Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates face Cardinals for first time in ’15


For the first time in the 2015 season, the favorites in the NL Central square off as the Pittsburgh Pirates face travel to face the St. Louis Cardinals for a three game slate.

The Cardinals come into play with the best record in MLB at 15-6, going 7-3 in their last 10 games. Busch Stadium seems to agree with them this year, as they are 8-2 in their home park. The Pittsburgh Pirates come in at 12-10 on the year after a disappointing series loss to the upstart Chicago Cubs.

The Pirates come in looking to put a shaky offensive April behind them.  For the first month of the season the Pirates rank 12th in the 15-team National League in batting average (.230) while also holding the dubious distinction of striking out at the second-highest rate in the league (23.3%).

Probable Pitching Match-ups (2014 stats):

Friday, 8:10 pm – A.J. Burnett/RHP (0-1, 1.80 ERA) v. Lance Lynn/RHP (1-2, 3.63 ERA)
Saturday, 2:15 pm – Francisco Liriano/LHP (1-1, 2.22 ERA) v. John Lackey/RHP (1-1, 4.21 ERA)
Sunday, 2:15 pm – Vance Worley/RHP (2-2, 4.50 ERA) v. Michael Wacha/RHP (4-0, 2.42 ERA)

Comments on Pitching Match-ups

The Cardinals employ an all-right handed rotation, thus giving the slight edge to the Pirates who will throw Liriano in the second game of the series.  Listed below are the career numbers for each Cardinals starter against the Pirates:
Lance Lynn

Neil Walker413410312865.294.390.6181.00801001
Pedro Alvarez38328302958.250.342.531.87301100
Andrew McCutchen383863001014.
Starling Marte27208210023.400.556.6001.15600050
Josh Harrison16167201202.438.438.7501.18800000
Jordy Mercer14124100321.333.429.417.84500100
Gerrit Cole872000103.
Corey Hart883002201.375.3751.1251.50000000
Andrew Lambo662200200.333.333.6671.00000000
Gregory Polanco330000000.
Chris Stewart331000001.333.333.333.66700000

Of the three starters the Pirates will face, they have the biggest sample size against Lynn, and that should encourage Pirates fans.  Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and Josh Harrison have excellent numbers across the board against Lynn.  While Marte does not factor into any run production, three of his eight hits against Lynn go for extra bases.  The outlier here is McCutchen, who struggles to hit Lynn, striking out 37% of the time against him.  In any other year, this would be cause for an alarm, but with McCutchen’s health and early season struggles, these struggles may not be as felt as they would previously.

John Lackey

Sean Rodriguez972000001.
Chris Stewart972100000.286.375.429.80410010
Francisco Cervelli653001100.600.6671.2001.86700010
Pedro Alvarez332001100.667.6671.6672.33300000
Josh Harrison331100000.333.333.6671.00000000
Corey Hart330000002.
Starling Marte331000001.333.333.333.66700000
Andrew McCutchen332000000.667.667.6671.33300000
Jordy Mercer331000001.333.333.333.66700000
Neil Walker330000001.

Lackey provides a good bit less sample size yet the slashlines against him by the current Pirates are very encouraging.  Lackey relies on movement with his fastball, including an effective cutter.  This could be trouble for the current Pirates, who are not hitting well against cutters this year.

Michael Wacha

Andrew McCutchen1092000013.222.300.222.52200000
Neil Walker10102000103.
Pedro Alvarez981001113.125.222.500.72200001
Jordy Mercer662100001.333.333.500.83300000
Starling Marte550000002.
Andrew Lambo110000000.

Wacha is to the Cardinals as Gerrit Cole is to the Pirates.  After an up-and-down 2014, Wacha seems to have it together this year, winning all of his starts in April and posting a very healthy 2.42 ERA in the process.  The Pirates would do well to take more pitches against Wacha, as he does have a propensity to walk 2 or more batters per start.  The Bucs will need all of the extra baserunners they can get, as the splits against Wacha are less than encouraging

Series Prediction

With the Pirates having the clear edge in pitching in two of the three games, I expect the Pirates to win two out of three in St. Louis.  For the Cardinals to swing things the other way, it would likely come against the Pirate bullpen, as Burnett and Liriano appear to be locked in right now.

This series will be a great barometer of how the Pirates stack up against their chief rival and should tell us a lot about what to expect for the rest of 2015.

Next: The Pirates April by the numbers