Pittsburgh Pirates Preparing for More Interleague Play


The Pittsburgh Pirates will continue interleague play north of the border this weekend

After taking 3 out of 4 games from the Detroit Tigers in their home and home series, the Pittsburgh Pirates will continue with interleague play this weekend. Starting tonight, the Pirates will play a 3 game series north of the border against the Candian Pirates aka the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Pittsburgh Pirates enter this series with a record of 57-58, this puts them 3 games out of first place in the National League Central. The Pirates have won 7 of their last 11 games, including earning their first road victory in interleague play this season against the Tigers yesterday.

As for the Toronto Blue Jays, few teams have disappointed more than they have this season. Toronto enters this series with a record of 54-60. This puts them last place in the American League East, 11 games out of first place.

A big reason for the Blue Jays’ poor record this year is an unexpectedly poor offense. Toronto ranks 14th, which is next to last, in the American League in runs scored. One area where Toronto’s offense can still be a threat is with the long ball, as their 155 home runs is the 7th most in the league.

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Justin Smoak (.396 wOBA, 150 wRC+), Joash Donaldson (.373 wOBA, 133 wRC+), and Ezequiel Carrera (.358 wOBA, 123 wRC+) have paced the Toronto offense this season. Outside of these three, their offense has struggled mightily this season.

Adding to their offensive woes are strikeouts. Seven of Toronto’s every day starting nine have a strikeout rate higher than 20 percent this season. Furthermore, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has spent much of the season on the disabled list and was recently transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

Another major issue for the Blue Jays in 2017 has been defense. They rank 14th in the American League in defensive runs saved with -24, and their -1.9 UZR/150 ranks 12th in the league. Putting the ball in play and forcing the Toronto defense to make a play will be key in this series.

Tonight’s pitching matchup will feature two of baseball’s best young right-handed starters. Jameson Taillon will get the ball for the Pirates, while the Blue Jays go with Marcus Stroman.

After back-to-back disastrous starts where he allowed 18 runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched, Jameson Taillon was excellent in his last start. He held the Padres to a pair of runs on 5 hits and 8 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings pitched. On the season Taillon owns a 3.36 FIP, a 3.64 xFIP, he is averaging 8.79 K/9, and just2.93 BB/9 and 0.79 HR/9. He has pitched light years better than his 4.60 ERA indicates this season, as that number is inflated by those two disaster starts.

In 23 starts this season Marcus Stroman has pitched 145 innings. He is averaging 7.45 K/9, 2.86 BB/9, and just 0.87 HR/9. He has been a ground ball machine with a 62.1 percent ground ball rate this season, and he has limited opposing batters to just a 29.2 percent hard contact rate. All of this comes out to Stroman owning a 3.17 ERA and a 3.79 FIP this season.

In game two on Saturday Trevor Williams will look to continue his outstanding rookie campaign for the Pirates. Coming off the best start of his Major League career, Williams will look to continue to build upon the work he has done as a starting pitcher this season as he owns a 4.02 ERA and a 3.59 FIP in 17 starts. Like Taillon, Williams does not walk very many batters (2.30 BB/9 in his 17 starts), nor does he allow many home runs (0.67 HR/9 in 17 starts).

As for the Blue Jays, right-handed pitcher Chris Rowley will make his Major League debut on Saturday. The 26-year-old Rowley owns a 2.89 ERA and a 3.29 FIP in 54 1/3 innings pitched in 10 games (6 starts) at Triple-A this season. Rowley sits outside of Toronto’s top 30 prospects.


The series finale on Sunday will feature a pitching matchup of Chad Kuhl and ex-Pirate J.A. Happ.

Very quietly, Chad Kuhl is putting together a strong sophomore campaign with a 3.81 FIP and a 1.9 fWAR. He has pitched particularly well since the end of May owning a 3.42 ERA, 3.53 FIP, and allowing just 4 home runs in 71 innings pitched his past 13 starts.

J.A. Happ has made 16 starts this season and has pitched 90 2/3 innings. He owns a 3.77 ERA, however, his 4.34 FIP indicates he has not pitched as well as his ERA would lead you to believe. Furthermore, his 4.01 xFIP indicates he is due for regression.

Happ is averaging 8.44 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, and 1.49 HR/9 this season. He is also among the American League leaders in wild pitches thrown with 4. Right-handed hitters have been much a better against Happ this season (.429 slugging percentage, .322 wOBA) than left-handed hitters have been (.400 slugging percentage, .254 wOBA). So, look for an all right-handed lineup from the Pirates on Sunday.

While the Blue Jays rotation has not been an issue this season, their bullpen most certainly has been. They rank 12th in the American League in bullpen ERA (4.50), 7th in FIP (4.04), 8th in walks allowed (3.43 BB/9), and 10th in home runs allowed (1.22 HR/9).

The Blue Jays have an excellent closer in Roberto Osuna. This season Osuna owns a 1.47 FIP, 2.54 xFIP, he averaging 12.39 K/9, and he has allowed just 36 hits in 48 2/3 innings pitched. However, the rest of the Toronto bullpen has struggled mightily this season so getting to their middle relievers will be a key for the Pirates this weekend.

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This weekend is a big opportunity for the Pirates. They are facing a struggling sub-.500 team in the Blue Jays. If the Pirates want to catch the Chicago Cubs and win the National League Central, series like this one are must wins for the Pirates.