Series Preview: The Nationals

Current record: 12-16, 4th place in NL Central, 5.5 games back

Up Next: Washington Nationals, 18-10, 1st place in NL East, 1.0 game lead

The Nats are playing great baseball right now. They have five solid starting pitchers and are allowing the fewest runs per game in the majors (2.9). Old friends Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady, Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Burnett are on the team. LaRoche has avoided his usual April slump and been the best hitter on the Nats this year. RF Jayson Werth just went down with a broken wrist on Sunday. Phenom Bryce Harper will start in right while he’s out.

Probable Pitchers
Tuesday: RH Edwin Jackson (1-1, 32.2 IP, 29 K, 3.69 ERA, 1.11 WHIP)
vs. RH A.J. Burnett (1-2, 15.2 IP, 17 K, 8.04 ERA, 1.72 WHIP)

Wednesday: LH Ross Detwiler (3-1, 28.1 IP, 21 K, 1.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
vs. LH Erik Bedard (2-4, 34.0 IP, 37 K, 2.65 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

Thursday: RH Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 38.0 IP, 38 K, 1.66 ERA, 0.84 WHIP)
vs. RH Kevin Correia (1-2, 29.1 IP, 12 K, 3.38 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)

No lineup available yet.

Update 2:35pm: The lineup is posted. Cutch is back, Alex Presley sits.

Jose Tabata LF
Neil Walker 2B
Andrew McCutchen CF
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Casey McGehee 1B
Garrett Jones RF
Clint Barmes SS
Rod Barajas C
A.J. Burnett P

April Recap

The Pirates finished April with a 10-12 record. They got there by winning two in a row twice, losing five in a row once and alternating wins and losses the rest of the time.

The story of the month was pitching, both for the Pirates and their opponents. Pirates pitchers held the Phillies, Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Rockies and Braves to 66 runs in 22 games, or 3.0 runs per game. Similarly, the Pirates bats were also held in check. Pittsburgh hitters scored only 58 runs in the month: 2.64/game.

One place the pitching was noticibly better is in striking out opponents. Bucs’ pitchers struck out 7.1 batters per 9 innings in April. Last season they struck out 6.4/9 innings in March/April and had a high mark of 6.9 K/9 in July. Newcomers Erik Bedard (8.1 K/9) and A.J. Burnett (10.1) have a lot to do with the higher number, as does Jeff Karstens‘ injury keeping him off the mound (3.8).

Pirates’ April opponents had a combined .570 winning percentage (90-68). That’s like playing a playoff team every game for a month. The only team on the schedule under .500 was 11-12 Philadelphia. May’s schedule should be easier. The teams on the docket combined for only a 113-110 record (.507) in April.

Other Notes:

The Pirates won three series, lost three series and split one.

Record vs
NL East: 4-3, 24 RS, 21 RA (3.43 RS/G, 3.0 RA/G)
NL Central: 1-2, 4 RS, 9 RA (1.33 RS/G, 3.0 RA/G)
NL West: 5-7, 30 RS, 36 RA (2.50 RS/G, 3.0 RA/G)

Home: 5-4, 22 RS, 22 RA (2.44 RS/G, 2.44 RA/G)
Away: 5-8, 36 RS, 44 RA (2.77 RS/G, 3.38 RA/G)

1 Run games: 5-6
2 Run games: 2-0
3 Run games: 1-2
4 Run games: 1-2
5 Run games: 0-2
6 Run games: 1-0

Summary: The Pirates are probably an average team and in April they played like one; sometimes good, sometimes bad, usually somewhere in between. Theoretically, the upcoming easier schedule should allow them to get a few extra wins and go back above .500.

Braves Wrap Up

Scores:
Friday: 6-1 Loss at Atlanta. One bad inning from the bullpen. Box score.
Saturday: 4-2 Win at Atlanta. Score early and hang on late. Solid pitching. Box score.
Sunday: 4-3 Loss at Atlanta. Sloppy defense, 1 for 13 with RISP. Box score.
Monday: 9-3 Win at Atlanta. Finally, the bats break out. Box score.

Season Record: 10-12, 4th place in the NL Central

Splitting four games on the road versus a good team is a very acceptable result. Nice to see the bats come alive too.

Earlier I posted a little about Pedro Alvarez, but I want to reiterate that he was their best player this weekend. He looked loose and confident, which was a marked difference from how I saw him in March. Andrew McCutchen on the other hand looked to be pressing to get the big hit every time up. If both of those guys were hitting at the same time, watch out.

All four starters looked good. I watched James McDonald warm up in the bullpen and he was all over the place. When he started so shaky in the first and second it looked like it was going to be a long game. But as he sometimes does, he figured it out and shut the door on the Braves from that point on.

