Since dropping five of their first six after the All-Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates have rounded back into the form that they used to ascend to the third best team in all of Major League Baseball. The Bucs, winners of five of their last six against the Nationals and Twins and owners of a 59-41 mark after 100 games, look to win their first contest in the confines of Great American Ball Park when they face National League Central rival Cincinnati Reds. The Reds (45-54) took all three games from the Pirates in the first series of the season the last time they were in Cincinnati, and have won 9 of the last 11 games between the two clubs in Cincinnati.
This series coincides directly with the end of the trade deadline, which expires at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, July 31st. This means that both teams may look a little different once that deadline passes, with the Pirates looking to add onto a potentially championship caliber team, while the Reds are selling the farm in hopes of finding prospects and other pieces to contend in the next few seasons. With that being the case, this is one of those series that the Pirates really need to capitalize on, seeing as this same Reds team just took two of three from the NL Central leading St. Louis Cardinals (64-37).
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The Pirates also need to continue to win with the flag at half-mast, so to speak, as injuries are starting to pile up. While utility player Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer have been losses enough, right fielder Gregory Polanco‘s injury hurts even more. Polanco had really started to round into form after the All-Star break, batting .265 with 7 doubles in his last 12 games, after batting only .237 in the first half of the season. His cannon of an arm and quick legs on the base paths are also large losses going forward, though it is still unclear how long he will be out of the lineup. He is currently listed as day-to-day.
For the Reds, first baseman Joey Votto has been on a tear. In the past 13 games, Votto is hitting at an incredible 23-44 (.523 avr.), with him and right fielder Jay Bruce contributing four home runs over that span. The club recently sent starting pitcher Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for three players, which means that the Pirates won’t see him again unless both the Royals and Pirates meet in the World Series. Cueto, aside from being chanted straight out of PNC Park during the 2013 National League Wild Card Game, has been pretty dominant against the Pirates.
Polanco had really started to round into form after the All-Star break, batting .265 with 7 doubles in his last 12 games, after batting only .237 in the first half of the season. His cannon of an arm and quick legs on the base paths are also large losses going forward, though it is still unclear how long he will be out of the lineup.
Now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups for the four game set with the Reds:
Analysis of pitching matchups:
A.J. Burnett looks to rebound from two rough outings following the All-Star break, facing David Holmberg in his first appearance of the year for the Reds. The story again here is that both sides have multiple players, including starting pitchers, that are on the trading block heading into tomorrow’s deadline. Rumors have swirled around both the Red’s starter Mike Leake and Pirates starter Jeff Locke, ranked one of the top five trading pieces for the organization in another article here on Rumbunter.
Here’s how the Pirates batters have done against the expected starting pitching of the Reds:
Holmberg has only made eight big league appearances, and his ninth will be the first against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has faced only newly aquired third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Lorenzen has but one start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, so our traditional player-by-player data is not available just yet. Here is a reminder of his outing vs the Bucs earlier this year:
Iglesias has yet to face the Pirates, as the rookie has made just nine big league appearances, including seven starts.
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Leake has been hit around some by center fielder Andrew McCutchen, second baseman Neil Walker, and first baseman Pedro Alvarez. But beyond that, the Bucs have been stymied against the veteran starter.
Hitter to avoid- Todd Frazier
This guy has been an absolute menace for the entire pitching staff for the Pirates. With at least two home runs off of all the starters for the Bucs, along with a .317 average overall, he’s been a nightmare when he steps to the plate. Frazier is also having a career year, as he’s just two home runs for his career in a high for one season, with just over 60 games left in the season. The recent Home Run Derby champ is a threat to change any game with one swing of the bat. Against the Pirates, he’s proven that point 15 times over. Also of note: He’s especially potent against starters Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, going an absurd 16-35 against the two (.457 average) with four home runs, three doubles, and one triple against the two.
Though the Reds have dominated the Pirates at Great American Ball Park, this team has been ravished by trades, and more key players may follow before the deadline approaches. With the Pirates still hot on the heels of the Cardinals, especially with injuries mounting again for the Red Birds, now is the time to make a push as July fades away to August. As long as the pitching holds up, it has an incredible on-paper advantage over Cincinnati.
Prediction: Pirates take three of four, improve to 20 games over .500 at 62-42.