Series Preview #1: Pirates Open 2017 Season at Fenway

Series Quick Look
Monday, April 3: Red Sox 5, Pirates 3
Tuesday, April 4, OFF DAY

Wednesday, April 5, Red Sox 3, Pirates 0 (12 innings)
Thursday, April 6, PPD (makeup date April 13)
at Fenway Park, Boston, MA


The 136th season of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club will begin at Fenway Park when Rick Porcello throws the first pitch set for 2:05 Monday afternoon. It’ll be just the second time since interleague play began in 1997 that the Pirates make an appearance at historic Fenway Park, and first since 2005. Of course, that wasn’t the only times these two franchises have faced off before—you have to go all the way back to the 1903 World Series, the first one of its kind. More on that below, but this series will be a rematch of the first ever World Series. Believe it or not, this is also just the fourth time the Red Sox have opened at home since ’95. It’s Opening Day, everyone’s record has been wiped out and a new story about the 2017 season is about to be written.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Pirates lead 7-5
Last matchup…Sept. 16-18, 2014, Pirates sweep Red Sox at PNC Park, outscoring Boston 16-3.

About the Red Sox:
The Red Sox come into 2017 as the heavy favorite to win the American League East crown again despite losing slugger David Ortiz to retirement in the offseason. Even with the loss of Ortiz, the Red Sox lineup is loaded with talent with a young core of budding superstars led by MVP candidate Mookie Betts. Betts is joined by Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia and top 5 prospect in MLB, Andrew Benintendi. This offense should still be one of the tops in the AL.

The Sox also went out in the offseason and traded away a couple of prospects, including the best prospect in the game Yoan Moncada, for Chris Sale from the White Sox during the Winter Meetings last December. Sale adds a second ace (or third) to Boston’s rotation along with David Price and reigning Cy Young winner Porcello (just don’t ask Kate Upton about it). Price is starting the season on the DL, so the Bucs will miss one ace in this series at least. The Red Sox won the AL East title last year with a 93-69 record, but was quickly bounced in a first round sweep to the eventual AL Champs Cleveland Indians.


PROBABLES & NOTES: 

4/3: RHP Gerrit Cole (2016: 3.88 ERA/3.33 FIP, 96 ERA-) vs.
RHP Rick Porcello (2016: 3.15 ERA/3.40 FIP, 71 ERA-)

Cole and Porcello get the Opening Day nods for their respective teams Monday afternoon, and they couldn’t have polar opposite seasons in 2016. Cole is coming off the worst season of his career that was riddled with injuries after missing the start of the season and being shut down in September. Cole is healthy and ahead of last year’s pace after pitching this spring. There are a lot of uneasy Pirates fan that we will be watching Cole this season and holding their breathe. A solid start on Opening Day would be a great start to silencing his critics. Meanwhile, Porcello comes in riding his first ever Cy Young award and ready to open the season for the Sox at home in his 9th MLB season and third with Boston. The former Tigers pitcher spent six years in Detroit before being traded to Boston in the Yoenis Cespedes deal in December 2014. In his career, Porcello has been stellar versus the Pirates with just one run allowed in 23 career innings (0.39 ERA). If anything though, April has been Porcello’s worst month with a career 5.47 ERA.

4/5: RHP Jameson Taillon (2016: 3.38 ERA/3.71 FIP, 84 ERA-) vs.
LHP Chris Sale (2016: 3.34 ERA/3.46 FIP, 78 ERA-)

Taillon makes his season debut opposite Sale, who will be making his Red Sox debut after spending the first seven years of his career with the White Sox. Taillon looks to follow up his solid rookie campaign by avoiding the sophomore slump. He came into ’16 after missing the previous two seasons altogether and exceeding expectations with a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts and 104 innings thanks to a 52.4% ground ball rate. This will obviously be Taillon’s first game against the Red Sox. Sale, the Florida Gulf Coast product, is one of the best power southpaws in the game with a 10.1 K/9 and 73 ERA- in his career. This will be Sale’s first career game against the Bucs. David Price struggled with the Sox a bit in his first season at Fenway, could Sale be the next?

