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2019 Series Preview #26: Pittsburgh Pirates @ Houston Astros

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The Astros (49-30, 1st in AL West) return to that sweet, sweet home field advantage with three games against the Pirates (36-40, 5th in NL Central)

Pittsburgh Pirates v Houston Astros

Recency Bias

Pirates

The Pirates touch down in Houston after a pretty encouraging week where they went 4-1 against the Padres and Tigers, with the four wins all coming in a row. While they only played five games, this was easily one of the best weeks the Bucs have seen in a while. The team is in the midst of a rebuild so this is to be expected, but it’s still a little odd to see how far they’ve fallen since winning 98 games in 2015. This was also the tail end of a three year stretch where they won 94 and 88 games in addition to 2015’s tally, but failed to advance past their first round, including two Wild Card losses.

San Diego Padres v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The offense for the Pirates is led by Josh Bell, who represents their lone player to make it to the Starter voting stage for the All-Star Game. He’s certainly earned the honor with a .315/.386/.640 slash line in 2019 including 20 home runs, 28 doubles, and three triples.

Left Fielder Bryan Reynolds has also been one of the bigger bats in Pittsburgh’s lineup, but he’s much more of a high-average threat than a power one. Reynolds is sporting a .362 AVG and a .418 OBP in 56 games this year.

In fact, if there’s one thing the Pirates do really well as a whole it’s hit for average. They have four players with an average north of .300 and over 50 games this season. They are currently sixth in the league as a team in BA, but quickly fall off in other offensive categories.

The Bucs have also been seeing a good amount of production from 3B José Osuna, who’s been one of their hottest players this week. He’s seen limited action this season but has really done the most with the time he’s had.

Kevin Newman and Corey Dickerson have both had decent weeks and their seasons haven’t been half bad either, but they don’t represent the stronger threats coming out of the Pirate’s dugout.

After that things thin out for the Pittsburgh offense. It’s not a very explosive one but it can certainly grind out games and get hits. However, they suffer from an ability to bring home those men on a regular basis. Even with the 6th-best average in the league they rank 19th in RBI’s.

San Diego Padres v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Pirates’ bullpen is led by closer Felipe Vazquez, who has managed to lock down 19 of the 20 games he’s been called in to save. He’s also been at the upper end of the scale for Pittsburgh relievers, sporting an ERA of 1.91 in 33 innings this season.

Normally Keone Kela would normally cover the next highest-leverage situation for the Pirates, but he was recently placed on the IL with shoulder issues. In his stead Kyle Crick has seen a majority of the big-time pitches outside of the 9th inning. He has not been super-lights-out though, having dropped 4 save opportunities in 2019.

Converted starter Francisco Liriano sees the majority of the innings out of the pen after those two, and has been steadily gaining trust in his new role. Though he hasn’t exactly blown other teams out of the water he’s become a steady arm who is able to occasionally give a couple of innings if needed.

Beyond that things get a little dicey for the rest of the pen as no one has an ERA below 4.40. Richard Rodríguez and Clay Holmes see the most work out the remaining relievers, but their stats don’t exactly inspire confidence from the Pirates faithful.

The same can be said for the rest of the relief corps thanks to some absolutely atrocious numbers. Old friend Michael Feliz is in the mix as well, but his 6.75 ERA in 18.2 innings pretty much speaks to how well he’s doing in 2019.

Astros

The Astros return home much in need of some home cooking as they endured some the worst losing streak they’ve seen in years. I could quote a whole ton of terrible stats to demonstrate how bad it was, but it just came down to a long stretch of baseball where nothing was really working for the team. If the offense exploded the pitching would fall apart or vice versa. They managed to salvage a win in the final game against the Yankees, but it was too late to salvage a 1-6 road trip. Houston owns one of the best records at home though, so now is definitely the time to right the ship.

Houston Astros v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Yordan Alvarez has done nothing but dominate since getting the call up to the majors and this week was no different. He managed to knock three more home runs to go with 2 doubles in the past five games alone. He’s certainly making a case to be the full time DH, even with White’s recent emergence back on the scene.

Though not with quite the same power, Michael Brantley has certainly been the better pure hitter this week. He’s slashed .462/.500/.615 on the road trip, though 10 of his 12 hits have been for singles.

