Game 89: Division Chase Is On

Last nights 12-6 victory over the Cubs has brought the Pirates within 6.5 games of the division. Sure, that seems like it’s a lot, but when you factor in that they were 14 games out just on June 23, you can see how impressive this stretch has been. Of course, much thanks can go to the Cubs as they now have lost 15 games in their last 20. That’s right, the paper champs have won just five games since June 20.

Today at 1:35 PM, Jon Niese will face John Lackey as the Pirates will look for the series sweep. Assuming you can math, a victory would bring the Pirates within 5.5 games of the division, and possibly closer to the Wild Card spot they trail by 1.5 games currently.

John Lackey, much as Jon Lester‘s season, has started out brilliant but is now tailing downwards. The 37 year old was signed out of St. Louis to a two year deal worth $32 million. Early in the season he was proving his worth as he held a 2.63 ERA through June 8. Since then, he has allowed 19 earned runs in 28.2 innings which has increased his ERA to a now 3.50. Lackey has seen his home runs and walks spike over the past 5 starts, which has lead to his struggles. for his career, he does show a solid track record when facing the Pirates. in 33 innings, he has a 3.00 ERA.

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For the Pirates, Jon Niese will be returning to the rotation after knee discomfort pushed back what has been rumored as possibly his last start with the team. In what has been dubbed a disappointing season so far for the ex-Met, it seems like there may be a bit more to this story. In an article posted by Neil Weinberg, it seems as if Niese’s pitch location could be the simple answer to his inefficiencies. Niese has been pitching most of his pitches low and inside, which seems to become very predictable and hitters are waiting to tee off on him. Before when he was a Met, he was using virtually the entire strike zone to mix and match with the batter. This seems to be the only real stand out to his metrics that is leading to his absurd home run rate of 1.74. Niese holds a 4.87 ERA on the season and with many scouts to be in attendance today, a quality start here could lead to a trade rather quickly.

Today’s lineup will be without Gregory Polando and Josh Harrison due to the injuries they sustained during this series. Polanco appeared to re-aggravate his hamstring, while Harrison took a pitch off of the top of his foot that lead him to leave yesterday’s game. Matt Joyce is also going to get the day off as a day of rest. We will see a red hot David Freese stick in the lineup playing third today, along with Adam Frazier getting his first career start in right field. In 21 plate appearances, Frazier is batting .350 with two extra base hits and three steals.

Pirates Lineup:

  1. John Jaso 1B
  2. Starling Marte LF
  3. Andrew McCuthen CF
  4. David Freese 3B
  5. Sean Rodriguez 2B
  6. Adam Frazier RF
  7. Jordy Mercer SS
  8. Eric Fryer C
  9. Jon Niese P


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