It’s a good time to be a Pittsburgh Pirates’ fan. Since May 22nd, the Pirates are 16-5, having won six of their past seven series. Highlighting that are sweeps over the Mets, Marlins, Giants, and, as of this past weekend, the Phillies. The three-game sweep puts the Pirates at 35-27, their highest mark over .500 this season. The sweep pushes the Pirates back into second place in the National League Central past the Chicago Cubs (33-27) and keeps them on pace with the division-leading and Major League Baseball’s best team, the St. Louis Cardinals (41-21), who they trail by six games.
Led by the second best pitching staff in the majors with a 2.89 combined ERA and 41 quality starts , the Pirates keep on rolling. While the offense is still 19th overall in runs (249 total runs, or 4.02 per game) and 23rd in total bases (801), the pitching staff has allowed just four runs in their last seven games.
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The next test for the Bucs is a four-game set against the Chicago White Sox of the American League. The series will start with two games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh and end with two games in Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field.
The White Sox (28-33) are fresh off a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, who won the three games by a combined four runs. In the series beforehand, the White Sox swept the American League West-leading Houston Astros.
Chicago features the 23rd-ranked team ERA at 4.17, as well as an offense that ranks 28th in runs (220) and dead-last in total bases (723). The club has only won four of its last 10 games, and is last in the competitive American League Central, trailing the Kansas City Royals by seven games.
The White Sox are led by two young studs in defending AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu and current rookie Carlos Rodon. Abreu, a first baseman, has followed up his rookie campaign in which he hit .317 with 36 home runs and 107 runs batted in with a .287 average, 12 long balls, and 40 RBIs in 56 contests. Rodon, a starting pitcher, owns a 2-0 record and a 2.66 ERA in nine appearances, six of which are starts.
Let’s now look at the upcoming pitching matchups in the series, including Rodon vs. Francisco Liriano in game one.
Monday, 6/15, 7:05 PM – LHP Francisco Liriano (3-5, 3.25 ERA) vs. LHP Carlos Rodon (2-0, 2.66 ERA)
Tuesday, 6/16, 7:05 PM – RHP Charlie Morton (4-0, 2.05) vs. LHP Jose Quintana (3-6, 4.00 ERA)
Wednesday, 6/17, 8:10 PM – LHP Jeff Locke (3-3, 4.90 ERA) vs. LHP John Danks (3-6, 5.16 ERA)
Thursday, 6/18, 8:10 PM – RHP Gerritt Cole (10-2, 1.71 ERA) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (4-4, 4.84 ERA)
Pitching Matchup Analysis
Since May 22nd, the Pirates are 16-5, having won six of their past seven series. Highlighting that is sweeps over the Mets, Marlins, Giants, and as of this past weekend, the Phillies. The three game sweep puts the Pirates at 35-27, their highest mark over .500 this season.
Looking initially at the numbers, the Pirates have a glaring advantage on the bump, which is no surprise, considering their documented success as a club built around a plethora of young and talented arms. One of the older arms on the team, though, in Francisco Liriano, will face a tough test in the young rookie Carlos Rodon. Rodon has a lot of expectations, reminiscent of Gerritt Cole for the Pirates a few short years ago. Fans at PNC Park will get to experience the young talent in a matchup of south paws Monday night.
The White Sox will roll out three left-handers in the series against the Pirates, the most Pittsburgh has seen in one series thus far in the 2015 season. Against left-handed starters, the Pirates are hitting .265 this season, which is an improvement from the overall .253 average the club has posted so far.
Two other notes: Jeff Locke has another opportunity while facing a struggling John Danks to solidify himself as the number five starter. Coming off a solid start that saw Locke go six scoreless innings, allowing just six hits and one free pass, the momentum is there to build off of going towards the all-star break. Also, in Thursday’s finale, the Pirates will face Jeff Samardzija, who has 20 career appearance against the Bucs from when he was on Chicago’s other MLB team, the Cubs. In those appearances, Samardzija has limited the Pirates to a .206 average while compiling a 4-4 record and a sterling 2.22 ERA.
Now let’s look at how the Pirates have performed against the projected starters for the White Sox.
Rodon has only appeared in nine games at the major league level, with none of those appearances coming against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There isn’t much to say about this matchup either, as only three Pirate hitters have faced Quintana, with none of those batters registering more than six plate appearances against him.
Danks has fared well against the short list of Pirate batters he has faced, excluding Sean Rodriguez, who will no doubt be sharing his knowledge of the pitcher to his teammates going into Wednesday night’s game.
Samardzija’s success against the Pirates has already been discussed, but it is worth repeating that this guy is no stranger to the Pirates and their stars. In the case of Andrew McCutchen, that isn’t a bad thing. The perennial all-star has fared quite well against Samardzija, batting at a .414 clip with almost half of his 12 hits being doubles. He has also drawn five walks against Samardzija, resulting in an extraordinary on-base percentage of .514.
The Pirates are really starting to have the look of a team that is worthy of winning a division and going toe-to-toe with the league’s best team in the Cardinals. While a series like this may seem unimportant at face value, these are the ones that make all the difference. Taking care of a struggling team is what teams like the Cardinals have done for years, and is what the Pittsburgh Pirates need to keep doing this year to not only catch the Redbirds, but to establish a habit of kicking teams while they are down and going from a good team to a championship-caliber one.
Prediction: Pirates take three of four, move to 38-28