Pittsburgh Pirates Return to Pittsburgh to Face the Brewers

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

The Pittsburgh Pirates return to PNC Park for the first time since the All-Star Break and play host to the struggling Milwaukee Brewers. Read on for a preview of the series.

Brewers Record: 39-51 (4th in NL Central)

Last Series Result: Lost two of three to the Cincinnati Reds

Probable Pitching Matchups

Game 1 – July 19, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Jameson Taillon (R) (2-1) vs. Junior Guerra (R) (6-2)

Game 2 – July 20, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Jeff Locke (L) (8-5) vs. Chase Anderson (R) (4-10)

Game 3 – July 21, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Francisco Liriano (L) (5-9) vs. Matt Garza (R) (1-3)

The Milwaukee Brewers were expected to be towards the bottom of the National League Central and National League overall when the season began. This has proven to be the case through the first half of the season as the Brewers are currently only ahead of the moribund Cincinnati Reds in the division standings. Things should likely only get worse for the Brewers as they have already traded their previous everyday third baseman Aaron Hill to the Red Sox and rumors have been around all season of them shipping away catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The weak performance can be blamed on mediocre to poor batting and terrible pitching. The team is slashing .245/.322/.391 overall (22nd/17th/28th in MLB) and their 859 strikeouts are the most in baseball. While there are other teams, such as the New York Mets, that can sometimes make up for relatively tepid overall batting by hitting well for power, the Brewers have no such recourse. Their 92 home runs are 22nd in the Majors and their 238 extra base hits are more than only the last place Atlanta Braves.

The only real positive that the Brewers enjoy from the plate is their ability to draw walks, as their 329 overall free passes is sixth in the league. Despite the team’s overall struggles from the plate, the Brewers still have a few dangerous hitters in Ryan Braun, Jonathan Villar, and Lucroy. Additionally, first baseman Chris Carter has 22 home runs.

Despite their deficiencies from the plate, the Brewers pitching has been even more of a weakness for Milwaukee. Their staff’s ERA is 4.42 and WHIP is 1.43, 22nd and 27th in baseball respectively. Their 659 strikeouts are second fewest and their 316 walks are seventh most. However, the Pirates will face Junior Guerra, who has been the best performing starter for the Brewers this season. Guerra boasts an ERA of 3.06 and a WHIP of 1.07 over 82.1 innings pitched and 13 starts. The other starters that the Pirates face are not nearly as formidable. Chase Anderson and Matt Garza have both struggled this season with ERA’s above 5.40 and WHIP’s above 1.40.

Recent Meetings

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

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers have only met once so far this season, way back in April in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Pirates dropped the first game of the series, but won the other two games to take the series two to one. After being outscored 5-0 through the first six innings in the opener, the Pirates got back into the game by exploding for four runs in the seventh inning, thanks in large part to a three-run home run from Matt Joyce.

The Brewers ended any hope of a comeback by scoring three runs over the final two innings to win 8-4. The Pittsburgh Pirates were able to exact revenge the next two games, winning them 5-0 and 9-3 and taking the series in the process. Those wins ended a four game losing streak and began a stretch of 13 games where the Pirates went 10-3.

Brewers Player to Watch: Jonathan Villar

One bright spot on the Milwaukee Brewers this season has been Jonathan Villar, their young shortstop. The Brewers acquired Villar in a trade with the Houston Astros this past offseason.  The 25 year old Dominican is enjoying a bit of a breakout season this year in Milwaukee.

For the season he is slashing .302/.384/.426, compared with his career line of .260/.331/.379. Much of this improvement may stem from increased discipline at the plate, as Villar has seen his walk percentage jump to 11.7 percent from 7.8 percent and 6.6 percent each of the past two seasons with the Astros.

More from Rum Bunter

However, a lot of this is also likely due to a high BABIP of .410 (compared with a .354 career rate). This is indicative of a potential future drop in his production. The degree of this decrease in production is not known or even if it will manifest this season, but a significant drop over the second half would make it even more difficult for the Brewers to win games over the rest of the season. This would be good news for the Pirates, who play the Brewers 16 times over the remainder of the season. For what it’s worth, Villar had a good series going 5-for-12 with two walks during the Brewers most recent series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Pittsburgh Pirates Keys to Victory

Limit Walks

The Brewers’ offense is overall weak, but they do draw a lot of walks. Pirates’ pitchers can make things very difficult for the Brewers by limiting the number of free passes they issue to Brewers’ batters.

Take Care of Business Against the Brewers’ Starters

The Pittsburgh Pirates are lucky enough to face two struggling starting pitchers. They need to jump on them and take an early lead. Especially given that their own pitchers in those match-ups (Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano) have struggled at times this season.

Take Advantage of Opportunities

With overall weaker pitching for both teams, there will likely be high scoring games. Though the Pittsburgh Pirates may take a big lead or fall behind early, the game will probably not be out of reach. In any case, it’s important that the Pirates take advantage of the opportunities that they are given.

Next: Has Adam Frazier Earned More Starts?

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 Pirates are generally the superior team here, but baseball’s a funny game. The Brewers do have some dangerous hitters, despite a relatively poor offense overall. Though I expect the Pirates to win this series, I also expect at least one Pirates’ starter to have a weak game during the series. The Brewers will take advantage and steal a game and prevent the sweep. The Pirates have a great opportunity against a weak opponent and could really use a sweep with them currently on the outside looking in on the playoffs right now. Unfortunately, I think the pitching will do them in at some point, preventing them from completing a sweep. However, I still think they’ll win the series overall.

Prediction: Pirates win 2-1