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What have we been seeing lately at the plate from the Pittsburgh Pirates?  After being at the bottom-of-the-league through the first two months of the season, the Bucs’ offense erupted in June to be one of the league’s best statistically.  That trend came to a climactic conclusion this past week’s road trip, as the Pirates finished with a 4-3 record against the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals while scoring 48 runs in seven games.  And perhaps most encouraging was the contributions from nearly everyone in the lineup, headlined by Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, as well as big hits from the likes of Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Casey McGehee, Clint Barmes, and Michael McKenry.

The Bucs are now 42-36 on the season, just one game behind the first place Cincinnati Reds in the N.L. Central.  Unlike last season, they are not playing above their heads…they’re looking more and more like a legitimately good baseball every time they take the field.  Yes…once again…there is a buzz beginning to circle around the Pirates and PNC Park mid summer.

A.J. Burnett and James McDonald continue to be solid this season, totaling a 16-5 record, while the rest of the pitching staff is well behind.  Erik Bedard has been struggling since mid-May, while Kevin Correia is back and forth every time he takes the mound (although he’s been solid lately).  Jeff Karstens won his first game of the season this past weekend, and seems to be confident, as is the rest of the team, in his ability to improve his number with every start.  Make no mistake…while the offense is grabbing the majority of the headlines right now, the most crucial aspect to this team staying competitive is the starting pitching.  The bullpen, led by Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan, is till top notch.

McCutchen and Alvarez left the games played on Saturday and Sunday with injuries, but neither appears to be serious.  Expect both to be in the lineup in this series against the Astros.

Astros (32-47) vs. Pirates (42-36)

About The Astros…

32-47 Record, 5th In N.L. Central

Last Series:  0-3 Series Sweep @ Chicago Cubs

This has been a season unlike any other for the Houston Astros…but not really for the reason anyone in the Houston area wants.  This is the final season the team will be apart of the American League, and after shipping out Hunter Pence and Michael Bourne last season, and with Carlos Lee trade rumors circling, things have not been going well in Houston.

They are currently 15 games under .500, 11.5 games out of first place in the division, and have lost four straight games, including a series sweep by the last-place Chicago Cubs this past weekend.  It’s been a consistent struggle throughout the season, but as the months have gone on, things have continued to go downhill.  After a 9-14 and 13-15 mark in April and May, the club finished with a 10-17 record in June, and reality has certainly kicked in for this franchise and their fans as to where their team stands in comparison with the rest of the National League.

The Astros have a respectable home record (23-19), but are absolutely abysmal on the road this year (9-28).  Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie, and J.D. Martinez have proven to be quality hitters, but Carlos Lee, their most popular trade option, has five homeruns and 29 RBI’s to go with a .285 average.  From a pitching standpoint, Wandy Rodriguez is their one high quality starting pitcher, and he’s been masterful against Pittsburgh in his career.  Luckily for the Bucs, he will not start any of the four games this week at PNC Park.

Pitching Matchups:

7/2 – Jordan Lyles (HOU) (2-4, 4.59 ERA, 30 K, 20 BB, WHIP 1.45) vs. James McDonald (PIT) (7-3, 2.44 ERA, 86 K, 26 BB, WHIP 0.98)

7/3 – Lucas Harrell (HOU) (7-6, 4.33 ERA, 56 K, 25 BB, WHIP 1.33) vs. A.J. Burnett (PIT) (9-2, 3.31 ERA, 69 K, 29 BB, WHIP 1.24)

7/4 – Dallas Keuchel (HOU) (1-0, 1.35 ERA, 8 K, 9 BB, WHIP 1.15) vs. Kevin Correia (PIT) (4-6, 4.32 ERA, 34 K, 25 BB, WHIP 1.30)

7/5 – Bud Norris (HOU) (5-5, 4.90 ERA, 82 K, 29 BB, WHIP 1.42) vs. Jeff Karstens (PIT) (1-2, 5.25 ERA, 16 K, 4 BB, WHIP 1.42)

Quotes From Both Sides:

[box_dark] “One mistake to the pitcher.  He’s leading off and I think he’s going to take on strike and I threw a fastball and he hit it for a double.  After that I tried to put the ball down for a ground ball.  That’s my big mistake today.” [/box_dark]

          Astros’ pitcher Wandy Rodriguez on yesterday’s loss to the Cubs

[box_dark] “I’m the guy who kept running him out there.  Not everybody was on that bandwagon.  There weren’t a lot of ‘Pedro for Mayor’ signs being hung up in the ballpark.” [/box_dark]

          Clint Hurdle on believing in his third baseman

After a solid road trip last week in Philadelphia and St. Louis, the Pirates host seven straight games leading up to the All-Star break, beginning tonight against the Astros.  Check back here all series long for recaps and reactions to each game from us, the Fans From The Stands!

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!