Ah, Pittsburgh … and here the Cardinals are, back there again.
We all know PNC Park is beautiful. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s true and even if you’ve just seen it on television, you can tell also. Plus the FOX Sports Midwest announcers remind us of that fact every single game that’s there.
We’ll be hearing a lot about how beautiful the ballpark is on Sunday, I’m betting, plus a lot about the 2013 Pirates’ success since it’s a monumental game that night: the first-ever broadcast from PNC on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
There’s more on that in the preview below, which is the latest issue of The Bird’s Eye View e-newsletter, produced before each series by a member of the United Cardinal Bloggers — and I wrote this one.
If you don’t yet receive our e-newsletter, subscribe now here to stay up-to-date throughout the season.
Okay, who predicted that the Cardinals would be four games behind the Brewers in second place in the National League Central and the Pirates would be 7 1/2 games back in fourth place when the two teams met for the third time of the year and second time at PNC Park? Or even that the Brewers would be in first place on May 9 and tied for the best record in baseball?
Needless to say, the season isn’t off to the kind of start any of us were expecting. (Probably. Someone will no doubt say he or she knew it all along.) The good news: it’s May 9. The Cardinals have played only 35 games. There’s plenty of season left.
How We Got Here
The Cardinals have been road warriors thus far in 2014, playing just 12 games so far in St. Louis. After this weekend in Pittsburgh, though, they’ll be home for all but a three-game series in Cincinnati until June 4. They’re 3-3 on their current road trip through Chicago and Atlanta, having taken the series against the Braves, and also are 3-3 against the Pirates so far this season. We can hope the offense has finally heated up for real after Wednesday’s 13-hit, seven-run victory, but we’ve been fooled into thinking they’d turned the corner before.
Here’s hoping two things for the weekend: that Peter Bourjos gets the chance to continue to play regularly after his success in Atlanta and, more importantly, that Allen Craig can figure out whatever’s been causing his struggles at the plate and start to look like the Allen Craig we’re used to seeing. (UPDATE: Hopefully this is a good sign for Pete’s playing time: Randal Grichuk was optioned back to Memphis and Joey Butler was called up.) Wait, a third thing too: that the pitching continues to excel. The team ERA is currently 2.95, second in the majors, and the starters’ ERA is an MLB-best 2.65.
The Pirates have had an interesting 2014 so far and even spent May 1-5 tied for last place in the NL Central with the Cubs. They have struggled on offense too, other than Andrew McCutchen, and have really struggled pitching-wise. Their team ERA is 3.90 at the moment, 11th in the NL, although their bullpen has been really good with a 2.77 ERA. That means the problem has been the starting rotation, which has an ERA of 4.51 that is 14th out of the 15 teams in the NL. Their starters have only four of the team’s 14 wins this season and, until Gerrit Cole picked up the victory on Wednesday, a starter hadn’t won a game since April 17. (Okay, there weren’t that many victories during the time period, five in 17 games. Still, not a lot of success from the starters.) The Pirates did win their most recent series, taking two of three against the NL West-leading Giants, and likely could have swept had they not blown leads of 8-2 and 10-9 to lose 11-10 in 13 innings on Monday. They also now have the distinction of MLB’s first-ever walk-off win via replay, which happened Tuesday night.
This weekend’s series against the Cardinals will feature another milestone: the first ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast at PNC Park in the stadium’s history. The most recent time a Pirates home game was on Sunday Night Baseball was July 28, 1996, at the now-departed Three Rivers Stadium. Great, John Kruk and a Primanti Bros. sandwich …
Friday, May 9
6:05 p.m. Central Time – FOX Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports, MLB Network
This will be Wacha’s first start against the Pirates this season, meaning it’s his first time facing them – and first time pitching again at PNC Park – since a rather monumental game last Oct. 7 in the National League Division Series. During the 2013 regular season, Wacha faced the Pirates twice at Busch Stadium (one start, one relief appearance) and allowed no runs and two hits in nine total innings. He’s been very good this season, with 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings with opponents hitting just .225 against him. His won-loss total is courtesy of the Cardinals offense more than anything else – two of his losses were by scores of 1-0 and 3-0.
It’s pretty obvious that so far Francisco Liriano 2014 is not Francisco Liriano 2013, as his numbers above demonstrate. And he’s not been Francisco Liriano Against The Cardinals so far either, as he’s 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA and allowed four earned runs in eight innings pitched while walking four and striking out six. (Last season, he was 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA, to refresh your memory.) In his most recent outing last Saturday, he gave up four earned runs (five total) to the Blue Jays in just 3 2/3 innings.
Saturday, May 10
6:05 p.m. Central Time – FOX Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports
After losing and getting two no-decisions in his past three starts, the Twitter outrage from some Cards fans over Lance Lynn seems to have quieted. His career numbers against the Pirates show why that group is always outraged, though: he’s 4-2 but with a 5.03 ERA. (He always gets run support even though he’s terrible! It’s not fair! Wins are stupid! Wins are especially stupid because Al Hrabosky talks about how important they are!) Lynn has yet to face the Pirates this season. His most recent start against them was Game Two of the NLDS and it wasn’t pretty. Neither was his last outing at PNC Park on Aug. 31, 2013. But it is pretty interesting that his two most recent games against them had identical 7-1 scores, right? (It would probably be more interesting if the Cards had scored the 7 in each game.)
