Pittsburgh Pirates Host Houston Astros: Players to Watch

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

After being swept in three close games against the Miami Marlins, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves 3 games out of a wild card spot behind division rival St. Louis Cardinals. If they are to resume their postseason dreams, they will have to put that series behind them as their former divisional foe, the Houston Astros, come to town for a rare 3-game set.

It has certainly been a topsy-turvy season for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans. A recent resurgence in play for the team has them 3 games out of a playoff spot, despite an atrocious month of June (9-19) and recently getting swept at home by the Marlins. Now, the season is getting down to the nitty gritty. The rosters expand for September call-ups in 11 days and the Pirates will have to turn around their most recent form if they are to resume their hopes for postseason play. This will have to begin with a 3-game series at home versus the Houston Astros.

The Astros come into town third in the AL West with a record of 63-60. They are currently in the midst of a mediocre stretch of play, having gone 5-5 in their last 10. Their offense being especially hit-or-miss over the last ten games. In their five wins, they scored a total of 57 runs, just over 11 per game. Which team has got the advantage in this series?

Pitching Match-ups

Monday: Doug Fister (11-8, 3.76) vs. Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.00)

Tuesday: Joe Musgrove (1-1, 4.18) vs. Ivan Nova (2-0, 4.41)

Wednesday: Collin McHugh (7-10, 4.99) vs. Gerrit Cole (7-8, 3.30)

Looking at the pitching match-ups statistically, the Pirates probably have a slight advantage.

For the first game, the Pirates will start Jameson Taillon, who has been very good recently. His impeccable control and nasty off-speed pitches have had hitters baffled since he came up to the big leagues. Doug Fister, on the other hand, has had a bit of a rough go of it recently. In his last 2 starts, Fister has given up 9 earned runs in 11 innings, for an ERA of 7.36.

Tuesday’s starter for the Astros, Joe Musgrove, will be making his 4th career start.

The first three saw each end of the spectrum. In his first two starts against the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays, respectively, he only allowed 3 earned runs in 14 innings, striking out 13 while only walking 1. But his most recent start against the Baltimore Orioles was disastrous. Musgrove gave up 8 earned runs in 5.1 innings, all while giving 3 monster home runs. Ivan Nova will start for the Bucs. He has been so inconsistent in his short time as a Pirate that one can only really guess how he will perform. Fastball command is key for him.

Finally, Wednesday’s game sees a match-up of two righties.

Collin McHugh goes for the ‘Stros and his last start against the Baltimore Orioles’ stacked lineup went sour as well, giving up 6 earned runs and 9 hits in just 3 innings of work. All in all, McHugh has had disappointing season and has been steadily going downhill since his superb 2014 season, where he finished with a 2.73 ERA, .208 BAA, and 1.02 WHIP. Gerrit Cole goes for the Bucs, and  he needs to be ready to go. After his string of moderately sub par performances, I can see this game as a solid turning point for Gerrit for the rest of the season.

Advantage: Pirates, very slightly.

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Players to Watch: 

Houston Astros: Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman

The first one is obvious. Carlos Correa is a beast. The 21-year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico is having a great year and is one to keep your eye on for the future. This kid is undoubtedly a perennial future all-star, but he has struggled of late. In his last 7 games, he is 6-27 (.222) with an OBP at just a measly .276. If the Bucs can catch him during a slump, this series will go over much more easily.

Speaking of one for the future, it seems the Astros have found another one in 22-year-old third basemen Alex Bregman. The start to Bregman’s career was bumpy to say the least but he has been absolutely red-hot over his last 7 games. He is 11-29 (.379) with 3 home runs, 9 RBIs, an OBP of .400 and a .759 slugging percentage. He is young however, and strikes out. A lot. He is striking out more than once per game at 26 times in just 24 games since being called up. If Pirates pitchers can get him to chase, it could prove fruitful.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen and Josh Bell

Is Andrew McCutchen back? Personally, I don’t think so. There’s no doubt he’s been better throughout the recent weeks, but something just still feels off. Whether it’s fly balls dropping in left-center field that he catches 99 percent of the time or a change in his mannerisms, something just still doesn’t feel right about the baddest dude in the league. It will be worthwhile to see if his play keeps ascending or if he bottoms out again.

Jung-Ho Kang was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday which means that Josh Bell was recalled up to the majors, much to the rejoicing of Pirates fans. But now that the hullabaloo has died down, I’d like to beg the question: Now what do we do with him? It will be interesting to see whether Clint Hurdle puts him back out at first base despite a lackluster performance there Sunday or if he uses him exclusively in a pinch-hitting role.

Related Story: Ivan Nova, Not so Good?

Final Thoughts and Prediction

At times, the Pirates looked laughably bad this weekend in a pivotal series in the wild card chase with the Miami Marlins. They could not get any offensive production going when it was needed most, despite decent enough pitching performances. The Astros have been fairly inconsistent recently, and I look for the Pirates to take 2 of 3, gain a game in the wild card standings and have their playoff dream reinvigorated.

Go Bucs.