Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates turn attention to Reds

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are back on track. After a series victory against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates sit at 81-54 and 5.5 back from the Redbirds with three more head to head games and 28 games total left to play.

The only problem is this: they have to head to Great American Ballpark, where the Reds have taken five of seven against the Bucs. Overall, the Reds have gone 9-4 against the Pirates, proving to be just one of the thorns on the not-so rosy National League Central. When the Reds isn’t plunking center fielder Andrew McCutchen, they’re taking games from them that could be used to catch those pesky Cardinals and fend off those threatening Cubs.

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The Bucs have been the beneficiary of having utility man Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer back from the disabled list.While neither have made much impact at the plate since then, it gives the team a plethora of talented infielders to choose from on any given night.

Who ever thought at A.J. taking over for J.A. may be a realistic scenario, let alone one that may not favor Pittsburgh’s Batman.

Couple that with the potential that the Pirates could have starter A.J. Burnett back by Wednesday’s series finale, and the Pirates are finally getting back to full force in timely fashion after a solid 19-8 August. That record would not have been recorded had a few players not stepped up for the Bucs. Utility man Sean Rodriguez hit .349, finally justifying his addition to the team beyond his defensive versatility. Right fielder Gregory Polanco continued his coming out party, racking up a team-high 37 hits and a .330 average.

For the Reds, life has been tough. The club has gone 17-32 since the all-star break, and has dropped to last in the NL Central with a 56-79 record. While a losing season is all but guaranteed at this point, a sweep at the hands of the Pirates would seal it.  The team shelled out multiple starters at the trade deadline, and sold away whatever contracts they could at that time. That has led to a 4.47 team ERA, 12th worst in the NL.

Things would look even more dire for the Reds if not for a few bats in their lineup. First baseman Joey Votto has killed the ball since the all-star break, hitting .400 with 12 home runs and 28 RBI. Second baseman Brandon Phillips has also contributed a lot to the cause, owning a .319 average and 61 hits in his past 46 games.

Now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups in the upcoming series against the Reds:

Monday, 9/7, 1:10 PM- LHP Jeff Locke (7-9, 4.66 ERA) vs. RHP Anthony DeSclafani (7-10, 3.87 ERA)

Tuesday, 9/8, 7:10 PM- LHP Francisco Liriano (9-7, 3.40 ERA) vs. RHP Raisel Iglesias (3-6, 3.81 ERA)

Wednesday, 9/10, 7:10 PM- J.A. Happ (8-7, 3.90 ERA) vs. TBD

Analysis of pitching matchups

Of all the people who stepped up to produce a fruitful August for the Pirates, none may have mattered more than J.A. Happ. Since being picked up at the trade deadline from Seattle, Happ has gone 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA, all the while getting more and more dominant in each appearance. His appearance in this series may taken away though, as Rob Biertempel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that A.J. Burnett could be back off of an elbow injury and ready to play by Wednesday, Happ’s scheduled start. Who ever thought at A.J. taking over for J.A. may be a realistic scenario, let alone one that may not favor Pittsburgh’s Batman.

The Reds counter with a few guys that have gone 3-1 in their starts against the Pirates this year, and with one slot that is still to be determined. With the Reds dealing Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto, the Reds, like many teams that are big-sellers at the deadline, throw bullpen arms for spot starts or young prospects that are close to ready out for a chance to show a glimpse of their futures. There’s no telling which we’ll see Wednesday against either Burnett or Happ.

Now let’s look at how the Pirates lineup has fared against the expected pitching of the Reds:

DeSclafani 

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Pedro Alvarez994101202.444.444.8891.333
Josh Harrison980000002.000.111.000.111
Andrew McCutchen961100031.167.444.333.778
Jordy Mercer994100100.444.444.5561.000
Gregory Polanco983100111.375.444.500.944
Neil Walker972000121.286.444.286.730
Starling Marte640000111.000.167.000.167
Aramis Ramirez440000001.000.000.000.000
Francisco Cervelli331000100.333.333.333.667
Jung Ho Kang331000001.333.333.333.667
Chris Stewart221000000.500.500.5001.000
Total7263174017710.270.347.381.728

DeSclafani has done enough to produce victories for the Reds against the Pirates, but hasn’t been super efficient in doing so. His 10 strikeouts are diminished by the seven walks he’s allowed. Three of those have come against McCutchen, who though has gone 1-6 against DeScalfani, owns a .444 on-base percentage against him. Four other Pirates own the same OBP as Cutch, which means that the Pirates are getting on base against DeSclafani. Being that the Pirates are in the top five in the NL in runs and batting average when they have runners on base or in scoring position, the Pirates may be one inning away from really cashing in.

Iglesias

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Pedro Alvarez320000010.000.333.000.333
Jung Ho Kang331001100.333.3331.3331.667
Starling Marte330000001.000.000.000.000
Andrew McCutchen320000010.000.333.000.333
Gregory Polanco331000000.333.333.333.667
Aramis Ramirez330000001.000.000.000.000
Neil Walker331000000.333.333.333.667
Chris Stewart220000001.000.000.000.000
Total25233001125.130.200.261.461

Iglesias, a rookie, saw the Pirates back on August 1st, when he went 6 2/3 innings, allowing just two runs, including a solo shot by infielder Jung Ho Kang. With the initially meeting out of the way, and more appearances under Iglesias’ belt, the Pirates should be more than equiped to counter his impressive first start. However, Iglesias did post a 2.27 ERA in August, and is coming off of a stellar game against the Cubs (7.0 inn., 2 ER) to start off September.

Hitter to avoid- Brandon Phillips

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Charlie Morton403712200426.324.350.378.728
Francisco Liriano32316100214.194.219.226.445
Jeff Locke22205000023.250.318.250.568
Joe Blanton21216111304.286.286.571.857
J.A. Happ18147203733.500.5561.2861.841
Tony Watson18142001214.143.294.357.651
Gerrit Cole14146000203.429.429.429.857
Jared Hughes11105000101.500.545.5001.045
Mark Melancon992000001.222.222.222.444
Antonio Bastardo541000011.250.400.250.650
Rob Scahill441001101.250.2501.0001.250
Joakim Soria332000000.667.667.6671.333
Arquimedes Caminero221000000.500.500.5001.000
Radhames Liz110000000.000.000.000.000
Total20018456616221031.304.347.446.792

Phillips has proven to be a pesky foe to the Pirates, and after a hot August, is gearing up to end another solid season. Phillips is a career .273 hitter, but has performed admirably against the Pirates, owning a .304 average against their current pitchers. Of the pitchers he will face this series, his best work has come facing J.A. Happ (7-14, 3 HR, 7 RBI). Phillips has also owned Jared Hughes, going 5-10 against him. There’s also no doubt that Phillips will be a little extra ready to try and continue his success against the Bucs after being intentionally hit by Tony Watson the last time these two teams met for a series. You didn’t think I’d write this whole article and not mention that these teams literally beam each other on almost a gamely basis, did you?

Series Prediction

For as much as the Brewers and Miller Park are viewed as a house of horrors for the Pirates, they haven’t fared much better against the Reds. While the series victory over the Cardinals breeds confidence from Pirates fans, they should not soon forget that this same squad just got swept up in a series against the Brewers that, without knowing circumstance, would have appeared to be two teams in very different positions that they are now. The Pirates have to be careful that this doesn’t happen again, but based on how often it already has, it could very well happen.

Final Prediction: Pirates lose series 2-1, move to 82-56, securing their third consecutive winning season. 

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates Wake Up Call- Pirates need to play to win

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