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The (Whipping) Boys are Back in Town: Pirates series preview

The Brewers have won 10 of 13 games against the Pirates this year. Is there any reason to believe that's going to change for this series?

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Mike McGinnis

The Pirates have been having a rough go of things lately. It wasn't that long ago they were second in the NL Central knocking on the Brewers door. Now they're 6 games back and have lost 7 of their last 10. Sure they got Gerrit Cole back, but he's not pitching this series. Yes, they got Andrew McCutchen back, but he hasn't had a hit since returning (only 2 games) suggesting perhaps it was too soon.

This is an offense that had struggled to score runs sans McCutchen. The fact that they brought him off the disabled list so soon reeks of desperation. However, if he's not 100% by a significant margin and he cannot be an offensive boon, then the season might be over for the Pirates.

Of course that's not to suggest they're entirely bereft of offensive threats. Russell Martin (135 wRC+) is their second best hitter and surprisingly Josh Harrison (132 wRC+) is still hanging around. Neil Walker (129 wRC+) continues to be underrated. Travis Snider (127 wRC+) and Starling Marte (121 wRC+) are solid as well.

With a healthy Andrew McCutchen one could reasonably argue the Pirates offense is a tick better than the Brewers. He's the linchpin though. If they can get him going I think they can hang around the playoff discussion. Unless they get really lucky I don't see them winning the NL Central. Six games is a huge gap this late in the season. That doesn't mean they can't help the Cardinals secure the top spot though.

Fortunately for the Brewers the Pirates bullpen has been a disaster. They've struggled so much they traded for Ernesto Frieri and John Axford. As a Pirate, Frieri has a 10.13 ERA. Axford has a 0,00 ERA, but he's also only pitched 2.2 innings thus far. Mark Melancon is still excellent though. Tony Watson has been solid too. After those two you're looking at mediocre to bad relievers. Point is, even if the Pirates have a late lead, don't give up hope. Unless Mark Melancon comes in that is.

Friday, August 22nd 7:10 pm CT: Yovani Gallardo vs Jeff Locke

Locke is a perfectly mediocre pitcher. He's basically the definition of a solid number 4 pitcher last year and this year. He's going to give you around 30 starts with a decent ERA despite lacking really good stuff. He's currently been able to maintain a 3.73 ERA despite having worse than average K% and BAA. His BB% is well below average though and that's helped his WHIP to skirt below league average. He also gets a solid amount of ground balls. The first time the Brewers faced him this year he held them to 1 run in 7 innings. However, despite his last outing being good, he's not been terribly effective lately. He had a 5 game stretch where he gave up 3+ runs in each game.

Of note for the Brewers: Locke is a lefty so the Brewers will be using their all RHH lineup.

Saturday, August 23rd 6:10 pm CT: Wily Peralta vs Edinson Volquez

Just at a glance, it seems the only big change in Edinson Volguez this year is the inclusion of a knuckle curve. He still throws his other pitches with roughly the same frequency and velocity. In fact, if you consolidated his regular and knuckle curves, his pitch usage would basically look the same. However, he's having his best season (by ERA) since 2008. It's probably no wonder ZiPS and Steamer believe his ERA is going to balloon in the final weeks of the season (4.60 ERA and 4.50 ERA RoS respectively). I have no idea if those projection systems incorporate changes to pitch mix so I'm not sure if I trust them here.

What I do know is Volquez has a below average K%, an above average BB%, and a better than average BAA. His WHIP is about league average. He has a solid GB% and a below 1.00 HR/9.

Of note for the Brewers: The Brewers have faced Volquez three times this year and have failed to score more than 2 runs each time. They did just face another knuckler in R.A. Dickey so maybe that will help. Fourth times the charm?

Sunday, August 24th 1:10 pm CT: Mike Fiers vs Vance Worley

Somehow Vance Worley is the best (by ERA and FIP) starter the Brewers will face this weekend. I still don't think he's very good. Below average K%, way better than average BB%, below average BAA, better than average WHIP. Solid but not overwhelming GB% and HR/9. He's the definition of a junkballer. He has a fastball that sits around 88 mph and 6 pitches in total (including a knuckle curve). Worley vs Fiers may very well be the premiere weird baseball pitching match-up of the ages.

Of note for the Brewers: The Brewers have faced Worley three times ever, and have scored at least 3 runs each time.

Conclusion

I don't like the Pirates pitching staff. I don't think they're quite awful, but I'd be pretty bummed out if it was the Brewers' rotation. Based on no real evidence or facts, I'm convinced Andrew McCutchen returned way too soon and I'm not confident in his ability to hit a ball. I think the Pirates are on their way out. The Brewers ought to be able to win the series.

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Baseball league for tonight's MLB games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Jump in now. Here's the FanDuel link!


Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs