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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ Pittsburgh Pirates

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The Pirates have been more lucky than good this year, but are a good weekend against the Brewers away from making a run for second place

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It seems hard to believe, but it’s the last week of May and the Milwaukee Brewers are playing the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time.

They’ll start a four-game series in a place that’s been a House of Horrors for them for much of its existence -- PNC Park. Pittsburgh has been a perfectly average team to this point in the season, coming into the weekend with a 27-27 record, 10-10 in their last 20 games, and 15-15 in their last 30.

A deeper dive into the numbers shows they’re likely a bit lucky to even have a .500 record at this point. Their run differential is an abysmal -63, the third-worst mark in the National League, only better than Miami (-81, with a record of 19-34) and San Francisco (-88, with a record of 21-33). With a run differential like that — thanks in large part to their 4-14 record in “blowout games” decided by 5 or more runs — their Pythagorean Record is 21-33.

Luckily for them, they’ve banked more wins than that, and currently sit in third place in the NL Central, just 4 games out of first place and 3 games behind the Brewers. Despite all of their problems -- their bottom-10 team OPS of .708 and team ERA of 4.78 being just a part of that -- they’re a good weekend against the Brewers away from improbably making a push for second place in the division.

Probable Pitchers

Thursday, May 30th - 6:05 p.m. CDT
Chase Anderson vs. Joe Musgrove

Musgrove has been the Pirates’ best pitcher to this point in the season, at least according to fWAR, although his ERA may not look like it. He’s put up 1.6 fWAR in 59 innings, and his 3.07 FIP looks much more appealing than his 4.27 ERA. While he doesn’t strike many out -- 18.4% of the batters he’s faced so far this year -- he does keep the ball in the park.

Friday, May 31st - 6:05 p.m. CDT
Jhoulys Chacin vs. Chris Archer

There may not be a more disastrous trade deadline deal in recent memory than the one the Pirates made for Archer. Perhaps fooled into thinking they were contenders thanks to their 5-game sweep of the Brewers last July, the Pirates traded top prospects Tyler Glasnow (1.86 ERA in 8 starts with 55 strikeouts and only 9 walks in 48.1 innings before landing on the Injured List this year), Austin Meadows (hitting .360/.437/.691 in 37 games with 12 home runs and 2.1 fWAR in 37 games, and Shane Baz to Tampa for Archer, who had a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts after the trade last year and a 5.75 ERA in 8 starts so far this year.

Saturday, June 1st - 3:05 p.m. CDT
Brandon Woodruff vs. TBD

Sunday, June 2nd - 12:35 p.m. CDT
TBD vs. TBD

Player to Watch

While most of the Pirates’ lineup has disappointed, Josh Bell has not. After a sophomore slump in 2018 that saw him hit .261/.357/.411 with 12 home runs in 148 games, Bell has been extremely hot to start 2019. He comes into this series hitting .345/.409/.718 for an OPS of 1.128 and OPS+ of 195. He’s already hit 18 home runs and a league-leading 19 doubles this year, driving in 51 in 54 games.

Pirates position players have put up 3.4 fWAR this year, and Bell has accounted for 2.7 of that. Outside of Bryan Reynolds (1.2 fWAR), there isn’t really anyone else in the Pittsburgh lineup the Brewers should have to worry about -- or not allow them to beat.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs