Suffering a sweep at the hands of a Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot to look forward to this week. Such as a rematch, actually two of them that fall perfectly on the Pirates schedule.
The first begins tonight in Cincinnati against the Reds in a rematch of the National League Wild Card game last October. Cincinnati is struggling right now and the Pirates have a chance to bury the Reds a little deeper in the standings. The two teams were both predicted to contend this season for the NL Central crown but Cincinnati has been heavily hit by injuries so the further they have to come back after they get healthy the better for the Pirates and everyone else in the division.
After that comes a rematch with the Brewers who will be visiting PNC Park in Pittsburgh this time around. That is just fine with the Pirates who came to Milwaukee with a 6-3 record, just a game behind the Brewers and looking to re-establish the pecking order in the National League Central Division.
That order was established but it was done by the Brewers. Pittsburgh left Milwaukee with three straight losses, four games behind the Brewers and wondering what just hit them. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle was not worried though, “We hit a number of balls hard, but we don’t have anything to show for it.”
Hurdle is right. It was not a situation where the Pirates were overmatched in Milwaukee. All the games were close but the Pittsburgh came up short because of sloppy defense and a lack of timely hitting. The Pirates look forward to a rematch and a chance to fix things but they have to acknowledge what the Brewer series made clear to those paying attention. First, the Pirates are not hitting the ball and second, Pittsburgh’s record going into the Brewer series was misleading. They had played the Chicago Cubs in six of the first nine games.
The most important part of regrouping this week will be getting the offense back on track as the Pirates scored just five runs on 15 hits against Milwaukee. Part of unlocking the offense will be getting NL most valuable player Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte on track. Neither player has a home run two weeks into the season but they have combined for 27 strikeouts. Now throw in Pedro Alvarez and his .178 batting average and offensive production is a problem.
McCutchen will eventually hit but if his leadoff hitter Marte cannot keep his strikeout totals down and get his OBP of .357 up then McCutchen has no one to drive in and becomes easier to pitch around. Especially if Alvarez does not protect him better in the cleanup spot. Alvarez has hit five home runs this season but with a batting average that low it diminishes the impact he has on a game and mutes McCutchen’s effectiveness as well.
Francisco Liraiano and Wandy Rodriguez need to pick things up too as the the two veteran pitchers are a combined 0-4 this season. Liriano is a notoriously slow starter but he is the ace in this rotation and an ERA of 4.00 with 11 walks this early in the season is not getting it done. Rodriguez has been even worse, posting an ERA of 5.73.
In short Pittsburgh is waiting for their best players to get it going. The Brewers exposed that fast start and the Pirates slumping stars. The Pirates now look forward to a rematch that will reset their season and their opponents.
Commentary by Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Pittsburgh Pirates