Pittsburgh Pirates set to Begin Home and Home Series with the Tigers

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 06: Sean Rodriguez
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 06: Sean Rodriguez /

This week, the Pittsburgh Pirates will find themselves partaking in interleague play against the Detroit Tigers

After taking two games out of three from the San Diego Padres, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves with a 54-57 record. This record puts the Pirates 4.5 games out of first place in the National League Central. Now, they will begin a home and home series with the Detroit Tigers.

The first two games of this series will be at PNC Park on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Then on Wednesday and Thursday, the two teams will continue their interleague series at Comerica Park in Detroit.

The Detroit Tigers enter this series with a record of 51-59. This puts the Tigers in fourth place in the American League Central, 8.5 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians. It goes without saying that the 2017 season has been a struggle for the Tigers.

The first game of this series will be at 7:05 on Monday night. Trevor Williams will make the start for the Pirates, while Brad Ausmus and the Detroit Tigers will send struggling right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmerman to the mound.

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Trevor Williams continues to do nothing but give the Pirates one strong start after another. Williams has averaged 6.32 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 0.54 HR/9, and has allowed 83 hits in 84 innings pitched his past 15 starts. He owns a 3.86 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and a National Leauge best 24.6 percent soft contact rate during these 15 starts.

Prior to last season the Detroit Tigers signed Jordan Zimmerman to a five-year contract. Thus far, he has not lived up to that contract at all. After posting a 4.87 ERA and a 4.42 FIP in 2016, Zimmerman has been even worse in 2017.

Zimmerman has pitched 119 1/3 innings in 21 starts this season. He ranks in the top 10 in the American League in hits allowed (142), batters hit (6), and home runs allowed (23). Zimmerman is averaging just 6.26 K/9, and he owns a 5.35 ERA and a 5.26 FIP.

In game two on Tuesday night Chad Kuhl will start for the Pirates, while the Tigers will hand the ball to young lefty Matt Boyd.

Like Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl is quietly putting together a strong season. Thus far in his sophomore campaign, Kuhl owns a 4.53 ERA. This ERA, however, is extremely inflated due to a horrendous start against the Cubs in April and a start that was shortened by a line drive off the knee against the Marlins in May.

The 3.94 FIP, 7.41 K/9, and an increase in velocity that Chad Kuhl has seen in his 109 1/3 innings pitched this season are much better indicators of the season he has had. Kuhl has been on a good run since the end of May, as he has posted a 3.32 ERA, 3.71 FIP, and has averaged 7.48 K/9 in his last 15 starts.

Due to the lack of left-handed hitters, the Detroit Tigers are a very good matchup for Kuhl. Other than switch-hitters Andrew Romine and Victor Martinez, Jim Aducci is Detort’s lone left-handed hitter. Martinez is the Tigers’ designated hitter, and due to this Kuhl will not have to face him on Tuesday night.

Matt Boyd has pitched 79 innings in 15 starts this season. He has allowed 98 hits, he is averaging 3.65 BB/9, and he has surrendered 9 home runs. He owns a 5.35 ERA and a 4.38 FIP. Right-handed hitters have crushed Boyd to the tune of a .491 slugging percentage and a.362 wOBA this season. Do not be surprised if Clint Hurdle fields an all righty lineup on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, the series will shift to Comerica Park in Detroit. Due to this, the designated hitter will be used in the third and fourth games of the series. In game three, Ivan Nova will start for the Pirates while Justin Verlander gets the ball for Detroit.

Ivan Nova, who has struggled since the end of April, will be looking to right the ship on Wednesday. In his last 17 starts Nova has struggled immensely. He has allowed 124 hits, 19 home runs (1.60 HR/9), and has averaged just 5.65 K/9 in 106 2/3 innings pitched in these starts. His ERA is 4.39, his FIP is 4.82, and he is allowing hard contact at an alarming 34 percent rate.

KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 19: Starting pitcher Justin Verlander
KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 19: Starting pitcher Justin Verlander /

Justin Verlander is no longer the dominant pitcher that he once was. However, the right-handed veteran is still more than capable of shutting a lineup down. In 137 innings pitched this season he owns a healthy strikeout rate of 8.93 K/9, and he has allowed just 133 hits.

However, Verlander has had his struggles. Control has been an issue for Verlander who is averaging 3.94 BB/9 this season and he has uncorked 4 wild pitches. He owns a 4.20 ERA and a 4.13 FIP this season.

Thursday afternoon’s 1:10 series finale will see Gerrit Cole take the ball for the Pirates. As of now, Detroit’s starting pitcher for Thursday is still listed as to be declared.

While the Tiger offense has not been bad this season, it has not been great either. Detroit ranks 6th in the American League in runs scored (526), 5th in on-base percentage (.331), and their 21.2 percent team strikeout rate is in the bottom half of the league. Also, it should be noted, that the Tigers traded away two of their best hitters in J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila at the trade deadline. This has weakened the Tiger lineup in recent games.

Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera has struggled for the Tigers this season. The right-handed slugger currently owns a career-low .325 wOBA and 102 wRC+. This is a big reason why the Tiger offense has been just average this season.

Right fielder Justin Upton has been the Tigers’ best hitter this season. He owns a .367 on-base percentage, .380 wOBA, and a 139 wRC+. Other than outfielder Mikie Mahtook (.338 wOBA, 110 wRC+) every other hitter currently on the Tigers’ 25-man roster has been below league average this season.

A major key in this series will be getting into the Tiger bullpen. On paper, this should not be difficult because the Tiger rotation has struggled this season. The bullpen, however, has been even worse.

Throughout the 2017 season the Tigers have had arguably the worst bullpen in baseball. Detroit ranks last in the American League in bullpen ERA (5.17), FIP (5.06), and home run rate (1.54 HR/9). They also rank next to last in the league in walk rate (3.98 BB/9). The Tigers are the only team in the American League with a bullpen ERA over 5, as well being the American League’s only team with a bullpen FIP over 5.

Much like their lineup, the Tiger bullpen got worse at the trade deadline. This is due to the team trading away ex-Pirate Justin Wilson who had been their best reliever this season. There is no reason the Pirate offense should not have a big week against the Tigers.

Newly acquired right-handed reliever George Kontos is set to join the Pirates today. This will make him available out of the Pirate bullpen for this series. Because of this, a roster move will have to be made this afternoon.

Next: A Bullpen Reinforcement Arrives Today

The good news for the Pittsburgh Pirates is that the Detroit Tigers are a bad team that is under .500. The bad news is that the Pirates have struggled against sub-.500 teams this season. This season the Pirates are the only team in baseball with a winning record against teams over .500 and a losing record against sub-.500 teams. Over the course of the final eight weeks of the season, the Bucs need to start playing winning baseball against sub-.500 teams as well.