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There just doesn’t seem to be any quit in these Battlin’ Buccos!  After their 9-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins last night at PNC Park, the Pirates are now 36-32, only two games back in the N.L. Central behind the Cincinnati Reds.

Pittsburgh has won seven of their last eight series dating back almost a month, and, all of a sudden, their offense, which was the very worst in baseball entering June, has erupted this month, scoring in the top five in total runs. 

Andrew McCutchen has been incredible all season, hiting at a .339 clip with 12 homeruns and 42 RBI’s.  Pedro Alvarez hit his team-leading 13th homerun last night, and while his average (.218) isn’t where it needs to be, he’s showing serious signs of turning things around.  After terrible starts to the season, Casey McGehee and Rod Barajas are showing much more consistency (and some power) at the plate, while Garrett Jones and Alex Presley are holding their own with the bat as well.

Two major problems continue, though, for the Bucs’ offense.  Jose Tabata, signed to a major contract last season, has not lived up to anywhere near the expectations fans and management has placed upon him for this year.  Clint Barmes, also looked upon as a veteran presence to keep some consistency in the latter part of the lineup, has been atrocious (for the most part) this year, hitting at just .201.  Josh Harrison and Matt Hague have been provided some big pinch hit moments and spot starts for the Pirates over the past few weeks, who are looking like a legitimately dangerous offense.

The starting pitching rotation has essentially divided itself into two groups.  The one group includes James McDonald and A.J. Burnett, two guys who have been consistently stingy to opposing offenses, and have a collective 14-5 record.  Unfortunately, the other group includes Kevin Correia, Erik Bedard, and Brad Lincoln, who have been up and down throughout the first 68 games of the year.  Although, Correia and Bedard each pitched well their last times out, while Lincoln may be just one start away from returning to the bullpen once Jeff Karstens makes his return to Pittsburgh.

Tigers (34-35) vs. Pirates (36-32)

About the Tigers…

34-35 Record, 3rd In A.L. Central

Last Series:  2-1 Series Victory vs. St. Louis Cardinals

The Tigers, record-wise, have been sub-par all season.  One year after knocking off the New York Yankees in the ALDS, it seems that they have had quite a falloff so far in 2012, not living up to the incredibly expectations following the acquisition of high-profile first baseman Prince Fielder.  After an 11-11 record in April and a 13-16 mark in May, they have played a bit better so far this month, with a 10-8 mark, having won four of the month’s six series, including a two-to-one victory over the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this week.

Miguel Cabrera and Fielder are the leaders of the offense, ranking at the top of almost every major offensive category.  Cabrera currently has a .307 average, with 14 homeruns and 55 RBI’s, while Fielder is hitting at a .309 clip with 11 homeruns and 45 RBI’s.  Other players like Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young, and Brennan Boesch have been productive at times, but their consistencies so far this season have led to the Tigers’ offensive struggles. 

From a pitching standpoint, it is once again all about Justin Verlander.  He leads the team in wins (7), ERA (2.57), and strikeouts (107).  His 0.99 WHIP and opponents’ batting average of .204 are once again worthy of Cy Young considerations at this point in the season.  But much of the Tigers’ inadequacies have come from inconsistent pitching as well.  Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, expected to be top-tier starters this season, have ERA’s of 4.95 and 5.17 respectively.

This is the second time the two teams have met this year, with the Tigers taking two of three from the Bucs in May, including an incredible performance by Verlander, taking a no-hit bid into the ninth inning. 

Pitching Matchups:

6/22 – Doug Fister (DET) (1-3, 2.68 ERA, 30 K, 9 BB, WHIP 1.21) vs. A.J. Burnett (PIT) (7-2, 3.52 ERA, 58 K, 24 BB, WHIP 1.28)

6/23 – Max Scherzer (DET) (6-4, 5.17 ERA, 100 K, 29 BB, WHIP 1.52) vs. Brad Lincoln (PIT) (3-2, 3.82 ERA, 36 K, 12 BB, WHIP 1.35)

6/24 – Justin Verlander (DET) (7-4, 2.57 ERA, 106 K, 27 BB, WHIP 0.99) vs. Kevin Correia (PIT) (3-6, 4.12 ERA, 27 K, 22 BB, WHIP 1.29)

Quotes From Both Sides:

[box_dark] “Hopefully some of the people that feel off the bandwagon – and rightfully so – we can earn their respect and get them back on the bandwagon.  That’s normally the way it works.” [/box_dark]

          Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland on his team’s up and down play this season

[box_dark] “I could see he really wanted me to finish the game, all my teammates wanted me to finish the game – and I finally believed in myself I could finish the game.” [/box_dark]

          James McDonald on his complete game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday

The Pirates will wrap up their Interleague Play schedule for 2012 this weekend against the Tigers, before embarking on one of the most difficult road trips of the season.  As always, stay tuned right here for the latest recaps and reactions to each and every Pirates’ game from us, the Fans From The Stands!

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!