Pittsburgh Pirates welcome Cleveland Indians


The Pittsburgh Pirates (45-33) are fresh off of a sweep against the Detroit Tigers. That is impressive on its own merits without discussing the much-needed offensive explosion the team enjoyed in the second game. The Pittsburgh Pirates are somehow remaining under-the-radar while owning the second-best record in the National League. Despite the 21-hit offensive outpouring against Alfredo Simon, the main strength of this team remains the starting pitching staff.

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The pitching staff as a whole remains second in all of baseball in ERA at 2.90. The starting rotation ranks fourth in MLB at 3.14. That starting rotation will be tested, with the shaky Charlie Morton and the even-shakier Jeff Locke starting the first two games of the series before giving way to possible all-star game starter Gerrit Cole. They will face off against an Indians offense that is still struggling to find its way. The Tribe rank ninth in .AVG (.253) but third in .OBP (.325). This is perhaps abetted by the fact that they do not strikeout – only 534 on the season, good enough for third-best in the AL. Their team is a curious mix of under and over-achievers.

Consider Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber. The 2014 AL MVP finalist and Cy Young winner respectively have struggled to replicate their success in 2015. For his part, Brantley is having a fine season, slashing .298/.370/.430, but has seen his power sap to the tune of just four home runs against 39 RBI.

Kluber, who the Pirates will thankfully avoid, jumped back into the spotlight after a slow start by striking out 18 batters in a game recently. Since then, he has fallen back to numbers more in line with his career. Sporting a 3.66 ERA and a 3-9 record at the time of this writing.

While the Indians offense can sustain itself with a so-so season from Dr. Smooth, their starting pitching suffers with an up-and-down Corey Kluber. The Pirates could take advantage of some juicy starting pitching matchups.

Let’s take a look at the pitching match-ups for the two teams:

Friday, July 3, 7:05 PM – RHP Charlie Morton (6-1, 4.28 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (6-5, 3.96 ERA)

Saturday, July 4, 4:05 PM – LHP Jeff Locke (4-4, 4.55 ERA) vs. RHP Cody Anderson (1-0, 0.57 ERA)

Sunday, July 5, 1:35 PM – RHP Gerrit Cole (11-3, 2.20 ERA) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (7-3, 3.80 ERA)

Pitching Match-up Analysis:

A series like this one, in which only one of the Pirates ‘Big Three’ are involved are cause for trepidation. Morton will be looking to rebound from two bad starts – one of which obviously a disaster – and prove that he can be relied upon at the number four spot. Locke will give the Pirates what he can, but his start is an intriguing one as he is the only left hand starter scheduled to make a start. This may not be as significant as conventional wisdom dictates, as the Indians actually hit LHP better than RHP (.262 vs .247).

As it so happens, none of the Indians starters have faced any current Pirates. Of note – Anderson is a rookie and will be making only his third start of his young career.

By far the best pitching matchup in the series occurs in the finale. Gerrit Cole will look to continue his torrid pace and further cement his case to start the all-star game for the National League. Salazar has picked up some of the slack for Kluber, with seven wins and a respectable 3.80 ERA. He can be chased out of games early. Of his 14 starts, five have been for less than six innings.

Hitter to avoid

Although he has not faced any of this weekend’s Pittsburgh Pirates starters, Bucs hurlers would be well-advised to be careful with Jason Kipnis. The second basemen is having a marvelous season, leading the AL in .AVG (.346), hits (106) and doubles (26), posting a staggering 4.9 WAR in the process. Kipnis has typically led off for the Wahoos, so it will be important for Locke, Morton, and Cole to set the tone early against him.


With a top-heavy rotation, the Pittsburgh Pirates should consider themselves lucky that Morton and Locke are going up against a rookie and a pitcher that has never seen the Pirates hitters. With Cole holding down the back end of the series, I fully expect the Pirates to win two out of three against the Indians.

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