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Series Preview #14: Pittsburgh Pirates @ Arizona Diamondbacks

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A lot has changed in two weeks

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

When we last saw the Pittsburgh Pirates, they were reeling. The Diamondbacks went into Pittsburgh April 22nd to face a 12-7 team that was playing well, and left behind the smoldering embers of a team that was 12-11 after a four game sweep that improved the DBacks to 15-11

The DBacks were utterly dominant in that series, outscoring the Pirates 30-7. The Pirates followed that up by losing 3 more in a row to the Dodgers, further dropping their record to 12-14. Since then however they are 8-3, and will come to Chase Field riding high, having taken the last 3 games of a four game set with the Cardinals. That must be especially gratifying for them, as they were embarrassed in the series opener, losing by the whopping score of 17-4. A couple of 2-1 victories followed, and then a 10-6 come from behind victory on Sunday completed righting their ship.

This has been somewhat of a theme for the Pirates all year. When they lose, they often get blown out. They have losses by margins of 13-13-10-9 & 8 on their schedule so far. But they have won a lot of close games too. It’s all added up to a -35 run differential, but a 20-17 record. That’s good enough for a .004 percentage point lead over the 22-19 Diamondbacks for the 2nd wild card spot in the National League. They’re also 3.5 Games back of the Cubs in the Central Division.

Josh Bell continues to lead the way for the Pirates offense. He’s having a terrific season, and is currently batting .319/.389/.659, 1.048 OPS, with 10 HR and 34 RBI (7th in MLB)

Melky Cabrera continues to do what Melky does, which is hit for good batting average, (.324), medium power (6 doubles, 3 homers) and not a lot of walks. Gregory Polanco, who had Labrum surgery last September, and returned during the DBacks series, is hitting well lately. He’s batting .333 for May with a couple of homers.

Left Hand closer Felipe Vazquez is a guy you hope the DBacks don’t have to see. After posting 37 saves and a 2.70 ERA last year, he is a perfect 12 for 12 in save opportunities this year. He currently sports a 0.48 ERA in 17 IP, striking out 30 batters. He features a fastball that averages 98 MPH, a hard Slider, and a Curve and Change he uses against righties to keep them honest. Just all around Nasty

The Diamondbacks for their part are now the team that is reeling. 2-6 in their last 8 games, the offense has almost completely dried up. They haven’t been able to buy a hit with runners in scoring position, (7 for 61, .115 since May 6th) and have been absolutely abysmal with the bases loaded. (0-13, with 1 Sac fly since April 27th). To make matters worse, the back end of the bullpen has been coughing up runs left and right of late.

However as the above Pirates narrative illustrates quite clearly, these things can change on a dime. The pitching matchups below should favor the Diamondbacks, and despite their difficulties with situational hitting, they did have 14 hits on Sunday, and managed to score 4 runs on Saturday. So there are signs they could be ready to heat up again at the plate, if they can just start coming up with a couple of hits in key moments.

PITCHING MATCHUPS:

This will be Kingham’s second start of the year, with his previous outings being all in relief. He went four innings last time out, throwing 78 pitches. The Pirates will look to continue stretching him out, but I’d imagine his pitch limit will be around 90. He mixes 4 Seam, 2 seam and cut fastballs, and uses a Change and Curve. He doesn’t throw especially hard, low 90’s, and is a fly ball pitcher, (just 37% GB rate). This plays into the Diamondbacks strength, as they’ve hit FB pitchers much better than GB pitchers.

Robbie Ray struck out 11 in 5 23 IP last time out and got the win against the Rays to improve to 2-1. In his last 4 starts he’s thrown 22 13 IP, walking just 8 and striking out 29 on the way to a 2.01 ERA in this stretch. Robbie is rolling right now and will hope to continue that success. Notably, the Pirates did not see him in the earlier four game series. This matchup should favor the Diamondbacks

Joe Musgrove brought a 1.54 ERA into the month of May, but has gotten crushed in each of his last two starts against Oakland and St. Louis. In 5 23 IP he’s given up 12 hits, walked 7, and surrendered 15 runs, 13 earned as a result. He gave up 3 runs in 6 IP against the DBacks April 22nd, getting a non decision, but his bullpen got beat up in a game the Snakes won 12-4. Mostly a Fastball, Sinker, Slider guy who throws in the low 90’s, Musgrove needs to induce a lot of ground balls to be effective. That’s been lacking for him lately, but one should note the difference in his ERA and FIP. He might have been getting a little unlucky.

Luke Weaver has been perhaps the DBacks hottest pitcher. Since giving up 4 runs to the Dodgers in his first start, he has allowed 3 run twice, and 0, 1, or 2 runs. five times. He has the lowest ERA and FIP among the DBacks starters, and has gone 7 innings in his two most recent outings. He’s showing up in the top 20 in MLB now in ERA, ERA+, FIP, fWAR. When he faced the Pirates he got the win, going 6 13 , giving up 1 run, on 6 hits, 1 walk and 7 K’s. This matchup also favors the Diamondbacks.

Chris Archer is overrated. He hasn’t posted an ERA under 4, or an ERA+ over 103 since 2015. He has excellent K/BB ratio, but he has been very homer prone. This is often the profile of a pitcher that consistently has higher ERA than FIP. Think Javier Vasquez. On days Archer avoids giving up the long ball, he is tough to beat, but he just gives up to many big flies, as his HR/FB rate has consistently been in the mid teens. In the past, his Groundball rates was actually above average, but when he did give up the fly ball, it just often was on a hanging sinker that didn’t sink. It’s notable that his ground ball rate has cratered so far this year so far. He hasn’t pitched since April 26th due to right thumb inflammation, and this is his first start back. So perhaps the rest and time off will do him well. Despite what I said above, this could be the toughest matchup for the Diamondbacks this series, IF a healed and well rested Archer is sharp enough to throw strikes.

Fortunately, ace Zack Greinke is going in this one. Since opening Day, Greinke has been nothing short of masterful. In 8 starts since then he’s posted a 2.19 ERA in 53 13 IP, striking out 54 while walking just 6 ! He’s even managed to tame the long ball problem, giving up just 4 HR in those 8 games, and none at all in his last five starts.

I look for the DBacks to take all three games and right THEIR ship and send the Pirates on their way wondering what they did to deserve having to face the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019