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Pirates primer: 5/21 v. Chicago Cubs

Pittsburgh (26-18) squares off against the Chicago Cubs (18-25) tonight at 7:05 p.m. in the first of a three-game set that concludes the Pirates’ 10-game, 11-day homestand. The Pirates enter tonight’s National League Central division match-up third in the division, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by two games. The Cubs reside in fourth, but are nine and a half back of the Cards.

Pittsburgh’s 26-18 record to-date stands as the National League’s third-best record, bested only by fellow Central division members St. Louis (28-16) and Cincinnati (27-18). The 44-game start is the Pirates’ best since 1992.

Tuesday, 7:05: Wandy Rodriguez (4-2, 3.25 ERA) v. Matt Garza (–)

Wednesday, 7:05: Francisco Liriano (2-0, 1.64 ERA) v. Jeff Samardzija (2-5, 3.49 ERA)

Thursday, 12:35: Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.78 ERA) v. Edwin Jackson (1-6, 5.76 ERA)

–In 2013, the Cubs are 2-1 against the Pirates as a result of their series win in Pittsburgh during the season’s opening week. The series loss is just one of two series Pittsburgh has lost at home, and the Pirates own a total series record of 8-4-2 after earning series wins over Milwaukee and Houston last week into Sunday.

–Chicago pitchers held the Pirates to just six runs over three games, and the Cubs have continued their solid pitching since to rank 10th in the league in ERA at 3.67. Cubs starters have posted 27 quality starts—third-best in the majors—and allowed just a .234 batting average against, the league’s second best mark. On the other side, the Pirates rank third in the league with 3.33 ERA and opposing hitters have gone for just a .225 BAA—the best mark in the majors.

–Matt Garza makes his season debut tonight against the Pirates. Tonight’s start is the first for Garza since he suffered a stress reaction in his right elbow in an outing on July 21, 2012 against St. Louis. Garza went 5-7 with a 3.91 earned run average in 18 starts last season prior to his injury, throwing 103 and two-thirds innings and striking out 96 batters.

–Of the hitters Garza has faced on the Pirates roster, Pittsburgh hitters have won the battle against Garza. Pirate hitters with experience against Garza have hit .329 lifetime (28-for-85) off Garza with five home runs. Pedro Alvarez (5-for-10, one home run), Brandon Inge (5-for-12), Garrett Jones (4-for-10), Gaby Sanchez (4-for-10), and Jose Tabata (5-for-7) own the most success against Garza and all are in the lineup tonight save for Inge. Only Neil Walker (0-for-9) and Michael McKenry (0-for-4) are hitless against Garza of Pirate hitters who have faced the starter.

–Speaking of Tabata, the outfielder gets the start in left tonight and bats lead-off in order to give Starling Marte the day off manager Clint Hurdle hoped to give him Sunday before issues arose regarding the health of Andrew McCutchen’s sore right knee. Marte entered last week’s homestand hitting .329 but his average has since dropped to .305 after he went just 6-for-27 in last week’s seven home games.

McCutchen will play tonight, after Hurdle said he anticipated McCutchen being in a “good place today.” “He went in the training room and that let him know that he felt much better. Moved him around a little bit, then he went in the strength and conditioning room and worked out a little bit, proclaimed himself good to go so he’ll be back out and in play—out in center-field and hitting third,” Hurdle said. According to Hurdle, McCutchen apparently felt something similar to what he felt prior to the knee surgery he had this past offseason.

–In the bullpen, Jose Contreras was reinstated from the bereavement list this afternoon, and Jared Hughes was optioned back to Triple-A. Hughes did not pitch in his two days in Pittsburgh after starting the year in the bigs. After 13 appearances, Hughes was 1-2 with a 4.61 ERA in 13 and two thirds innings and was sent down when Contreras got healthy. Since, Hughes has thrown six and two-thirds shutout innings in Indianapolis while allowing only five hits and striking out seven batters. In the event one of the Pirates’ relievers gets hurt or performs poorly, Neil Huntington has an option in Triple-A/

–On the subject of Pittsburgh’s relievers, the Pirate bullpen has struck out a major-league best 151 batters in 157 innings of work. Pittsburgh’s bullpen ranks second in the league with a 2.81 ERA and is tied for first with 10 wins, paced by the 4-0 record of Justin Wilson. At the back end, the tandem of Mark Melancon (0.78 ERA, 15 holds) and Jason Grilli (0.92 ERA) has developed into one of the league’s best shutdown duos from the eighth inning on. The Pirates are 19-1 when leading after seven innings, and Grilli is tied with all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera for the league’s save lead at 17 saves.

 

–Bonus: Pirates and Penguins

“We are wearing Penguin jerseys the entire trip, when we travel. Here to Milwaukeee, Milwaukee to Detroit, Detroit to home. Penguin jerseys. We’re all in,” is how Hurdle began his pre-game comments Tuesday. “There’s a large contingency that have their finger to the pulse of Penguins hockey and they pull the other ones in regardless of whether they want to be pulled in or not. There’s not many options out there, when the game’s on the game’s on. It’s cool any time you’re in a city where you can pick up the phone or send a text to another coach and wish him well and the players also have their contacts and they have their relationships. It’s a special time of the year, it’s hard to beat playoff hockey. The last few nights I’ve kind of stayed up much later than I anticipated watching games. It’s just one of the most wonderful times of the year, and our team’s in.”

 

Lineups

Pirates

1. Jose Tabata LF

2. Neil Walker 2B

3. Andrew McCutchen CF

4. Garrett Jones RF

5. Russell Martin C

6. Pedro Alvarez 3B

7. Gaby Sanchez 1B

8. Clint Barmes SS

9. Wandy Rodriguez P

Cubs

1. Julio Borbon CF

2. Starlin Castro SS

3. Anthony Rizzo 1B

4. Alfonso Soriano LF

5. Scott Hairston RF

6. Welington Castillo C

7. Cody Ransom 3B

8. Darwin Barney 2B

9. Matt Garza P

 

 

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