Pirates-Brewers Series Preview


The Pirates will play the Milwaukee Brewers for the first time this season in a weekend series at PNC Park. Read on for a preview of the series:

Brewers Record: 4-5

Last Series Result: Lost 2 of 3 to the St. Louis Cardinals

To repeat what has become a seemingly constant refrain when discussing many of the other teams in the National League this year, the Brewers entered 2016 in rebuild mode. In 2015, the Brewers went 68-94, but finished in 4th place in the NL Central due to the extra incompetence of the Cincinnati Reds. The Brewers of 2016 are virtually unrecognizable to the team Pirates fans got used to seeing over the last several seasons due to a wholesale tear-down and rebuild that has been in progress since last season. Gone are Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Aramis Ramirez (obviously), Francisco Rodriguez, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis among others. The most familiar names left for Pirates fans would be mainstays Johnathan Lucroy (who is likely gone soon) and Ryan Braun, as well as former Pirate Keon Broxton who was dealt to Milwaukee in the trade that brought Jason Rogers to the organization.

Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /

Keon Broxton has actually gotten a great deal of playing time this season. Used sparingly by the Pirates, primarily as a Pinch Runner last September when rosters expanded, Broxton has started in Center Field in 5 of the Brewers 9 games so far this season. However, his deficiencies at the plate (0 for 14 with 10 strikeouts this season) have led to him being slotted Ninth in the order and being Pinch Hit for late in games. The infamous Ryan Braun continues to man Left Field, but in Right Field and batting leadoff for the Brewers is 23-year-old Domingo Santana. With only 245 career plate appearances, Santana already has 86 career strikeouts for a 35.1% strikeout rate.

The Brewers do have veteran Aaron Hill manning Third Base. The longtime Blue Jay and Diamondback and 2009 All-Star saw his performance take a big drop after the 2013 season with his OPS dropping from .818 to .654 in 2014. Scooter Gennett remains at Second Base. The 25-year-old is already in his fourth season in the Majors. Gennett saw a dip in his performance last season after a good 2014 seeing his slashline go from .289/.320/.484 to .264/.294/.381. So far the returns from Gennett are good with a nice round slashline of .300/.400/.600 with 3 Home Runs over 35 plate appearances. The rest of the Brewers infield is a bit in flux with Shortstop being handled primarily by 24-year-old Jonathan Villar, previously of the Houston Astros, but with 23-year-old Yadiel Rivera seeing significant playing time as well. Chris Carter, whom the Brewers picked up after being non-tendered by the Astros, is the primary First Baseman. Carter is looking for a rebound year with a new team. There will be more on Carter below.

Probable Pitching Matchups

Game 1 – April 15, 7:05 P.M. ET

Jeff Locke (L) vs. Jimmy Nelson (R)

Game 2 – April 16, 7:05 P.M. ET

Jon Niese (L) vs. Taylor Jungmann (R)

Game 3 – April 17, 1:35 P.M. ET

Juan Nicasio (R) vs. Zach Davies (R)

The Pirates are sending the end of their rotation against the Brewers this weekend. Jeff Locke pitches in the opener looking to build off his good first outing against the Reds in which he only gave up one run over 6 innings of work. Jon Niese goes for his second Pirates win on Saturday after getting his first against the Tigers on Monday. Juan Nicasio looks to rebound from his poor start on Tuesday and show he can be the pitcher everyone saw in Spring Training and in his first start.

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Brewers will be sending out three fairly similar pitchers. All are young, throw right-handed, and are known as ground ball pitchers. Unfortunately for the Pirates, all have seen some degree of success in their young careers against Pittsburgh. First up is Jimmy Nelson. At 26 years old with 50 career starts he is the relative old man of the pitchers the Pirates will see. The story on Nelson so far is one of an inconsistent pitcher who can at times be dominating and at others terrible. He’s looked decent in his two starts so far this season, going 1-1 and striking out 9 and getting the decision in a win over the Astros in his most recent start. In that same game though he also walked 4 and gave up 2 Home Runs. Nelson went 4-2 in six starts against the Pirates last season. In the second game the Pirates will face Taylor Jungmann who made his Major League debut against the Pirates last June 9th. In that game he got the win and went seven innings giving up only 1 run on 3 hits. Overall he went 3-0 in his 4 starts against the Pirates last season, going at least 6 innings in each. Jungmann though has had a rough start to the season, getting shelled by the Cardinals in his most recent outing giving up 8 runs in only 2 innings of work. Finally, the Pirates are currently expected to face Zach Davies in the series finale on Sunday. Like Jungmann he made his Major League debut against the Pirates, getting a No Decision in a 9-4 Brewers victory. In his only other start against the Pirates he got shelled getting the Loss in a 10-2 Pirates victory. Both of his starts against the Pirates last season were his two worst starts, being his only lasting less than 6 innings out of six overall starts.

