Series #23: Let The Division Battles Begin

Series Quick Look
Friday, June 16, 7:05PM
Saturday, June 17, 8:15PM
Sunday, June 18, 1:35PM
at PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

This will be the first time the Pirates play a division game since their June 5-7 series against the Brewers. The Pirates (30-36) are coming off a series where they won two of three against the N.L. best Colorado Rockies (42-26). It was the first time the Rockies lost a road series this season. They will be facing the Chicago Cubs (32-33) for the third time this year already to wrap up their longest home stand of the season. During this home stand, the Pirates are just 4-3. This series has great early season implications as the Buccos trail the Cubs by just 2.5 games.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Pirates lead 1,265 – 1,200
Last matchup…April 24-26, 2017. the Pirates lost two of the three games while being outscored 20-9.

About the Cubs:
The Cubs have been a huge disappointment by many people’s standards. After winning a World Series and retaining most of their core players, the Cubs are currently under .500 and trailing the rebuilding Brewers in the N.L. Central standings. Last year at this time they were currently 44-20, which equates to 12 more wins than what they have now. The Cubs have lost 12 of their last 19 games and have been outscored 92-73. Currently, the Cubs rank 18th in MLB with a 94 wRC+, 17th with a .318 wOBA, and 12th with a 4.18 FIP.

Though you can see the bats have been less than stellar this year I feel the real story is the starting pitcher. Last season all Cubs starters made at least 29 starts while ranking 1st in ERA (2.96), 4th in FIP (3.72), and 5th in K/9 (8.39). So far this year, though they haven’t faced any injuries still, Jon Lester is the only starting pitcher with an ERA under four. The starters have currently combined for a 4.66 ERA and a 4.34 FIP.


6/16: RHP Trevor Williams (5.13 ERA/4.82 FIP, 115 FIP-) vs.
RHP Eddie Butler (4.03 ERA/4.13 FIP, 96 FIP-)

It has been since May 13th that Trevor Williams was fully engulfed into the starting rotation full time. Since then, he has rocked a 3.86 ERA/3.98 FIP in 32.2 innings since which is good enough to be about 5% better than league average. He also has allowed just three walks in this time frame opposed to the eight he allowed in his 14.2 innings to start the season. Eddie Butler came to the Cubs in a trade from Colorado as a busted prospect. Touted as a 25 prospect in 2014, he has carried a career 6.12 ERA. Now with the Cubs, he has found better success though it may be due to a very low .267 BABIP during his short 29 inning sample size. He is still allowing over four and a half BB/9.

6/17: RHP Ivan Nova (2.83 ERA/3.52 FIP, 84 FIP-) vs.
RHP Jake Arrieta (4.68 ERA/4.03 FIP, 93 FIP-)

Let’s start this with a stat people love to hate. Ivan Nova has netted 11 quality starts in the 13 games he has started this season. I lead with this just to show how solid Nova has been. Though he is coming off of a 6 inning scoreless outing of which he has thrown two other scoreless outings, he has yet to pitch a game where he has allowed more than four runs which has only happened twice. His walk rate is still remarkable as he has given only seven free passes in the 89 innings he has pitched. This will be the first time he faces the Cubs this year and the second time with the Pirates after his September 29 start where he allowed just one run in 5.1 innings. Unlike Nova, Jake Arrieta has trended in the wrong direction over the past calendar year. Feared as one of the best pitchers in baseball history, Arrieta has pitched 177.1 innings since June 22 amassing a 4.47 ERA. Currently, he is coming off of an outing where he lasted just 4.1 innings while allowing four runs. It is also important to mention that he is dealing with a cut on his pitching thumb.

