Series #17: Snakes Present Major Mismatch for Pirates

Series Quick Look
Monday, May 29, 4:05PM 
Tuesday, May 30, 7:05PM

Wednesday, May 31, 12:35PM
at PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

The Diamondbacks (31-20) will make their first and only appearance at PNC Park in 2017 with a three-game series this week. Since 2010, the Pirates are 15-7 versus Arizona at PNC Park. The two teams split their four-game series in Arizona earlier this month and this will be the last time these two teams will see each other in the regular season this year. As you’ll read throughout this preview, the Diamondbacks present a major mismatch for the Pirates, dominating them in every facet of the game according to the NL team leaderboard.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Diamondbacks lead 72-61
Last matchup…May 11-14, 2017. Pirates and D-Backs split a four-game series in Arizona.

About the Diamondbacks:
The Diamondbacks enter this series third in the NL West, but are one of the surprising teams this season with a 31-21 record. While they’re an average hitting team overall (99 wRC+), they are third in the NL with a .451 slugging percentage and fourth in isolated power at .187. Everyone knows about Paul Goldschmidt (11 HRs, 38 RBIs, 1.019 OPS), but Jake Lamb is actually leading the team in home runs with 14. The 26-year-old third baseman had a breakout season in 2016, but he’s off to a stellar start in 2017 with a .279/.370/.574 slash line and a 136 wRC+. Lamb has already produced a 1.7 fWAR in just 48 games this season. Thanks to Lamb and Goldschmidt, the D-Backs are second in the NL with 71 home runs.

This team can belt the long ball, but it’s their pitching staff that has this team 10 games over .500. The D-Backs are second in NL in ERA and FIP with matching 3.69 marks and second in K/9 with 9.2. The good news is the Pirates will miss Zack Greinke (77 FIP-) this series and Taijuan Walker (81 FIP-) is on the DL. And long man Randall Delgado will have to make a spot start this series. Robbie Ray has been terrific this season (86 FIP-), striking out nearly 30% of the batters he’s faced. And Archie Bradley (59 FIP-, 1.13 WPA) has been fabulous in an Andrew Miller type role out of the pen for Arizona.

Defensively, Arizona is middle of the road in the NL with a +1 DRS and -2.1 UZR, but well ahead of the Pirates -19 DRS and -9.3 UZR. On paper this series is a complete mismatch with the D-Backs a better hitting, pitching and defensive team than the Pirates.


5/29: RHP Trevor Williams (5.93 ERA/4.90 FIP, 120 FIP-) vs.
RHP Randall Delgado (3.82 ERA/3.96 FIP, 94 FIP-)

It’s a battle of spot starters in the series opener on Memorial Day with Williams pitching opposite to Delgado. Williams will make his 5th start since joining the rotation in Jameson Taillon‘s spot. Williams has gone at least five innings in his past three starts, but gets hit around for a couple runs. He’ll need the groundball outs to succeed in another start and he’s been better as of late in that department with 16 groundball outs in his last two starts. Williams faced the Diamondbacks on May 13 in Arizona and picked up the win in five innings of work with just one run allowed (a Nick Ahmed home run). Delgado will be making just his second start of the season after starting the year in the bullpen. He went just four innings in his last start on May 24 against the White Sox, allowing two runs (one earned) with three strikeouts. He threw his most pitches of the season in that start at 61 and will continue to get stretched out in his second start. Delgado has given up 11 runs in 20 career innings versus the Bucs.

5/30: RHP Ivan Nova (2.83 ERA/3.19 FIP, 79 FIP-) vs.
LHP Robbie Ray (3.45 ERA/3.62 FIP, 86 FIP-)

It’s a rematch of probables from the Pirates 6-4 victory on May 14 in Arizona. Nova will make his 11th start of the season for the Bucs and second against the Diamondbacks. He picked up the no-decision on May 14 in six innings of work with three runs allowed. Nova comes into this series leading the NL in BB/9 (0.6), complete games (2) and shutouts (1). In his last outing, Nova pitched into the 9th inning against the Braves, but could not seal the deal for his third complete game. Nova has pounded the strike zone this season, tossing 67% of his pitches for strikes. Ray will also be making his 11th start of the season and since giving up four runs on six hits in just four innings of work against the Pirates, Ray hasn’t allowed a run in 14.2 innings. Over his last two starts against the Padres and Brewers, Ray struck out 15, with just three walks and four hits. We’ll see if the Bucs can continue their success of Ray.

