Series Preview: Pirates vs. Brewers

Pirates vs Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates (3-6)


Milwaukee Brewers (2-7)

Friday, April 17th — 7:05 pm
Saturday, April 18th — 7:05 pm
Sunday, April 19th — 1:35 pm

PNC Park — Pittsburgh, PA


Follow us on Twitter @ForbesToFederal.

For the second straight weekend, it’s the Pirates and Brewers fighting for the bottom of the NL Central. The Bucs took two of three in Milwaukee last week, and now continue their 10-game homestand by hosting the Brew Crew this weekend.

Probable Pitchers

Friday — Vance Worley (0-1, 8.53) vs. Jimmy Nelson (1-0, 0.00)

Saturday — Jeff Locke (1-0, 3.00) vs. Kyle Lohse (0-2, 11.17)

Sunday — Gerrit Cole (1-0, 3.27) vs. Matt Garza (1-1, 4.22)

News, Notes, Storylines

Chris Stewart has been activated from the disabled list; the Pirates sent Tony Sanchez back to Indianapolis.

– The Brewers placed center fielder Carlos Gomez on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, so they’ll be without him for at least the next two weeks.

– Jeff Locke, originally slated to pitch Friday night, flipped start days with Vance Worley, who will get the ball instead. This is presumably designed to split up the left-handed pitchers in the rotation, with Liriano pitching in the previous game.

Andrew McCutchen is one home run away from tying Jason Bay for the PNC Park all-time lead (61).

– Cutch will bat cleanup on Friday night… Off-night for Neil Walker, with Sean Rodriguez playing second and batting eighth… Cervelli batting second, Polanco batting third.

– Bucs’ offense hit 5-for-51 on balls in play on Tuesday and Wednesday vs. Detroit. They also haven’t drawn a walk since last weekend…

– The Pirates’ pitching staff has the third best FIP (3.19) in the National League thus far.

– From yesterday: Caminero, Melancon & Early Season Velocity Changes

Opponent Blogs

Brew Crew Ball | Disciples of Uecker

What they’re saying:

“Well, the season just keeps getting worse for the Brewers. They lost 2 out of 3 to the Cardinals to bring their season record to a dismal 2-7. And as if that wasn’t bad enough Carlos Gomez who is either the best or the second best player on the team hit the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

The Pirates’s season hasn’t gone much better. In point of fact it’s gone exactly one game better in the standings as they are just 3-6. Two of those wins came against the Brewers in their recent series at Miller Park. Now the two rivals meet on the Pirates home turf in the pitching friendly confines of PNC Park. That can’t be good news for a team whose offense has struggled to get going.” – BCB

Player to Watch

jimmy nelson

Jimmy Nelson. He dominated the Pirates last week: 0 runs, 2 hits, 9 strikeouts over 7 innings in Milwaukee’s 6-0 Saturday win. He’ll take the hill in game 1 of this series, looking to set the tone for the rest of the weekend. The Bucs have been helpless at the plate recently, so they have to hope they can find a way to beat Nelson this time around.

Go Bucs

Series Preview: Pirates @ Brewers

Pirates vs Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates (0-3)


Milwaukee Brewers (0-3)

Friday, April 10th — 8:10 pm
Saturday, April 11th — 7:10 pm
Sunday, April 12th — 2:10 pm

Miller Park — Milwaukee, WI


Follow us on Twitter @ForbesToFederal.

Things didn’t go as planned in the opening series at Cincinnati, with the Pirates dropping all three games against the Reds. Is it frustrating? Yes. Does it put the Pirates in an early hole? Yes. But there is a lot of baseball to be played and plenty of time to get things going in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the same conversation is happening in Milwaukee, with the Brewers losing all three of their opening contests to the Colorado Rockies. Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy went a combined 2-for-24, and Ryan Braun got hurt. They’ll be just as eager as the Pirates this weekend to turn this thing around.

Pirates are 0-3. Brewers are 0-3. Someone’s gotta win. Right?

Probable Pitchers

Friday — Jeff Locke vs. Mike Fiers

Saturday — Vance Worley vs. Jimmy Nelson

Sunday — Francisco Liriano (0-0, 2.57) vs. Kyle Lohse (0-1, 21.60)

News, Notes, Storylines

– Due to the Penguins’ final two games of the regular season, neither Friday’s nor Saturday’s Bucco games will be televised on ROOT Sports. We’ll try to find a working live stream tonight… Saturday will be on MLB Network, fortunately.

– There’s still plenty of time:

Among the pitchers who have thrown 99+ mph so far this week: Gerrit Cole and Arquimedes Caminero.

– Braun, who strained a muscle in his rib cage on Opening Day, returns to the lineup on Friday night.

Interesting look at the youngest players in each league by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper. Gregory Polanco is the 9th youngest in National League; Alen Hanson 7th youngest in International League; Tyler Glasnow 7th youngest in Eastern League; Austin Meadows 6th youngest & Reese McGuire 10th youngest in Florida State League; Cole Tucker 8th youngest in South Atlantic League.

– Thursday was Opening Day at the minor league level. Indianapolis and Bradenton lost; Altoona and WV Power won. Cole Tucker went 3-for-5 with two stolen bases in his Power debut.