6/18: RHP Jameson Taillon (2.90 ERA/3.94 FIP, 94 FIP-) vs.
RHP John Lackey (5.26 ERA/5.54 FIP, 128 FIP-)

Jameson Taillon recently kicked cancer’s ass and made his first start one month after he had surgery. In that start he pitched five shutout innings while striking out five. It was a remarkable sight to see as this kid faced another tough battle and came out stronger once again. For the season, Taillon has outperformed his FIP. Most of his numbers are matching his 2016 figures except for his walk rate. It has increased from a 4.1B BB% to a 8.2 BB% which has been very uncharacteristic for him. Even Taillon’s minor league numbers show this is likely an anomaly and he will cut that down soon. Look for Taillon to build off of his last start and turn in another solid outing. As far as John Lackey, he has not had a good season at all. His ERA is almost two whole runs higher than last year. Diving into his numbers, they are not far off from last year either. The one thing that stands out the most is his 21.8% HR/FB which is highly unsustainable. I cannot see him continuing to see every fifth fly ball to leave the park especially when you consider his 86.9 MPH avg exit velocity and his 5.2% barrels per plate appearance. This could be a much closer matchup than these two pitchers ERA’s suggest.

TV (All games): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, Comcast SportsNet Chicago and MLB Network (out-of-market only)
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.
Josh Lindblom (P): 10-day DL (May 20)—Left side discomfort.
Chris Stewart (C): 10-day DL (May 30)—Left hamstring strain.

Brett Anderson (P): 60-day DL (June 9)—Lower back strain.
Kyle Hendricks (P): 10-day DL (June 13)—Right hand tendinitis.

King Cutch has returned to form since the Atlanta Benching 2.o. In 79 plate appearances since, Andrew McCutchen has only batted .388/.468/.701 with a 203 wRC+ and a .480 wOBA. He has 10 extra base hits including five homers as well as a 1.15 WPA which tells you he is also doing this in big situations. Cutch has been able to successfully raise his batting average 52 points and his wRC+ from a 69 to a 108 which is now 2 points higher than his 2016 season. The sample is still small, but everything points to Cutch being a productive player at this time and not a liability.

Kyle Schwarber was out almost all of last season but came back to play hero in an exciting World Series battle verse the Indians. With high expectations already, 2017 was set to be the year that he turned into baby Babe Ruth many were expecting. However, ’17 has been quite the opposite and boring. Skipper Joe Maddon has already come out and said that his young star is officially just a platoon player at this time. He owns a .178 batting average to pair along with a 84 wRC+ and .302 wOBA. His 12 home runs and .212 ISO show the power is still real, but his 29.5 K% ranks 11th highest in baseball. When a player is striking out as much as Schwarber is and owns a .202 BABIP, it creates a recipe for disaster.

Finally Tony Watson has been removed from the closer role, though there should no longer be a thing called the closer role. With that said, relievers Juan Nicasio and Felipe Rivero are set to share closer duties. This is mostly good news because it gets a struggling Watson out of that role where he already had four straight blown saves. We have been calling for Hurdle to run a committee since day one and now we will slightly see one with these two. Hopefully, Hurdle will still use Rivero in the higher leverage situations regardless of save opportunities and then use Nicasio to close it out if that opportunity presents itself. Either way, this has been the best decision on the bullpen usage all year.

With a World Series won the Cubs employed a new slogan this year called #ThatsCub. Well as it would appear, the #cubway is to play horrible on the road. As of today, the Cubs rank 28th in away game batting average (.226) while having the 21st worst wRC+ (86). With the way the Cubs have struggled altogether while also struggling more on the road, this Pirates need to take advantage of this. On the contrary, the Pirates hold a .253 batting average and 95 wRC+ at home.

The major reason the Cubs are having a poor year was mentioned above due to their pitching. Well, the pitching’s achilles heal has been the first inning. The Cubs starting pitching staff has allowed the second highest ERA in MLB (7.34 ERA) in the first while giving up 44 extra base hits, 14 of which were home runs, in 65 innings. The have also walked an inning high of 32 batters which is third most. This could be a big series for Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier to set the tone atop the Pirates lineup.

The Pirates head straight to Milwaukee to face the Brewers for a four game series and then will finish off the week traveling back home to battle St. Louis for their third straight division battle.

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