Series Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates (52-32) at Chicago Cubs (36-47)

In Series Previews by berselius20 Comments


The Pirates now have the best record in baseball. Let that sink in for a second. Will they be able to avoid the second half collapse that they suffered in the previous two seasons? They've got a big hurdle to clear right now in the middle of the season, as four of the five pitchers expected to be in the rotation on opening day (Burnett, Karstens, W-Rod, and McDonald) are all on the disabled list. At least they have this Gerrit Cole guy to help fill the hole.

  Bucs Cubs
wRC+ 95 (10th) 89 (12th)
BSR 4.2 (5th) -0.9 (7th)
UZR 13.4 (3rd) 10.1 (4th)
DRS 30 (2nd) 4 (7th)
SP FIP- 101 (9th) 95 (4th)
RP FIP- 98 (10th) 114 (14th)

The Pirates bullpen FIP- number kind of surprised me, as the shutdown bullpen is the main thing you hear about when people talk about this Pirates team. Most of that rep comes from closer Jason Grilli (1.21 FIP) and set-up man Mark Melancon (1.61 FIP). The rest of the pen has been great at preventing runs, with four more relievers with ERAs below 3, with solid though higher FIP numbers. 

Injury News

Brian Bogusevic left yetserday's game with hamstring tightness and is day to day. Nothing much new on any of the other injured players.

As mentioned above the Pirates are out four starters, and have started eleven different pitchers this year. Jeff Karstens was shut down with shoulder inflammation late in spring training, and had debridement surgery last month when it didn't get better. James McDonald hit the DL with shoulder discomfort at the beginning of May, and was shut down again after more soreness in rehab starts. He's been examined and the docs say there's no structural damage, and they shut him down for two more weeks. Wandy hit the DL at the beginning of june with forearm stiffness, which is often an indicator of future TJS. He felt soreness again after resting the injury and pitching in a rehab start, and is out for another three weeks following a performance enhancing plasma injection to help speed the process. A.J. Burnett went down with a calf strain at the beginning of June, and was able to throw a bullpen session and simulated game earlier this week. The Pirates want him to make a rehab start, but he used his collectively bargained rights to say that he wants to pitch in the bigs. Luckily for him the Cubs offense is basically a AAA team anyway.

News, Notes, Blood Oaths, etc.

There was word earlier in the week that someone other than Rusin or Villanueva would start Sunday, but Sveum confirmed yesterday that Villanueva is getting the start.

The Cubs did not strike out in Wednesday's game for the first time in about 15 years. 

Castro is getting a lot of grief for getting thrown out at home yesterday, and to be fair he made a hilariously awful slide. But a lot of the blame should fall on Dave McKay, as the ball was hit fairly shallowly and Cespedes has a howitzer for an arm.

Buster Olney thinks that Garza will be traded in the next week, though I think the Cubs will wait for the market to develop to a higher pitch before then. What happened last year might push them to do it sooner rather than later though.

Pitching Probables

Friday: Francisco Liriano, LHP (2.23, 65, 2.95, 3.28) vs Jeff Samardzija, RHP (3.34, 80, 3.14, 3.40), 3:05 PM CT

All the chatter I've read online and heard from the broadcast booth is that Travis Wood will be the Cubs lone All-Star this year. I don't know why everyone's forgetting about Samardzija. He's putting up great numbers along with one of the best strikeout rates in the league. I give zero fucks if the game does pick just Wood, since the ASG selection process is as dumb and subjective as the MVP vote, but I am annoyed that Cubs fans and people who cover the team seem to have forgotten his season, which is even better than last year.

Liriano is having an incredible year of his own. He missed a few weeks at the beginning of the season following a broken leg suffered jsut before the Pirates signed him, which certainly must have seemed like yet another portent of bad things to come for Pirates fans. He's rewarded them with an incredible ten starts so far. He's had luck with the longball, but as you can see even if you even out his HR/FB he still has an xFIP of 2.95. He dominated the Cubs in his third start back from the DL, striking out nine in seven shutout innings.

Saturday: Charlie Morton, RHP (2.50, 96, 4.51, 4.24) vs Edwin Jackson, RHP (5.75, 96, 3.82, 3.71), 3:05 PM CT

Morton returned from the disabled list to pitch in the majors for ths first time in over a year. Morton went down in late 2011 with a torn labrum, and doubled down on his rehab time by also needing Tommy John last year while coming back from the labrum surgery. Talk about shitty luck. Morton is a ground ball machine who struggled early in his career before having a breakout year in 2011, largely due to avoiding HRs. Morton is kind of unusual for a sinkerballer in that he still walks a fair number of batters (3.86 in his career). He hasn't gone too deep in any games he's pitched yet this year, so he'll be yet another test for the Pirates pen's endurance until he gets his feet under him.

I keep waiting for Jackson's numbers to regress towards what his peripherals say they should be, but players are still hitting balls all over the yard against him. I don't know what to say. At least it looks like his velocity is back, according to the numbers on brooksbaseball. I feel like I remember seeing them much lower earlier this year on that site, I'm a little confused…

Sunday: A.J. Burnett, RHP (3.12, 89, 3.09, 3.81) vs Carlos Villanueva, RHP (3.45, 102, 3.89, 4.08), 1:20 PM CT 

Speaking of guys having a quietly good year, Burnett's been just as good as Samardzija, and actually has a slightly better stirkeout rate. His injury last month was to his leg, not his arm, which he is using for justification for rejecting a rehab assignment.

VIllanueva pitched well as a starter, giving up a few too many home runs but otherwise painting the corners. He was solid as a reliever, making 16 appearances with a 3.01 FIP. He did not look so great in last week's mini-start following up Rusin, giving up two runs and striking out one in two innings and change. 

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  1. Edwin

    It sucks when the Cubs play the Pirates or the Cardinals, because them I’m reminded just how far the Cubs need to go to overtake even one of those two teams.

      Quote  Reply


  2. Rizzo the Rat

    I’d sooner have Wood than Samardzija in the ASG. The former is all over the leader boards:
    Samardzija has better peripherals, but Wood’s results are better, and that’s what I look at for evaluation (as opposed to estimation of talent). Plus, Wood’s a better hitter (not that that will come into play for the ASG, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him get some recognition).

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  3. Rizzo the Rat

    If the Cubs hitters are just going to swing at pitches that bounce off home plate, Liriano will have an easy day today.

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  4. SVB

    @ GW:
    (dying laughing)

    Sappelt had been appearing pretty often in JOT and so I thought he was OK down there. But I just checked. Not sure he is even replacement level AAA.

    Is Sappelt some kind of fancy new fish that’s the latest get-healthy quick fad? Otherwise, it makes SK’s comment even stranger.

      Quote  Reply


  5. dmick89

    Who has seen the show Chuck? Should I watch season 5? I was pretty happy with the end of season 4 and I’m afraid to start the final season.

      Quote  Reply


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