Pittsburgh Pirates Head to House of Horrors for Vital Series vs. Brewers
The Pittsburgh Pirates head to the dreaded Miller Park this weekend in hopes of a big series win to help get them back on track. Even though the Pirates historically struggle in Milwaukee, they should really win this series, shouldn’t they? Here is the analysis on what to watch out for.
As a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, no two words make me cringe more than “Miller Park.” The home to the division rival Milwaukee Brewers has given the Buccos fits for years, and Pirates fans watch apprehensively every time the team takes field in Milwaukee. But this isn’t just any series at this point in the season. The Pirates have struggled over the past two series, going 1-5 versus the Miami Marlins and the Houston Astros, both at home, leaving them 3.5 games back from the second Wild Card spot. A series win in the 4-game set this weekend at Miller Park might catapult the Bucs back into playoff contention. Here is what to look out for.
Thursday: Chad Kuhl (3-1, 3.62) vs. Wily Peralta (5-9, 6.00)
Friday: Ryan Vogelsong (2-3, 2.98) vs. Matt Garza (4-5, 5.27)
Saturday: Jameson Taillon (3-3, 2.92) vs. Jimmy Nelson (7-13, 4.26)
Sunday: Ivan Nova (3-0, 3.20) vs. Chase Anderson (7-10, 4.99)
I’ve chosen Friday night’s pitching match-up as one to watch especially closely this series. There aren’t any pitching match-ups that scream “pitcher’s duel” but Ryan Vogelsong has been an interesting case recently. One might argue that he has been our most consistent starter of late, but has run into some really bad luck. His last start against the Marlins was stellar, giving up 3 runs in 6 innings of work, but only 1 of those runs was earned.
Vogelsong has been pitching very well, but just hasn’t gotten any run support from a lineup that has been lackluster in recent weeks. Against Matt Garza, a pitcher with a 5.27 ERA who the Pirates have faced what seems like a million times, he may finally get the run support he has so visibly deserved recently.
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Players to Watch
Pirates: Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco
In my latest series preview for the 3-game set against the Astros, I pondered where Clint Hurdle might use freshly-promoted Josh Bell. Personally, I assumed he was still way too raw in the field for him to be used as a regular first basemen, but Hurdle shut me up quickly. Bell started at first base for all 3 games against Houston, and honestly, he did pretty well. With John Jaso struggling since the all-star break, Bell’s monstrous bat and good-enough glove at first will give the team options down the stretch.
The time is right for Gregory Polanco to start to go on a tear. The Pirates’ right fielder hit two home runs, a triple, and two doubles in the series versus Houston. If he gets on a good streak of a few weeks where he is constantly mashing the ball like he is capable of, it will certainly help offset the still disappointing play of Pirates star Andrew McCutchen.
Brewers: Ryan Braun and Jonathan Villar
Oh, Ryan Braun. We love to hate you. But even then, we have to come to a painful consensus: the guy is one heck of a ballplayer. Even throughout all of his steroid scandal, he just continued to do what he did best. And now that the Pirates are coming to town, he might be starting to heat up. His two home runs yesterday versus the Colorado Rockies helped propel his team to a sweep. He is by far and away Milwaukee’s best hitter. Containing his swing will be key for Pirates’ pitchers to get wins.
Jonathan Villar is a pest. His 50 steals are three behind Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton‘s 53 for the most in the major leagues. Even if he’s not stealing, he is in the back of the pitcher’s mind every time he gets on base, which can lead to some debacles on the base paths. Minimizing his on-base percentage is vital to the Pirates’ success this weekend.
I know we say this every time the Pirates travel to Miller Park, but we should really be winning most of our games against the Brewers. At 56-70, fourth in the NL Central, the fact of the matter is just that they aren’t very good. Each pitcher starting for Milwaukee in this series has an ERA above 4.25. Even though the Pirates are struggling right now, I expect them to get back on track in a vital series at Miller Park, which would be a huge boost in confidence for the rest of the year.
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Prediction: Bucs take care of their business and take 3 out of 4. Then they need to get as far away from Miller Park as they possibly can.