Preview: The Pirates return home to take on the Brewers

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Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates took care of business against the Cincinnati Reds. They won two of the three games and generally did what good teams are supposed to do to bad ones. The Pirates have struggled against the NL Central for most of the season but that can be washed away if the Pirates do well in September. Sometimes it’s not how much you win, it’s when you win. The Pirates hadn’t won a road series against an NL Central team all season, they just did it two series in a row. While beating the Cardinals carries a little more weight than beating the Reds, you play the teams in front of you. By that account, the Pirates did their job. It wasn’t spectacular against the Reds, but a win is a win is a win. It doesn’t matter how you stack wins, as long as you stack them.

The Pirates return home to take on another struggling baseball team in the Milwaukee Brewers. Miller Park is the House of Horrors, but the Pirates have done solid work at PNC Park against the Brewers this season, winning four of the six games played. The Brewers are obviously one of the worst teams in the league, so it is imperative that the Pirates play well and beat them. Especially with the Cardinals looking somewhat vulnerable and the Cubs breathing down the Pirates’ necks for the top wildcard spot. It’s time to win now and get ready for an almost all NL Central post season run.

Miller Park is the House of Horrors, but the Pirates have done solid work at PNC Park against the Brewers this season, winning four of the six games played.

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The Brewers are not a particularly strong team in 2015, but like all Major League teams, they have talent. Adam Lind has been a stand out on offense at first base and has done pretty well against the Pirates this season.

Ryan Braun will never win a popularity contest in Pittsburgh or anywhere outside of Milwaukee, but he is the one player the Pirates must be careful against. He is a former league MVP and one of the most dangerous hitters in the league. He’s also done very good work against the Pirates, both this season and in his career. Try to pitch to him with the bases empty whenever possible.

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

Thursday, 9/10, 7:05pm – RHP A.J. Burnett (8-5, 3.06ERA) vs. RHP Wily Peralta (5-8. 4.21ERA)

Friday, 9/11, 7:05pm – RHP Charlie Morton (8-7, 4.07ERA) vs. RHP Jimmy Nelson (11-11, 3.86ERA)

Saturday 9/12, 7:05pm – LHP Jeff Locke (7-10, 4.56ERA) vs. Zach Davies (1-0, 3.97ERA)

Sunday 9/13 – 1:35pm – LHP Francisco Liriano (10-7, 3.28ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Jungmann (9-6, 2.87ERA)

Analysis of pitching matchups

A.J. Burnett being back in the rotation should improve things, especially if he pitches well and bumps Jeff Locke out of the starting five. It remains to be seen how much the old man has left in the tank following his injury and he could be a huge wildcard down the stretch for the Pirates. I expect he will only throw five or six innings at the absolute max in game one of the series.

Games two and three of the series feature arguably the two most inconsistent starters in baseball in Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke. I expect Morton to pitch moderately well against the Brewers. He’s done well against them this season, holding them to a slash of .235AVG/.324OBP/.316SLG/.641OPS.

Jeff Locke has been completely terrible since the All Star Break, as is par the course for the lefty starter. This is likely the game most fans have penciled in as a loss, and given how well the Brewers tend to hit him, it’s hard to feel optimistic when Locke is on the mound. If he can manage to keep it together and pitch well, the offense should be able to pick up the slack.

Game Four of the series is probably the best pitching match-up as Francisco Liriano takes on Taylor Jungmann. Jungmann has completely befuddled the Pirates at every turn this season, but Frankie has been pretty filthy lately and might be coming off his best start of the season. This is another one of those coin flip games. If Frankie pitches well again and the offense can muster anything against Jungman, I like the Pirates chances.

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

Peralta: 

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Andrew McCutchen15123001131.250.400.500.900
Jordy Mercer15131000122.077.200.077.277
Neil Walker15144101313.286.333.571.905
Pedro Alvarez12114002413.364.417.9091.326
Travis Snider12112000012.182.250.182.432
Starling Marte992000003.222.222.222.444
Mike Morse731000021.333.714.3331.048
Josh Harrison662000002.333.333.333.667
Francisco Liriano531000011.333.500.333.833
Travis Ishikawa440000001.000.000.000.000
Chris Stewart330000000.000.000.000.000
Pedro Florimon2221001001.0001.0001.5002.500
Total1059122204101119.242.337.396.732

The Pirates have done moderately well against Peralta and the offense should be able to get going in game one of the series. Pedro Alvarez could see the start as he has crushed Peralta to the tune of .364AVG/.417/OBP/.909SLG/1.326OPS. It may be in the Pirates’ best interest to unleash the bull in game one of the series.

Andrew McCutchen has also done pretty solid work against the Brewers right hander. He’s hit .250AVG/.400OBP/.500SLG/.900OPS. Andrew McCutchen is one of the best players in the league, so it’s more surprising when he doesn’t do well against a pitcher. Between Cutch and El Toro, the Pirates could have a pretty legit advantage in game one of the series.

