Pirates Begin One of the Most Important Series of the Year Tonight

The Pirates start one of their most important series of the year tonight, taking on the first place St. Louis Cardinals in the first of four games to wrap up the first half of the season. The Pirates currently have the second best record in the National League, which is usually a very encouraging thing. However, it’s met with frustration, due to the fact that the best record in the NL is owned by St. Louis.

At times it seemed like the Pirates would never be able to pull within six games of St. Louis. Even if they went 8-2 in their last ten, the Cardinals would match them. However, that changed this week when the Cardinals lost a double-header to the Cubs, pulling the Pirates to within 4.5 games heading into the series. That sets up a weekend where the Pirates could be anywhere from half a game out of first place, to 8.5 games out of first place heading into the All-Star break.

Obviously there is still a lot of season left to play in the second half. The Pirates even have nine more games against the Cardinals beyond this series. But with the way the season is shaping up, it looks like the Pirates will need to capitalize on every matchup against St. Louis. That’s especially true when you consider that their current 96 win pace is so far off the Cardinals lead that they could sweep St. Louis this weekend, and still be in second place. At this point in the season, every game against St. Louis is a must-win game.

Pirates Prospects will have live coverage of every game this weekend, and previews leading up to each game. Here is Sean McCool with the first look at tonight’s matchup.

Thursday Night – 7:05pm start
Carlos Martinez (9-3, 2.70 ERA) vs. Jeff Locke (5-4, 4.15 ERA)

The Pirates visited St. Louis in early May and faced Carlos Martinez, putting up a 7 spot against him in 5.1 innings. Martinez walked four and struck out seven. At that time, Martinez’s ERA went up to 4.89 and his WHIP to 1.46.

Now the bad news – That outing versus the Pirates seemed to be the turning point of the season for Martinez. His ERA has dropped from 4.89 to 2.70 in ten starts since then, only allowing more than two runs once, giving up three runs in seven innings against Miami on June 23rd. In those ten starts, Martinez has a 1.52 ERA in 65 innings. He has a 70:23 SO:BB ratio with a 65% strike rate.

Martinez was nicknamed “Baby” or “Little Pedro”, as his 6’0” frame along with the velocity and movement are very reminiscent of Pedro Martinez. Martinez changed his number to 18 before the season to honor the late Oscar Taveras, who he grew up with in the Dominican Republic and came up through the minors with.

Jeff Locke is coming off of what could be the best outing of his career, going eight shutout innings while only allowing two hits against Cleveland on Saturday. In his last five starts, Locke has a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings. Importantly for Locke, he has a 2.30 (23:10) ground ball rate in his last two starts. – Sean McCool

  • Or, from another perspective, this is one of the least important of their remaining series. things will just keep ratcheting up from here.

  • Against teams like the cards it’s imperative you don’t beat yourself. Those mental mistakes and poor fundamentals you get away with against lesser teams are things the cards take advantage of. It’s not that they are better than the pirates talent wise it’s that they do all the little things right and take advantage of your mistakes. Bucco’s have got to quit shooting themselves in the foot against central division teams.

  • Generally speaking- Pedro has actually started to get the hang of playing first base recently. His mental mistakes are lessening and he is making more difficult plays- still making some physical errors, but he is getting better.

    • Now if he could only catch the g*dd*mn ball…

      • you mean on pickoffs? yeah, i’m with you there. Its aggrevating considering i think i remember him dropping or missing like 1 thrown ball in 5 years at third base, that isn’t the area i expected him to have trouble. Meanwhile he charges a ball does a 360 and makes a perfect laser throw to 2nd. Go figure

  • And we start off the biggest series of the year with another terrible baserunning gaffe by Polanco. Goddam

    • joebaseball
      July 9, 2015 8:37 pm

      Who is responsible for teaching Palanco base running after these gaffs, he is generally terrible. Marte is not good either. Third base coach bear some responsibility here as well?

