Things to Know about the Pittsburgh Pirates

Happy Memorial Day, y’all. The Mets begin a four game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight. Here’s some stuff you might want to know about them:

Record: 24-27, 4th place NL Central
Manager: Clint Hurdle. 558-652 (.462) lifetime managerial record.
Park: Mets are home. Citi Field.

Quickly . . .
Can they hit? Not a lot
Can they pitch? Yes, so far
Can they field? Yup
Who’s their best player? Center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Young, plays a tough defensive position, hits for power, and can run a little bit.

Lineup:
CF – Andrew McCutchen – R
LF – Jose Tabata – R
RF – Garrett Jones – L
2B – Neil Walker – S
1B – Lyle Overbay – L
C – Chris Synder – R
3B – Brandon Wood – R
SS – Ronny Cedeno – R

The Pirates have four regulars 25 years old or younger, giving them the second-youngest group of hitters in the National League. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, 24, leads the team in home runs, walks drawn, and OPS. Neil Walker, 25, leads the Pirates in doubles (12) and is second in the NL in assists as a second baseman. Left fielder Jose Tabata, 22, has 13 steals and a .360 on-base percentage. Pedro Alvarez, 24, is the only young player struggling this season, batting .208/.283/.304 before being placed on the disabled list with a strained quad earlier this month. As a whole, the Pirates offense has struggled, being 12th in the NL in team on-base percentage, 14th in slugging percentage, and 13th in runs scored per game. They draw plenty of walks, but they also strike out a lot for a team that doesn’t hit for a ton of power. But coming into this series, the Pirates have a better record than the Mets, and they have a shot at winning 70 games for the first time in years.

Rotation:
5/30: RHP – Charlie Morton (vs. Dillon Gee)
5/31: RHP – James McDonald (vs. R.A. Dickey)
6/1: RHP – Kevin Correia (vs. Chris Capuano)
6/2: LHP – Paul Maholm (vs. Mike Pelfrey)
Miss: RHP – Jeff Karstans

In 2010, the Pirates’ rotation finished 34-84 with a 5.28 ERA. One year later, Pittsburgh’s starters are 19-19 with a 3.69 ERA. That 1.59 run difference, if it held up over the entire season, would be the third largest turnaround by a worst-in-ERA-rotation since the mound was lowered in 1969. Much credit is being given to pitching coach Ray Searage, who took over last summer after the firing of Gopher McBattingpractice. The bad news for Pirates fans is, with a rotation ranked last in strikeouts and second-to-last in strikeouts-to-walks, the 3.69 ERA might not last. But the pitching is better this season, and as a ground ball staff with a good defense behind them – moving Garrett Jones off first base and replacing him with the better-fielding Lyle Overbay has helped the righties — they may not regress all that far.

Four game series this week. The Memorial Day start goes to Charlie Morton, who has lowered his ERA from 7.57 last season to 2.61 this year. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up – usually not a good sign – but Morton has started throwing nothing but sinkers: His ground ball rate has jumped from 47% to 63%, and he’s allowed just 2 home runs after allowing 15 last year. Game 2 goes to curveball pitcher James McDonald, acquired from the Dodgers last summer. McDonald’s ERA sat at 10.12 after his first four starts, but in six starts since he has a 2.60 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 34.2 innings. Game 3 goes to Kevin Correia, owner of the NL’s lowest strikeout rate and eighth lowest walk rate. He’s another high contact, righthanded worm burner thriving (3.49 ERA) in front of the Pirates’ defense. Lefty Paul Maholm starts Thursday’s matinee. He has a 2-7 record, despite a 3.16 ERA, because the Pirates score 2.2 runs per game when he pitches — Maholm gives unnecessarily long, awkward hugs in the dugout whenever a teammate scores a run for him, so the offense’s reluctance is understandable.

Bench:
C – Dusty Brown – R
IF – Pedro Ciriaco – R
IF – Josh Harrison – R
OF – Matt Diaz – R
OF – Xavier Paul – L

Catcher Ryan Doumit and third baseman Steven Pearce (already filling in for injured Pedro Alvarez) were both hit the DL last night, and the Pirates called up Josh Harrison and Dusty Brown to take their place. Dusty Brown’s real name is Dustin, but come on, mom and dad — there was a 99.378% chance he was going to become a minor league catcher with that name (and a 0.622% chance he would become a cowboy). The Pirates’ subs have been miserable across the board (.459 OPS as a substitutes, 15th in the NL). Matt Diaz’ .584 OPS is the best figure among this group, which is probably all you need to know here.

Bullpen:
RHP – Joel Hanrahan
RHP – Jose Veras
RHP – Chris Resop
RHP – Evan Meek
RHP – Daniel McCutchen
RHP – Jose Ascanio
LHP – Daniel Moskos

They’re not bad. Pirates reliever have a 3.12 ERA , 5th best among NL bullpens, and they own the 6th best strikeout rate and the 5th best walk rate. Closer Joel Hanrahan is quietly having an excellent season: He’s 14 for 14 in save opportunities, and is throwing more fastballs (86%) and faster fastballs (97 MPH) than ever before. Setup-people Jose Veras, Chris Resop, and Evan Meek have combined for 71 strikeouts in 55.1 innings, though a few too many walks in the process. The Pirates’ pen is a little shorthanded at the moment, with Michael Crotta and lefty specialist Joe Biemel on the mend, but they were both struggling anyway and not an enormous loss.

And those were some things to know about the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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