4/6: RHP Chad Kuhl (2016: 4.20 ERA/3.95 FIP, 104 ERA-) vs.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2016: 4.71 ERA/4.43 FIP, 106 ERA-)

Kuhl was just one of many Pirates starters to make their ML debut last season, and he held his own proving to be right at league average (104 ERA-). The Pirates front office is giving him a shot to hold his own again and prove that he belongs in the rotation. Kuhl isn’t going to overpower many hitters, but he limits his walks and tries to keep the ball in the park (0.89 HR/9). He was having a great season at Triple-A Indy when he made his ML debut and stayed in the rotation till the end of the year, making 14 starts. The Sox will throw Rodriguez in the final game of this series as he gets bumped up in the rotation due to Price’s injury. The lefty from Venezuela has made 20+ starts in his first two seasons in the Majors, but regressed last season after a solid rookie campaign in ’15. He struggled so much in the first half, he was sent down to the minors and came back as a remarkably different pitcher in the second half. This will be both young pitchers first start against their opponent.


TV/RADIO INFO: 
TV (All games): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh & New England Sports Network (NESN).
Radio (All games): KDKA-FM 93.7


ON THE SHELF: 

Pittsburgh:
Jung Ho Kang (3B): Restricted List (March 11)—Work visa denied.

Boston:
Drew Pomeranz (P): 10-day DL (March 31)—Left flexor strain.
David Price (P): 10-day DL (April 2)—Left forearm, elbow soreness.
Josh Rutledge (3B): 10-day DL (April 2)—Left hamstring strain
Roenis Elias (P): 10-day DL (April 2)—Right intercostal, oblique strain.
Carson Smith (P): 10-day DL (April 2)—Recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Tyler Thornburg (P): 10-day DL (April 2)—Right shoulder impingement.

PORCELLO VS THE BUCS
Porcello faced the Pirates three times as a member of the Tigers in 2009, 2011 and 2013 to resounding success. In those three starts, Porcello allowed just one earned run in 23 innings with 16 strikeouts and just 10 hits. He struck out 11 Pirate batters in his most recent start against Pittsburgh four years ago in Detroit. As far as his numbers against current Pirates players, John Jaso (3-for-14) is the only active Pirates player who’s homered off the righty.

INEXPERIENCED PEN
The Red Sox enter this series and season with a bunch of injuries, including three relievers that were slated for the pen in Elias, Smith and Thornburg. Due to the rash of injuries, the Red Sox are rolling with a couple young relievers, including Ben Taylor who will be making his Major League debut if he pitches in this series. The 24-year-old righthander was the 7th round pick in the 2015 draft and has made quick work of the minors. Boston also awarded Robby Scott a spot in the pen to open the season. Scott was an undrafted free agent in 2011, made his ML debut last season and has just six innings under his belt. Joe Kelly is also a member of this bullpen, but he stinks so hopefully we’ll see him sometime this series.

FORMER BUCCO
The Pirates will renew acquaintances with an old friend and former Bucco, Brock Holt. Holt was dealt to the Red Sox along with Joel Hanrahan in the Mark Melancon deal back in 2012. The Rice University product has become a super utility player for the Red Sox while producing a 92 wRC+ in his 5-year career. This will be Holt’s first time facing his former team.

FIRST WORLD SERIES
Pittsburgh and Boston have some major history between its two baseball teams after meeting up in the first ever MLB World Series in 1903. Led by Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke, the Pirates cruised to a 91-49 record in 1903 and faced off against the Boston Americans in a best-of-nine series. Yes, that’s best-of-nine series. The Pirates, however, fell to the Americans five games to three, but they’d get their first championship six years later in 1909 over Ty Cobb’s Tigers. The Pirates will face the Tigers as well later this season in August.

NEXT UP:
After this opening three-game series in Boston, the Pirates head home to open PNC Park for its 17th season. They’ll welcome in the Atlanta Braves for the home opener to kick off the three-game series and six-game homestand.

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