The Pittsburgh Pirates’ quest for a fourth consecutive playoff berth is hitting the stretch run. This weekend, they host the Miami Marlins in a vital series.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently the first team out of the postseason in the National League. However, the Pirates are just one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot. Also, they are just three games behind the San Francisco Giants for the top Wild Card spot.
The next team behind the Pittsburgh Pirates is the Miami Marlins. The Marlins currently sit one and a half a games behind the Pirates, two behind the Cardinals, and four behind the Giants. This weekend, the Pirates will welcome the Marlins to PNC Park for a vital series.
Right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins are two teams trending in opposite directions. While the Pirates are a National League best 10-5 in the month of August, the Marlins are just 5-10. Plus, the Marlins also recently lost slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the remainder of the season due to a quad injury.
The Marlins also recently placed left-handed starting pitcher Adam Conley on the disabled list. Prior to going onto the disabled list, Conley had been Miami’s best starting pitcher this season behind superstar Jose Fernandez. Speaking of Fernandez, he started against the Reds on Thursday night so the Pittsburgh Pirates will, lucky, miss him in this series.
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Friday night and Sunday afternoon’s pitching match ups favor the Pirates on paper, while Saturday goes to the Marlins. In game one on Friday night the Pirates will send ace Gerrit Cole to the mound (2.84 FIP, 3.93 xFIP) where he will be opposed by fellow right-handed starter Tom Koehler (4.05 FIP, 4.71 xFIP). Saturday night will once again feature a pair of right-handed starters as Chad Kuhl (3.94 FIP, 4.83 xFIP) leads the Pittsburgh Pirates against David Phelps (3.00 FIP, 3.27 xFIP) and the Miami Marlins. In the series finale on Sunday Ryan Vogelsong (3.79 FIP, 3.97 xFIP) will get the ball for the Pirates, and he will be opposed by Jose Urena (4.82 FIP, 5.10 xFIP).
On top of a scuffling rotation, the Miami Marlins’ bullpen has struggled lately as well. On June 30th the Marlins swung a trade with the San Diego Padres to add San Diego closer Fernando Rodney. As the Padres’ closer, Rodney allowed just two runs in 29 2/3 innings pitched. However, he has been a mess as the Marlins’ set up man. Since being traded to Miami Rodney has a 5.06 ERA, 4.93 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, and he is averaging 5.06 BB/9 in 21 1/3 innings pitched.
All-Star closer A.J. Ramos has not been as reliable of late either. Ramos’ 4.12 xFIP indicates that he is due for some regression, and that regression is happening. In 13 1/3 innings pitched since July 1st Ramos is averaging 5.40 BB/9, and he has a 6.08 ERA. However, the Marlins’ bullpen has gotten good work out of Kyle Barraclough (2.23 FIP, 2.82 xFIP, 14.73 K/9) and Dustin McGowan (3.90 FIP, 3.94 xFIP, 8.54 K/9) this season.
While Miami’s offense 21st in the Major Leagues in runs scored, they do have some dangerous hitters. Even with Giancarlo Stanton out, the Marlins’ lineup has to be taken seriously. Especially now that Dee Gordon has returned from suspension.
The two hitters that Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitchers will have to worry about most are outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Yelich is a player who has been on the brink of breaking through in recent seasons. However, in 2016 he has finally taken that next step.
Yelich is slashing .313/.382/.487/.869 with a .373 wOBA, 133 wRC+, and 13 home runs in 490 plate appearances. Christian Yelich is also a strong defender in left field. The 2014 Gold Glove Award winner has four defensive runs saved this season.
Marcell Ozuna is another player that has always flashed potential and now is finally putting it together in 2016. In 482 plate appearances Ozuna has a .281/.336/.498/.834 slash line, .353 wOBA, 119 wRC+, and 22 home runs. Veteran infielder Martin Prado (.356 wOBA, 121 wRC+) and up and coming catcher J.T. Realmuto (.347 on-base percentage, 102 wRC+) can be threats as well.
Finally, there is future Hall Of Fame outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. Last week, Ichiro collected his 3,000 career Major League hit. Ichiro is slashing .313/.384/.387/.771 with a .340 wOBA, 110 wRC+, and has nine stolen bases. Even at his advanced age, Ichiro is still a threat at the plate.
This weekend’s series should be an intense one. This series should have a postseason atmosphere around it, as both teams are in a dog fight to make the postseason. The Marlins need this series more than the Pirates do, and I expect them to play like a desperate team as a result. However, that is not to say I am expecting the Pirates to care any less than the Marlins.
In my opinion, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a better team than the Miami Marlins. The Pirates are also playing much better baseball right now than the Marlins are. Combine those factors with this series being at PNC Park, and I am expecting the Bucs to at least take two of three from the Fish this weekend.