The Pirates are coming off a rollercoaster of a road trip in Interleague Play. After being swept by the Baltimore Orioles and losing the series opener to the Cleveland Indians, the Bucs responded well to win the final two games of the road trip, thanks, in large part, to the suddenly-hot bat of Pedro Alvarez, who hit four homeruns in two days to propel the Pirates to take the series from the Indians.
Now, after all the highs and lows of the past week, the Pirates find themselves three games over the .500 mark (34-31) and 3.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the N.L. Central division lead. Interleague Play has historically been difficult for the Bucs, but after a vast improvement in 2011, they are continuing to hold their own thus far, with a 6-6 record against the American League at this point.
Andrew McCutchen is having an incredible season, now that players like Neil Walker and yes, even Pedro Alvarez are hitting the ball a lot better, it could even result in more opportunities for Cutch. Casey McGehee, Alex Presley, and Garrett Jones are all showing vast improvements at the plate, and it looks like, at least for now, that the struggling Jose Tabata may be the odd man out of the starting lineup for this series.
A.J. Burnett and James McDonald continue to lead the starting pitching rotation, while Kevin Correia, Erik Bedard, and Brad Lincoln seem to be gambles every time they take the mound. Jeff Karstens should be returning to the club by the end of the month and will most likely take Lincoln’s spot in the rotation.
Pittsburgh has two series here at home to round out Interleague Play before they embark on what looks to be the most challenging road trip of the season against the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals. These next six games are crucial for the Bucs to continue to build momentum before they revert back to divisional play at the end of the month.
Minnesota Twins (26-39) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (34-31)
About The Twins…
26-39 Record, 5th In A.L. Central
Last Series: 1-2 Series Loss vs. Milwaukee Brewers
This has been a rough season for the Twins thus far. Two and a half months into the season, they find themselves in the basement of the A.L. Central, eight games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox. Getting off to a 6-16 start in April, followed by a 12-16 mark in May, the Twins have been in an uphill battle from the very beginning. So far in June, however, they’re holding their own, with an 8-7 mark, which includes series victories over the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago Cubs.
Despite the disappointing record, the Twins’ offense has actually been potent at times. They hit for a relatively high average, led by Joe Mauer at .314, Denard Span at .287 and Josh Willingham at .276. They have three players with at least ten homeruns as well, as Trevor Plouffe has 14 on the year, Willingham has 13, and Justin Morneau has an even 10 round-trippers. The Twins are 12th in the MLB in team batting average (.257) and 11th in on base percentage (.326).
Clearly, with the offense showing signs of power, the main issues with the Twins clearly lie upon the starting pitching. Other than Scott Diamond, who has been, well, the unquestioned ace of the staff with a 5-2 record and a 2.13 ERA, the rest of the starters have been awful. In fact, no other regular starter has an ERA under 5.00. Their pitching staff, as a whole, is ranked 29th of 30 teams in team ERA (5.05) and they’ve allowed the second most runs in baseball (324), behind only the Colorado Rockies.
For an injury standpoint, the Twins may be without two key figures. Closer (and former Bucco) Matt Capps missed Sunday’s game against the Brewers due to shoulder inflammation. He is day to day, but remarked that he hopes he will be ready for the series against the Pirates. Similarly, Joe Mauer left Sunday’s game with a bruised quadriceps after a collision at home plate with Rickie Weeks. He is also day to day. With that being the case, Pittsburgh will most likely see ex-Bucco Ryan Doumit behind the plate this week.
6/19 – Scott Diamond (MIN) (5-2, 2.13 ERA, 29 K, 6 BB, WHIP 1.18) vs. Kevin Correia (PIT) (2-6, 4.43 ERA, 25 K, 21 BB, WHIP 1.32)
6/20 – Francisco Liriano (MIN) (1-7, 6.24 ERA, 59 K, 36 BB, WHIP 1.60) vs. Erik Bedard (PIT) (4-7, 4.36 ERA, 62 K, 30 BB, WHIP 1.45)
6/21 – Liam Hendriks (MIN) (0-3, 7.83 ERA, 14 K, 5 BB, WHIP 1.87) vs. James McDonald (PIT) (5-3, 2.32 ERA, 78 K, 24 BB, WHIP 0.98)
[box_dark] “We talked in spring training and early this season about guys stepping up, that (management will) throw guys at the wall and see who sticks, and we talked about last year, how not a lot of guys stuck. There are some guys sticking this year, and it’s good to see.” [/box_dark]
Twins’ reliever Glen Perkins on bullpen’s improvement in 2012
[box_dark] “It sure shrinks the ballpark when he puts the barrel on the ball.” [/box_dark]
Clint Hurdle on Pedro Alvarez’s four homeruns in two games
The Pirates will look to keep pace with the Cincinnati Reds over this six-game stretch at PNC Park. Of course, stay tuned right here for all the recaps and reactions to each and every Pirates game from us, the Fans From The Stands!
Let’s Go Bucs!