After closing on a 13-3 tear in their last 16 games before the all-star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates return to action against the last place Milwaukee Brewers in a National League Central matchup.
Milwaukee (38-52) who also went into the break hot, winning 10 of their last 14, including eight in a row. While that run was only good enough to get the Brewers to 18.5 games back from the division leading St. Louis Cardinals (56-33), the Pirates (53-35) pulled to within 2.5 games with a 3-1 series victory over said Cardinals.
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With a series that features two teams going in different directions comes the constant rumor mills surrounding them, with the trade deadline quickly approaching on July 31st. The Brewers, the second worst team in the NL, will very likely be sellers, trading away players that can contribute on a championship caliber team while acquiring prospects and draft picks in return. The Pirates, the NL’s second best team, will be “aggressive with early opportunity to add,” according to manager Clint Hurdle by MLB Trade Rumors via Tom Singer of mlb.com. This seems especially plausible with the injury of Josh Harrison keeping the utility man out over the next eight weeks.
The Pirates will attempt to use the momentum from the back to back, dramatic walk off wins over the Cardinals to vault them forward in the second half of the season. While the pitching has been solid the entire season, it was timely hitting that put the Pirates over the top against St. Louis. The Bucs rank second in the NL in runs scored (53) in the month of July, trailing only, ironically, the Brewers (66). Players that had struggled early in the year are coming around incredibly well in July. Second baseman Neil Walker was hitting just a shade over .250 coming into the month, but a 20-54 (.370) tear has him back up at .278, which is right around his career average of .273. Shortstop Jordy Mercer was hitting .212 through the first 60 games of the season, but has 13 hits in the 12 games he’s played in, raising his average to .247. The club has also hit 11 home runs in the 12 contests they’ve played this month, a great sign for a team that ranks just 13th in the NL in that category.
The Pirates will attempt to use the momentum from the back to back, dramatic walk off wins over the Cardinals to vault them forward in the second half of the season.
For the Brewers, the offense has been there. The team ranks 6th in the NL in runs and fifth in home runs. But the pitching has been suspect for the entire season, ranking 12th in the NL in ERA (4.20) and batting average against (.263). Left fielder Gerardo Parra and Shortstop Jean Segura have both hit .425 over the month of July thus far, with Parra going deep four times in just 11 games.
Now let’s look at the pitching matchups for the upcoming series.
Sunday, 7/19, 2:10 PM TBD vs. RHP Taylor Jungmann (4-1, 2.15 ERA)
Analysis of pitching matchups
After starting the year 5-0 with a 1.68 ERA, Charlie Morton has been a bit shaky in his last four starts, posting a 1-2 record and an ugly 8.68 ERA. With a huge pennant race shaping up between the Pirates and Cardinals, with the Cubs not far off behind, “Ground Chuck” will have to recapture the magic he found out of the gates if the Bucs want to avoid a third straight wild card game. His opponent on Monday night, Mike Fiers, has struggled against the Pirates, going 2-4 with a 6.12 ERA in eight appearances against the Bucs.
Francisco Liriano has really come around as of late, and has been one of the unsung heros of this Pirates team thus far. If he can continue to quietly put together quality starts, it will keep the Pirates in contention and ease the burden on Gerritt Cole and A.J. Burnett, should one of them string together a few consecutive poor starts.
Now let’s look at how the Pirates have done against the starting pitching of the Brewers.
With Fiers being a young pitcher, not many batters for the Pirates have faced him. Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen have lit him up in his short career, accounting for three doubles and five home runs in just 33 combined plate appearances.
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The Pirates have only had a small sample size against Nelson as well, with the results being less favorable than those of Fiers. With a combined average of .213, Nelson has been effective against the Bucs thus far in his career. Of the 10 hits Nelson has surrendered to current Pirates, only two have gone for extra bases.
Jungmann has recorded seven starts in his short career, with just one of those coming against the Pirates. Jungmann recorded his first win against the Bucs, giving up just four baserunners over seven strong innings, allowing only one run off of a Starling Marte solo shot.
Hitter to avoid
Braun has done considerable damage against major league pitchers all across the league, and the Pirates have been no exception. During the Brewers recent eight game winning streak, Braun hit .439 and drove in 10 runs. One swing of his bat can make a large difference in a game.
The opening of the second half provides an opportunity to continue to keep pressure on the Cards. With confidence at an all-time high for the team, the Pirates have a chance against the last place team to hit the ground running towards an NL Central crown. If the Pirates can keep focused after the amount of attention they got from the series victory over the Cardinals and the all-star break, there’s no reason they don’t win this series.
Pirates win series 2-1, move to 55-36.