Series Preview - Red Sox (57-59) @ Pirates (45-70)
The Pirates are perennially bad at baseball and the Sox season is on life support, but at least we can all come together for three games and enjoy watching this sport's most promising sons, Oneil Cruz and Rafael Devers, sock a few dingers
Tuesday, August 16th 7:05 PM - Nick Pivetta (8-9 4.51 ERA) vs Mitch Keller (4-8 4.25 ERA)
Wednesday, August 17th 7:05 PM - Rich Hill(4-5 4.75 ERA) vs TBD
Thursday, August 18th 7:05 PM - Nathan Eovaldi (5-3 4.15 ERA) vs TBD
The Pirates are the fourth worst team in Major League Baseball, edging out the Nationals, Tigers, and A's. They rank second to last in average, currently at .219 as a team, and are third to last in runs scored, at 415. For reference, we have watched this Red Sox offense all season and have been largely frustrated with our lack of offensive production, and we have outscored them by 101 runs (516, 12th in baseball). The Dodgers sit atop that list, just short of 200 runs above the pirates at 614. In pitching categories, though, we are neck and neck with the Pirates. Incredibly depressing, but somewhat understandable with all of the injuries. Ranked 25th and 26th, we are .28 lower in ERA, have only 17 runs allowed less, and have let up 5 more home runs than the Pirates as a team. We do have almost 100 more strikeouts and a .12 better WHIP than the Pirates, so those numbers are slightly more lopsided, but it's still a little too close for comfort.
All of this to say - I really hope our pitching can find its footing for one last push and we should sweep this series. Correction, we need to sweep this series, considering we took 3/4 from a combination of the Yankees and the Orioles, but did not gain any ground in the Wild Card Standings. Simply put, we have to take care of business against inferior opponents, and we have struggled to do that as of late.
Usually this is where I write about the stars on the other team's offense. I will not lie to you, I'm struggling to find any. These guys don't hit for shit. Ke'Bryan Hayes was supposed to be breakout stud at third base, finishing 6th in ROY voting 2 years ago, a year in which he slashed .376/.442/.682 with a 201 OPS+ in 24 games. Since then, he has played in 199 games, slashing .254/.319/.365 with an 89 OPS+. For those unfamiliar with OPS+, it is a good stat for comparing a player against the rest of the league. 100 is average, so 200 is twice as good as the league average. 201, where Hayes was his rookie year, is exactly where Aaron Judge is this season. Falling to below league average since then is incredibly disappointing for where he was. Bryan Reynolds is worth mentioning, as he finds himself with a solid .800 OPS this season with 17 home runs. Old friend Michael Chavis is in their every day roster, but is doing just about as well as he was when he was in a Sox jersey, slashing .245/.278/.416, but he does have 12 home runs. The real person to keep an eye on is Oneil Cruz. Are his numbers where I hoped they'd be at this point in the season? No, absolutely not. But there are things he is doing that you just don't see every day in baseball. From taking the reigning Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes 408 feet two weeks ago to throwing 98 MPH from short, he's just a freak of nature. I wouldn't hate seeing him hit a solo shot in every game with us winning each game 15-1. Wouldn't hate it one bit.
Moving onto the games, tonight we will see Nick Pivetta vs Mitch Keller. Pivetta needs a good outing. Badly. He's been better in his last 2 appearances than he was in July, going a combined 11 innings and allowing 6 ERs, but it isn't how we saw him pitch June. If we hope to make a run at the Wild Card, we need him firing. We have a very small sample size for how he has done against this lineup (9 at-bats 2 hits 3 Ks 0 walks) but I don't think we need to have history to know that he should dominate this lineup. If he has problems tonight, I may have to give up on him returning to his best form and just accept that he's a mediocre pitcher. But if he does deliver a strong performance, I think we can ride the momentum into his next start. He's a streaky pitcher, and at least he's been trending better. Solidify it tonight.
We see Mitch Keller. He's seen Eric Hosmer 7 times and allowed 3 hits, 1 of those being a double. He somehow has managed to get Ted Williams (baseball savant calls him Tommy Pham, but I have an email out to them to get that fixed) out 6 times without allowing a single hit to him. No other history against our lineup. What should we expect from him? He has a 4-seamer at 95 that he throws 33% of the time but leaves up, a half-decent slider that he throws 22% of the time, a horrible sinker, a curveball, and a changeup. With all that being said, he has been steadily improving month over month. Going from a 9 ERA in his first game, to a 6.62 ERA in April, down to a 5.19 ERA in May, then a 4.10 in June, all the way to an impressive 2.61 ERA in July. His last performance was 5.1 innings of 3 earned against the D-Backs. Someone is going deep tonight, my guess is Hosmer. Whether or not we win is going to be decided on how Pivetta pitches. I think if he can avoid walking guys, we take an easy win tonight.
Tomorrow the Sox are sending Hill out there, with the plan to piggyback him with Winck. I love that move. When we went piggybacked Hill and Houck, we saw significantly better performances from the old man. Based on some research that I have done, we went into the game planning for the tandem to pitch on three occasions (based on previews for those games) - April 24th, April 29th, and May 5th. In those performances, Hill went 4 innings, 4 innings, and 5 innings, allowed 6 total hits, and 0 runs. We started to get away from planning for Houck to come in because we just ended up needing him in other long relief spots when chasing wins, but it's undeniable that Hill pitched better when he knew he would be out of the game early. We can't ask him to give us 6, his body just can't perform at a high level for that long at this point in his career, but he can give us 4. Houck and Winck are obviously very different pitchers, but I think this will be actually a good role for Winckowski, especially considering we have starters getting healthier, and he has shown that he also has trouble if you leave him in too long.
I don't really know how it's possible, but Rich Hill hasn't faced anyone in this Pirates lineup. However, Hill faced the Pirates 5 years ago next week (August 23rd, 2017) when he was on the Dodgers, a game in which he was perfect through 8, losing that on a fucking error in the 9th, and no-hit the Pirates through 9. However he ended up LOSING that game in the 10th because the Dodgers are assholes and didn't put up any runs for him. I would ask to be released while walking off the field. Absolutely heartbreaking. My promise to Rich Hill, if he no-hits the Pirates through 9, we will give him at least 1 run of support. It’s what friends do.
Thursday, it's Eovaldi time. Like the prior two, it is a very limited sample size against the Pirates. Greg Allen is 4 for 9 with a pair of doubles, Ben Gamel is 1 for 2. I don't know who those guys are, and their numbers didn't jump off the page in any category when looking at the Pirates lineup on a whole, so fuck 'em. What I do know is Eovaldi, like Pivetta and Hill, has not performed up to the standards that we expect from him. He has been a little bit stronger as of late, giving us 6 or greater in 3 performances so far this month, and allowing 0, 4, and 2 ERs in those outings. I'd very much enjoy it if he goes 6 or more again Thursday, but would like to see no Home Runs allowed. He allowed 2 home runs to the Royals and 1 to the Yankees Friday night. It would be his 19th, 20th, and 21st home runs on the season when he only has 18 starts. That isn't sustainable for a #1 guy. Outside of the home runs, he has been so solid this season, but fixing that problem is much easier said than done. One start, one inning, one pitch at a time, he has to locate. Either way though, the Sox should cruise to victory here to complete a sweep.
Take care of business. Win the games you're supposed to, and hope that the teams in front of you lose. It's all we can do at this point. We dug ourselves in a hole, it's time to dig ourselves out.