Jake Marisnick and Myles Straw have both had very fine weeks as well in limited duty, though their roles were mainly coming in off the bench and defensive purposes. Stassi also had an excellent game in his return from the IL.

As I mentioned above, White has been slapping the baseball around in recent games, including his first career grand slam in the finale against New York. Altuve has also begun to look more like himself, having seemingly found his rhythm again in recent games.

After that things get a little more pedestrian for Houston, including a much more subdued Alex Bregman, who is having a somewhat lackluster 2019 campaign, for him.

Injury Update: Expect Springer to return to the lineup in this series and hopefully provide a spark for the bats.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

As for the pen, well let’s just say that things have not been pretty. The only two pitchers who came through the week without surrendering runs were Will Harris and Reymin Guduan. Harris was the only one who wasn’t a surprise.

Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna both suffered embarrassing outings at the hands of the Yankees and Reds, respectively. Pressly was handled quite rudely in particular as New York dropped a 3-spot on him in a rare blown save.

Rondón, James, Osuna, Devenskie, and Armenteros would all give up 2 runs each during their innings of work this week as well, so not really that great. It’s the first time I can remember a week in the 2019 season featuring so many pitchers giving up multiple runs.

The bullpen has seen some consistent struggles lately for really the first time this year, which should draw concern but still might just be within the realm of the natural ups and downs to a season.

Pitching Match Ups

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1: Trevor Williams, RHP (2-1, 4.12 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole, RHP (6-5, 3.54 ERA)

Trevor Williams gets the ball in the first game of the series after a complete disaster of an outing against Detroit. In his return from a stint on the IL he went 5 innings and give up 7 runs, 2 via the long ball. He did strike out 7 in those frames though, but his 7.47 K/9 rate shows that number as more of an anomaly. While he’s definitely laid a couple of eggs on the mound this season, Williams usually can get through at least 6 innings in a game, and has kept opposing teams to 2 runs or less in 6 of his 10 starts.

Cole will pitch against his former club for the first time since being traded to Houston before last season. The timing is good as he’s been pitching quite well in recent weeks, having gone at least 6 innings and keeping teams to 2 earned runs or less in each of his last 5 starts. He also has continued his ridiculous strikeout rate and continues to remain near the top of the heap for that category.

Game 2: TBD vs. Framber Valdez , LHP (3-3, 3.61 ERA)

The Pirates have yet to announce who will start this game and I can’t find any whispers on who it will be. These days that means equal parts likely that it could be an opener or a spot start. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michal Feliz step in if there’s not already a plan in place as he already has a (bad) start under his belt in 2019.

Houston counters with Framber, who was having one of his best starts of the year for about 3 innings his last time out. Things absolutely fell apart after that as Valdez ended up with 5 runs on his record. He’ll look to bounce back here and hopefully emulate more his first couple of starts, which were brilliant for the southpaw.

Game 3: Joe Musgrove, RHP (5-7, 4.57 ERA) vs. Brad Peacock, RHP (6-5, 3.62 ERA)

Old friend and 2017 World Series Game 5 winner Joe Musgrove gets the ball for Pittsburgh after one of his best starts of the season. He pitched 7 innings of 1-run baseball, striking out 8 and walking no one. It was the third time he went 7 innings and gave up one run or fewer in 2019. Joe has had some issues though and has thrown a few clunkers this season, including his start before the most recent one where he got rung up with 6 runs in 4 innings.

After a couple of rather pedestrian starts Peacock managed a pretty good showing against the Yankees in his most recent match. He went 6 brilliant innings and struck out 11 batters with his only real mistake being a 2-run shot by Gary Sanchez. Brad’s been having an excellent year as the #5 starter for the Astros and continues to impress by taking on whatever pitching role is needed from him at the time.

Fun Fact

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Tuesday, June 25th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Pirates - KDKA-FM 93.7 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Pirates - ATT SportsNet-PIT / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 2: Wednesday, June 26th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Pirates - KDKA-FM 93.7 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Pirates - ATT SportsNet-PIT / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 3: Thursday, June 27th @ 1:10 pm CDT
Listen: Pirates - KDKA-FM 93.7 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Pirates - ATT SportsNet-PIT / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (68 votes)
  • 45%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (84 votes)
  • 10%
    Pirates Win 2-1
    (19 votes)
  • 7%
    Pirates Sweep 3-0
    (14 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now