PITTSBURGH -- Five years ago on Monday, the Rockies were two games above .500 (67-65) and on absolutely nobody's postseason radar.Thirty-eight games later -- encompassing a 23-8 regular-season finish and a 7-0 wipeout through the first two rungs of the playoffs -- Clint Hurdle's Rocktober team was in the World Series. Does Hurdle's current team have the ingredients for a comparable run? The Pirates' starting point would be even higher than that of those Rockies, but can they mount a similar finishing kick? "We have the personnel to do it," Hurdle said. "It starts by getting a really good start, answering with two-out hits and scoring runs. If a starter throws a shoe, the bullpen shuts it down from there and the offense sparks." The Pirates haven't yet had a winning streak longer than five games, but Hurdle holds out hope for the coalescence of the aforementioned ingredients into what he called "a perfect storm" of baseball fury. "We know it's in there," the manager said, nodding toward the players' clubhouse. "We need to take it out on the field."
Walker heads home with back tightness
PITTSBURGH -- Second baseman Neil Walker was knocked out of not only the Pirates' Monday night lineup by tightness in his lower back, he was knocked right out of PNC Park.After being scratched about 90 minutes before the first pitch of the game against the Cardinals, Walker departed the ballpark to consult with a doctor then continued home, according to manager Clint Hurdle. Walker was given a prescription to help him sleep, with instructions to call the team's training staff when he awoke. As of a few minutes following the conclusion of the Pirates' rain-delayed 4-3 loss to St. Louis, Hurdle was not aware of whether Walker had yet made that call. Hurdle had to adjust his lineup by shifting Josh Harrison, who was originally slated to start at shortstop, to second base and inserting Clint Barmes at short. Barmes wound up going 2-for-3, including a seventh-inning RBI double to cut into the Cardinals' 4-2 lead. One of the team's young veteran leaders, Walker has had a difficult time since being forced to miss three starts due to a dislocation of his right little finger, suffered early in an Aug. 15 game against the Dodgers. Walker has four hits in his past 37 at-bats, a slump which has dropped his average from .294 to .280.
Karstens on track to make Friday start
PITTSBURGH -- In retrospect, Jeff Karstens thinks the right groin tweak that forced him out of Saturday night's game may have started to act up three innings earlier, as he was running the bases.So wouldn't you know it: The last time the Pirates had scored (entering Monday night's game) cost them two players. Jose Tabata tweaked his left groin running the bases in the same fifth inning and had to leave the game immediately, and Karstens followed him out after putting up two more zeros toward a 4-0 shutout of Milwaukee. A bizarre occurrence, but without a long-term effect. Tabata was back in the starting lineup on Monday, leading off against the Cardinals, and Karstens appears to be on track to make his next start as scheduled on Friday in Milwaukee. Karstens reported no issues after a busy Sunday pregame workout, which included a 35-minute jog, and he also participated in the team's monthly pitchers fielding practice on Monday. "We'll know more after he throws his bullpen [session on Tuesday], but we don't have any red flags," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He ran around [Sunday] and felt really good. He shagged in the outfield and seemed to be in a really good place." Until someone else chips in -- A.J. Burnett was getting his shot in Monday's opener of the series with St. Louis -- Karstens has started in the Pirates' past two wins: Aug. 19 in St. Louis and the Saturday whitewash of the Brewers.
"I'm not sure there is any switch to flip. If I had one, it would be flipped on all the time. 'Boom! Let's go! Don't anybody touch my switch, it's on.'" -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, dismissing the notion that teams who get hot going down the stretch do so by flipping a switch
It didn't take long for Jameson Taillon to make a Double-A impact. The right-hander copped Easter League Pitcher of the Week honors in his first week with Altoona -- kudos for his two winning starts in which he did not allow a run and rang up 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. More bumper crop on the farm: Bradenton first baseman Alex Dickerson was chosen as the Florida State League's Player of the Year. The Bucs' third-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft is hitting .299 with 12 homers and 88 RBIs and leads the league in games played with 124. The Pirates have a sensational record of 37-12 in games they score first -- but left unsaid in that conspicuous stat is the alarming fact that the opposition has scored first in 61 percent (78 of 127) of their games. By contrast, the Cardinals came into town having scored first in 67 of their 127 of their games (53 percent).
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.