The Pirates have a lot in common with the Mets. Both have fan bases that wish their ownership was less tight with the purse strings, both positioned themselves as contenders this year but might end up as sellers in July, and both had tremendous franchise success in the late 1970s. Just kidding about that last one, but those first two claims are painfully accurate.
To be fair with Pittsburgh, there were some questions about that contender status heading into the regular season. This team is in the same division as the world-beating Cubs after all, but there was still some optimism about a team that had such a deep offense and some hot young pitchers coming down the pipeline.
That optimism quickly faded away when Starling Marte was suspended 80 games for PED use and Andrew McCutchen didn’t immediately bounce back from last year’s disappointing campaign. Thanks to those two major downfalls, the Pirates are 13th in the National League with 4.06 runs scored per game. However, on the other side of the ball, Ivan Nova and Gerrit Cole have kept the pitching staff afloat even while Tyler Glasnow struggles to adapt to the majors and Jameson Taillon battles testicular cancer.
Michael Conforto just struck out four times in one game, so hopefully that doesn’t mean an end to the MVP-like performance he’s given us so far. Even if Conforto does slide a little bit, perhaps Lucas Duda can pick up the slack. He had five hits in the San Diego series including a home run on Thursday night. The big guy appears to be back at 100 percent and ready to resume his role as one of the most underrated sluggers in baseball.
We’ll also be waiting to see if Asdrubal Cabrera is healthy enough to give us a break from Jose Reyes at shortstop or if Yoenis Cespedes can finally return to the lineup. Cespedes probably won’t make his triumphant return until after Memorial Day, but Cabrera has already been activated and made a pinch-hitting appearance on Thursday.
The Pirates would be even worse on offense if it wasn’t for a number of role players stepping up and filling the void left by Marte. Adam Frazier has been red hot lately and could be in the midst of a breakout season. He’s hitting .361/.446/.515 with home runs in his last two games. Even though his BABIP of .395 is quite high, the performance doesn’t seem like a fluke because his strikeout and walk rates are both at 11.6 percent. Along with another great contact hitter in Josh Harrison (.304/.366/.462), Frazier gives the Buccos some excitement at the top of the order.
Two other Pittsburgh bats to watch out for are Gregory Polanco — who is coming back from a hamstring injury and could give the offense a big lift if he’s able to recreate last year’s success — as well as Josh Bell, the 24-year-old first baseman who is hitting for more power than expected while maintaining a contact rate above 80 percent.
Friday, May 26: Chad Kuhl
Important stats: 40.0 IP, 33 K, 17 BB, 3 HR, 5.85 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 1.60 WHIP
Favorite pitches: sinker (94 mph), four-seam fastball (95 mph), slider (88 mph)
Drafted in the ninth round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of the University of Delaware, Kuhl has never been a guy with monster upside, but last year he reached the majors and hung around for 14 starts. He’s your classic back-of-the-rotation hurler who keeps the ball in the park and lets opposing batters beat themselves. The problem this year is that those opponents are starting to hit him a little harder (.352 BABIP compared to .304 in 2016) and his walk rate has shot up about three percent. Outs haven’t come as easily for Kuhl as they did in his debut campaign, but he inspired confidence in Pirates fans with five scoreless innings during his last start against Philadelphia.
Mets starter, Jacob deGrom: deGrom has now been pushed back two days from his originally scheduled start on Wednesday. The first day was due to the blister he developed during his most recent outing last Friday, and the second day was because of the rain that nearly washed out the series finale against San Diego. Let’s hope that deGrom is finally ready to roll in Pittsburgh since he’s coming off his best start of the month and is the most reliable guy the Mets can send to the hill right now.
Saturday, May 27: Gerrit Cole
Important stats: 61.2 IP, 52 K, 13 BB, 9 HR, 3.36 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 1.12 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (96 mph), slider (88 mph), changeup (89 mph), knuckle curve (81 mph), two-seam fastball (96 mph)
Although he dominated like an ace in 2015, Cole had to struggle through 2016 due to multiple trips to the disabled list and his strikeout rate dipping below 20 percent. This year, the UCLA product still isn’t striking out the entire planet, but he’s walking fewer batters and limiting hard contact in a major way. In fact, his line drive percentage allowed is down a whopping 10 points, which makes his .270 BABIP seem less suspicious. Cole had a streak of eight straight quality starts going until he allowed five runs in Atlanta during his latest outing.
Mets starter, Zack Wheeler: Even though Wheeler hasn’t done much this year to show off the ace upside that he came to the big leagues with, Mets fans have to be happy with the way he’s consistently kept runs off the board. After Saturday’s win over Los Angeles, the 26-year-old has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last four starts. Wheeler still isn’t all that fun to watch due to his high walk totals, but that’s something he can work on during his second season removed from Tommy John surgery.
Sunday, May 27: Tyler Glasnow
Important stats: 40.1 IP, 41 K, 26 BB, 7 HR, 6.69 ERA, 5.34 FIP, 1.93 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), curveball (80 mph), changeup (88 mph), two-seam fastball (94 mph)
It’s safe to say that the bloom is off the rose for Glasnow with the Pirates. Although he was a promising prospect coming up through the ranks, the 23-year-old has been unable to get his walks under control while at the same time seeing his home run rate rise dramatically. That combination has led to multiple walks and runs allowed in every 2017 outing, but Glasnow has been pretty effective lately with just two earned runs allowed in each of his last two starts against Washington and Atlanta.
Mets starter, Matt Harvey: Harvey has had trouble putting hitters away this season, and that’s still the case even though he’s struck out more than one batter per inning over his last three starts. The problem manifests itself in Harvey’s walk rate, which is creeping towards 12 percent. The artist formerly known as the Dark Knight has walked at least three batters in each of his last five outings, but at least on Tuesday he broke his streak of five straight games with a home run allowed.
With Tommy Milone hitting the disabled list earlier this week, the Mets were supposed to turn to Josh Smoker for Saturday’s start. That didn’t seem like the greatest idea when you consider that Smoker has an 8.00 ERA in 18 innings this year or that he just gave up runs in consecutive appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, the southpaw from Georgia has been surprisingly effective when asked to go longer than one inning this season. Nevertheless, the plan changed when deGrom got pushed back for the second straight day and we all had to endure Rafael Montero on Thursday. For now, Smoker remains an enigma who will have to work hard to regain Terry Collins’s trust. Or just wait until Jerry Blevins’s arm falls off.
Although most Pittsburgh trade talk centers around McCutchen, another guy who could draw some attention this summer is Tony Watson. The left-handed closer has established himself as a somewhat reliable option at the end of games, and yet he’s not crucial to the franchise’s future success. In fact, he might not be that important to Pittsburgh’s current success since setup men Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio have been more effective in 2017. While Nicasio’s smoke-and-mirrors performance might fall apart if he starts to give up home runs, Rivero is looking like one of the top left-handed relievers in the game just one year after being traded away by Washington.
Prediction: Mets win one of three.
How will the Mets fare in Pittsburgh this weekend?
This poll is closed
Shiver their timbers with a sweep!
Win two of three.
Win one of three.
Walk the plank.