Pittsburgh Pirates set to Begin the Season’s Most Important Series
At 7:05 tonight the Pittsburgh Pirates will begin what is by far the most important series of their season so far
Fresh off of a series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves with a 44-48 record. This record puts them 7 games out of first place in the National League Central. Tonight, the Bucs begin a 4 game series against the first place Milwaukee Brewers.
This current homestand is a vital one for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Thus far, they have taken care of business having won the opening series of the homestand against the Cards. Now, they need to take care of business against the first place Brewers.
If the Pirates are going to make a run at the National League Central in the second half, they have to win at least 3 of 4 games in this series. So far this season the Pirates 4-3 against the Brewers and they won the lone series between the two teams at PNC Park. Hopefully, history will repeat itself this week.
The first game of the series is at 7:05 tonight. Chad Kuhl will start for the Pirates, while the Brewers send rookie Brent Suter to the mound.
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Chad Kuhl is averaging 7.28 K/9, 3.69 BB/9, and 0.95 HR/9 in 85 1/3 innings pitched this season. He owns a 4.96 ERA, 4.23 FIP, and a 4.72 xFIP. Kuhl’s numbers, however, look much better if you take away one disaster start against the Cubs.
On April 24th Chad Kuhl allowed 9 runs on 8 hits, 4 walks, and a home run in 1 2/3 innings pitched against the Cubs. Outside of this start, he has allowed 38 earned runs on 84 hits, 31 walks, and 8 home runs in 83 2/3 innings pitched. This comes out to a 4.08 ERA and a 4.04 FIP in his other 17 starts.
The left-handed Brent Suter will be making his first career start against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night. Milwaukee’s top pitching prospect owns a 2.96 ERA and a 2.78 FIP in 27 1/3 innings pitched this season.
When Suter was first called up, he pitched out of the Brewer bullpen. He has pitched in 10 games this season, 3 of which have been starts. He is averaging 8.23 K/9, 2.63 BB/9, and 0.33 HR/9. Offensively, things will not come easy for the Pirates on Monday night.
Right-handed hitters have hit Suter much more effectively than left-handed hitters have this season. Righty bats own a .405 slugging percentage and .320 wOBA against Suter this season, as opposed to .200 and .192 for left-handed hitters. Look for the Pirates to go with a right-handed heavy lineup on Monday night that features Jose Osuna in left field instead of Adam Frazier.
The Milwaukee starter for Tuesday night is currently listed a TBD, while the Pirates will go with Ivan Nova.
Ivan Nova’s overall stats this season are strong. He owns a 3.21 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 4.16 xFIP, and a 1.6 fWAR in 120 2/3 innings pitched. His 1.12 BB/9 is the best walk rate in the National League, however, he has not been missing enough bats as he is averaging just 5.00 K/9.
Recently, his numbers have been less pretty though. In his past 12 starts, Ivan Nova has struggled immensely. Those struggles are outlined here. Hopefully, the rest of Ivan Nova’s season will go like the first 6 starts and not the last 12.
Game 3 on Thursday night will feature a pitching matchup of Gerrit Cole (4.35 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 3.95 xFIP) and Zach Davies (5.00 ERA, 5.05 FIP, 1.40 HR/9). On paper, this pitching matchup favors the Bucs greatly. Thursday afternoon’s finale is scheduled to be Jameson Taillon (3.06 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.57 xFIP) against Jimmy Nelson (3.27 ERA, 3.18 FIP) in what should be a great pitching matchup.
The reason the Milwaukee Brewers are in first place is their lineup. The Brewers lead the National League in home runs (142) and rank 4th in runs scored (463). However, they are susceptible to strikeouts as their 25.2 percent strikeout rate is the second higher in the National League.
Third baseman Travis Shaw is having a huge breakout season for the Brewers. His 20 home runs, .389 wOBA, and 136 wRC+ are all second on the team, among qualified hitters, behind Eric Thames. In his return season from Korea Thames has hit 23 home runs, to go along with a .390 wOBA and a 137 wRC+.
Ex-Oakland Atheltic Eric Sogard has been a god send for the Brewers this season. To go along with playing Gold Glove caliber defense at second base, Sogard owns a .402 wOBA and a 145 wRC+. Sogard, who missed all of 2016 due to injury, owned a lifetime .272 wOBA and 72 wRC+ entering the season.
The Brewers’ lineup is one of the deepest in all of baseball. Jesus Aguilar (130 wRC+), Domingo Santana (129 wRC+), and Manny Pina (102 wRC+) have all been above league average hitters this season as well.
Additionally, there is also longtime Pirate killer Ryan Braun. Despite having played in just 42 games due to injuries, Braun is still a very dangerous hitter. He owns a .373 wOBA and a 126 wRC+ for the Brewers this season.
Game 2 of this series will be a big one for the Pirates. That is because Starling Marte will return from his 80 game suspension on Tuesday. During his rehab stint at Triple-A, Marte has looked ready to roll for the Pirates. He owns a .355 wOBA, 130 wRC+, and he has hit a home run and a double in 40 plate appearances at Triple-A.
Next: Frazier gets walk off hit in victory over Cards
Without debate, this upcoming 4 game series against the Milwaukee Brewers is the most important series of the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Bucs win the series or sweep the Brewers, they put themselves right back into the thick of things in the National League Central. If not, it is time to prepare to sell at the trade deadline at the end of the month.