Tuesday night at PNC Park the Pittsburgh Pirates will start a three game interleague series against the 40-38 Tampa Bay Rays
Interleague play has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. So far this season the Pirates have played a trio of interleague series against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Baltimore Orioles. In these three series, the Pirates have been swept twice and own a record of 2-6.
The Pirates will look to turn their fortunes in interleague play around starting tonight. For the second time in the history of their franchise, the Tampa Bay Rays are making the journey to PNC Park to play the Pirates and they are doing so with a 40-38 record. This record puts them 2.5 games out of first place in the American League East.
The Pittsburgh Pirates enter this series on the heels of a 4-3 road trip. While a 4-3 road trip is always a successful one, it was a bit of a disappointment for the Pirates. This is because there was a pair of games on the trip they appeared to have won before the bullpen melted down leading to losses.
After the road trip, the Pirates are 35-41 which puts them 5 games out of first place in the insanely mediocre National League Central. Had the Pirate bullpen not blown those games on the road trip, they would be 37-39 and just 3 games out of first place. That is what made the road trip a bit disappointing.
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Trevor Williams is on a stretch of eight consecutive strong starts. In these eight starts, he has allowed 41 hits and just three home runs in 43 2/3 innings pitched. He has averaged 5.98 K/9, 1.85 BB/9, and he owns a 3.59 FIP. Williams has also induced more soft contact (24.5 percent) than any other National League starting pitcher during this stretch.
As for Alex Cobb, he is having a good but not great season. In 15 starts he owns a 4.05 ERA and a 4.14 FIP in 93 1/3 innings pitched. He’s averaging 6.36 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, and 0.96 HR/9.
Ivan Nova just continues to chug along as one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the National Leagues. In 103 innings pitched this season Nova owns a 3.09 ERA and a 3.79 FIP. His 0.96 BB/9 is the best in the National League, and he owns the best pitch per inning average in the league as well.
Blake Snell is essentially Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow. He is their top pitching prospect and has fantastic stuff, but he has struggled immensely in the Major Leagues. Prior to his demotion, Snell averaged 5.36 BB/9 and 1.29 HR/9. This led to him owning a 4.71 ERA and a 5.16 FIP in 42 innings pitched.
The pitching matchup on Wednesday night, on paper, greatly favors the Pirates.
Thursday afternoon’s series finale features a great pitcher’s duel. The Pirates plan to send Jameson Taillon to the mound, while the Rays will counter with Chris Archer in a battle of two of the game’s best young right-handed starting pitchers.
Since returning from the disabled list Jameson Taillon has made three starts. He is averaging 9.00 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, and owns a 2.89 FIP in 16 innings pitched in these three starts. These starts have just continued what had already been a strong sophomore campaign for Taillon.
Chris Archer has pitched 104 innings in 16 starts this season. He is averaging 10.87 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, 0.78 HR/9, and he owns a 2.88 FIP. Archer is simply one of the best starting pitchers in the American League.
Tampa Bay’s offense this season has centered around the long ball. They have hit 121 home runs this season, which is the second most in the American League. However, their 25.5 percent strikeout rate is the highest in the American League.
Logan Morrison (22), Corey Dickerson (17), Steven Souza Jr. (14), Evan Longoria (12), and Tim Beckham (10), yes THE Tim Beckham drafted number one overall in 2008 before Pedro Alvarez, all have double digit home runs already this season. However, Dickerson is the team’s designated hitter and therefore may not start during this series. And if he does make any starts, the Rays will be sacrifice outfield defense in doing so.
In center field, the Rays have arguably the best defensive player in all of Major League Baseball in Kevin Kiermaier. This season, he owns a defensive runs saved (DRS) of +11 in center field. This comes on the heels of a +25 DRS in 2016 and an almost unbelievable DRS of +42 in 2015.
After this series, the Pittsburgh Pirates start a very important stretch. 34 of their next 45 games after this series come against teams with a sub-.500 record. They will also get Starling Marte back from suspension during that 45 game stretch.
If the Pirates are going to make a run at the National League Central, it is during that 45 game stretch when they will do so. However, before the start of that vital stretch, they must do battle with the Tampa Bay Rays for three games at PNC Park beginning tonight.