Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates Play Host to Minnesota Twins

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After taking only the last game of a three game series with the rising Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates (18-20) return to PNC Park to face the Minnesota Twins (21-18) in a two game series that kicks off an eight game home stand for the team.

The Pirates, who are treading water around the 500 mark and 7.5 games behind the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals (25-12), look to capitalize on the home field advantage. The club is 9-7 at home in the early season, and looks to break their tie with Cincinnati for sole possession of third place in the division.

Their opponent, the upstart Twins, are 7-11 on the road, and are coming off of a 2-1 series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays (21-18). They rank third in a competitive American League Central, behind only the Kansas City Royals (24-14) and the Detroit Tigers (23-15). They are 6-4 in their last 10 games, the Pirates an even 5-5.

While the Pirates have struggled at the plate (12th in the NL in total bases, 13th in on-base percentage) they have actually outscored their opponents by 13 runs thus far. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks can share the distinction of having a losing record while doing so.

What the previous factoid highlights is the dominant pitching the Pirates are getting. They are third in team ERA at a 3.16, trailing only the New York Mets (3.00), and the Cardinals (2.87). They boast three of the top 14 pitchers in terms of ERA, with A.J. Burnett (1.38), Gerrit Cole (2.40), and Francisco Liriano (2.96) all pitching incredibly well into the first quarter of the season, with a combined record of 9-6 in starts that they receive a decision. The total would be higher if not for the lack of run support the offense is getting.

The Twins have the exact opposite issue: They rank third in the AL behind only their divisional counterparts in Kansas City and Detroit in team batting average at .260, while ranking fourth in runs scored (171). Their pitching staff, however, ranks 11th in team ERA, and is dead last in batting average against, with teams hitting .278 against them.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday, 5/19, 7:05 PM RHP Francisco Liriano (1-3, 2.96 ERA) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (3-1, 6.38 ERA)

Wednesday, 5/20, 7:05 PM LHP Jeff Locke (2-2, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (3-1, 3.23 ERA)

Pitching Matchup Analysis

The Twins throw out two pitchers in Ricky Nolasco and Mike Pelfrey that are over 30 and flush with experience. The team is 8-3 overall in games that the two right handers have started. Nolasco’s 6.83 ERA looks appatising for the Pirates lineup, but is embellished due to an outing against the Tigers on April 8th that featured Nolasco giving up six earned runs over just three innings of work.

The Pirates match Nolasco with Francisco Liriano, who has been stellar thus far, but has only seen his team win one of his 7 starts due to an anemic lineup supporting his pitching. Pelfrey will face Jeff Locke in the second game. Locke, part of the Pirates recent youth, has struggled after seeing the Pirates win in his first three starts. The south paw has given up 17 earned runs in his last four starts, of which totaled only 21 innings of work.

Let’s look now at how the Pirates Lineup has fared against both Nolasco and Pelfrey.

Ricky Nolasco:

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSSHSFIBBHBPGDPmissG
Corey Hart19165001422.313.368.500.86801000
Andrew McCutchen13125100013.417.462.500.96200001
Neil Walker12123001105.250.250.500.75000001
Pedro Alvarez1093011112.333.400.8891.28900000
Sean Rodriguez541001102.250.2501.0001.25010000
Josh Harrison221000000.500.500.5001.00000000
Total6458181147415.310.349.569.91811002

As a team, the Pirates hit .309 against Nolasco, including home runs by four different players. He’s yet to give up a home run this season, so it may just be time for that to change. Two players to watch: Corey Hart (5-16, 1 HR) and Andrew McCutchen (5-12, 1 BB). Both players have struggled and received criticism early in the season, and could benefit greatly from favorable pitching matchups.

Mike Pelfrey:

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSSHSFIBBHBPGDPmissG
Andrew McCutchen14126000320.500.571.5001.07100000
Neil Walker14143101402.214.214.500.71400000
Corey Hart12123101103.250.250.583.83300001
Francisco Cervelli981000103.125.222.125.34700010
Pedro Alvarez761100013.167.286.333.61900000
Josh Harrison331000000.333.333.333.66700000
Sean Rodriguez221000001.500.500.5001.00000000
Total6359173029313.288.333.441.77400011

The Pirates that have faced Pelfrey have also fared well, hitting a combined .281 against him. And again, Cutch has lit this guy up. The face of the Pirates has started to heat up just a little, and this two game series could be just the thing that starts a hot streak for him and his team.

Series Prediction:

Both of these games feature pitching matchups that are a bit of a mismatch on paper. Look for a split of the two games, but a sign of life from the offense against two pitchers the veteran Bucs have given problems. With every series that the Pittsburgh Pirates play for the first time with guys like Polanco and Kang in the lineup, it leaves a chance for something unexpected to happen, with both having such small sample sizes to really study and prepare for.

Next: Back Deck Report: A long strange trip

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