The Pirates begin a 10 game western road trip with a 3 game series with the San Diego Padres beginning Tuesday night. Read on for a preview of the series:
Padres Record: 4-9 (5th in NL West)
Last Series Result: Lost 2 of 3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks
After the San Diego Padres traded off many of their prospects during the 2014-15 offseason in an attempt to take a shortcut to a championship, the Padres spent the most recent offseason restocking their farm system after they fell disastrously short of their goal. Though the Padres front office refuses to call it a rebuild, they are effectively part of the about half of the National League that is rebuilding and not expecting to compete this season. Over the offseason the Padres traded away relievers Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit depleting a bullpen that already had issues last season. Also gone are Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy who left via Free Agency.
The Padres famously began the season by getting shut out by the Los Angeles Dodgers in their first three games and set an MLB record by failing to score in their first 30 innings of the season. When they finally did score they scored a lot, for a little bit at least. They ended the streak by scoring 13 against the Colorado Rockies, then scored 16 runs on them the next day. Since then, they’ve reverted to their run-scoring ineptitude that they began the season with. In fact, 29 of their 47 runs scored on the season came in those two games. If you take away those two games they are averaging only 1.64 runs per game. The team as a whole is currently slashing .226/.281/.329 with 128 Strikeouts (Tied for 2nd most in the Majors) and Striking out in 25.8% of Plate Appearances.
Not all is bad for the Padres though. Left Fielder Melvin Upton, Jr. is off to a good start and is now the best performing player on the team. He is currently slashing .289/.333/.489 with 2 Home Runs. This slashline is well above the career averages for the 31-year-old though (.245/.324/.402) so it remains to be seen if he can keep it up. Right Fielder Matt Kemp is the current team leader in Home Runs with 4 on the season (Tied for 8th in MLB), but not unexpectedly he hasn’t done much else. Not one to walk much anyways, Kemp currently only has 1 on the season. Pirates’ fans should see what may be a familiar name in Center Field as former St. Louis Cardinal Jon Jay now roams the spacious outfield at Petco Park. Jay went over to the Padres in the trade that sent Jedd Gyorko to the Cardinals. So far Jon Jay has looked nothing like the player the Cardinals had prior to his wrist issues from last season and has looked if anything worse than the player who played through those issues. Currently Jay is slashing .212/.268/.269 and striking out in 25% of his Plate Appearances, higher than his career rate of 15.9%. It is still early in the season and Jay did have a good spring, but the sudden strike out issues have to be concerning to the Padres as those numbers tend to stabilize by the first 60 or so Plate Appearance and Jay currently has 56.
Moving to the Padres Infield, starting Third Baseman Yangervis Solarte has been out since April 9th when he strained his Right Hamstring. He is currently on the 15-day Disabled List and the Padres hope to have him back by the end of the month, but it’s unlikely that he will be back while the Pirates are in town. Adam Rosales has been filling in for Solarte in the interim. The 32-year-old journeyman is in his first season with the Padres after spending the past two plus seasons in the Texas Rangers organization. Rosales has never been a very remarkable player, slashing .225/.293/.340 for his career with only 27 career Home runs and never hitting more than 7 in a season. In his brief stint filling in for Solarte he has failed to impress with only 3 hits and 1 walk compared with 5 strikeouts in his 20 plate appearances. Alexi Ramirez is the Padres everyday Shortstop this season after the Chicago White Sox released him this offseason. Ramirez had a productive career with the White Sox, averaging 3.1 WAR per season between 2009 and 2014. However, Ramirez had a subpar 2015 and at 34 years old is likely past his prime. The Padres picked him up for a one year deal with a team option for a second to be their Shortstop. Cory Spangenberg, at 25 years old, is one of the younger of the Padres regulars. Drafted 10th overall in 2011, he made his Major League debut in 2014 and played his first full season last year slashing .271/.333/.399 with a wRC+ of 105. Another young guy that the Padres are likely hoping to build around for the future is their First Baseman Wil Myers, about whom there will be more below. Rounding out the regulars is Derek Norris at Catcher. Norris is a capable Catcher who last year threw out 44 baserunners on attempted steals. Now in his second year with the Padres, he’s off to a bit of a slow start slashing .150/.209/.200.
Probable Pitching Matchups
Game 1 – April 19, 10:10 P.M. ET
Francisco Liriano (L) vs. Colin Rea (R)
Game 2 – April 20, 10:10 P.M. ET
Jeff Locke (L) vs. Drew Pomeranz (L)
Game 3 – April 21, 9:10 P.M. ET
Gerrit Cole (R) vs. James Shields (R)
Francisco Liriano will be making his first start since his rough outing in Cincinnati because of his hamstring issue. Liriano should be fine, but any first start after an injury is worrisome and any indication that he is not his normal self could lead to panicking. Jeff Locke is looking to have an improved start after his last saw him give up 7 walks over only 4.2 innings. Locke looked good in his first start, a no decision against the Reds, but was dreadful in his last. Which Jeff Locke we’ll see is still to be seen. Gerrit Cole is looking for his first win after being tagged for the loss in his last start against the Tigers, despite only giving up 2 runs over 6 innings.