5/31: RHP Chad Kuhl (6.29 ERA/4.15 FIP, 101 FIP-) vs.
RHP Zack Godley (1.99 ERA/3.24 FIP, 77 FIP-)

Kuhl will make his 11th start of the season Wednesday afternoon and he’s been having an up and down season to date. He was hammered in his last start versus a Mets lineup filled with left-handed hitters as he allowed five runs on eight hits, including two home runs. This Diamondbacks lineup only features a couple solid lefties (David Peralta and Lamb) so hopefully Kuhl executes much better in this outing. He missed this lineup when the Pirates were in Arizona. The Pirates and Kuhl will face Godley in this game as Godley makes his 6th start of the season. After starting the year in Triple-A Reno, Godley got the call in late April and has put up great numbers through five starts. He struggled last year (6.39 ERA) in a bullpen/spot starter role, but with the injuries to Shelby Miller and Walker, Godley was slotted into the rotation. He posts an ERA just under two and blanked the Brewers through six innings in his last start, striking out six. The Pirates faced Godley once back in 2015 in a relief appearance for two innings with one run allowed.


TV (All games): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh and Fox Sports Arizona (FS-A)
Radio (All games): KDKA-FM 93.7


Jung Ho Kang (3B): Restricted List (March 11)—Work visa denied.
Starling Marte (OF): Suspended 80 games (April 18)—Use of PED’s.
Antonio Bastardo (P): 10-Day DL (April 25)—Left quad strain. 
Jameson Taillon (P): 10-Day DL (May 6)—Recovering from testicular cancer surgery.
Josh Lindblom (P): 10-day DL (May 20)—Left side discomfort.  

Socrates Brito (P): 60-day DL (April 2)—Recovering from left ring finger surgery.
Steve Hathaway (P): 60-day DL (April 2)—Left shoulder.

Shelby Miller (P): 60-day DL (April 29)—Recovering from Tommy John surgery.
A.J. Pollock (OF): 10-day DL (May 15)—Right groin strain.
Taijuan Walker (P): 10-day DL (May 21)—Blister on right index finger.

Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer is heating up at the plate after a slow start to 2017. In his last seven games, Mercer is hitting .444/.500/.778 with three doubles and two home runs. The hot week has lifted his slugging percentage nearly 100 points on the season. It’s refreshing to see the Pirates get some production from the bottom portion of the lineup.

In what is turning out to be an incredible story, Jameson Taillon is on the comeback trail from testicular cancer. Taillon made a rehab start at Double-A Altoona and pitched three shutout innings with six strikeouts. His pitching line wasn’t the story, however, as he’s already on the mound just weeks after undergoing surgery for suspected testicular cancer. The plan next is for a bullpen in Pittsburgh this week followed by at least one more rehab start, but Taillon could be back in the Pirates rotation by mid June.

Remember that big year everyone was hoping for Gregory Polanco? Well after a slow start and a DL stint, Polanco is back and looks better than ever. In three games since returning from the DL, Polanco is 5-for-13 with two home runs. Even dating back before his DL stint, Polanco currently has a seven-game hitting streak and hitting .370 during the streak. Polanco didn’t hit a home run in his first 123 plate appearances to start 2017, but since has hit three bombs in his last 25 plate appearances. Let’s hope El Coffee can keep the hitting streak going against the D-Backs.

How good is Paul Goldschmidt? He ranks second among NL first baseman in wRC+ with a 159 behind only Freddie Freeman. Goldschmidt is slashing .315/.444/.575 for a stupid 1.019 OPS. He’s walked 38 times (leads the NL) and struck out just 40 while belting 11 home runs and oh yeah, stealing 12 bases on top of all that. And he never misses a game, playing in all of Arizona’s 52 games this season. During the four-game series earlier this month against Pittsburgh, Goldschmidt dominated with five hits including three home runs. The Pirates need to be careful against this premier bat.

Not only is the Pirates offense third worst in most NL categories ahead of just the Padres and Giants, but when they get on base there are problems there too. According to the Base Running (BsR) stat, the Pirates are worst in the NL at -7.1. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks are by far the best team in the NL at 17.2 BsR. It’s a wide gap between the two teams that furthers the mismatch on paper.

The Pirates will enjoy an off day Thursday before heading to Citi Field in New York to face the Mets for the second time in a week. The five-game roadtrip will continue to Baltimore for a quick two-game series versus the Orioles.

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