– Pirates were 7-12 against the Brewers in 2014.

– Former Brewers Corey Hart will return to Miller Park this weekend for the first time as a visiting player. He’s sitting on 998 career hits.

– Brewers’ first basemen were awful last year, but Adam Lind will be a nice addition. He already has six hits in his new uniform, including a pair of doubles and a home run.

Opponent Blogs

Brew Crew Ball | Disciples of Uecker

What they’re saying:

“The Brewers really needed to have a good series against the Rockies because that was as easy as it was going to get for the first month. Up next is a stiff test in the Pirates who also got swept. But of course no one is going to suggest that a 3 game losing streak defines a team. At least no one that’s ever watched a 162 game baseball season…

Remember when the Pirates were Milwaukee’s slump busters? Pittsburgh couldn’t buy a win against the Brewers. It was great! Well those days are long gone because the Pirates might very well be the class of the NL Central this year. They have a potent offense and possibly the strongest all around outfield in all of baseball. That being said, I’m not sold on their rotation and the loss of Russell Martin hurts them a lot.” – BCB

Players to Watch

Cutch Walker Marte

The middle of the Pirates’ lineup: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Starling Marte. The 3, 4, and 5 hitters went a combined 5-for-40 (.125) in Cincinnati, a big reason why the team’s offense couldn’t get off the ground. Aside from Cutch’s Opening Day home run, these three were uninspiring at the plate. It should go without saying that the club won’t go anywhere if these three don’t do much. That will change, of course — hopefully as early as this weekend.

Go Bucs

Strengths & Weaknesses Within the NL Central

pittsburgh pirates st louis cardinals

After a long, cold winter, we’re getting awfully close to Opening Day 2015. The National League Central looks to be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball this season — at least three teams might be vying for a postseason spot come September.

This division has a lot of intriguing players who will put their respective teams in a position to compete. FanGraphs did a rundown of their positional rankings last week, ranking how all 30 teams stack up position-by-position based on wins above replacement projections. Team WAR totals by position can be found HERE. While there isn’t a perfect correlation, their WAR projections are typically a strong indicator of success, as Jeff Sullivan wrote in December.

Using FG’s depth charts/team WAR totals, I broke each position on each team into percentiles (based on all of MLB) and displayed the NL Central on some radar charts below. Each position includes bench playing time — for example, the Pirates’ projected wins above replacement at second base isn’t just Neil Walker; it’s Walker (2.9 WAR in 525 PA), Jung-Ho Kang (0.4 WAR in 140 PA), and Sean Rodriguez (0.1 WAR in 21 PA).

Let’s take a look, starting with our Bucs…

Continue reading “Strengths & Weaknesses Within the NL Central”

How NL Central teams are allocating resources in 2015

Using Roster Resource‘s projected 25-man rosters and Baseball-Reference‘s estimated salaries, here’s a quick look at how the NL Central teams will be spending their money in 2015…

nl central payroll allocation

A few notes:

– These amounts only consist of the projected 25-man rosters. So, for example, Jose Tabata‘s $4 million is not accounted for since he isn’t expected to make the big club.

– While he is likely to start on the disabled list, I did make an exception for Charlie Morton, so the Pirates’ rotation reflects his $8 million instead of league minimum pay for his likely replacement (Jeff Locke).

– Speaking of league minimum, it’s $507,500 this season, to be exact.

– For players whose arbitration cases are not yet settled, their salaries are from MLB Trade Rumors’ projection. While they won’t be 100% accurate, they shouldn’t be off by too much and won’t have a major impact on this.

– Projected rosters & salaries are as of late Thursday night (1/29) — already includes Neal Cottsdeal with the Brewers.

Anyway, here’s the projected total dollar amounts for each club…

Continue reading “How NL Central teams are allocating resources in 2015”

15 Questions for the Second Half — Answered

During the All-Star break, we had 15 questions for the upcoming Pirates’ second half. Here are the answers.

1. Can they avoid a second half slump?

This question was built around the premise that in each of the first three seasons under Clint Hurdle, the Bucs played better ball in the first half than the second:

2011: .522 / .347

2012: .565 / .403

2013: .602 / .551

Their .516 winning percentage first half winning percentage was the lowest of the Hurdle era, so it wasn’t too hard to buck this trend. They won 39 of 67 games, good for a .582 win % to avoid the second half decline.

And, just for fun, consider this from the old post:

[quote_simple]On the other hand — the Pirates have played 67 games since May 2nd, winning 39 of those. If they kept that pace over the next 67, they’d finish with 88 wins. Maybe enough to sneak into the Wild Card (the Giants, who currently hold the second WC spot, are on pace for 89 wins). But the Bucs will have to avoid any sort of second half slump.[/quote_simple]

They managed to keep that pace and land right on 88 wins — tied with SF in the Wild Card.