Edinson Volquez has faced the Cardinals twice this season and pitched 5 2/3 innings each outing. That’s where the similarities end. On April 6 at PNC, he allowed just one run on three hits in a 2-1 Pirates victory. At Busch Stadium April 27, however, he gave up six runs on seven hits and two home runs to Jhonny Peralta as Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez shut out the Pirates 7-0. Volquez’s career record against St. Louis is 3-6 in 12 games with a 5.56 ERA.
Sunday, May 11
7:05 p.m. Central Time – ESPN
On April 25, Shelby Miller finally broke the curse the Pirates have had on him and won against them for the first time ever. Since the Cardinals only scored one run in the game, he obviously did very well and allowed just three hits while striking out four and walking four. Here’s hoping Miller continues that success in front of a national audience and also pitches deeper into the game – he’s not gone more than six innings all year and only lasted five in his most recent start against the Braves on Monday. Given his struggles against the Pirates, probably not a surprise his numbers at PNC are not good: 6.89 ERA, 0-3 record in three starts, five homers allowed and the Pirates are hitting .313 against him.
Although Charlie Morton’s career numbers against the Cardinals really aren’t any better. In 14 careers starts, he’s 2-9 with a 6.52 ERA and has allowed 92 hits in 67 2/3 innings for a .333 BAA. So it could be a real slugfest for the ESPN audience on Sunday night (but will probably end up being another 1-0 game, right? Baseball being baseball and all). Morton has yet to face the Cards this year and last pitched against them in Game Four of the NLDS, opposing Michael Wacha. His most recent start, Tuesday against the Giants, was impressive: an unearned run in eight innings while giving up three hits and striking out three in the Pirates walk-off replay win.
At PNC Park
April 4 – Pirates 12, Cardinals 2
April 5 – Cardinals 6, Pirates 1
April 6 – Pirates 2, Cardinals 1
Upcoming: Aug. 25-27
At Busch Stadium
April 25: Cardinals 1, Pirates 0
April 26: Pirates 6, Cardinals 1
April 27: Cardinals 7, Pirates 0
Upcoming: July 7-10
Cardinals team hitting: .248/.312/.365 (9th/7th/12th in NL)
Cardinals team ERA: 2.95 (2nd in NL)
Cardinals team hitting vs. Pirates: .207/280/.346
Cardinals team ERA vs. Pirates: 3.63
Pirates team hitting: .239/.316/.371 (11th/6th/11th in NL)
Pirates team ERA: 3.90 (11th in NL)
Pirates team hitting vs. Cardinals: .226/.314/.328
Pirates team ERA vs. Cardinals: 3.12
Cardinals team leaders
Batting average: Matt Adams, .321
On-base percentage: Matt Carpenter, .392
Slugging percentage: Jhonny Peralta, .471
OPS: Yadier Molina, .807
Home runs: Jhonny Peralta, 7
RBI: Matt Holliday, 22
WAR – batting: Jhonny Peralta, 1.5
Stolen bases: Kolten Wong, 3
Wins: Adam Wainwright, 6
ERA – Reliever: Pat Neshek, 1.23. Starter: Joe Kelly, 0.59
Strikeouts: Adam Wainwright, 52
Saves: Trevor Rosenthal, 9
WAR – pitching: Adam Wainwright, 1.7
Pirates team leaders
Batting average: Andrew McCutchen, .321
On-base percentage: Andrew McCutchen, .431
Slugging percentage: Andrew McCutchen, .519
OPS: Andrew McCutchen, .950
Home runs: Pedro Alvarez, 8
RBI: Pedro Alvarez, 22
WAR – batting: Andrew McCutchen, 2.0
Stolen bases: Starling Marte, 11
Wins: Gerrit Cole, Bryan Morris and Tony Watson, 3 each
ERA – Reliever: Casey Sadler, 0.00. Starter: Charlie Morton, 3.45
Strikeouts: Gerrit Cole, 39
Saves: Jason Grilli, 4
WAR – pitching: Gerrit Cole, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, 0.6 each
Who’s Hot and Who’s Not (last seven games)
Hot: Adam Wainwright, .600 (Maybe Matheny can use him as a pinch-hitter?)
Peter Bourjos, .500
Matt Carpenter, .409
Jhonny Peralta, .375
Not: Yadier Molina, .154
Randal Grichuk, .143
Allen Craig, .100
Jon Jay, .091
Hot: Travis Snider, .429
Chris Stewart, .429
Andrew McCutchen, .423
Ike Davis, .375
Not: Jose Tabata, .222
Jordy Mercer, .167
Gaby Sanchez., .125
On the DL
Jaime Garcia, left shoulder inflammation
Joe Kelly, strained left hamstring
Jason Motte, recovering from right elbow surgery (one year ago Wednesday, as he noted on Twitter)
Jason Grilli, left oblique strain
Russell Martin, strained left hamstring
Stolmy Pimentel, right shoulder inflammation
Wandy Rodriguez, right knee inflammation