Pittsburgh Pirates Head to San Francisco for 3 Game Series

DENVER, CO - JULY 21: Jordy Mercer
DENVER, CO - JULY 21: Jordy Mercer /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates will be looking for revenge against the San Francisco Giants this week

99 out of 162 games have been played by the 2017 Pittsburgh Baseball Club. Through the first 99 games of the season the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves with a 49-50 record. This record puts them in third place in the National League Central, just 3 games out of first place.

On the heels of losing two out of three games at Coors Field in Denver against the Colorado Rockies, the Pittsburgh Pirates are preparing for a six game stretch against two of the worst teams in all of baseball. This stretch starts with a three game series at AT&T Park in San Francisco against the 38-62 San Francisco Giants that begins tonight.

San Francisco’s 38 wins are tied with the Chicago White Sox for the second fewest in all of Major League Baseball. Despite this, the Giants swept a three game series at PNC Park to start the month of July. Now, the Pirates will be looking for revenge this week.

Working in the Pirates’ favor this week is that they will send their three best starting pitchers to the mound. Gerrit Cole will start game one tonight, game two on Tuesday night will see Jameson Taillon take the mound, and Trevor Williams will start the series finale on Wednesday afternoon.

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In 20 starts this season Gerrit Cole owns a 4.18 ERA, 4.21 FIP, and a 3.78 xFIP in 120 2/3 innings pitched. He is averaging 8.06 K/9, 2.01 BB/9, and he owns a 47.5 percent ground ball rate. Cole’s problem this year is that he has been plagued by the long ball allowing an average of 1.49 HR/9. However, this has been less of an issue lately as he is allowing an average of just 0.92 HR/9 his past eight starts.

Opposing Gerrit Cole tonight will be Matt Cain. Continuing his trend of recent seasons Matt Cain has struggled immensely in 2017. Cain has pitched in 19 games, 18 of which have been starts, and owns a 5.49 ERA and a 5.08 FIP in 96 2/3 innings pitched. Furthermore, his 5.25 xFIP does not indicate a pitcher due to pitch better.

Matt Cain is averaging a career-low 5.40 K/9 so far this season, to go along with a walk rate of 3.72 BB/9 that is the second highest of his now 13 year Major League career. Cain is allowing 1.30 HR/9 and is allowing hard contact at an alarmingly high 32.1 percent rate. There is no reason the Pirate offense should not have a huge game against Matt Cain tonight.

Tuesday night’s game figures to be one of the best pitching matchups of the week in Major League Baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates will send budding ace Jameson Taillon to the mound to face San Francisco Giants’ bonafide ace Madison Bumgarner.

Due to injuries suffered in an ATV crash, Madison Bumgarner has made just six starts this season. In those six starts he has been good, but he has not been his usual self. He is averaging 8.48 K/ and just 1.56 BB/9, but he has allowed six home runs in 40 1/3 innings pitched (1.34 HR/9).

Bumgarner owns a 3.57 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and a 3.93 xFIP in those six starts. While Madison Bumgarner has yet to round into form this season, the Pirates should still prepare to have their hands full on Tuesday night.

Luckily for the Bucs, Jameson Taillon will oppose him. Despite missing a month due to treatments for testicular cancer, Taillon has been the team’s best starting pitcher in 2017. In 73 innings pitched (13 starts) Taillon owns a 3.08 ERA, 3.18 FIP, and a 3.48 xFIP. His 1.7 fWAR is the highest of any pitcher in the Pirate starting rotation.

Jameson Taillon is averaging 8.88 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, and just 0.62 HR/9. Furthermore, his .343 BABIP indicates that he has been a bit unlucky and snake bitten this season meaning his numbers should only continue to improve.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 21: Jeff Samardzija
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 21: Jeff Samardzija /

Wednesday afternoon’s series finale features a pitching matchup of two pitchers who have greatly outpitched their ERAs this season. These two pitchers are Jeff Samardzija and Trevor Williams.

Jeff Samardzija owns a 5.05 ERA in 20 starts for the Giants this season. However, he has pitched much better than that ERA indicates. In 128 1/3 innings pitched he is averaging a career-high 9.68 K/9, a career-low 1.05 BB/9, and he owns a strong 43.1 percent ground ball rate.

While his 1.47 HR/9 is much higher than the Giants would like to see, Samardzija’s 3.60 FIP is a much better representation of how well he has pitched this season than his 5.05 ERA is. Also, his 3.15 xFIP indicates that if he continues to pitch the way he has his results will improve drastically.

Trevor Williams, like Samardzija, owns an ugly ERA of 4.74. However, in his past 13 starts he has been a completely different pitcher. In these 13 starts Williams owns a 4.09 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and a 4.16 xFIP in 72 2/3 innings pitched.

Williams has allowed 72 hits while averaging 6.32 K/9, 1.98 BB/9, and 0.62 HR/9 in these 72 2/3 innings pitched. He has also generated ground balls at a 50.9 percent rate. All of these are impressive numbers.

Not only do the Pittsburgh Pirates have their three best starting pitchers going in this series, the Giants’ offense has been putrid in 2017.

The Giants rank 13th in the National League in runs scored (389), 14th in on-base percentage (.304), and they are dead last in slugging percentage (.373), ISO (.130), and home runs (79). Only Buster Posey (139 wRC+, .383 wOBA), Brandon Belt (116 wRC+, .346 wOBA), and Denard Span (108 wRC, .335 wOBA) have given the Giants above league average offensive production this season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, however, will be without right fielder Gregory Polanco. Polanco was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a hamstring issue on Saturday. This came at a terrible time as Polanco owned a .406 on-base percentage, a .435 wOBA, and a 172 wRC+ in the month of July.

It is not a coincidence that the Pirates were 12-4 in the month of July, after being just 37-44 during his struggles and disabled list stint the first three months of the season, before Polanco got injured. Gregory Polanco is one of the team’s most important hitters and the Bucs are at their best when Polanco is swinging a hot bat. A lot of pressure now falls on Adam Frazier, John Jaso, and Jose Osuna to replace Polanco for however long he is out of the lineup.

Next: Trade Target: Joe Smith

Despite what happened when they met at PNC Park earlier this month, the San Francisco Giants are a bad baseball team. There is no reason the Pirates should not at least win this series, if not sweep it, this week. Especially since the Pirates now find themselves in the thick of things in the National League Central race.

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