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