*Rumblings, Opinions & Musings of some of today’s hottest topics*
1. SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE: The Pirates have lost 9 of 12 games and since August 9th, are 7-16 and there’s only one National League team with a worst record during that span……. the Houston Astros who are 5-17 during that span. Something has to give here in a critical three game series for the Pirates who have to take advantage of beating inferior teams with a six game homestand against the Astros and Chicago Cubs. What at the end of the day could become the Pirates achilles heel on missing the post-season for the 20th straight season is their  struggles to beat teams with losing records down the stretch. They have to change that trend this week as Jeff Locke teams the mound this afternoon. Locke went 10-5 with a 2.48 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 24 starts for the Indianapolis Indians. He’s returning to the Majors with a ton of confidence, posting a .0.75 ERA in his last six games at Triple-A.
2. JONES EMERGING AS A CORE PLAYER: Every off season and trade deadline, GM Neal Huntington almost always seems to be chasing an upgrade at first base or right field it seems. Nearly every time except last years addition of veteran Derrek Lee, Garrett Jones ends up holding onto a regular spot in the lineup whether it would be first base or right field. Jones, 31, is having a career year, batting .286 with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs. Going off first basemen ranks, Jones ranks 3rd in the National League among first baseman in home runs, and his .873 OPS is among the best for first basemen in the National League. While Jones still can’t hit left handers well (batting .220) and probably never will at age 31, Jones though has emerged as a core hitter this team can build around for the next couple seasons to complement the likes of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, as the Pirates are not going to find better options.
3. OWNERS ALWAYS HAVE THE LEVERAGE: Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew ending his holdout over money is just another sign that owners always have the leverage in pretty much every sport. That’s also the case in the NHL where for talks to progress or a CBA to get done, the players are going to have to cave, just like in 2005. The difference between football players and hockey players though, is that NFL players by a large don’t manage their money as a well, don’t have guaranteed contracts and only get 17 checks a year, so when the time came late last July, they really had no choice BUT to cave in CBA talks. For NHL players, they have lucrative options in Europe that aren’t at the NFL players disposal and NHL players aren’t as desperate for money as some NFL players almost always seem to be, which makes NHL players unlikely to cave just because the lockout for existence goes into October.
4. GM’S NEED TO REACH MUTUAL AGREEMENT NOT TO CLAIM PLAYERS ON TWO-WAY CONTRACTS: The CBA expires on September 15th and players on two-way contracts must be sent down to the minors before the CBA expires to be eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the lockout. The disappointment here is that players on two-way contracts who are eligible, still have to clear waivers to be eligible. What I would like to see is all 30’s GM’s reaching a handshake agreement where they won’t claim any players on two-way deals that teams try to send down to play during the lockout. This probably has no chance of happening because there’s always a bad apple or two among GM’s. For Pittsburgh, the key players who would have to clear waivers include Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo and Eric Tangradi, so if there’s no type of handshake agreement, those players are staying put. Putting AHL players like Dylan Reese could even be risky. It will be interesting to see what happens but the lockout is going to hurt the development of some players who could still benefit from the minors like a Eric Tangradi for example, but teams can’t risk them.
 5. MOST NORTH AMERICAN PLAYERS WITH FAMILIES LIKELY TO STAY PUT FOR NOW: While several Russian and European players are preparing to make plans to play overseas if there is a lockout, North American players deciding to go overseas to play during a lockout is likely going to be a small group, especially for those with families. “I can’t see myself going anywhere,” said Vancouver Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard told Michael Russo of Star-Tribune. “I can see a Russian kid going back to Russia or a Swedish player staying at home. But for us to uproot our families for one, two months makes little sense to me.” Another thing players have to into account is that they have to seek their own disability insurance and the cost is rather expensive.