      • And now we have 2nd and 3rd and no outs and don’t score. Incredible…this is NOT how beat the Cardinals!

    • The Cardinals have NO problem scoring when they put men in position and we’re losing. Dammit.

  • The pitching match ups for the four game set favors the Pirates but not tonight. The loss of Jhay and maybe Marte does not bode well but others have to pick up the slack. Hello Pedro and Walker !!! At least the Pirates will miss Wacha or what ever his name is.

    • The Pirates offense needs to not suck for us to win this series…tonight is not a good start.

  • One of the things that I don’t see anyone talking about is that we are terrible playing in our own division. We have the worst record against the teams in our division. Dead Last! We are 14-20. Even Cincy and the Brewers are better than us. If we don’t turn this around soon, we could be looking up at both St Louis and the Cubs in the second half.

    • Barry, the large majority of those games and losses occurred in the first 5 weeks of season when team was playing poorly. Now the question is were the playing poorly due to who they were playing? Guess we’ll find out soon enough.

      • Oddly enough, only 2 games under .500 against CHC and 1 under against STL. For all that worry, it was mostly a bit of poor timing in not facing the Cubs or Cards at all in June or July…or even after mid May.

      • or were we playing poorly because we are bad against our own division?

        • Scott Kliesen
          July 10, 2015 7:40 am

          Do you think they suffer from performance anxiety when they see a Pitcher or Hitter wearing a little red bird or little blue bear on the other guys uniform, too? Your assertion is foolish.

          • there was no assertion, it was a question mark. I was not stating a personal theory. There is, however, the possiblity that we simply don’t match up well vs. a few teams in our division (ie cards and reds). Again not an assertion, simply pointing out a possibility.

            • Scott Kliesen
              July 11, 2015 12:55 pm

              My apologies. I didn’t note the question mark.

              I think some pitchers are better against certain lineups than others, and vice versa. Not sure if there’s enough evidence to say this is the case. More likely Pirates have come up short in a few more closely contested games than their division rivals.

              • I can relate specifically to the Reds for example. Pure fastball hitting team. caminero vs. Todd Frazier will never be a winning matchup, nor will Watson, whom both throw basically fastball and nothing else.

  • taylor26554
    July 9, 2015 3:31 pm

    Any Marte news? With Harrison out and having Marte out, it really shows that we need to acquire another bat for the bench. Even though we have won using a bench of Gorky and Lombardozzi, etc. There was a great article last year that showed who was going to be available in the Rule 5 draft, who they needed to protect and who could possibly be traded. Would love to see that revisited.
    Anyway, great run for the Pirates!! Love this season!! Keep this streak going!!

    • I will only note that not bringing up Tabata for this series is dumb. Career .335/.872 vs Cards.
      Granted, individual pitchers are all small samples, but…
      Lynn: .353/.765
      Martinez: .333/.853
      Wacha: .667/1.667
      Maness: .333/.833
      Rosenthal: .500/1.667

      I’d feel a lot better with Tabby as a PH than the bench we have now.

      • Management has to be down on him and nobody in the league will take him with that salary. Bucs took Ishikawa for a bench and spot starter role probably for reasons other than stats. Maybe Tabby has bad table manners. What a series this should be! Will they pitch to Cutch? Will Locke throw strikes tonight? Will Locke dare to throw to Pedro with a man on first? Will Kang, Walker and Polanco step up? How loud can our crowd get?

      • I am not a Tabata supporter. Haven’t been for years. And I honestly can’t remember the last time he hit a double. I tried to google it and my computer laughed at me. But as a bench bat most of the time you only need a single and singles appear to be what he excels at or at least is capable of. I get that Hernandez is a better fielder and much better runner but I think the need for the occasional pinch hit with RISP trumps the speed and fielding of Hernandez.

        • For the record…
          Last double: Sept 5, 2014
          Last triple: Sept 12, 2014
          Last HR: Sept 20, 2013

        • It is actually impossible for Hernandez to get a hit if he is never allowed to bat….true story

          • They don’t seem to trust him. I don’t see the harm at giving him a start in LF.

            • THey know he can play defense better than rodriguez in the outfield, and since sean isn’t a good hitter, I see no value in parking him in left field when we have a left fielder with better defense, arm, and speed, whom realistically isn’t much inferior, maybe slightly….at the plate – just rotting on the pine

    • Sean McCool
      July 9, 2015 4:28 pm

      Hurdle did not give an update on if Marte would be available tonight or not. He was seen taking BP in the indoor cage, though.

  • I’ve heard that some suggest we look at Napoli – but another Boston guy who may be a RH fit is Allen Craig. He’s been a very clutch hitter in the past along with good numbers vs LHP. He may also want a little payback for the red coats.

    • He was clutch one year, and is currently rather awful at baseball. I dont mean to be exaggerating either, he has been awful 2 straight years against RHP, LHP, and i think even an old timer league would overmatch him. He’d be cheap!

      • Players that cannot make a Major League ballclub may not be the solution to the Pirates 1B problem.


      • Did’nt boston send craig to AAA.

        • Both last year and this year.

          • On the other hand, he’d fit right into the Pirates high strikeout-low power lineup.

            Speaking of, it looks like Hurdle et al only needed three months to turn Kang into a ground ball specialist. Record time.

            • Yeah thats a bit odd, because he is still hitting the ball hard. Lotta stuff going on to figure that out so soon (better pitching? change in approach? SSS?), interesting to watch going forward.

              • Well for one, it seems like they’ve completely eliminate the leg kick. Because of course they did. Only one way to swing a bat, after all.

            • Pirates about league average in K rate. For years I’ve been reading about the Cardinals and their under-powered all fielding hitting approach, now the Pirates do that, and we want grip and rip it Jay Bell back.

              Seriously, Neil Walker remembering how to hit, and letting Sean Rodriquez bat as little as possible should help the Pirates power numbers.

              • Sean has good power actually for a middle infielder, he hit 12 last year in about 300 ab’s

                • Rodriguez appears to be harvesting, where older players sell out for pulled power, it was successful last year but makes players susceptible to off speed and breaking pitches.

                  It is also a bad idea for RHH with less than great power who play in PNC. He has played about 25 innings of middle infield, need much much more production from what has been the small half of the first base platoon and 4th OF.

                  • Well we didn’t sign him to be our 1st base platoon and 4th outfielder, so that really isn’t relevant. He is doing so purely out of need, not because thats what managment would prefer to do.

              • You certainly didn’t hear that griping from me.

                League average in K-rate coupled with below average power is not, um, optimal.

                If they’re going to go with the contact approach, they better actually be good at it.

                • Best offense in baseball last season, and they have recovered okay from the early season nadir.

                  You can survive with below average power (finding a 1B who could hit better than league average would help the power), if they would walk more. That wasn’t happening with both Marte and Harrison high the lineup.

          • Thought so, thanks luke.

    • Lis Franc injury, Craig is broke and will never be fixed.

  • Darkstone42
    July 9, 2015 1:23 pm

    If we take this game tonight, with what appears to be a pitching mismatch in favor of the Cardinals, I’ll feel pretty good about our chances to take this series. If we don’t I still feel good about at least a split.

  • Yes indeed, this is a big series, me bucco’s have got to shake that redbird jinx. ( the rest of the central to for that matter.)

  • So it’s Carlos Martinez recent success vs his history with the current depleted Bucs lineup, which still has a .383/.472/.723/1.195 line vs “Little Pedro” (not including Locke). I like the Bucs’ odds here.

  • what is left to say after Paul D hit the nail on the head.

  • Avast ye filthy redbirds, look to your stern and see that the winds have changed. There be a Pirates ship comin’ fast. Our cannons be firing, our sails give us speed. We be comin’ to pillage and plunder and to sink ye to the bottom of the sea.