2. Can the pitching improve?


ERA: 3.76
FIP: 3.97
xFIP: 3.82
K/9: 7.25
BB/9: 3.04
GB%: 49.5%

ERA: 3.10
FIP: 3.55
xFIP: 3.55
K/9: 8.08
BB/9: 3.14
GB%: 52.1%

Absolutely, and it certainly helped for the playoff push. A healthy Francisco Liriano once again looked like an ace, Gerrit Cole turned in some solid starts upon returning, Edinson Volquez was unbelievable from an ERA standpoint, and the bullpen saw better results. They flipped the switch at just the right time to get the Bucs back to October.

3. Can the offense stay steady?

The Pirates had one of the most well-round offenses in the league with the success of Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Russell Martin, Starling Marte, and Neil Walker. After so many years of dismal offensive outputs, this was refreshing. They were good as a unit in the first half (.256/.331/.388, 105 wRC+), then got even better in the second half (.264/.327/.428, 113 wRC+) — hit for slightly more average, kept a steady OBP, and got a big boost of power. Their 113 wRC+ post-All-Star break was second-best in the Majors behind the Dodgers (115). Give Jeff Branson a raise.

4. What’ll happen at the deadline?

Nothing! The Pirates stood pat at both the non-waiver July 31 deadline and the waiver August 31 deadline. This was a bit of a surprise, but Neal Huntington & Co. believed that “no move was the best move.”

In hindsight, this probably hurt them in the long run. Of course they didn’t match on a Jon Lester or David Price deal, but even adding a legit bullpen arm could have gone a long way. Looking at how the postseason is shaping up (Giants and Cardinals in the NLCS), the Pirates were pretty close.

5. What’s in store for the MVP?

Unfortunately for Cutch, a first career trip to the disabled list was in store. He was hit by 7 pitches, including the 95 mph retaliatory fastball to the back in Arizona.

He *only* hit .295/.393/.482 in the second half, though his struggles actually came before hitting the disabled list (8-for-48 slump entering August, possibly some proof that he may have been hurting before that HBP).

Although he probably wasn’t 100% upon returning, McCutchen returned to ridiculous form and hit .324/.409/.559 from mid-August through the end of the year.

Overall, it was his third consecutive season of hitting better than .300/.400/.500 — he’s the fifth Pirate to accomplish that, joining Honus Wagner, Paul Waner, Arky Vaughan, and Brian Giles.

McCutchen was even better at the plate than he was last year, making another MVP case:

cutch city

6. Can we get an El Toro breakout?

What’s the opposite of a breakout? He appeared in only 29 games after the All-Star break, committing five more errors and hitting just .208 with a .625 OPS. El Toro became even more of a defensive liability at third base, forcing the team to try him out over at first base. He played 37 innings over there before suffering a foot injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

7. How about some first base productivity?

Meh. Ike Davis continued to get on base at a decent clip and finally showed some power (.440 slugging in the second half), hitting a couple of memorable homers against the Cardinals in late August. Gaby Sanchez continued to do nothing, batting .239 with a .670 OPS and just two homers. Both are candidates to be non-tendered this winter, depending on how the organization feels about Alvarez at 1B (and a few other factors).

8. Which Francisco Liriano will show up?

The good version. He posted a 2.20 ERA in 86 second half innings, boasting a 9.8 K/9 rate. He surrendered more than two earned runs in only two of his 14 second half outings — a 7 ER outburst vs. Atlanta on August 19th, and a 3 ER performance vs. Cincy in his last start of the year. Will that be his last start in a Pirate uniform?

9. Can Gerrit Cole come back strong?

Yep. He struggled to work deep into ballgames upon returning, but only got better as we got deeper into September. His last three outings:

vs. Boston: 7 innings, 2 runs, 7 K, 0 BB
@ Atlanta: 7 innings, 2 runs, 8 K, 2 BB
@ Cincinnati: 7 innings, 1 run, 12 K, 0 BB

Wish he pitched the Wild Card game, but whatever.

10. Is that the real Jeff Locke?


First Half: 2.89 ERA, 2.95 FIP

Second Half: 4.66 ERA, 5.42 FIP

11. Can they beat the Central teams?

They were just 13-26 against the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds in the first half. Here’s how they fared in the second:

vs. Cards: 2-4
vs. Brewers: 4-2
vs. Reds: 3-3

They had no trouble knocking the Brewers out of the race, but still couldn’t handle the Cardinals. That three-game sweep in STL in early September was a killer.

12. Will the Brewers turn it around after a miserable end to the first half?

LOL no. After winning 2 of their final 13 games heading into the All-Star break, the Brew Crew went 29-37 in the second half. They lost 22 of their final 31. Absolute choke job.

brewers playoff odds

13. How will the Cardinals fare without Yadier Molina?

They went 21-19 in Molina’s absence. But the Cardinals always find a way — they once again won the Central and are in the NLCS for the fourth consecutive year.

14. Can the Reds make some noise without a few of their key players?

Haha, no. The Reds were absolutely atrocious, going 25-42 after the All-Star break. Only the Diamondbacks had a worse record in that span.

15. Playoffs?!

Ah, yes. Even if it was only one game (and a terrible one at that)… hard to believe they made it back. It was painful to see it end so abruptly, but can’t take a playoff spot for granted after two decades of losing.

playoffs 100

Go Bucs

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty