Pittsburgh Pirates Make Rare Trip to Texas for Match-up with the Rangers
By Jim Sutter
The Pittsburgh Pirates travel to Texas for a 3 game inter-league series with the Rangers. Read on for a preview of the series.
Rangers Record: 27-20 (2nd in AL West)
Last Series Result: Won 2 of 3 against the Los Angeles Angels
Probable Pitching Matchups
Game 1 – May 27, 8:05 P.M. ET
Jon Niese (L) (4-2) vs. Cole Hamels (L) (5-0)
Game 2 – May 28, 7:15 P.M. ET
Juan Nicasio (R) (4-3) vs. Yu Darvish (R) (0-0)
Game 3 – May 29, 3:05 P.M. ET
Francisco Liriano (L) (4-3) vs. Martin Perez (L) (2-4)
The Texas Rangers, much like the Pittsburgh Pirates, got off to a middling start to the season with a record of 15-14 through their first 29 games. However, they have won 5 of their last 6 series and, also like the Pirates, sit second in their division and would be playoff bound if the season ended today. The Rangers are led by former Pirates’ bench coach Jeff Banister at manager. Banister, now in his second season leading the Rangers, won AL Manager of the Year last season and has a 115-94 record through his first 209 games.
There are a couple of storylines surrounding the Texas Rangers as we head into this series. The first being the recent suspension of second baseman Rougned Odor for his role in inciting the recent brawl between the Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays when he punched Jose Bautista. Odor was allowed to continue playing while appealing his suspension, but now that the appeal has been heard he will begin his suspension on Friday and not be available for the Rangers while the Pittsburgh Pirates are in town.
However, the Rangers will be getting their superstar pitcher, Yu Darvish, back in time for this series. Darvish, who has been an All-Star in each of his 3 big league seasons, has not pitched since August 8, 2014 and underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015. Darvish will be making his return in the second game on Saturday and has looked good in his rehab starts.
The Texas Rangers offense is relatively average as a whole. They do boast a .260 team batting average (9th in MLB) and their 339 strikeouts are the sixth least in baseball, but are 26th in the league in walks with 123 and their 46 home runs are 19th. As a result their on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS are much more pedestrian at .318,.408, and .726 respectively (16th, 13th, and 14th in MLB).
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Rookie Outfielder Nomar Mazara, about whom there is more below, is leading the Rangers offense along with shortstop Elvis Andrus and offseason addition outfielder Ian Desmond. Though veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre’s performance has seen a decrease due to age, he remains a threat to hit home runs, with seven so far on the season.
Finally, Jurickson Profar will be manning second base with Odor suspended and will be batting leadoff with Shin-Soo Choo on the disabled list. The Rangers’ former number one prospect has missed the past two seasons with a torn muscle in his right shoulder and will be making his first Major League appearance since 2013 after being called up from AAA Round Rock on Friday.
The Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers haven’t played each other since 2013 when they met for a 3 game series in September of that year. The Pirates got the better of the Rangers, sweeping them and outscoring them 13-9 over the 3 games.
The first game of that series, on September 9, 2013, is a memorable one to myself and probably a lot of other Pirates fans as it was the team’s 82nd win of the season, clinching their first winning season since 1992. Gerrit Cole, then a rookie, and Yu Darvish had a pitcher’s duel with neither letting up a run through the first six innings. In the end Cole was just a little better, as the Pirates finally got to Darvish in the seventh inning when Marlon Byrd and Pedro Alvarez hit back-to-back doubles to give the Pirates the only run of the ballgame. Cole pitched a scoreless seventh and the bullpen held to end 20 years of suffering.
The Pirates would add wins 83 and 84 over the next two days beating the Rangers 5-4 and 7-5.
Rangers Player to Watch: Nomar Mazara
When Nomar Mazara made his Major League debut earlier this season on April 10th, he was not yet legally allowed to purchase alcohol, only turning 21 a couple of weeks later. Since that debut Mazara has led the Rangers offense with a .320/.365/.500 slashline and 8 home runs. This is no fluke in small sample size either, as he has become an everyday starter for the Rangers and already has 167 plate appearances. His BABIP is a little high at .345, suggesting a little regression may be in store, but it is not overly high and is in line with him having a slightly higher than average BABIP throughout his career in the minors. Mazara also boasts a 131 wRC+ and a .371 wOBA.
Mazara’s hot start has been a pleasant surprise in a Rangers outfield that was projected to be rather thin behind Ian Desmond. Whether Mazara will continue to hit like a veteran All-Star or come back to earth as pitchers figure him out remains to be seen. The Rangers may need the former to occur if they hope to keep pace with the AL West leading Seattle Mariners or fend off potential challenges from the still potentially dangerous Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros. Regardless of what transpires, Mazara may be a pest to American League pitching for years to come.
Pirates Keys to Victory
Make Mazara Play Like a Rookie
Mazara is currently leading the charge for the Rangers offense, but he is still a rookie. As mentioned above, he may be due for some regression. If Pirates pitching can keep Mazara from performing like a veteran, the Rangers may be in trouble as they don’t have the deepest lineup, especially with Rougned Odor suspended.
Jump on Yu
Though he has looked brilliant in rehab starts, Yu Darvish was still facing Minor League competition and is coming off Tommy John Surgery. Darvish hasn’t played in a Major League contest in a year and a half. Though I fully expect Darvish to return to dominant form, he may need time to get back up to speed. The Pirates potent lineup, particularly with a designated hitter, may be able to jump on Darvish while he’s still rusty. If they can do that, they have a very good chance of winning on Saturday
No Free Passes
Though the Pirates pitching has issued a lot of walks this season, the Rangers do not take very many. Something will likely give in this series and the Pirates need to make sure they are on the right end of it. The pitchers need to take advantage of the seemingly free-swinging Rangers and limit their walks. This is a great opportunity to not make things easy on the opposition by allowing free baserunners.
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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. I don’t have a very good feeling about this series. Though the Pittsburgh Pirates are hot, so are the Texas Rangers. Additionally, they have Yu Darvish returning who, despite what I said above, is perfectly capable of mowing down the Pirates batters. In this matchup between two good teams who are hot I see the home team coming away the better, though a sweep by either side would be a surprise.
Prediction: Rangers 2-1
*Stats courtesy of Fangraphs, baseball reference, mlb.com, and espn.com