp.

"I came here to make this club markedly better," Tracy said.

Not to be pessimistic, but has anyone considered the possibility that it could be markedly worse?

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