Nelson: 

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Starling Marte14133000013.231.286.231.516
Pedro Alvarez13100000023.000.231.000.231
Neil Walker13134100104.308.308.385.692
Francisco Cervelli1293000011.333.500.333.833
Gregory Polanco12123100003.250.250.333.583
Jung Ho Kang1191100025.111.273.222.495
Josh Harrison991000104.111.111.111.222
Andrew McCutchen863200121.500.625.8331.458
Jordy Mercer771000002.143.143.143.286
Aramis Ramirez330000001.000.000.000.000
Sean Rodriguez331000101.333.333.333.667
Gerrit Cole110000001.000.000.000.000
Jaff Decker1110000001.0001.0001.0002.000
Travis Ishikawa110000000.000.000.000.000
Total10897215004829.216.296.268.564

Jimmy Nelson has unfortunately had the Pirates number this season and has been a very tough match up for the entire offense. However, once again, Andrew McCutchen could be the difference in this game as he has destroyed the Brewers pitcher. Hitting .500AVG/.625OBP/.833SLG/1.458OPS, albeit in six at-bats.

Francisco Cervelli has also hit Nelson pretty well in a limited amount of at-bats. In nine at-bats, Cervelli has hit .333AVG/.500OBP/.333SLG/.833OPS. If Cervelli and McCutchen can carry the offense and one other player has a good game, the Pirates should be able to do enough against Nelson.

Davies: 

RkGcarGtmDateTmOppRsltInngsDecDRIPHRERBBSOHR
11132Sep 2MILPITW,9-4GS-5994.1444331
MIL11.1855371

Davies has only faced the Pirates once this season and he did moderately well. He lasted 4.1 innings, gave up four runs on four hits and struck out three. It’s hard to tell how he’ll fare at PNC Park, but I would say this match-up slightly favors the Pirates, unless Jeff Locke is absolutely terrible.

Jungmann: 

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Francisco Cervelli960000011.000.333.000.333
Starling Marte991001102.111.111.444.556
Gregory Polanco971100021.143.333.286.619
Neil Walker990000003.000.000.000.000
Josh Harrison661000100.167.167.167.333
Pedro Alvarez552100001.400.400.6001.000
Jordy Mercer541100010.250.400.500.900
Francisco Liriano440000002.000.000.000.000
Jaff Decker321010011.500.6671.5002.167
Travis Ishikawa330000000.000.000.000.000
Jung Ho Kang332000000.667.667.6671.333
Jeff Locke321000111.500.667.5001.167
Andrew McCutchen331100001.333.333.6671.000
Aramis Ramirez330000000.000.000.000.000
Sean Rodriguez330000000.000.000.000.000
Total7769114113613.159.247.290.537

It’s no secret that Taylor Jungmann has absolutely owned the Pirates this season. He’s one of the Brewers top prospects for a reason and gives Milwaukee a potential top of the rotation arm for years to come.

Frankie will have to be on top of his game to match Jungmann. None of the regulars have hit him all that well, but Jung Ho Kang has gotten two hits in three at-bats, so hopefully that turns into a trend.

Hitter to avoid- Ryan Braun

NamePAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
J.A. Happ30289213926.321.367.7861.152
Francisco Liriano30236001578.261.433.391.825
Jeff Locke28289301206.321.321.536.857
Charlie Morton26238301634.348.423.6091.032
Joe Blanton20186000126.333.400.333.733
Gerrit Cole11101000112.100.182.100.282
Jared Hughes1171000042.143.455.143.597
Mark Melancon1094000113.444.500.444.944
Tony Watson993001101.333.333.6671.000
Antonio Bastardo4330115101.0001.0002.6673.667
Rob Scahill441000100.250.250.250.500
Arquimedes Caminero321000000.500.667.5001.167
Radhames Liz321000011.500.667.5001.167
Joakim Soria110000000.000.000.000.000
Total19016753828322239.317.400.533.933

It’s very established that Ryan Braun hits the Pirates well. He’s done it his entire career and he’s done it this season. The Brewers do not have much in the way of consistent offense this season, but they do have Braun. He’s one of the best hitters in the league for a reason and the Pirates need to pitch to him with the bases empty more often than not. Braun can steal a game for the Brewers with a big hit and the Pirates cannot afford to let him do it. Not when the games mean so much in the midst of a pennant race.

Series Prediction 

The Pirates are a very good team and the Brewers are a very bad team, but based purely on match-ups, this is a very tough series to predict. The Pirates need Locke and Morton to step up and pitch well because Nelson and Jungmann have done so well against the Pirates this season. A split would almost feel like a good thing, given the match-ups.

However, the Pirates cannot afford to split a home series against a team as poor as the Brewers. The games right now are way too important and I think the Pirates will have a little incentive to get some revenge for the recent beating the Brewers put on them in Miller Park. I think the Pirates steal one of the games against Nelson and Jungmann and I think they have a pretty fair advantage in the other games. So this series seems very winnable for the Buccos.

Final Prediction: Pirates win three out of the four games and improve to 86-56. 

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates series review vs. Cincinnati Reds

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