Home Series 11 Preview: Cubs vs. Pirates

McCutchen_Polanco

Outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco have made an impact for Pitssburgh. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

After ending 20 years of below-.500 futility and making a playoff appearance in 2013, it appeared the Pirates were a team on the rise. A poor April put the Bucs in a bit of a hole, one they’ve slowly tried to dig out of. This year, pitching has been subpar while the bats have only recently started to wake up. It’s too early to draw conclusions as there’s plenty of baseball still to be played, but the loss of A.J. Burnett from the rotation and some rough starts from key offensive contributors have led to serious struggles. Still, don’t count Pittsburgh out yet, as it does have some talented youngsters and an exciting roster.

PITCHING
(12TH IN NL, 4.3 RA/G)

The Pirates’ top two starters, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, started off relatively strong, but oblique and shoulder fatigue issues, respectively, currently leave both on the DL. Cole has a below-average strikeout rate, but the former top draft pick is just scratching the surface of his immense talent. Their absence puts the burden squarely on the shoulders of veteran and Friday’s starter Charlie Morton as well as young right-handers Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton. In 14 starts this season, Morton’s had a fine season, posting a 3.09 ERA in 87.1 innings. Saturday’s starter Worley has only pitched seven major league innings this year, but has a 1.20 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs, though Sunday’s starter Cumpton has struggled in 2014. The bullpen continues to be a strength, even with closer Jason Grilli experiencing some bumps.

HITTING
(6TH IN NL, 4.1 RS/G)

Early on, defending NL MVP Andrew McCutchen has continued to look every bit the franchise-making superstar—but he was the only one providing any offense. Starling Marte regressed from his great 2013 season, and while Pedro Alvarez is again hitting for power, his low batting average and OBP drive down his value. Neil Walker was having a fine season until he had to undergo an appendectomy. There’s no timetable on his return. The Pirates have already made some significant moves to help kick-start the struggling bats, acquiring first baseman Ike Davis from the Mets and bringing up top prospect Gregory Polanco, who’s had success at the dish in a very small sample size. The hope is that Marte turns things around, Alvarez starts making more contact, and Polanco can make a big impact on the major league front.

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