*The Pirates bullpen seems a major strength. But can it be counted on down the stretch? It has little positive track record beyond what’s happened so far this season.
*Manager Clint Hurdle needs to let his starting pitchers go beyond the sixth inning more often. Conserve the bullpen. Teach the starters to battle.
*The Pirates have lost two series in a row, both to sub-.500 teams. Is that a hiccup, or the start of a slide? Oakland comes to Pittsburgh with the second-best record in the AL. The Pirates must regenerate some momentum before the All-Star break.
*I envy those who can take the Pirates a face value. Twenty years of losing and mismanagement have made me a cynic. Missing the playoffs seems impossible. But I’m definitely waiting for things to go wrong.
*I’m glad to see 3B Pedro Alvarez included among the Pirates’ four All-Stars. What Alvarez provides, the Pirates simply can’t do without.
*Hurdle must think the Pirates need an upgrade in RF. He’s talked about giving Jose Tabata a legit shot at the job. That smacks of desperation.
*The Penguins aren’t done in free agency. Decent players looking for better deals than they’ve been offered wind up scrounging for $700K come August.
*As the Ottawa Senators continue wiping up blood in the aftermath of talisman Daniel Alfredsson’s messy departure, recognize the number of players that have taken less money to keep playing with the Penguins. It’s a destination franchise.
*The Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis line will start next season intact, and should. But is Beau Bennett a good fit for Evgeni Malkin and James Neal? Coach Dan Bylsma may not think so. He labeled Bennett a possible third-liner during Friday’s appearance on my show. Bennett should play right wing, not left. Malkin and Neal play wide-open. They gamble. A like-minded 21-year-old with 26 games NHL experience playing out of position might not be the best match. But Bennett’s skill dictates a top-six spot. The solution? Dupuis-Crosby-Bennett, Kunitz-Malkin-Neal.
*I’m not crazy about Bennett on the third line. But more and more NHL teams are using three scoring lines, as opposed to two scoring lines and a checking unit.
*If the Penguins feel the need to dress a fighter, use Steve MacIntyre as the 12th forward. Use Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo (a decent pugilist) as the Nos. 5 and 6 defensemen. Deryk Engelland is surplus to requirements.
*When noted crackpot Franco Harris’ “crusade” to clear Joe Paterno’s name is profiled, how come Penn State Coach Bill O’Brien is never quoted? I’m betting it’s because O’Brien wishes Free Meal Franco would just GO AWAY.
*Ray Blehar, Harris’ aide-de-camp in the Paterno cult, recently tried to boost the case for poor, dead JoePa’s innocence by discrediting the testimony of Jerry Sandusky’s victims. That’s insidious beyond belief. Harris and his ilk know no shame. Some say Harris represents Pittsburgh. Not my Pittsburgh.
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