Pittsburgh Pirates: Pitching Preview for Season Opening Series in St. Louis
Opening Day is finally here! Now it’s time to examine the pitching match ups for this weekend’s series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
After a long, long wait, Opening Day 2020 is finally here! This weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates will kick off their 2020 season with a three-game series at Busch Stadium against their divisional rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The first game of this series will be played at 8:05 p.m. ET on Friday night. The Opening Day pitching match up will be between Joe Musgrove and one of the best young starters in the National League, St. Louis righty Jack Flaherty.
Expectations are high for Musgrove in 2020. While his ERA was just 4.44 in 2019, he did set a new career high in starts (31) and innings pitched (170.1). His strikeout rate and fWAR were career bests as well.
This offseason we talked about why 2020 could be the year Musgrove finally puts it all together as a starting pitcher. As he leans on his slider more, look for a big year from Musgrove with that big year starting on Friday night.
Flaherty is coming off a breakout season. In 2019, the young righty posted a 2.75 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 29.9% strikeout rate, and a 4.7 fWAR in 196.1 innings of work across 33 starts. Flaherty has quickly become one of the best young starting pitchers in the NL, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will have their hands full on Friday night.
Shifting to Saturday’s 2:15 p.m. ET match up, Trevor Williams will toe the rubber for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Meanwhile, long time Pirate nemesis Adam Wainwright will take the hill for St. Louis.
Williams will be looking to bounce back after struggling in the final three months of 2019, and there is reason to believe he will. During the shutdown he still worked with new pitching coach Oscar Marin, putting a new emphasis on his curveball.
Additionally, in his exhibition start against the Indians, Williams looked like his old self. He was spotting his off-speed pitches throughout the start, and batters were late on his fastball. Hitters being late on his fastball is the bread and butter for Williams when he pitches well.
Wainwright, who has seemingly been pitching in the Majors for the Cardinals since about 1995, is now entering his age-38 season. 2020 will be the 14th MLB season for Wainwright, who posted a 4.19 ERA and a 4.36 FIP across 171.2 innings in 31 starts last season. While he is nowhere near the pitcher he once was, Wainwright can still be tough to hit.
To wrap up the series Sunday afternoon will be a pitching match up that fans of the NL Central will see a lot of in the coming years. This match up will be between young righties Mitch Keller and Dakota Hudson.
2019 was a season of awful luck for Keller. In his 11 MLB starts, he was stung by a .475 batting average on balls in play. This was the highest BAbip in a season in MLB history for a pitcher with at least 40 innings of work.
Due to his BAbip, Keller posted a 7.13 ERA despite having a strong 3.19 FIP, 7.0% walk rate, 28.6% strikeout rate, and finishing with a 1.3 fWAR. Improved Pirate defense, as well as Marin having Keller use his off-speed pitches more and throwing his fastball up in the zone, should lead to a huge improvement in ERA. Keller may be the most obvious choice for a breakout candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020, that breakout season begins Sunday afternoon.
After pitching out of the Cardinal bullpen in 2018, Hudson made his debut as a starter in 2019 and impressed. In 33 games, 32 of which were starts, Hudson posted a 3.35 ERA adn a 4.93 FIP in 174.2 innings of work. He did struggle with control, though, walking 11.4% of batters faced.