Preview: Rolling Pittsburgh Pirates face lowly Rockies


The Pittsburgh Pirates are on a roll: After taking three of four against the lowly Miami Marlins, the Pirates have now won an impressive 17 of their last 22 games. Pirates fans are getting accustomed to seeing faces like first baseman Pedro Alvarez (six home runs in August) and center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.301 avr., 85 RBI) take care of things on the offensive end, while Tony Watson (33 holds) and Mark Melancon (1.48 ERA, 41 saves) batten down the hatch to close out games for the Bucs.

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It is true, the Pirates (77-49) are having their best season in almost 23 years, sitting at 28 games over .500 and ranking as one of baseball’s elite. With the third best record in all of baseball, Pittsburgh again has a legitimate title contender playing baseball in their confines. The club has been dominant in August, owning a 17-7. They’re second in the National League in August with a .275 average, and lead the leage with a .345 on-base percentage. Cutch has started to go on one of his classic tears, and is batting .440 (11-25) with four doubles and two home runs in the past seven days.

Their pitching has rounded back into form as well. As they have been all season, they’re second in team ERA in August as well, with a 2.84 mark. They also have struck out 206 batters, good for fourth best in the league. The bullpen has allowed just 13 runs in the 86.1 innings they’ve pitched in, with Arquimedes Caminero and Tony Watson shutting out their opponents in their 26.0 innings of work.

Their next opponent, the Colorado Rockies (51-74) are just ahead of the Pirates previous opponent, the Miami Marlins, and the cross-state rival Philadelphia Phillies at the very bottom of Major League Baseball’s standings. For as horrid as their record is, the Rockies actually have scored the second most runs in all of the National League, averaging 4.5 runs per game. They are also second in the league to the Los Angeles Dogers with 144 home runs, and second to the Giants with a .268 batting average for the year.

It is true, the Pirates (77-49) are having their best season in almost 23 years, sitting at 28 games over .500 and ranking as one of baseball’s elite. With the third best record in all of baseball, Pittsburgh again has a legitimate title contender playing baseball in their confines.

And while the club hits the ball incredibly well, aided by playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks at Coors Field, they are inversely bad at pitching the ball. In fact, the Rockies rank dead last in the National League with a 5.15 ERA. They also dwell at the bottom statistically when it comes to strikeouts, quality starts, and batting average against. Simply put, they are terrible on the mound. This bodes incredibly well for the Pirates, who have four regulars in their lineup hitting over .300 in the month of August.

Now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups for the upcoming series against the Rockies:

Friday, 8/28, 7:05 PM- LHP Francisco Liriano (9-6, 3.23) vs. RHP Jon Grey (0-0, 5.94 ERA)

Saturday, 8/29, 7:05 PM- LHP J.A. Happ (2-1, 2.08 ERA) vs. LHP Chris Rusin (4-6, 4.97 ERA)

Sunday, 8/30, 1:35 PM- RHP Charlie Morton (8-5, 4.20 ERA) vs. LHP Jorge De La Rosa (7-6, 4.61 ERA)

Analysis of pitching matchups:

Like I said, the Rockies aren’t even average when it comes to their pitching staff. One look at the numbers shows how glaring an advantage the red-hot Bucs have over the hapless Rockies. Speaking of Happ, J.A. Happ has gotten better in each of his starts with the Bucs, and will look to build a little faith with the organization in a matchup that he should be heavily favored in. For the Rockies, top prospect Jon Grey will be the focus on Friday night, as he seeks his first win in the Major Leagues and provide some hope for the future in Colorado. He will face Francisco Liriano, who has had the best support of anyone on this pitching staff. For perspective, the Pirates have won his last 10 starts, averaging over seven runs of support in those games. It also helps that he’s been swinging a hot bat. In the three starts before his last appearance, Liriano went 3-7 with his first career home run, a double, and five RBIs. Liriano has arguably been the most underrated key to this year’s club and its success.

Now let’s look at how the lineup of the Pirates has fared against the projected starters of the Rockies:

Jon Grey

Grey is making his first start against the Pirates, and only his fifth appearance in the Major Leagues.

Chris Rusin

Andrew McCutchen1092101113.222.300.667.967
Aramis Ramirez983001300.375.444.7501.194
Pedro Alvarez884100301.500.500.6251.125
Starling Marte881000003.
Jordy Mercer552001100.400.4001.0001.400
Josh Harrison430000000.
Mike Morse1110000001.0001.0001.0002.000

Rusin hasn’t seen a great deal of the Bucs in his career, but when he has, the Pirates have made him pay. Pedro Alvarez, who has been scalding hot, has gone 4-8 with three RBI against Rusin in his career. With El Toro swinging the bat well this month, this is a dangerous matchup that heavily favors the Pirates. In addition, three other Pirates regulars have taken Rusin deep, so the long ball is a huge possibility on Saturday night.

Jorge De La Rosa

Andrew McCutchen20165210141.313.450.5631.013
Neil Walker17134000024.308.438.308.745
Aramis Ramirez14114201123.364.500.8181.318
Pedro Alvarez13113000023.273.385.273.657
Mike Morse1081000123.125.300.125.425
Starling Marte964010130.667.7781.0001.778
Jordy Mercer874000100.571.500.5711.071
Gregory Polanco331000000.333.333.333.667
Josh Harrison220000000.
Chris Stewart221000000.500.500.5001.000

A veteran in his 11th season, lefty De La Rosa has been around awhile. He has not faced the Pirates to a large extent in that time, though. That hasn’t stopped the team from getting accustomed to hitting the ball off of him. Five Pirates regulars have at least four hits against him, all of which have done it in less than 20 plate appearances. Shortstop Jordy Mercer is fresh off of the Disabled List, and could find his swing against De La Rosa, who he has owned in the short history they have (4-7, .571 avr.). Left fielder Starling Marte has also owned him, going 4-6 and drawing three walks, good for a .778 on-base percentage.

Rockies hitter to avoid- Nolan Arenado 

Jeff Locke1094001210.444.500.7781.278
Francisco Liriano763100110.500.571.6671.238
Charlie Morton551100000.200.200.400.600
Jared Hughes320000010.000.333.000.333
Mark Melancon330000002.
Tony Watson331001102.333.3331.3331.667
Gerrit Cole220000000.
Antonio Bastardo110000000.
Joakim Soria110000000.

Arenado is having a killer year in terms of power (.278 avr., 30 HRs, 92 RBIs) and ranks second in the NL in both home runs and RBIs. He’s been somewhat productive against the Pirates, who have potentially the best overall pitching staff in the MLB. With a player that packs so much power into a swing, a game can be over in just one inning if the pitcher isn’t careful when he comes up to the plate, especially with runners on base. Arenado has gone 3-6 against Friday night’s starter, Francisco Liriano.

Series Prediction

I’m always hesitant to predict a sweep. As bad as any team is, these are still squads full of professional baseball players. That being said, the Rockies are a dismal team that hasn’t been able to pitch its way out of a wet paper bag. If the Pirates can keep the Rockies from having big innings, they should be well on their way to a sweep of the Rockies.

Final Prediction- Pirates sweep Rockies, move to 80-49 and 3.5 games of Cardinals

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