Recent Meetings

This is of course the first series of 2016 between the Pirates and the Brewers. Like with the Reds, the Pirates underperformed against the Milwaukee Brewers last season, going 9-10 against a team that would finish the season 68-94. Despite the losing record the Pirates still outscored Milwaukee overall for the season 81-79.

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The most frustrating series between the two teams for the Pirates would have to be a mid-season series in Milwaukee. The Pirates returned from the All-Star break and opened the second half of the season by getting swept by the Brewers. In the first game, the Pirates did something particularly frustrating when Charlie Morton retaliated by hitting the leadoff batter in the Fifth inning of a close game. The Brewers would end up scoring what ended up being the winning run due to this bone-headed play. The Pirates finished their season series off well though, by taking 3 of 4 including winning their final game of the 2015 against Milwaukee in extra inning walk off fashion

Brewers Player to Watch: Chris Carter

The Brewers new First Baseman for 2016 is Chris Carter. The 29-year-old Carter had previously spent his career with the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros. For his career up to this point he’s almost been an American League version of Pedro Alvarez (I guess Alvarez would be the new American League version of himself). For his career he slashes .218/.312/.456 and has 112 Home Runs with his career high coming in 2014 when he hit 37. Carter also strikes out a lot with a career rate of 33.5%. Unlike Alvarez though, he is at least competent, if below average, at First Base with a career UZR/150 of -8.0 with fewer errors at the position in his career than Alvarez had all of last season (21 compared with 23).

Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

After a good 2014 that, in addition to 37 Home Runs, saw Carter slash .227/.308/.491 with a wRC+ of 122, Carter saw a dip in his performance in 2015. Carter still hit 24 Home Runs, but only slashed .199/.307/.427 with a wRC+ of 101. Much like Alvarez, the high strikeout rate, low average, and subpar fielding led the Astros to non-tender him. The Brewers, in the middle of a rebuild took a shot on the high risk high reward potential in Carter, likely seeing that he had a low BABIP of .244 that should hopefully normalize and lead to an improved performance. So far the returns on Carter for the Brewers are good. He still strikes out a lot, but that’s to be expected. He already has 3 Home Runs in 31 Plate Appearances over 8 games and is slashing .259/.323/.704. Carter is a player that can do some damage for the Brewers in this series. Pirates fans know all too well after the Tigers series how a timely Home Run can turn a game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Brewers steal a game in this series thanks to a long ball from Carter.

Pirates Keys to Victory

Nicasio Back in Form

After a poor outing against the Tigers, Nicasio’s next start should be of interest to Pirates fans. Hopefully, we’ll see the Nicasio we thought we were getting instead of the one we saw against the Tigers. A good start from Nicasio will go a long way towards helping the Pirates get a series win and hopefully steadying the rotation for the remainder of the season.

Quality Starts

Not just Nicasio, but all the Pirates pitchers need to have good quality starts in this series. After some of the adventures with the bullpen in the Tigers’ series, two players in A.J. Schugel and Rob Scahill who began the season in Indianapolis sitting out in the bullpen, and Jared Hughes still on the Disabled List, the Pirates need to have quality starts so that they don’t need to go too deep in their bullpen. In a close game, this could mean all the difference.

Timely Hitting

With the Pirates facing three ground ball pitchers who don’t give up a lot of Home Runs and the Pirates lack of power thus far this season, one can’t expect the Pirates to hit many Home Runs this series. The ability for the Pirates to come away with a series win may depend on their ability to get timely hits. The Pirates did hit .302 with runners in scoring position in the most recent series, but they still left an average of 7.25 men on base per game in the series. The Pirates are getting on base, but they will need timely hitting in order to get them home. Unfortunately, timely hitting is not a skill, so this will likely depend on some element of luck.

Series Prediction

I find it a near-pointless endeavor to attempt to predict the outcome of not just one baseball game, but a series of three as well. However, I will do so because it’s fun and I’ve always mentally tried to do it at the beginning of every series anyways. The Brewers are young and shouldn’t be very good this year as they go through a rebuild. That being said, like the Reds, they have seemed to give the Pirates trouble lately. I expect the Pirates to win this series, but I don’t think it will be a sweep. The Brewers will likely steal a game in this series if the Pirates bats go cold and/or they just get to one of Locke, Niese, or Nicasio.

Prediction: Pirates win 2-1

*Stats from Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, ESPN.com

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /