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Up Next: Blue Jays host young Pittsburgh Pirates squad for weekend series

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Photo credit:© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Georges
1 month ago
As the start of June looms, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ record sits at 26-30, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone. This team has been stuck in a seemingly never-ending rebuild, but hope is finally on the horizon, thanks to some exciting young pitchers.
The Blue Jays (26-29) will try to keep their three-game winning streak going against the Pirates after sweeping the Chicago White Sox this week. Pittsburgh sits 6.5 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. They’ve been slightly better on the road than at home, sporting a 14-15 record compared to a 12-15 mark at PNC Park. As they travel North across the border, let’s take a look at some strengths and weaknesses of the Pirates this season.

Nuts and Bolts

Friday, May 31st, 7:07 EST: Bailey Falter (3-2, 3.55) vs Jose Berrios (5-4, 2.94)
Saturday, June 1st, 3:07 EST: Mitch Keller (6-3, 3.59) vs Yusei Kikuchi (2-4, 3.25)
Sunday, June 2nd, 1:37 EST: TBD vs Chris Bassitt (5-6, 4.03)

Starting Pitching

As a whole, the Pirates’ 4.03 team pitching ERA sits right in the middle of the pack of the Major Leagues. They get a boost when speaking about their starting pitching, with their 3.69 ERA placing 12th in the league.
With the arrival of Paul Skenes in the Steel City, that number may continue to improve as the season goes along. Skenes has been as advertised thus far, sporting a 2.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP to go along with 30 punchouts in his first 22.0 big league innings. The team’s best starter all season long has been another top prospect in righthander Jared Jones. Jones broke camp with the Pirates, and currently reps a 3.55 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, striking out a team-high 70 in 63.1 innings pitched. The Blue Jays won’t have to deal with either one this weekend, as both youngsters started consecutive games in yesterday’s doubleheader against the Tigers.
The Pirates next best starter has been Mitch Keller, who is lined up to face Yusei Kikuchi on Saturday.  After signing a five year, $77 million contract before the season, Keller has engineered a 3.59 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, leading the club with six victories. Friday’s starter will be lefthander Bailey Falter, who has managed a 3.55 ERA and sub 1.00 WHIP (0.98) this year despite just 33 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. Some regression may be in store this weekend for the former Phillie.
Sunday’s starter remains unknown, as starting pitcher Martin Perez hit the injured list earlier this week. The most likely candidate to make the start may be Quinn Priester, who is currently in Triple-A after posting a 4.33 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in five big league starts this season.

Bullpen

The Pirates bullpen has struggled mightily this year, as their 4.68 team ERA ranks 27th in the Majors, one spot above the Blue Jays. Most disappointing for the Pirates has been the ineffectiveness of closer David Bednar. A year after authoring a 2.00 ERA and converting 39 of 42 save chances, Bednar’s ERA has ballooned to a 6.45 mark as he’s already blown three chances. He has still struck out over a batter per inning while limiting walks, so better days appear to be ahead for the veteran closer.
After Bednar, Aroldis Chapman leads the club in appearances with 24. The longtime closer still has nasty stuff (33 punchouts in 18.1 innings), but his control has been a major issue (21 free passes). The biggest bright spot in the Pirates bullpen has been righthander Colin Holderman. His microscopic 0.52 WHIP and 0.98 WHIP lead the bullpen, as he’s unsurprisingly been able to nail down six holds on the season.
A combination of Hunter Stratton, Luis Ortiz, Roansy Contreras, and Josh Fleming have made up the majority of the remaining relief appearances for the club, ranging from mediocre to wildly inconsistent in the process. Despite his 4.97 ERA, Stratton has 27 strikeouts and just 3 walks in 25.1 innings on the year, so his ERA is bound to improve going forward.

Hitting

Offense has been a struggle for Pittsburgh, as their team OPS (.661) ranks 26th in the Major Leagues. They have received largely mediocre production from their entire lineup this season, as top-of-the-lineup regular Bryan Reynolds has regressed in his sixth season. The OPS leader on the team is former Rockie Connor Joe (.820), as he also leads the team in doubles with 13. Former Pirates MVP Andrew McCutchen has provided a nice narrative for the team this year, as he currently leads the team with eight home runs in his return to Pittsburgh.
A newcomer has been providing a spark to the Pirates lineup, as infielder Nick Gonzales has hit the ground running in his second stint in the Major Leagues. The 7th overall pick in the 2020 draft currently sports a .922 OPS and a whopping 16 RBI in 18 games since being called up. He has provided a jolt in the middle of the lineup that this team has sorely needed.
Two players who were expected to be big pieces for the Bucs this year have disappointed mightily. Third basemen Ke’Bryan Hayes has managed just a .635 OPS and one homerun on the season, and Oneil Cruz’s strikeout issues lead the team by a wide margin (74, 24 more than the next highest). Cruz has at least slugged better than Hayes, as his 20 extra-base hits have him tied with Reynolds for the team lead.

Final Word

The Pirates and Blue Jays have been fairly similar teams this year. Not only are their records strikingly similar, but both teams have struggled on offence and in the bullpen while their starting pitching has been a relative strength. As was true in recent matchups with under .500 teams in the Tigers and White Sox, the Blue Jays have to feel like this is a must-win series if they want to convince everyone that they can compete for a playoff spot this year.

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