Pittsburgh Pirates Face New York Mets in a Potential Wild Card Preview

May 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang (right) runs the bases on his way to scoring a run against the New York Mets during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang (right) runs the bases on his way to scoring a run against the New York Mets during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates welcome back Neil Walker and the New York Mets for three games at PNC Park. Read on for a preview of the series:

Mets Record: 31-24 (2nd in NL East)

Last Series Result: Won two of three against the Miami Marlins

Probable Pitching Matchups

Game 1 – June 6, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Jon Niese (L) (5-2) vs. Steven Matz (L) (7-1)

Game 2 – June 7, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Juan Nicasio (R) (4-4) vs. Jacob deGrom (R) (3-1)

Game 3 – June 8, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Francisco Liriano (L) (4-5) vs. Noah Syndergaard (R) (6-2)

This week, the Pittsburgh Pirates and defending National League Champion New York Mets meet for the first time in 2016. This meeting has probably been circled on the calendars of many Pirates’ fans as it marks the return of former Pirate fan favorite Neil Walker. It may come as a disappointment to many of these fans, but Walker is thus far enjoying a pretty good season, slashing .279/.348/.505 with 13 home runs. This average is good enough to lead the team and his home run total is second only to Yoenis Cespedes’ 15 home runs.

Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports /

Beyond Walker and Cespedes there is not much to get excited about with the Mets offense. The team as a whole is slashing .214/.313/.412 (28th/22nd/16th in MLB) and their 506 strikeouts are the fifth most in baseball. The offense as a whole is pretty dependent on the home run, the team’s 76 are tied for the fourth most in the league. Making things worse, the Mets infield is currently thin, with starting third baseman David Wright and starting first baseman Lucas Duda being placed on the disabled list recently.

Despite this relative offensive ineptitude, the Mets find themselves competing for a playoff spot again as they are only two games behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East. Additionally, if the season ended today, they would host the Wild Card Game. Their hypothetical opponent right now would be the Pittsburgh Pirates, making this series a preview of a potential playoff matchup.

Should this transpire, maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates could shake their recent Wild Card troubles by getting away from PNC Park. Regardless, discussion on this is premature being that it is still early June.

With a lackluster offense, discounting home runs, and injuries, the Mets have been powered by their excellent starting rotation this season. Though former All-Star Matt Harvey is having a rough season, the rest of the rotation is picking up the slack. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the bad luck of facing the three best performing starters in the Mets rotation: Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. All three boast ERA’s 2.62 or lower, own WHIP’s 1.16 or less, and are striking out more than seven batters per nine innings pitched. Syndergaard, aka Thor, is the ace of aces with an ERA of 1.91, 1.78 FIP, a WHIP of 0.96, and is striking out 11.46 batters per nine innings pitched.

Recent Meetings

Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates won every game they played against the eventual National League Champions last season. The Pirates went 6-0 and outscored the Mets 37-10 in six meetings between the two teams.

The first meeting came in late May with the Pirates not allowing more than two runs in any of the games and defeating the Mets by scores of 4-1, 8-2, and 9-1. The Mets were more competitive when the two teams met in New York in August, with two of the three games going to extra innings. The Pittsburgh Pirates won the first game 3-2 in ten innings and took the second game 5-3 in 14 innings. The Pirates would complete the series and season sweep of the Mets with an 8-1 victory the next day.

Mets Player to Watch: James Loney

With starting Mets first baseman Lucas Duda being sent to the disabled list, the Mets looked outside the organization to replace him in the lineup. They dud this by acquiring veteran first baseman James Loney from the San Diego Padres organization for cash. Loney, a longtime Los Angeles Dodger and Tampa Bay Ray, had been released by the Rays during the spring and had spent all of 2016 up until his acquisition by the Mets in Triple-A El Paso.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Loney has seen his performance decrease every season since 2013, and was actually a negative WAR player last season according to FanGraphs. However, his stint in the Minor Leagues was a productive one, with a slashline of .342/.373/.424 and a wRC+ of 116. The beginning of his Mets career has also been a good one, with Loney going 7-for-21 with a home run in his first five games with the team.

Loney having a bit of a comeback season and performing adequately, at least until Lucas Duda returns from the disabled list, is important for the Mets hopes in the NL East race and in returning to the postseason. Though not too much stock should be given to his Minor League stats and the small sample size of play he has with the Mets, Loney’s tenure as Mets’ first baseman has at least gotten off to a good start and he is a player to watch during this upcoming series.

Pittsburgh Pirates Keys to Victory

Limit Home Runs

The Mets have a contradictory offense, with a lineup that overall doesn’t get a lot of hits, but still hits a lot of home runs. Because of this, the Mets rely heavily on the long ball to score runs. Pirates pitching can prevent the Mets from scoring many runs by keeping the ball in the park. If they can do this, they may be able to steal at least a game in this series.

Timely Hitting

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Because of the Mets’ inability to get on base, they rely heavily on their pitching to prevent opponents from scoring runs. Opportunities for runs for the Pirates’ offense may be few and far between. Because of this, it is important that the Pittsburgh Pirates take advantage of the scoring chances that they do get.

Keep Cespedes and Walker in Check

As mentioned above, the Mets offense is not very intimidating once you get past Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker. If Pittsburgh Pirates pitching can keep these two from getting on base or hitting the ball out of the park, the Mets will have difficulty getting any offense going. Even with their fantastic pitching, it will be hard for the Mets to beat the Pirates without any offensive production.

Next: Sabermetric Sunday: xFIP

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. While the Pirates have a much better offense than the Mets, the roles are inversed when it comes to pitching. If given the choice, it’s generally better to have pitching instead of hitting. Add to that the Mets ability to hit a lot of home runs and the Pirates recent skid, and I think New York gets the edge in this series.

Prediction: Mets 2-1

Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /


*Stats courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, mlb.com, and espn.com