The Pirates are hot. They have won 9 of their last 12 games and have won four consecutive series. This weekend they draw the Kansas City Royals for three games in PNC Park, a big time opportunity to push even further over the .500 mark. Kansas City is one of the worst teams the Pirates will face this year and they get to do it in the comforts of their own ballpark – this is a golden opportunity to press the Reds even more then they pressed them this week.
The Royals aren’t the worst hitting team in the league, however they aren’t very opportunistic. They have scored just 217 runs on the year, which is sixth to last in the league despite having the ninth best team batting average of .261. They are fifth to last in the league with 43 home runs. They don’t have much trouble hitting singles but extra base hits are an issue for them.
Billy Butler is the offensive leader of this team. He’s hitting .296/.355/.507 on the season with a team high 11 home runs. The rest of the offense is young and inconsistent. Eric Hosmer was supposed to do some big things this year but he’s hitting just .220/.281/.376. Mike Moustakas has done okay with a .278/.345/.497 line and 9 home runs, but they aren’t getting much from anybody else. Jeff Francoeur has played a bit better than you may have expected, but there’s not much here to be worried about offensively.
The pitching has been the Royals main problem this year. They have the tenth worst ERA in the big leagues with a mark of 4.17. Ten different players have made starts for them, which shows you how inconsistent there main guys have been. The Pirates will see Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro, and Bruce Chen this weekend. Let’s take a look at those three specifically.
Friday’s matchup is Hochevar against Erik Bedard. The Pirates lefty hasn’t been great lately, but you still have to have a good amount of confidence in him any time he takes the hill. Hochevar on the other hand has been bad all season. He has a 6.63 ERA and there really hasn’t much of a trend to that this year. It’s been above 6 since the first start he made in May when he gave up nine earned runs to the Tigers. He is a decent strikeout pitcher with 7.3 K/9 but he can get a bit wild at the same time with 3.3 BB/9. Patience is an order for the Pirates offense tonight. He allows 10.6 hits per nine, so you have to feel good about the Pirates scoring some runs tonight (as good as you can possibly feel about such a thing). There’s little doubt the pitching edge goes to the home team tonight.
Saturday is a bit more of an unknown. Vin Mazzaro has only made two starts for the Royals this year and did a pretty good job in both of them. First he went 5 innings against the Rangers allowing just three runs and his last start on June 3rd, he pitched six scoreless innings against the Athletics (a very weak offense). He doesn’t strike guys out, he has just 5 in 12 innings this year. Last year he posted an 8.26 ERA in 28.1 innings for the Roayls, striking out 3.2 per nine and walking 4.8. Those numbers are horrid, and it should exude some confidence in the Pirates offense tomorrow night. Seriously. It also helps that the Bucs are throwing out ace James McDonald. If there’s one game you should expect the Pirates to win this weekend, it’s Saturday night – especially because it’s fireworks/concert night, and they always seem to win on those nights.
The final game of the series features Bruce Chen and A.J. Burnett. Chen has a 4.37 ERA in 12 starts this year. He has been striking out 6.2 per nine and walking just 1.9, so those numbers are pretty good. He’s a veteran who knows how to pitch, but he’s pretty hittable with a 9.3 H/9 ratio this year. He has the ability to go out and throw a really good game, and the lack of seriously threatening bats in the lineup could help him post one of those games Sunday, but you shouldn’t bet on it. A.J. Burnett has been a horse for the Pirates all year but he has been inefficient lately. He pitched just five innings with 100 pitches last time out and had another 5.1 inning effort two starts prior to that. He’s thrown over 100 pitches his last five times out but again, he hasn’t allowed many runs. The Pirates shouldn’t need to do too much offensively to win this one, which is always encouraging.
You can certainly pencil in the Pirates as the favorite for all three games of this series. It’s very hard to win three games in a row regardless of who you are playing, but I’d say the Pirates have a good shot at doing it this weekend and pushing their record the whole way to 32-27 – which would be huge before hitting the road to go to Baltimore and Cleveland.