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Series Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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The Pirates will likely end up at the bottom of the division again this year, but have put up a fight early

San Diego Padres v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

While most projection systems had the NL Central as a largely jumbled mess, there was one thing that was consistent — the Pittsburgh Pirates in dead last.

The holders of the #1 overall pick in this summer’s draft seem like good bets to land that pick again next summer, at least based on the offseason projections. They are, largely, a bad team that didn’t try to get any better in the offseason, but they’re off to a 5-8 start after playing some competitive baseball over the last week, taking 2 of 3 from the Chicago Cubs and splitting a four-game set with playoff favorite San Diego.

And that’s with top prospect and one-of-only-a-few-bright-spots Ke’Bryan Hayes landing on the injured list just a couple days into the season with a wrist injury. Hayes has already been an impact bat in the Pirates lineup in his short big league career, but won’t be ready to play this weekend.

The Lineup

Without Hayes, the Pirates have the list of names we’ve come to know well over the last few years. Colin Moran always seems to be good for a home run against the Brewers and is hitting .311/.404/.511 in 13 games so far with two home runs and three doubles. Bryan Reynolds is hitting .275/.327/.373 in his first bakers’ dozen games, and Adam Frazier is hitting .289/.411/.444 at the top of the lineup. The surprise so far has been Phillip Evans, who is leading the team in batting (.342) and home runs (3) through his first 11 games.

While offense did not figure to be a strong suit of this Pirates team, they’ve certainly gotten off to a solid start, ranking just outside the top 10 in the majors in wOBA, wRC+ and fWAR. It’s still too early to be making assessments of any team’s overall abilities, but Pittsburgh’s bats have at least been competent enough — even against teams with good pitching like the Padres — that we shouldn’t expect them to just roll over this weekend.

The Probable Pitchers

JT Brubaker will take the ball tonight against Adrian Houser for his third start of the year. The 27-year-old has only allowed a total of 2 runs over his first 9.1 innings, striking out 10 but also walking 5. He made two short starts against the Brewers last summer, allowing just 2 earned runs in both outings on August 23rd and August 29th. He won’t overpower guys, only topping out in the low 90s with his fastball, but so far this year he’s been in the top 25% of pitchers with the lowest hard-hit rate and ranks in the 84th percentile when it comes to chase rate.

Veteran Trevor Cahill is scheduled to get the start in the second game of the series against Brett Anderson. Cahill has had a tale of two starts to start this season, allowing 7 runs in his Pirates debut, only to bounce back this past Monday night by striking out 8 Padres while allowing a single run over 5 innings. Unlike Brubaker, Cahill has been getting hit hard this year, with a 53.8% hard-hit percentage through two starts that puts him in the bottom 10% of the league.

Chad Kuhl will start the series finale on Sunday against Freddy Peralta. The Brewers have shown an ability to jump out to an early lead so far this year, especially in Peralta’s last start, and that’s been an issue for Kuhl so far this year. He allowed 5 runs in the first inning against Cincinnati on April 7th and 2 runs in the first inning in his last start against San Diego on Tuesday night. He’s often worked himself into trouble with walks so far this year, with 15 free passes in 10.2 innings while being in the bottom 8% in the league in getting batters to chase out of the zone.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Statcast