There isn’t much of a track record on Colin Rea, who is only making his ninth career start and his first against the Pirates. Rea for his career has a 4.06 FIP and has had trouble lasting averaging just over 5.2 innings over his 8 starts. Drew Pomeranz, now in his sixth Major League season and first with the Padres has bounced around a lot, between teams and between the rotation and the bullpen. He is currently on his third Major League team and of his 109 appearances, 51 were starts. He made the Padres rotation to start the season and has looked decent with his 2016 FIP lower than his career FIP (3.21 compared with 4.16). Pomeranz has never made an appearance against the Pirates as a start or out of the bullpen. At 34 James Shields is the old man of the rotation. The veteran is definitely not the same pitcher he was during his heyday from 2011 to 2014 with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals. Last season, his first with the Padres, saw a drastic rise in his Home Run Rate and his FIP compared with his average from 2011-14 (1.47 HR/9 in 2015 compared with .91 HR/9 from 2011-14, 4.45 FIP in 2015 compared with 3.49 FIP from 2011-14). The move to the Padres, an inferior team, can’t be blamed for these statistics as they are independent of the defense. In his 3 starts this season Shields’ numbers for these stats are even worse (1.80 HR/9 and 5.37 FIP) and he is 0-2.
Last season the Pirates played seven games over two series’ against the Padres with the Pirates winning 5 and losing 2. Despite this, the Pirates only outscored the Padres 29-25 for the season. Much of the reason for this is due to the Pirates winning three close games against the Padres in an early July sweep when the Padres visited PNC Park. This series included a walkoff victory for the Pirates. With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the Ninth, Pedro Alvarez provided the winning hit when he singled with runners on Second and Third base with two outs to give the Pirates a 2-1 victory. The Pirates and Padres split a four game series in San Diego in their other meeting last season, which took place in late May.
Padres Player to Watch: Wil Myers
Wil Myers’ brief Major League career has been plagued by wrist issues that have prevented him from making a significant impact. Myers made his Major League debut with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013 and in only 88 games slashed .293/.354/.478 with 13 Home Runs, had a wRC+ of 129, contributed 2.3 WAR, and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Things have not gone so well for Myers since his breakout half season. He missed about half of 2014 with a sprained Right Wrist and wasn’t the same player when he did play slashing .222/.294/.320. The following offseason he was traded to the Padres as part of a three team deal. With San Diego last season, though he his stats were better, he still missed a large chunk of the season with tendonitis in his left wrist. He went to the Disabled List for about a month, came back for 3 games, and went back on it after his wrist kept bugging him. He wouldn’t return this time until September 4th, well after the Padres were out of contention. The Padres are hoping to get a full injury-free season from Myers for the first time in his career.
Myers had surgery during his second stint on the Disabled List last season that will hopefully prevent the tendonitis issue that bothered him last season from cropping up. So far this season Myers has looked pretty good, slashing .288/.309/.422, though his strikeout rate is 10% higher than his career rate (34.5% compared with 24.5%). Myers is also in his first full season manning First Base. He had previously been an outfielder, but the Padres outfield became crowded with the trade that brought in Jon Jay. In what is admittedly a small sample size, Myers seems to be more suited for First Base than patrolling the spacious Outfield at Petco Park. He has a career UZR/150 of 11.8 at First Base and a career UZR/150 of -3.7 in the outfield. Overall, if Myers can return to his 2013 form and stay injury-free, he could be a good piece for the Padres to build around.
Pirates Keys to Victory
Have the Good Jeff Locke Show Up
Jeff Locke has always been beset with inconsistency with the Pirates. This season is even somewhat of a microcosm of that as he had one good start against Cincinnati and one terrible start against Milwaukee. If Jeff Locke can put together a good start, then the Padres will have a tough time beating him and winning a game in this series. The key to a good Jeff Locke start may be in his efficiency. Locke seems to have a penchant, even in his good starts, of going off the rails after the 5th inning to a higher degree than most starting pitchers. If he can have a good efficient start, keep his walk rate low, this may alleviate this and of course give the bullpen a break.
Shut Down Upton
Melvin Upton, Jr. is currently the best hitter for the Padres right now. For a team bereft of any semblance of offense, shutting him down will make it very difficult for San Diego to string together hits and push runs across the plate. If the Pirates pitching can shut down Upton then the only way San Diego may be able to score many runs is with the long ball and like the Pirates, San Diego hasn’t hit very many of those this season (9).
Keep Up the OBP
The Pirates currently lead all of baseball in team Batting Average and On-Base Percentage. This didn’t lead to a ton of runs until the most recent series with the Brewers. Luck finally started to even out and smile on the Pirates and they also started to hit some Home Runs. As long as the Pirates just keep doing what they are doing, they’ll keep scoring and should come away with a series victory against the Padres.
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. Even taking away the getting swept by the Dodgers to open the season, the Padres are 4-6 against some pretty bad competition in the Rockies, Phillies, and Diamondbacks. They are having difficulty scoring runs and the Pirates are sending out both Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole. The Padres are going to have difficulty getting runs in those two games and if the good Jeff Locke shows up it’s likely that they go winless in this series. I came very close to saying the Pirates were going to sweep the Padres, but I’ll allow that they may steal a win between being at home and getting to face Jeff Locke.
Prediction: Pirates win 2-1