Pittsburgh Pirates Welcome Rival Cardinals to PNC Park
The Pittsburgh Pirates welcome the rival Cardinals in a battle for Second Place in the NL Central and the final Wild Card spot. Read on for a preview of the series:
Cardinals Record: 32-28 (T-2nd with the Pittsburgh Pirates in NL Central)
Last Series Result: Won 2 of 3 against the Cincinnati Reds
Probable Pitching Matchups
Game 1 – June 10, 7:05 P.M. EDT
Gerrit Cole (R) (5-4) vs. Michael Wacha (R) (2-6)
Game 2 – June 11, 7:15 P.M. EDT
Francisco Liriano (L) (4-5) vs. Carlos Martinez (R) (6-5)
Game 3 – June 12, 5:05 P.M. EDT
Jon Niese (L) (6-2) vs. Mike Leake (R) (4-4)
The Cardinals come into this series in a tie for second in the NL Central and the second Wild Card spot with the Pirates. The Pirates have spent a majority of the time since they last played a little over a month ago ahead of the Cardinals in the standings, but St. Louis has worked their way into a tie thanks in part to the Pirates recent struggles and winning 8 of their last 12 games. Much like the previous series with the Mets, this series could prove to be a preview of a potential Wild Card Game matchup. At the very least, these rivals will likely be fighting each other for second place in the division for the most of the remainder of the season.
The Cardinals, like the Pirates, boast a potent offense slashing .269/.339/.458 (6th/4th/2nd in MLB) compared with the Pirates .276/.352/.426 slashline. The main difference between the two offenses being their respective power. The Cardinals currently have 80 Home Runs, tied for 5th in baseball, compared with the Pirates relatively meager 57 Home Runs (23rd in MLB). Additionally, the Cardinals walk a lot (204, T-9th in MLB) and strikeout little (461, 21st Highest in MLB).
The Cardinals offense has been powered by the trio of rookie Shortstop Aledmys Diaz, Second Baseman Matt Carpenter, and Right Fielder Stephen Piscotty. All currently have an OPS over .850 and an On-Base Percentage over .350. The three have also combined for 24 Home Runs so far, with all hitting at least 7 this season. Additionally, veteran Catcher Yadier Molina is proving that he can still produce, slashing .271/.348/.362. On the other hand though, Randal Grichuk has been a disappointment in his second season, currently slashing .217/.284/.402, though he does have 7 Home Runs.
Cardinal pitching, like the Pirates, has been a disappointment this season, with no starter currently with an ERA under 3.75 and Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, previously probably the two best pitchers in the Cardinals’ rotation, both have ERA’s over 5.00. Carlos Martinez has also cooled down from his hot start, though he did recently pitch 8 scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, only giving up 5 hits and striking out 8 while only walking 1 batter. Mike Leake, the other starter that the Pirates will face currently has a WHIP of 1.18, second only to Martinez in the rotation, but has given up a team high 12 Home Runs (1.45 HR/9).
The Pirates have gotten the better of the Cardinals in meetings between the two teams thus far this season, going 5-1 in the 6 games they’ve played. After the Pirates swept the Cardinals at PNC Park to open the season, they took 2 of 3 from St. Louis when they met at Busch Stadium in early May. The Pirates won the first game 4-2 thanks to two Home Runs from Jung Ho Kang in his season debut. The Pirates lost the middle game 6-4 when Matt Carpenter hit a walk-off 2-run Home Run in the bottom of the Ninth. The Pirates won the finale of the series 10-5 thanks to scoring 8 runs over the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh innings.
Cardinals Player to Watch: Jhonny Peralta
Cardinals veteran Third Baseman Jhonny Peralta just made his season debut on Tuesday and has already made his presence felt in the Cardinals lineup. The 34-year-old is 4 for 10 with 2 doubles and a Home Run in 3 games this season. Peralta missed the first two months of the season because of thumb surgery to repair a damaged ligament. His absence gave rookie Aledmys Diaz the opportunity to work his way into the starting lineup and become the everyday Shortstop.
Peralta’s return combined with Diaz’s emergence has forced the Cardinals to do some shuffling in the Infield, with Peralta playing Third Base for the first time since 2010. This can only be good for the Cardinals though, as Peralta now gives the Cardinals 3 very good everyday players in their infield in Peralta, Diaz, and Matt Carpenter. Unless Peralta sees a drastic drop-off in performance, possible given Peralta’s age but unlikely, the Cardinals will only be better from here on out than they had been previously.
Pirates Keys to Victory
Francisco Liriano Needs a Good Start
The Pirates will send out probably the two best members of the rotation this series in Gerrit Cole and Jon Niese. However the other pitcher, Francisco Liriano who would have been expected to be in that group, is making the other start. Liriano has been roughed up lately and there had been speculation that a trip to the Disabled List was imminent. The Pirates will need Liriano to start performing better from here on out and this outing against the Cardinals needs to be when it starts.
No Home Runs
As mentioned above, the Cardinals boast a potent offense like the Pirates, but hit Home Runs more frequently. The Pirates’ pitching can do the team a favor by keeping the ball in the park. With the two teams both having good offenses, but mediocre pitching, Home Runs could mean the difference in at least one of the games.
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With the Cardinals potent lineup, they are rarely completely out of games. That is why it is important for the Pirates’ starters to have efficient starts that limit runs and go deep into games. This will hopefully give the offense an opportunity to build up a sizeable lead that it will be difficult for the Cardinals offense to erase once the game gets to the bullpen.
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. Between this game being at PNC Park and what are generally favorable pitching matchups, I expect the Pirates to get the win in this series. It is concerning that they had to make that ludicrous one day trip to Denver to play the make-up game with the Rockies in the middle of this homestand. Hopefully, the players have rested enough and will be able to make it 3 for 3 on series victories against the Cardinals this season.
Prediction: Pirates 2-1
*Stats courtesy of Fangraphs, baseball reference, mlb.com, and espn.com