Series #5: Bury the Last Place Cardinals

Series Quick Look
Monday, April 17, 7:05PM
Tuesday, April 18, 8:15PM

Wednesday, April 19, 1:45PM
at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO


The Pirates have been chasing the Cardinals in the standings since the beginning of the century. Yes, it’s been about 17 years that the Pirates have finished behind the Cardinals. The last time the Pirates were ahead of them at the end of the season was 1999. Is this finally the year the Pirates blow past the Cards? Since 2011, these two teams have played some tight games and close series records. How close?

2011:    PIT won 7, STL won 9
2012:   PIT won 8, STL won 7
2013:   PIT won 10, STL won 9
2014:   PIT won 8, STL won 11
2015:   PIT won 9, STL won 10
2016:   PIT won 9, STL won 10

 

The Pirates are 51-56 total since 2011 and had a couple years where they took the season series, but keep finishing behind them overall. This will be the first three games of a total of 19 this season, and after this series, we won’t see the Cardinals into late June. With the Cards reeling on a 3-9 start, this is the perfect opportunity to kick ’em when they’re down.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Pirates lead 1,247-1,190
Last matchup…Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2016: Cardinals swept Pirates to close out 2016 regular season.

About the Cardinals:

The Cardinals are off to a horrid start through the first two weeks of the 2017 season with a 3-9 record, good for last place in the NL Central. They also have faced a tough schedule to start the season, losing the series to the Cubs, Reds, Nationals and then getting swept by the Yankees this weekend in New York. The Cards are last in the National League with a 4.98 ERA, but 5th in FIP at 4.24. As for hitting, they’re currently second to last with a paltry 74 wRC+. They’re hitting .212 as a team and getting on base six points short of .300.

Adam Wainwright looks like a complete mess (24 hits in 13.2 innings), but the Pirates will miss him this series. The Cards bullpen has been bad and only Mike Leake, who’s outperforming his career numbers, is off to a great start for this rotation.

Dexter Fowler is seeing some major regression with a 12 wRC+. TWELVE (league average is 100 by the way). Yadier Molina is posting a 73 wRC+, Kolten Wong with a 29 and Jhonny Peralta struggling with a .120/.185/.120 slash line (-12 wRC+). Matt Adams is playing the outfield (who thought that’d be a good idea?) and their best hitting through 12 games is Stephen Piscotty (145 wRC+).


PROBABLES & NOTES: 

4/17: RHP Ivan Nova (2.25 ERA/2.35 FIP, 61 FIP-) vs.
RHP Lance Lynn (5.23 ERA/6.61 FIP, 169 FIP-)

Ivan Nova will make his third start Monday night and will be looking to keep that BB/9 and HR/9 at a nice, clean 0.00. So far, he’s had one good start and one average, but managed to post six innings each time. Nova has been a different pitcher since putting on the Black & Gold, and let’s hope that continues against the red birds. Despite 131 starts in the Majors, Nova has never faced the Cards and only seen Peralta, Fowler and Jedd Gyorko before. Only Peralta has an extra base hit off of Nova out of the trio, but Peralta also doesn’t have an extra base hit in 2017 yet. Meanwhile, the Pirates know plenty about Lynn who they’ve hit around to the tune of a 4.74 ERA in 95 innings. Andrew McCutchen has not fared well against Lynn (.443 OPS), but Starling Marte and Josh Harrison have a .965 and .955 OPS off him, respectively. Lynn (169 FIP-) missed all of 2016 to recover from Tommy John surgery, and so far he’s struggled, including his last start when he served up three home runs to the Nationals.

4/18: RHP Chad Kuhl (2.38 ERA/2.84 FIP, 74 FIP-) vs.
RHP Mike Leake (0.60 ERA/1.40 FIP, 35 FIP-)

Kuhl faced the Cardinals twice last year and gave up five runs in 7.0 innings total, but we may be seeing a stronger and better Kuhl this season. He’ll make his third start of 2017 and is coming off of a terrific start against a tough Boston lineup in Fenway. Meanwhile, the Bucs will face Mike Leake who’s off to a stellar start this season, posting a minuscule 0.60 ERA. Leake is the definition of a league average pitcher (career 101 ERA-), so I don’t expect his strong season to continue for very long. He has been known to give the Pirates fits at times, but overall has a 3.36 ERA in a handful 28 starts. Last year, however, he struggled against the Pirates in four starts so let’s hope it’s something the Pirates offense can carry over form last year.

