Pittsburgh Pirates Return Home to Host Cincinnati Reds

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 28: Josh Harrison
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 28: Josh Harrison /

The Pittsburgh Pirates will look to get back on track with an eight game homestand that starts tonight

At 7:05 tonight the Pittsburgh Pirates will begin an eight game homestand. This homestand will start with a three game series against the Cincinnati Reds. Even though the Reds are a horrible team (42-63) the Pirates are just 1-6 against them this season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off a very disappointing 3-6 road trip. After starting the trip with a victory the Pirates were 50-49, and just 2 games out of first place in the National League Central. However, after going 2-6 in the final eight games of the trip the Bucs are now 51-54 and 5.5 games out of first place.

Despite limping to a 2-6 finish to the month, the Pirates are coming off a good overall month of July. The Bucs went 14-11 in July, this was their first winning month of the 2017 season. Dating back to the start of June, the Pirates are 27-24 in their last 51 games.

The opening game of this series will feature a pitching matchup that greatly favors the Pirates on paper. Jameson Taillon will make the start for the Pirates, while Homer Bailey will get the ball for the Reds.

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Taillon is coming off the worst start of his Major League career in which he allowed 10 runs in 3+ innings pitched against the San Francisco Giants last Tuesday. Despite this, Taillon is still having a very strong season.

Jameson Taillon owns a 3.23 FIP, 3.66 xFIP, and a 1.8 fWAR in 76 innings pitched this season. He is averaging 8.64 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, and just 0.59 HR/9. He has been the team’s best starting pitcher this season. Also, his .356 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) indicates that he has been a bit snake bitten this season. His FIP, xFIP, and BABIP all indicate that he has been much better than his 4.03 ERA this season. Albeit, his ERA was just 3.04 before his disaster start against San Francisco last week.

As for Homer Bailey, the Reds’ right-handed pitcher is still trying to get back on track from Tommy John Surgery that he had in 2014. After pitching just 34 1/3 innings combined between 2015 and 2016, he has struggled immensely in 33 1/3 innings pitched this season.

In 7 starts this season Homer Bailey has averaged 5.40 K/9, 3.78 BB/9, and he has allowed 6 home runs (1.62 HR/9). All of this comes out to Bailey owning an 8.37 ERA, 5.82 FIP, and a 5.08 xFIP. There is no reason the Pirate offense shouldn’t have a huge game against Homer Bailey tonight.

Game two on Wednesday night will feature a pitching matchup of Trevor Williams and Robert Stephenson.

Trevor Williams will look to continue his great work for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since moving to the starting rotation, Williams owns a 3.80 FIP in 81 2/3 innings pitched (15 starts). He has averaged 6.06 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, he has allowed just 7 home runs, and he owns a healthy 52.5 percent ground ball rate. He also leads the National League in weak contact induced at 24.7 percent. Outside of Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams has been the team’s best starting pitcher since joining the rotation.

Robert Stephenson has pitched both out of the bullpen and the starting rotation for the Reds this season. In 15 games, 2 starts, Stephenson has pitched 34 1/3 innings. Stephenson has been awful in these 34 1/3 innings pitched allowing 45 hits, 10 home runs, and he has walked 25 batters.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 24: Homer Bailey
WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 24: Homer Bailey /

Stephenson’s hard contact rate this season is an alarming 40.9 percent. He is also allowing line drives 19.7 percent of the time. Overall, he owns a 7.86 ERA and a 7.14 FIP.

Thursday night’s 7:05 series finale features a pitching matchup of right-handed pitchers Chad Kuhl and Sal Romano.

Chad Kuhl continues to pitch better than anyone realizes. In 102 1/3 innings pitched this season he owns an ugly 4.84 ERA. However, his 4.06 FIP tells another story. As does his increase in velocity as his average fastball velocity has jumped from 93.2 miles per hour in 2016 to 95.4 miles per hour this season. Quietly, Chad Kuhl is settling in as a strong back of the rotation arm for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rookie Sal Romano owns just 5 Major League starts and 21 2/3 career innings. He has averaged 9.55 K/9, but has also averaged an alarming 7.06 BB/9 and 1.25 HR/9. All of this comes out to a 4.57 ERA and a 5.22 FIP. Once again, there is no reason for the Pirate offense to not be successful on Thursday night.

While the Cincinnati bullpen has improved this season, it has still been a mess. They rank 8th in the National League in bullpen ERA (4.29), 10th in walks (3.73 BB/9), 13th in home runs allowed (1.35 HR/9), and 14th in FIP (4.53). Getting into the Cincinnati bullpen is a good recipe for success.

Offensively, the Reds have been very mediocre this season. They rank 9th in the National League in runs scored (478), 6th in home runs (142), 9th in on-base percentage (.324), and 7th in strikeout rate (21.2 percent).

As usual, their offense has been led by future Hall of Fame first baseman Joey Votto. Votto owns a .428 on-base percentage, .417 wOBA, and a 155 wRC+ this season. He has also hit a team leading 27 home runs.

Zack Cozart (.407 wOBA, 149 wRC+), Adam Duvall (.352 wOBA, 113 wRC+), and Eugenio Suarez

CINCINNATI, OH – JULY 20: Joey Votto
CINCINNATI, OH – JULY 20: Joey Votto /

(.349 wOBA, 111 wRC+) have all had strong seasons as well. Also, ex-Brewer Scooter Gennett is having a career year with a .385 wOBA and a 134 wRC+. Unfortunately for the Reds, Cozart is currently on the disabled list.

It is unknown if Josh Harrison will be available in this series. The Pirates’ second baseman left Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Padres with a leg injury. Hopefully, after a day of rest Harrison will be fine and be able to play against the Reds. With a .339 wOBA, 109 wRC+, and a 2.3 fWAR Harrison has been one of the team’s best players in 2017.

The Pirates could, however, get Gregory Polanco back in this series. Polanco is eligible to come off the disabled list tonight and it is possible that he will be ready to return. Prior to going on the disabled list, Polanco was having a great July. Polanco owned a .406 on-base percentage, .629 slugging percentage, .435 wOBA, 172 wRC+, and a .242 ISO in the month of July before getting injured.

Hopefully, Polanco will return to the Pirate lineup soon. On top of his offense, the Pirates have also missed Polanco and his +4 defensive runs saved in right field during his absence from the lineup the past 10 days.

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At 51-54, 5.5 games out of first place the Pittsburgh Pirates are about to begin a vital homestand. The Bucs will play three sub-.500 teams on this homestand, however, that has not meant anything this season. Two of the teams the Pirates will host, the Reds and Padres, are teams the Pirates are a combined 2-8 against this season.

On this homestand, that must improve. If the Pirates are going to remain in contention for a National League Central championship, they must start playing better against sub-.500 teams and that must begin on this homestand.

There is no reason the Pirates should not at least win the series against the Reds, if not sweep them. The Bucs are a much better team and has the superior pitchign staff. However, as we have seen this year, games are not palyed on paper. It is up to the Pirates to come out and execute.