Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates travel to Big Apple to duel surging Mets

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are headed to New York City for a date with the Mets, which marks the third straight series the Pirates will have played against one of the National League’s divisional leaders. After sweeping the NL West-leading Dodgers, the Pirates (66-46) headed to NL Central leader and rival St. Louis, losing the first two and salvaging the last of the three game series against the Cardinals last night.

Rookie shortstop Jung Ho Kang has stepped up huge in light of injuries to infielders Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison, and has gone 31-88 (.352) since the break, contributing nine doubles and five home runs.

Their next test, the Mets (63-46) have been red-hot since the trade deadline on July 31st. After being key players at the deadline, the Mets have thrived in the same way that the Pirates have, being led by excellent pitching. The Mets (3.18 ERA) and Pirates (3.25) rank second and third in team ERA in all of Major League Baseball, while the Mets have kept hitters to just a .238 average throughout the entirety of the season thus far. The Pirates, though, rank one spot from dead-last in the NL with a 4.80 ERA since the all-star break, mostly due to A.J. Burnett‘s absence and a tougher schedule as of late.Since the all-star break, the two clubs have really gotten into the “swing” of things. The Mets lead the NL in runs since the break, averaging an astounding 4.7 runs per game. Right fielder Curtis Granderson has been a bright spot, hitting .291 with seven home runs in the 26 games post-break. First baseman Lucas Duda has also been productive, mashing nine home runs in his last 23 contests.

The Pirates will counter with hot-hitting right fielder Gregory Polanco, who has reached base safely in 29 of his last 31 games played and is hitting .336 since the all-star break. Rookie shortstop Jung Ho Kang has stepped up huge in light of injuries to infielders Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison, and has gone 31-88 (.352) since the break, contributing nine doubles and five home runs. Catcher Francisco Cervelli (.319) and center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.314) have also hit well since the break, with McCutchen contributing six home runs and 21 RBI, giving him 77 and ranking him thrid in the NL in the latter category.

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Now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups for the three game set with the Mets:

Friday, 8/14, 7:10 PM  LHP J.A. Happ (0-1, 8.31 ERA) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (10-11, 4.67 ERA)

Saturday, 8/15, 7:10 PM RHP Charlie Morton (7-4, 4.48 ERA) vs. RHP Jonathon Niese (7-9, 3.46 ERA)

Sunday, 8/16, 1:10 PM LHP Jeff Locke (6-7, 4.43 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (11-7, 2.61 ERA)

Analysis of pitching matchup

The Mets will have the luxury of missing the top two starters for the Pirates in Gerrit Cole (14-6, 2.48 ERA) and Francisco Liriano (8-6, 3.19 ERA). J.A. Happ will be making his second start for the black and gold after giving up four runs in just over as many innings in a contest against the Cubs on August 4th that saw the Bucs lose 5-0. He’ll be looking to rebound against Bartolo Colon, who at age 42 has provided quality pitching to the Mets all season. Matt Harvey will look to avenge himself against a Pirates team that he gave up seven earned runs in just four innings of work against back on May 23rd. The point is that the Pirates will have to hold their own without the help of their top three pitchers (Cole, Liriano, Burnett) against a Met’s staff that is every bit as talented as any in the majors.

Here’s how the Pirates batters have done against the expected pitching of the Mets:

Bartolo Colon 

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Chris Stewart16145001113.357.400.571.971
Mike Morse14142000001.143.143.143.286
Aramis Ramirez12125201201.417.417.8331.250
Starling Marte10101000002.100.100.100.200
Pedro Alvarez994201302.444.4441.0001.444
Sean Rodriguez993000002.333.333.333.667
Andrew McCutchen883000001.375.375.375.750
Neil Walker772100001.286.286.429.714
Gregory Polanco320000010.000.333.000.333
Pedro Florimon220000001.000.000.000.000
Total9491255036215.275.290.429.719

Colon, for as long as he’s been in the league, hasn’t seen a whole lot of the current Pirates lineup. That being said, both Chris Stewart and Aramis Ramirez are hitting over .350 against the veteran. With Gerit Cole not pitching and Stewart’s at bats starting to get limited come playoff-push time, will he get a chance to continue his work against Colon?

Jonathon Niese

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Aramis Ramirez23216102413.286.348.619.967
Mike Morse22224300105.182.182.318.500
Andrew McCutchen18157301430.467.556.8671.422
Neil Walker11102000213.200.273.200.473
Starling Marte10102000203.200.200.200.400
Chris Stewart651000110.200.333.200.533
Pedro Alvarez540000111.000.200.000.200
Gregory Polanco440000002.000.000.000.000
Francisco Cervelli332000101.667.667.6671.333
Travis Ishikawa331100101.333.333.6671.000
Jung Ho Kang321100010.500.6671.0001.667
Sean Rodriguez330000001.000.000.000.000
Pedro Florimon210000010.000.500.000.500
Total1231132790317924.239.301.398.699

Again, Ramirez has made hay hitting off of this Met’s starter as well. Both him and Andrew McCutchen have fared well against Niese, taking him yard. Also noteworthy, of Mike Morse’s four hits against Niese, three of them have gone for doubles. While his average of .182 against Niese isn’t favorable, his ability to hit for extra bases off of Niese is. It would potentially be favorable to have Morse in the lineup anyway, as Niese is a left handed pitcher, which usually spells doom for the Pirates other first baseman, Pedro Alvarez.

Matt Harvey 

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Starling Marte650000011.000.167.000.167
Pedro Alvarez553201201.600.6001.6002.200
Andrew McCutchen542001210.500.6001.2501.850
Mike Morse330000000.000.000.000.000
Chris Stewart330000002.000.000.000.000
Neil Walker330000002.000.000.000.000
Francisco Cervelli210000010.000.500.000.500
Jung Ho Kang221000000.500.500.5001.000
Gregory Polanco210000011.000.500.000.500
Total31276202447.222.323.519.841

Harvey has only been in the league a short time, so there’s really no fair way to assess the numbers he has compiled against the Pirates. The big thing to note: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez got the best of him in May, both taking him deep.

Hitter to avoid- Daniel Murphy 

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Charlie Morton16163000001.188.188.188.375
Antonio Bastardo15123101330.250.400.583.983
Joe Blanton1092100112.222.300.333.633
Gerrit Cole992000201.222.222.222.444
J.A. Happ772101101.286.286.8571.143
Francisco Liriano651000013.200.333.200.533
Jeff Locke662000101.333.333.333.667
Mark Melancon443100000.750.7501.0001.750
Tony Watson442100000.500.500.7501.250
Jared Hughes221000000.500.500.5001.000
Joakim Soria110000001.000.000.000.000
Total8075215028510.280.325.427.752

The Mets’ second baseman hasn’t set the world on fire against the Bucs, but he’s been the most productive against them out of the current Mets. In somewhat short experience against them, he’s compiled a hit against all three of the starters for the upcoming series, including a home run off of J.A. Happ. His .280 average against the Bucs is right in line with his season average, as Murphy has been quite consistent thus far into his six year career.

Series prediction

This has the billing to be another great series for the Pirates. That being said, it’s always hard to predict a series that can go either way. That being said, the Mets appear to have the on-paper advantage on the mound, a huge plus. And while they’ve been on a torrid pace scoring wise, the Pirates lineup is one of the most lethal ones in all of baseball. With that being close to a draw, and the Pirates owning an incredible bullpen, it shakes out pretty evenly. That being said, someone has to bring the Mets down to earth, and something has to wash out two ugly losses to the Cards.

Final prediction- Pirates take two of three from Mets, move to 68-47. 

Next: Pirates must force pitchers to throw more fastballs