4/19: RHP Gerrit Cole (5.29 ERA/4.64 FIP, 121 FIP-) vs.
RHP Michael Wacha (3.00 ERA/3.51 FIP, 90 FIP-)

Cole will make his fourth start of the season and hopefully to take another step forward as well. He looked great on Opening Day until the 5th inning and wasn’t dominant against the Cubs, but battled to keep his team in it with two runs allowed in 6.0 innings of work. A healthy Cole going deep into games is something that is good for the Pirates and let’s hope he can be efficient and shut down the Cards struggling offense. Wacha had a great couple of seasons early in his career, but regressed last year to a 124 ERA-. I always worry when I see Wacha facing the Pirates, but that goes back to his magnificent Game 4 performance in the 2013 NLDS to keep the Pirates from closing out the series. Overall, the Bucs have been successful against Wacha (26 ER in 55 innings in career). Wacha is off to a good start to 2017 with two nice 6.0 starts before making his third start Wednesday afternoon.


TV/RADIO INFO: 
TV (Monday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, Fox Sports Midwest and ESPN.
TV (Tuesday): MLB Network (out-of-market only) & Fox Sports Midwest.
TV (Wednesday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh and Fox Sports Midwest.
Radio (All games): KDKA-FM 93.7

ON THE SHELF: 

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

St. Louis:
Zach Duke (P): 60-Day DL (March 29)—Recovering from left arm surgery.
Jon Gant (P): 10-Day DL (March 30)—Right groin tightness.
Tyler Lyons (P): 10-Day DL (April 2)—Recovering from right knee surgery.
Alex Reyes (P): 60-Day DL (March 30)—Tommy John surgery. 

POLANCO’S AVAILABILITY
Gregory Polanco was scratched from the lineup before Saturday’s game against the Cubs due to groin discomfort. He missed the weekend and now is not in the lineup Monday night, leaving us to speculate that the injury is more severe and a 10-day DL stint could be a possibility. With Polanco out, Hurdle will have to get create with his team’s positional flexibility as Adam Frazier and/or JHay could see time in LF. Overall the team’s defense has been shaky at best, and I’m not even sure at this point if missing Polanco in the field is a downgrade for the defense.

EVERYONE, FREESE!
Let’s just leave this note here again for this series! Not only is Freese tied for first in the National League in on-base percentage with a .488 mark and top 5 in wOBA, but he’s also worked the Cardinals Mike Leake hard. In his career, Freese is 15-for-28 versus Leake with three doubles, one home run, six RBIs and a 1.023. It’s safe to say, he sees Leake pretty well. Leake is scheduled to start Tuesday night for St. Louis.

ELEMENTARY?
Tony Watson‘s pitching line on the season looks solid: 6.0 IP, 4 saves, 1.50 ERA, four strikeouts, but his FIP is telling. He’s skirted around trouble through the first couple weeks and his 7.26 FIP shows it. Watson has been getting lucky and holding down the 9th inning, but he’s been far from a sure thing. Meanwhile, Felipe Rivero has been stellar and is not getting lucky. He’s posted a 1.13 ERA with a 1.93 FIP with seven strikeouts in eight innings.

D-FENSE ANYONE?
We’ve seen some awful defense so far this season between watching the Pirates and the Braves series for one, but the Cardinals may take the cake here. They weren’t projected to be an above average defensive team by any means, but they are bringing up the rear in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved with -13, tied with dead last along with Arizona. Randal Grichuk has been horrendous as he’s already registered a -6 DRS in the outfield overall, -4 in left and -2 in right.

ROSTER MOVE
The Pirates made a move Monday afternoon trading for Yankees RHP Johnny Barbato in exchanged for a player to be named later or cash. The Pirates were left with a couple spots on the 40-man roster after the release of Jared Hughes and having to give Tyler Webb (Rule 5 pick) back to the Yankees so Barbato goes directly to the 40-man and will pitch out of the pen at Triple-A Indianapolis. Barbato made his Major League debut in 2016, giving up 11 runs in 13 innings in his cup of coffee. He’s another high groundball rate pitcher with a 46% GB rate and 2.61 ERA in Triple-A last season. With the 40-man roster spots open, this is purely a depth move for the Pirates.

NEXT UP:
The Pirates have an off day Thursday before returning to Pittsburgh to face the Yankees for a three-game interleague weekend series.

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