Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates head to Milwaukee on a tear
Another weekend, another series victory for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though the calendar will soon switch from August to September, the narrative remains the same. The Pirates are on a tear, winning their last five series, including 14 of their last 18 overall games. And while the Bucs have beaten playoff hopefuls in the National League East leading New York Mets and the NL West’s second place San Francisco Giants, the club has taken advantage of two consecutive series against two of the worst three teams in baseball. Their next opponent is only slightly better.
The Milwaukee Brewers sit at 55-75, good for the sixth worst rank in the standings. The team has been depleted by the trade deadline, as the Brew crew let multiple starters go via deadline deals, including Aramis Ramirez, who landed with these Pirates. Ramirez has provided depth for the Bucs, hitting .248 with seven doubles in the 30 games since being picked up.
Milwaukee has few bright spots on its roster this year, and the numbers don’t lie. They’re towards the bottom end of everything statistically in Major League Baseball, ranking 22nd in runs (521), 23rd in team ERA (4.25), 24th in on-base percentage (.305), and 27th in quality starts (55). Only first baseman Adam Lind (.282, 17 HR, 71 RBI) and right fielder Ryan Braun (.278, 24 HR, 77 RBI) have consistently produced for the Brewers and have not been traded.
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For the Pirates, life has been good. With four of their regular starters batting over .280 for the season, not to mention a bullpen that features an astonishing 2.53 ERA and the league’s saves leader in Mark Melancon, the Bucs are experiencing a spoil of riches. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen has put together yet another terrific campaign. After hitting .185 through the first month of the season, Cutch ranks 11th in the NL with a .305 batting average, third with 85 RBI, and second with 32 doubles. He spent the month of August terrorizing opposing pitching, hitting .348 with five home runs. Utility man Sean Rodriguez has found his swing after struggling mightily all season for the Pirates. In the month of August, Rodriguez hit .349 in 24 games played, scoring seven runs.
Now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups for the upcoming series against the Brewers:
Tuesday, 9/1, 8:10 PM- RHP Gerrit Cole (15-7, 2.44 ERA) vs. RHP Jimmy Nelson (10-10, 3.81 ERA)
Wednesday, 9/2, 8:10 PM- LHP Jeff Locke (7-8, 4.46 ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Jungmann (8-5, 2.48 ERA)
Thursday, 9/3, 7:20 PM- LHP Francisco Liriano (9-6, 3.28 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Garza (6-14, 5.56 ERA)
Analysis of pitching matchup
The Pirates have the upper hand in almost any series, but the Brewers have swept the Pirates nine of the last 10 seasons, and did just that earlier this season. Gerrit Cole got back on track in the last contest he pitched, going 7 1/3, ending a stretch that saw him go 0-3 with a 3.60 ERA in his five previous starts. Jeff Locke has continued to struggle in the fifth spot, giving up 17 earned runs in just 28 innings of work in August. For the Brewers, Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann have been bright spots for an otherwise dismal pitching staff, highlighted by Matt Garza and his 6-14 record.
Now let’s look at how the Pirates lineup has fared against the expected starters of the Brewers:
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Nelson has done well against the Pirates, including this season, surrendering just five earned runs over 24 1/3 innings of work while striking out 27. The Brewers have won all three meetings that Nelson has started against the Pirates, but is coming off of an outing that saw him give up five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. Catcher Francisco Cervelli has gotten the better of Nelson though, getting on base at a .600 clip.
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Jungmann has posted a 1.29 ERA in his two career starts against the Pirates in his rookie campaign, gathering the victory in each decision. Jungmann is a sign that the future could be bright for the Brewers, as he’s left a lethal Pirates lineup hapless. Aside from a Starling Marte home run, Jungmann has given up only one other run and six hits over 14 innings of work. Look for him to give the Bucs troubles again.
Garza, unlike the other two Brewers the Pirates will face this series, has been rocked by the Bucs. While he’s been taken deep four times, he’s also been owned by first baseman Pedro Alvarez (9-20, 2 HR, 7 RBI) who is coming off of an impressive August for his standards (.268, 6 HR, 15 RBI). His 5.56 ERA on the season shows that he’s had an incredibly tough time putting any sort of success together, and it doesn’t help that he’s coming off of his worst month of the season, where he went 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA.
Hitter to avoid- Ryan Braun
While PED’s have tarnished the reputation and any potential legacy of Ryan Braun, no public shame can take away the power Braun has packed throughout his career, including this year. With 24 home runs, Braun can still send a mistake packing to the upper decks of many MLB stadiums. While he has gone just 8-42 against Pittsburgh this year, he seems due to go off against a team he has a .316 lifetime average against. His best night may come against Jeff Locke, who has surrendered eight hits in 26 at bats against Braun. Antonio Bastardo has failed to record an out on Braun in his short career, allowing three hits and a walk in four plate appearances. Braun will step to the plate Tuesday night looking for his first hit off of Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, who has allowed just a walk in nine plate appearances.
For the Pirates, life has been good. With four of their regular starters batting over .280 for the season, not to mention a bullpen that features an astonishing 2.53 ERA and the league’s saves leader in Mark Melancon, the Bucs are experiencing a spoil of riches.
The Brewers always give the Pirates fits, especially in Miller Park. While the Bucs were a mediocre club for the better part of two decades, Pirates fans will always remember the times they assumed a sweep at the hands of the Brewers anytime the team traveled to Milwaukee. While times are now better all around for the Pirates fans, the Brewers still play the Pirates tough in their home ballpark. With time rapidly running out on the Pirates to catch the Cardinals, who they play this weekend in a critical series, the time is now for the Pirates to take care of business to give themselves a chance.
Final Prediction: Pirates win two of three, land at 81-51.