Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates turn attention to Dodgers
Now that a rain shortened series with the Chicago Cubs has ended in a 1-1 split, the Pittsburgh Pirates are left to prepare for their next test on their remaining three games on their current home stand against the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is the first of two times this season that the two teams will play, with the other series coming September 18-20. PNC Park will no doubt have an electric, playoff type atmosphere with two of the National League’s best teams battling for playoff positioning.
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The Dodgers enter at 62-46, just a game worse than the Bucs and good for third best in the NL, but are just a handful of games ahead of the San Francisco Giants, last year’s World Series Champions. They’re also the team with the highest payroll (an approximate $227,329,905!) and they weren’t afraid to remind everyone that at the trade deadline last week. The Dodgers were one of the more active teams during the deadline, acquiring a plethora of arms, including former Reds pitcher Mat Latos. They also acquired starting pitcher Alex Woods (7-7, 365 ERA) and reliever Jim Johnson (9 saves, 21 holds, 2.70 ERA).
Like the Pirates, the Dodgers have excellent pitching, which ranks them fourth in the NL with a team ERA of 3.34. What makes them even more dangerous is their hitting, which also ranks fourth in runs scored (436; 4.17 runs per game) and third in total bases (1504).
The Pirates, on the other hand, come into the series sitting at 62-44, but are just 9-8 since the all-star break. They have seen relatively little change in their playoff positioning, still having a firm grasp on the top Wild Card spot, and still trailing the Cardinals by six games. The time is now for the Pirates to make hay, with the next series being against those Redbirds in their home, Busch Stadium. The Pirates are running out of time, with only 56 games left to make up that six game difference.
They’ve seen their pitching take a deep hit recently, notably with A.J. Burnett (8-5, 3.06 ERA) going on the DL. Charlie Morton (7-4, 4.19 ERA) has rebounded somewhat well after a tough stretch that saw his ERA balloon from under 2.00 to over 5.00 at one point. Him and Jeff Locke (6-6, 4.31) have been serviceable, yet dependent on run support. Luckily, the Pirates have done just that. Their offense has evolved this season, as the club ranks fourth in the NL in batting average (.255) and sixth in runs (436; 4.13).
They still own one of, if not the most dominant bullpen in baseball. While the Pirates were much less active than the Dodgers at the break, they pulled in quality arms in Joe Blanton (Former Kansas City Royal; 3.92 ERA) and Joakim Soria (Former Detroit Tiger; 24 saves, 2.68 ERA) and have the second best ERA in all of baseball at 3.19. It also has to be stated that right fielder Gregory Polanco is starting to potentially find traction in the major leagues as a hitter, as he owns a .274 average and 10 extra base hits in the 18 games since the all-star break.
Now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups in the upcoming series against the Dodgers:
Friday, 8/6, 7:00 PM- RHP Gerrit Cole (14-5, 2.29 ERA) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (9-6, 2.37 ERA)
Saturday, 8/7, 4:05 PM- LHP Francisco Liriano (7-6, 2.92 ERA) vs. RHP Mat Latos (4-7, 4.29 ERA)
Sunday, 8/8, 8:00 PM- RHP Charlie Morton (7-4, 4.19 ERA) vs. LHP Alex Wood (7-7, 3.65 ERA)
Analysis of pitching matchups
Cole vs. Kershaw on a nationally televised game. Let that sink in for a second.
That is a baseball fan’s delight, as two of the top pitchers in all of baseball square off under the lights in PNC Park Friday night. Kershaw has been dominate as of late, throwing 29 and counting straight innings of scoreless baseball. As if it wasn’t impressive enough that his teammate, Zack Greinke, went 45 2/3 straight himself before it was broken up recently by the Mets, Kershaw is in pursuit of the MLB recored set in 1988 by Orel Hershiser (59 innings!). The Bucs will try to end that streak, and will counter with an ace in the making in Cole. This is his chance to go out and compete against one of baseball’s best with a chance to really make a statement.
The other two contests feature the newly acquired Dodgers pitchers, who should thrive in a new environment, surrounded by a much better lineup than either the Reds or Braves had. Francisco Liriano has been quite consistent as of late, and will be more than ready, seeing as his last start ended after two innings when the Cubs game was rained out (note: due to postponement, game did not count, including his two innings of work). Charlie Morton has a chance to show he can be the third fiddle to Cole and Liriano, which would be sorely appreciated with Burnett’s absence.
Now let’s look at how the Pirates lineup has fared against the expected starters of the Dodgers:
Whoever had money on Kershaw’s Pirate Kryptonite being Chris Stewart would be a mixture of genius, insane, and now wealthy. Stewart is a surprising 6-12 against the usually lights-out Kershaw, and has taken him yard. Andrew McCutchen has also done well against Kershaw, going 6-19 with a long ball himself, which is less surprising out of a former MVP. If someone like Polanco or infielder Jung Ho Kang can catch Kershaw off guard in their first appearance against the star pitcher, the Pirates could not only break Kershaw’s scoreless streak, but win the game for Cole and the Bucs.
Latos has seen the Pirates a good bit in his six year career, all of which has been spent in the National League. He spent three years in the National League Central with the Cincinnati Reds, and was hit off of pretty well by some current Bucs. First baseman Pedro Alvarez, second baseman Neil Walker, and Cutch have combined for six home runs off of Latos, while newly acquired third baseman Aramis Ramirez has three doubles and five RBI off of Latos.
|Jung Ho Kang||6||5||1||0||0||0||1||0||1||.200||.333||.200||.533|
Wood has done the best job of the three Dodgers starters in terms of limiting the production of the offense for the Pirates. The Bucs have just four extra base hits in 68 plate appearances against Wood, who has racked up 23 strikeouts against the club. The brightest spot for the Pirates against Wood would be left fielder Starling Marte, who has gone 4-12 with a double and racked up three RBI off of Wood.
Hitter to avoid- Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez is one of the better hitters in all of the NL, and is having another fine season. He’s hitting .296 with 22 home runs and 65 RBI, and ranks in the top 14 of the NL in all of those categories, including being tied for 5th in home runs.
He’s also done incredibly well against the pitching staff of the Pirates. At first glance, his 7-22 performance against newly acquired Joe Blanton is impressive. He has a hit off of every Pirates pitcher he has faced, excluding Charlie Morton and Mark Melancon, both of which he should face this weekend. He’s one of those hitters that has always been a consistent factor when it comes to getting on base (.292 average) but has also shown that he has elite power (283 and counting home runs). As this section of the preview highlights, he is to be avoided, and it is because he is a game-changing player.
As aforementioned, the Pirates are running out of time to make up ground on the Cardinals. With the schedule getting tougher and summer getting shorter, every game becomes more meaningful. A series like this gives Pirates fans a preview of where their club stacks up against one of the most established and successful franchises in baseball history. They’ll see this club face Kershaw to start, and they’ll see them try to out do Adrian Gonzalez a probable four or five times a night. These are the series that people remember longer than all other regular season matchups. Two great teams, three games. Pirates fans, you’re in for a treat.
Final Prediction: Pirates take two of three from Dodgers, make a statement across the league, and move to 64-45.
Next: Pittsburgh Pirates rumor mill: a peek at the waiver deadline