Season Preview—Breaking Down the 2017 Schedule: Pirates Open with Brutal April

When the Pirates open their 2017 season in Fenway Park this Monday, April 3 at 2:05PM, it’ll mark their earliest trip to Boston ever, their first Opening Day versus the Red Sox, just their second trip to Boston since interleague play began in ’97 and the start of a brutal month of April.

Pirates face teams with a .529 winning percentage from 2016 in April, highest of any month this season. If you look at FanGraphs projected win totals, the Pirates April is still the toughest with a .514%.

You can clearly see below on our schedule graph that April projects to be their toughest month.

In April, they face the Red Sox, Cubs (two series), Cardinals and Yankees. Overall, the Pirates face a difficult schedule with a .505 winning percentage (4,245-4,168) from 2016 records. Even projected records, which is usually a regression system, puts the Pirates opponents at a .497% overall.

It’s easy to see on the graph above that May is really their only month facing teams that were combined under .500 in ’16. The difficult schedule obviously is because they play in a tough division with the 103 win, World Champs Cubs (still projected for 95) on the schedule 19 times along with the pain-in-the-ass Cardinals team that won 86 games last year. Another reason for the tough schedule is the interleague schedule the Pirates were handed in 2017. The Bucs play 20 games against the American League (roughly 12% of the schedule) and of the six opponents on the slate, five of them were above .500 in ’16, and the only one that wasn’t, The Rays, are projected to be significantly better this year. The Pirates will face the previously mentioned Red Sox, and the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Blue Jays and Rays (or the entire AL East and then the Tigers). They’ll face all those teams three times each with the exception of the Orioles and Tigers, which we’ll see four times each.

Like in every season, a bulk of the games will come against division opponents. It’s 19 games each against the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and Brewers, totaling 76 games or approximately 47% of the season. These are obviously crucial games that the Pirates need to do well in, especially against the division doormats (Reds and Brewers).

Here’s a full breakdown of the schedule with some fun quirks added in too:

Six quick ones with the Mets: The Pirates face every team in the NL East seven times each, except the New York Mets, who we’ll see six times in 2017. But we’ll see them play the Mets six times in a span on 10 days. Between May 26 and June 4, the Pirates and Mets meet six times with just a three-game series against Arizona and one off day in the middle of their meetings.

Seven with the D-Backs: Similar to the Mets quick games, the Pirates will meet the Diamondbacks seven times this season, but be done with them by June. The Pirates and Diamondbacks will play seven times in just 21 days. They travel to the desert for a four-game series on May 11-14 and finish the month at PNC with the Diamondbacks from May 29-31.

Versus the NL West: While the Pirates face the NL East 34 times, they only face NL West opponents 32 times, getting one last game against the Padres, Giants and Rockies (six each) while facing the Dodgers and D-Backs in seven contests each. The Bucs have two major roadtrips out west with the first one coming early in May (8-14) to face the Dodgers and Diamondbacks and then the second one after the All-Star break on June 21-20 where they’ll fly to Colorado, San Francisco and San Diego, which matches their longest roadtrip of the season (nine games).

Two-Gamers: Besides a home/away against the Tigers in August which is really a four-game series in my eyes, the Pirates only have a couple quick two-game series. Their season series with the Orioles (the only AL team they’ll see twice at different times of the season) is split up in two, two-game series with the first one on June 6-7 at Camden Yards. The Orioles then come to Pittsburgh to help close out the regular season at PNC Park with a tw0-game series on September 26-27. The only National League team they have a scheduled two-game series with is Milwaukee, set for August 15-16.

Clean-up: Besides finishing the season with the Orioles at home and then a four-game trip to Washington, the Bucs rest of September is filled with divisional games that will be key games down the stretch. Some good news is that with a tough schedule of April, once they get to August they’ll see the Reds 12 times from August 1 on and along with eight more games against the Brewers. Of course, this is only a good thing if the Pirates finally play well against the Reds and Brewers, two teams the Pirates have significantly more talent then. It’s time to take advantage.

Home Sweet Home: The Pirates have two eight-game homestands this season, but their longest is a three team, 10-game stand in mid-June versus the Marlins, Rockies and Cubs. The homestand even has an off day in the middle.

Yankees in Pittsburgh: It’ll be a rare opponent for the Pirates, especially in Pittsburgh when the Yankees crash the ‘Burgh on April 21-23. Since interleague play began in ’97, the Yankees have only visited Pittsburgh once in a three-game series back in June 2008. That series had one of the games postponed due to rain and forced the Yanks to come back to Pittsburgh on a scheduled off day on July 10 to finish the series, which the Pirates ultimately won 2-of-3. Overall, the Pirates are just 3-9 all-time against the Yankees in the regular season.

Sunday Night Baseball: The Pirates will be featured on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball twice this season—May 28 when the Pirates and Mets close out their series at PNC Park and August 20 versus the Cardinals.

Pirates/Cards to Play in Williamsport: That Cardinals Sunday Night Baseball game mentioned above will be a home game for the Bucs, but not played in Pittsburgh. MLB has moved the game to BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, PA, home of the short-season minor league team, the Williamsport Crosscutters (Phillies affiliate). Don’t bother looking for a ticket, however, as no tickets will be sold to the public for this one. This game will be during the same week of the Little League World Series tournament and seats will be filled by LLWS kids and their families. I’m sure it’ll be neat to see, but I don’t care where they’re playing, just beat the Cardinals!

Bucs and Jays: Everyone get their passports in order! The Pirates will make just their third trip to Toronto in franchise history on August 11-13 for a three-game tilt with the Blue Jays. It’ll be their first time at Rogers Centre since 2011 and previous before that, 2003. The Pirates are 6-6 against Toronto in interleague play, and I can’t wait for this series. I plan on being there for most of this series if things fall right. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the city of Toronto, eh?

Braves: Not only will the Pirates face the Braves in their home opener for the first time since 1998, they’ll also be visiting a new park when they travel to suburban Altanta on May 22-25. The Braves open SunTrust Park this season north of Atlanta, so now I’ll have to add another ballpark on my bucket list to go see someday. Oh, and what happened in that home opener against the Braves at Three Rivers Stadium in ’98? Chipper Jones belted two home runs off Jason Schmidt in the first three innings and that was about all you need to know about that 11-3 loss.

Off Days: The Pirates have 20 scheduled off days in 2017, including a four-day All-Star break. The ASG is set for Tuesday, July 11 at 8:00PM from Marlins Park in Miami. Two months do not give the Pirates much rest this season as May only has one scheduled off day on the 15th and August with just two off days on the 14th and 31st.

Schedule Breakdown
vs. NL Central: 76 (19 games each)
vs. NL East: 34 (7 vs. everyone, 6 vs. NYM)
vs. NL West: 32 (6 vs. everyone, 7 vs. LAD, ARI)
vs. AL: 20 (3 vs. BOS, NYY, TB, TOR, 4 vs. BAL, DET)

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