Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates off to Minnesota to face Twins


With a 3 games to 1 series victory in the books and their groove back, the Pittsburgh Pirates leave the friendly confines of PNC Park and travel to Target Field to face the Minnesota Twins. The brief two-game set is the second stanza of such against the Twins, who took two in another short two-game set with the Pirates back on May 19-20 in Pittsburgh.

Both teams come into the series with high playoff aspirations. The Pirates (57-41) currently hold the first wild card spot in the National League by three games over the San Francisco Giants, while the Twins (52-46) hold onto the second and final wild card berth in the American League by three games as well, over the Toronto Blue Jays. Both the Pirates and Twins have records ranking them in the top ten of the majors, but trail the best teams in baseball in their respective divisions in the St. Louis Cardinals (63-35, lead Pirates by 6.5 games) and the Kansas City Royals (59-38, lead the Twins by 7.5 games).

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The Pirates have started to heat the bats back up since the start of July before the All-Star break seemingly cooled them off. The club has quietly become one of the better hitting teams in the NL, raising itself to fifth in the league with an overall .256 average. In the past seven games, left fielder Starling Marte and infielder Jung Ho Kang are a combined 24-54, good for a .444 average, five doubles, and a triple. Catcher Francisco Cervelli has also hit well in the past week, going 7-16 (.438) in four games played, including a home run.

With respect to the Twins, their numbers are solidly in the middle of the pack in the crowded AL in terms of hitting and pitching. Left fielder Eddie Rosario and center fielder Aaron Hicks have been the driving force for the Twins, batting 14-40 (.350) recently and contributing a home run and four doubles.

Now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups for the upcoming series with the Twins:

Tuesday, 7/28, 8:10 PM – RHP Charlie Morton (6-4, 4.59 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (5-7, 3.94 ERA)

Wednesday, 7/29, 1:10 PM – LHP Francisco Liriano (6-6, 2.91 ERA) vs. RHP Ervin Santana (2-0, 2.60 ERA)

Analysis of pitching matchup:

As I’ve written before, Charlie Morton has to get back on track if the Pirates want to seriously be in the NL Central race come September. Having a number four starter fall off the face of the earth mid-summer can really cost this team. He’ll face Mike Pelfrey, who has been somewhat solid for the Twins, though hasn’t won a decision since June 7th against the Brewers.

Francisco Liriano continues to round into solid form, coming off of an outing where he went six innings, giving up just three hits, three walks, and one run while striking out 11. He will face off against Ervin Santana, who has only appeared in four games, including three starts, for the Twins this year. Aside from a four inning appearance that featured him giving up eight hits and six earned runs, Santana has been solid. His line in the other three games shows 23 2/3 innings pitched with just two earned runs against him. If he comes out in that form again Wednesday afternoon, the Bucs could be in serious trouble.

Now let’s look at how the Pirates batters have done against the projected starters of the Twins:

Mike Pelfrey

Andrew McCutchen17146000321.429.529.429.958
Neil Walker17173101402.176.176.412.588
Aramis Ramirez12112100013.
Francisco Cervelli11101000104.
Pedro Alvarez981100014.
Travis Ishikawa550000000.
Starling Marte331100100.333.333.6671.000
Jung Ho Kang221000000.500.500.5001.000
Sean Rodriguez221000001.500.500.5001.000

Pelfrey faced the Pirates more often when playing for the Mets from 2006-2012. During this time, he put the Pirates on lock, allowing just four doubles and a Neil Walker long ball in terms of power production. He also faced the Pirates on May 20th of this season, earning a no decision with six innings of five-hit, one-run ball.

Ervin Santana

Pedro Florimon872000015.286.375.286.661
Pedro Alvarez330000001.
Starling Marte3331022001.0001.0003.3334.333
Gregory Polanco330000000.
Sean Rodriguez330000002.
Chris Stewart332000000.667.667.6671.333
Neil Walker332001100.667.6671.6672.333
Francisco Cervelli110000001.

Santana hasn’t faced many Bucco batters, but a few have hit him well in their short history with him. Starling Marte and Neil Walker will most likely get a chance to continue this, but it seems unlikely without Gerritt Cole on the mound that Chris Stewart will.

Hitter to avoid – Joe Mmauer

A.J. Burnett28229201266.409.536.6361.172
Francisco Liriano541000313.250.400.250.650
Jeff Locke331000000.333.333.333.667
Antonio Bastardo2220012001.0001.0002.5003.500
Arquimedes Caminero110000000.
Tony Watson110000000.

It’s not so much what Mauer has done against the Pirates, though his numbers against A.J. Burnett are impressive. It’s more about how consistent Mauer has been over his lengthy career, and how he’s only had 13 hits against the Bucs, but seven of those are RBIs. When the big at-bats come up, Mauer thrives. If one of the Pirates’ pitchers gets into a jam, and Mauer comes up, he could put a game out of reach with one swing.

Series Prediction

With injuries still nagging at the Pittsburgh Pirates, coupled with a tough opponent throwing two pitchers that can shut down the Bucs lineup, a split of the two games is the most probable of outcomes. Look for two close games that come down to one or two key hits or mistakes. In just at two-game set, momentum can easily tilt either way. Still, I’m taking a split for the Bucs here.

Final Prediction – Pirates split series, sit at 58-42 after 100 games

Next: West Virginia Black Bears series wrap-up v. Yankees