Pittsburgh Pirates end 1st Half with Battle vs Cardinals
There is something inherent in sports that causes it to lend itself to hyperbole. In our constant quest to over-hype more than we should, we often proclaim things as “the most important” or “the biggest.” Don’t even get me started on the definition of “must-win.” I could go on and on, but in sports, more often than not, the actual event to which we refer doesn’t even come close to any of those superlatives.
This is not one of those times.
After looking up at them all year in the NL Central standings, the Pittsburgh Pirates (50-34) are primed to face the St. Louis Cardinals (55-30) in a four-gamer to end their first half. The Pirates come in winners of five straight and eight of their last ten while the Cardinals are limping into the showdown with a 4-6 slate in their last ten. If Pedro Strop and the Chicago Cubs could have done their job last night and protected a ninth-inning lead, the Pirates would actually have had a chance to enter the all-star break leading the NL Central.
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Despite their recent troubles, the Cardinals are still owners of the best record in baseball. As every Pittsburgh Pirates fan knows, they have done it with a rash of tough injuries. The losses of Adam Wainright, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams – amongst others – would be enough to derail less-talented teams. Yet the Cardinals have back-filled for these injuries in a major way.
For their part, the Pirates pitching lines up perfectly for this series, with each of their ‘big three’ in their rotation getting a start against the hated rival. The Pirates offense recently took a hit with a long-term loss of Josh Harrison to thumb surgery and a still-unclear status of one Starling Marte. The Bucs may be able to mask any offensive holes with a clear-cut edge in pitching matchups, as you’ll see below.
Let’s take a look at the pitching match-ups for the two teams:
Thursday, July 9, 7:05 PM – RHP Carlos Martinez (9-3, 2.70 ERA) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (5-4, 4.15 ERA)
Friday, July 10, 7:05 PM – RHP Lance Lynn (6-4, 2.53 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (12-3, 2.28 ERA)
Saturday, July 11, 7:05 PM – RHP John Lackey (7-5, 3.09 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (7-3, 1.99 ERA)
Sunday, July 12, 8:05 PM – LHP Tim Cooney (0-0, 3.95 ERA) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.99 ERA)
Pitching Match-up Analysis:
The biggest takeaway from the pitching matchups is this: against left-handed pitching, the Cardinals have a striekout rate 27.9% compared to a much-lower 21.2% against righties. With Locke and Liriano book-ending the series, this works in the Pirates favor.
The most important pitching matchup in the series is in the first game. Locke will need any edge he can get going up against the Cardinals’ de-facto ace Carlos Martinez. Locke comes in on a decidedly hot tear, going 4-1 in his last five with a 1.55 ERA. Martinez is equally as good over that same span, with a 4-1 record and an ERA hovering around 2.20. Martinez has trouble with a few of the Pirates hitters – see below – so it is paramount for the Pirates to capitalize on chances when they come.
Let’s take a look at how Pirate batters have fared against these Cardinals starting pitchers:
|Jung Ho Kang||3||3||2||0||0||0||0||0||1||.667||.667||.667||1.333|
Tim Cooney is a rookie who has not faced any of the current Pirates.
With the exception of Lynn, the Pirates hit most of the Cards’ starters very well. Of note – The Pirates – traditionally not a team that draws many walks – has a 14.7% BB rate against Martinez. Continued patience by Gregory Polanco would keep that rate nice and high. With both a table-setter (Harrison) and a run-producer (Marte) likely out, the Pirates will need to create more chances at offense. As I just alluded to, Lance Lynn pitches the best of the three Cardinals starters against the Bucs, but a few select players – Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez – have seen some success. One last item of note – Andrew McCutchen only has three RBI combined against these Cardinals’ starters.
Hitter to avoid – career numbers vs Pirates starters
With Holliday and Adams out, the distinction of the ‘hitter to avoid’ goes to Jhonny Peralta. As we saw last night in their ninth-inning win over the Cubs, Peralta can change a game with one swing. On the year he slashes .292/.349/.465 with 12 HR and 44 RBI. In keeping with today’s unexpected theme, he struggles vs LHP, with his average dropping a whopping 73 points from .310 (RHP) to .237 (LHP). Peralta – otherwise a patient hitter – strikes out 23.8% of the time vs LHP against only 18.2% against right-handers. Curiously, Peralta has found great success against Liriano, but remember – those numbers are inflated due to the two seeing other more in the American League.
This is the most-important series of the year-to-date for so many reasons. Being the last series before the All-Star break, this slate will either give the Pittsburgh Pirates a platform to seriously contend for the NL Central crown, or cast doubt on their ability to truly keep up with the Cards. Due mainly to the advantage the Bucs gain from two lefties, I am predicting a 3-1 series win for the Pirates. I am also predicting delirium in the streets of Pittsburgh.
Finally, a word from Bill Murray