Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays (13-15) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (10-18)


Apr 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) hits a home run in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

So the shakeup continues. Jonathan Diaz and Moises Sierra are out. Anthony Gose and Steve Tolleson are in. This still doesn’t cure the ails of the bullpen or the weird use of the bullpen by John Gibbons but at least they are trying to do something. Juan Francisco has been a truly pleasant surprise in the DH spot (including his third home run in the finale against the Royals)…aaaaaand we can’t use him because the Blue Jays are venturing into National League territory to visit the historically mediocre Pittsburgh Pirates. Perhaps this is where the team can turn things around. They have lost their last 3 series but the Pirates aren’t faring much better.

After finally turning things around last season it hasn’t gone so well this season for the Pirates. They have a team batting average of .225 which ranks them 13th in the NL. The pitching that carried them so well last season is still decent but the 3.73 ERA still ranks only 11th in the NL…but would rank 4th in the AL. This adds up to a dismal 10-18 record. It’s the classic American League slugging machine versus the fine pitching-rich National League…and lucky for the Jays thy get to face the top three starters the Pirates have to offer. On to the analysis!!

Probable Starting Pitchers

Game 1: Brandon Morrow (1-2, 6.04 ERA) vs Gerrit Cole (2-2, 3.18 ERA)

Morrow sure has it coming. Aside from the fact he isn’t pitching up to his investment and potential he seems to actually be regressing. The simple fact that he hasn’t pitched beyond the 6th inning is troublesome. The fact he had 8 walks in his last start screams that there is something wrong. Either he is injured and not saying anything or he simply is another in the long line of pitchers who had great potential but wasted it away. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong but we all know that ain’t gonna happen.

Speaking of fulfilling potential I give you 23 year old ace-in-the-making Gerrit Cole. Cole is the first of a line of very impressive young arms that the Pirates are hoping to build their future around. He has picked up right where he left off in his 19 game audition last year. His ERA is about the same and his BAA against is practically the same at around .250. His K:BB is 2:1 this year which is off from his usual 4:1 but he is still on a learning curve. watch for this kid to anchor the rotation in the steel city for the next decade.

Game 2: R.A. Dickey (2-3, 5.09 ERA) vs Francisco Liriano (0-3, 3.97 ERA)

Just when you thought Dickey was done he pulls off a great start in which he got into the 7th inning and didn’t give up a walk to an always tough Red Sox team. His WHIP is still a bit high but optimism is starting to reign since he has pretty much kept the ball in the yard by giving up a home run in every other start as opposed to 1+ in almost every start as he did last year. If he has finally found the control of his super knuckler then we may see a great game come out of him versus a poor hitting Pirates lineup.

On the other side we have Francisco Liriano. A bit of an afterthought going into the 2013 season due to injuries and ineffectiveness he rebounded with a very impressively strong season in Pittsburgh. He won 16 games and he dropped 2+ runs off his ERA from the year before with the Twins. He has regressed just a but this season and has yet to win a game but that speaks more to the inept offence than it does to his pitching. Aside from only going 2 innings in his last start due to flu-like symptoms he has not pitched less than 6 innings (or more than 7) in any of his starts this season. Take note of that Gibby! This has the potential to be a great pitching duel.

Game 3: Dustin McGowan (1-1, 5.87 ERA) vs Edinson Volquez (1-2, 3.21 ERA)

And now we come to the game that worries me most. Sure Dustin McGowan killed it and earned himself another start but how long can we go on with a pitcher who can’t throw an excessive amount of pitches that a normal starter would? Perhaps he is over the hump. Perhaps he has just had a series of deadball feelings in his arm. All pitchers have gone through the same thing before. Can he pitch himself out of it? Possibly. I do like his chances against this Pirate offence. For a guy with his caliber of pitches he sure isn’t striking out too many. He is definitely relying on the improved Toronto defense to get by. I just worry about a guy who may not be capable of getting that key strikeout when needed.

Edinson Volquez was humming along as one of the best pitchers in baseball until he gave up 6 earned in his last start against an always powerful St. Louis Cardinals team. He is another who rediscovered himself pitching for the Pirates. He shaved 2.5 runs off his ERA this year so far compared to last year in San Diego. He has always had the tools going back to his days with the Reds but now he finally seems to have turned a corner. His WHIP is pretty much at 1 and his BAA against is .230. Either he has finally figured it out or he is just having a good stretch. If that’s the case perhaps the previous start is him coming back down to reality.

Probable Starting Lineups

Toronto Blue Jays

1. SS: Jose Reyes
2. 2B: Chris Getz
3. RF: Jose Bautista
4. 1B: Edwin Encarnacion
5. C: Dioner Navarro
6. 3B: Brett Lawrie
7. CF: Colby Rasmus
8. LF: Anthony Gose

Pittsburgh Pirates

1. LF: Starling Marte
2. RF: Jose Tabata
3. CF: Andrew McCutchen
4. 3B: Pedro Alvarez
5. 2B: Neil Walker
6. 1B: Ike Davis
7. SS: Jordy Mercer
8. C: Tony Sanchez

Worth the Price of Admission: Juan Francisco Jose Bautista. Just when you think the wheels were falling off due to his injuries the past couple years Bautista shows that when healthy his opponents consider him perhaps the biggest power threat in the game today. His OPS leads baseball at 1.048. His slugging is approaching .600. He is being walked constantly even as Edwin Encarnacion has picked up his game as of late. Enjoy the sight of Jose now. It’s a long season and anything could…and will…happen.

Worth the Price of a 1980’s Steel Worker: Pedro Alvarez. The power filled 3rd baseman for the Pirates can smoke a ball over the fence…aaaaaand that’s about it. Even his power us dwindling with his PECOTA saying he may hit just 20 dingers all year and drive in less than 70. This is your clean up hitter? How much longer do the Pirates give him before turning the bag over to some rookie in AAA or to the 8 year old manning the in-house laziness? This is a tale worth watching as the spring turns to radiant sunshine…with the top down too.