Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates travel to AL’s best in Kansas City
After an incredibly disappointing weekend that saw them get swept by the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates will need short term memory loss to help them refocus on the best team in the American League in the Kansas City Royals.
Pittsburgh (53-38) went into the all-star break riding high, having won three of four over division rival and Major League Baseball’s best team in the St. Louis Cardinals. The all-star game even saw two of their stars thrive, in center fielder Andrew McCutchen‘s solo shot and starting pitcher Gerrit Cole’s shutout inning of work.
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But all of that great momentum from the MLB’s best team since the end of April seemed to come to a screeching halt this past weekend, as Milwaukee (41-52) swept the Bucs right out of the building in Miller Park. Granted, the Pirates have struggled mightily at Miller Park for a considerable amount of time and the Brewers have won 12 of their last 16, but there was no indication that this result was imminent.
The Pirates mustered just seven runs in the three game set, seeing their offense regress to early season form. It will take a lot more to beat Kansas City (55-35) which features the AL’s second best pitching staff in terms of ERA (3.45). The Royals, winners of four of their last five, enter in on a tear at the plate as well. Overall, the club has his .315 over their past 11 games, led by center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who has homered in the past four games and is batting .473 over the past 14.
After starting out 5-0 with a 1.68 ERA, Morton has gone 1-3 and struggled mightily. With the Pirates sitting 4.5 games back of the perennially tough Cards, it will take a lot more than what he has shown recently to keep the Pirates in the NL Central conversation, and more importantly, out of a wild card game for the third consecutive year.
Both teams have experienced injuries as of late, with the Bucs losing utility man Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer for the foreseeable future, while the Royals are without the services of left fielder Alex Gordon. Both teams are also in the top three when it comes to records in inter-league play since 2013, with the Pirates owning a 36-19 mark, while the Royals have gone 33-20.
Now let’s look at the pitching matchups for the upcoming series:
Monday, 7/20, 8:10 PM RHP A.J. Burnett (7-3, 2.11 ERA) vs. RHP Yordano Ventura (4-6, 4.73 ERA)
Tuesday, 7/21, 8:10 PM RHP Gerrit Cole (13-3, 2.30 ERA) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (5-2, 4.10 ERA)
Wednesday, 7/22, 8:10 PM RHP Charlie Morton (6-3, 4.34 ERA) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (8-5, 3.28 ERA)
Analysis of pitching matchups
A.J. Burnett comes into the second half looking better than he ever has in his finals season. The first time all-star is 37 years old, and has shown in years past that the long season can wear on him. Starting with the series opener and going forward throughout the remainder of the season, it will be interesting to see if or how Burnett continues to play at such an incredible rate.
This series also features Edinson Volquez, who pitched for the Pirates last season, going 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 32 appearances with the team. It’s always a fun matchup to watch when a pitcher faces his old teammates.
Another note: Can Charlie Morton shake the demons of his last five starts? After starting out 5-0 with a 1.68 ERA, Morton has gone 1-3 and struggled mightily. With the Pirates sitting 4.5 games back of the perennially tough Cards, it will take a lot more than what he has shown recently to keep the Pirates in the NL Central conversation, and more importantly, out of a wild card game for the third consecutive year.
Now let’s look at how Pirate batters have fared against the projected starters of the Royals:
The combination of Ventura being a young talent, coupled with him pitching in the American League has not made for many matchups with batters on the current Pirates roster.
Again, American League pitchers don’t see a lot of the Pirates, who reside in the National League. It will be up to Sean Rodriguez to help prpare the younger players for what to expect, seeing as Rodriguez has over 20 plate appearances against Vargas.
Aside from Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates weren’t able to touch Volquez in previous starts. Volquez saw the Bucs many times between 2008-2013, as Volquez pitched for the Reds, Padres, and Dodgers before becoming a Pirate in 2014 and a Royal in 2015.
Hitter to avoid- numbers vs. Pirate Starters
While Cain hasn’t put up hardly any numbers against the Pirates, he enters this series with 12 RBI in his last 14 games, and is lighting teams up. If the Pirates aren’t careful, he’ll homer in his fifth straight game.
This series has the build up to be a spectacular watch: A Royals team that enters playing incredibly well, facing a Pirates team coming off of a lackluster performance that ended with getting swept by a last place team. What should come out of that is two teams fighting in a playoff-type atmosphere. Seeing as this is at Kansas City, the Royals will have the traditional home field advantage. In a series with two teams as evenly matched as this one, sometimes those little things make big differences in games.
Prediction: Pirates drop two of three, fall to 54-40.
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