Combined Box

Pittsburgh   AB   R   H  RBI  BB  SO  LOB   AVG
McCutchen, A, CF 16 2 3 1 1 7 4 0.188
Walker, 2B 14 2 7 1 3 0 3 0.500
Alvarez, 3B 14 2 5 3 2 5 10 0.357
Tabata, RF 14 3 5 3 1 1 4 0.357
Presley, LF 13 2 4 1 1 4 1 0.308
Jones, G, 1B 12 0 2 2 0 5 2 0.167
Barmes, SS 11 0 0 0 0 3 9 0.000
McGehee, 1B 9 1 2 0 2 5 3 0.222
Barajas, C 8 2 2 0 3 2 4 0.250
Navarro, LF 4 2 2 3 0 0 3 0.500
McKenry, C 3 1 1 0 1 0 0 0.333
McDonald, J, P 3 0 0 0 1 1 2 0.000
Bedard, P 2 0 0 0 0 0 5 0.000
McLouth, PH 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.000
Burnett, AJ, P 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.000
Correia, P 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
126 17 33 14 15 34 51 0.262

Batting
Doubles (11): Presley (4), Alvarez 3 (4), Walker 2 (2), McCutchen (6), Jones (3), Tabata 2 (3), McGehee (3)
HomeRuns (2): Alvarez (5), Navarro (1)

BaseRunning
SB: McCutchen (5), Walker (1)
CS: Presley (3)

Fielding
Errors: Tabata (1), McCutchen (1), Alvarez (3), Resop (1)
Double Plays: (Walker-McGehee), (Barmes-Walker-Jones)

Pittsburgh     IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO  HR    ERA
McDonald, J(W, 1-1) 7.7 7 3 3 2 10 1 3.52
Burnett, A.J. (L, 1-1) 6.0 6 2 2 3 8 0 3.00
Bedard (W, 1-4) 5.0 5 1 1 2 9 0 1.80
Correia (L, 1-1) 4.3 4 3 2 5 0 0 4.15
Meek 2.7 4 1 1 0 1 0 3.38
Resop(H, 2) 2.3 3 1 1 0 1 0 3.86
Lincoln 2.0 2 1 1 1 2 1 4.50
Grilli (H, 4) 1.0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0.00
Hanrahan (S, 4) 1.0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0.00
Cruz, J (H, 2) 1.0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.00
Watson 1.0 1 3 3 2 0 0 27.00
34.0 33 15 14 15 36 2 3.71

Transaction: After Sunday’s game Evan Meek was optioned to AAA. Jared Hughes was called back up.

Up Next:
Three games in St. Louis (14-8, 1st place in NL Central). Earlier in the year the Cards took two of three from the Pirates. Expected Matchups:
Charlie Morton (1-1, 2.65 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (0-3, 7.32 ERA)
A.J. Burnett (1-1, 1.38 ERA) vs Lance Lynn (4-0, 1.33 ERA)
Erik Bedard (1-4, 2.48 ERA) vs. Jake Westbrook (3-1, 1.30 ERA)

Weekend Preview: The Braves

Sorry for not posting after Wednesday’s game 2. I needed to unplug for a bit but I’m back, refreshed and ready for a packed weekend.

For one inning, the bats finally came alive. Fortunately, that was enough. A five-spot in the fifth gave the Bucs all they would need to beat the Rockies, split the doubleheader and take the series. Props go to Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez for back-to-back homers. A big assist goes out to Rockies’ LF Carlos Gonzalez who twice lost balls in the sun before switching to a pair of flip-down shades.

Current record: 8-10, 4th place in NL Central, 3.5 games back

Up Next: Atlanta Braves, 12-7, 2nd place in NL East, 2 games back

I will be LIVE at all four games this series, since its my one chance to see the Pirates this season without travelling. If you’ll be there too then let me know and we can meet up. Last year all four games went long – two rain delays and two extra inning tilts – including the 19 inning Jerry Meals affair.

Probable Pitchers
Friday: RH Tommy Hanson (2-2, 24 IP, 23 K, 3.38 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)
vs. RH A.J. Burnett (1-0, 7 IP, 7 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP)

Saturday: RH Randall Delgado (2-1, 15.2 IP, 17 K, 5.74 ERA, 1.53 WHIP)
vs. LH Erik Bedard (0-4, 24 IP, 17 K, 2.63 ERA, 1.42 WHIP)

Sunday: RH Tim Hudson (2012 debut)
vs. RH Kevin Correia (1-0, 18 IP, 9 K, 2.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP)

Monday: LH Mike Minor (2-1, 26.1 IP, 21 K, 3.42 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
vs. RH James McDonald (0-1, 22.2 IP, 14 K, 2.78 ERA, 1.01 WHIP)

No lineup available yet, but here’s my guess:

Alex Presley LF
Jose Tabata RF
Andrew McCutchen CF
Neil Walker 2B
Garrett Jones 1B
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Clint Barmes SS
Rod Barajas C
A.J. Burnett P

There’s a decent chance that Nate McLouth starts two games this series. See you at the Park.

Update: The lineup is in and I was way off. I thought Clint Hurdle would go with the “normal” order due to yesterday’s off day. Actual Lineup:
Alex Presley LF
Clint Barmes SS
Andrew McCutchen CF
Garrett Jones RF
Neil Walker 2B
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Casey McGehee 1B
Rod Barajas C
A.J. Burnett P

Burnett a Beast, Alvarez Atones

A.J. Burnett‘s surprise debut started off roughly: A four pitch walk to Rafael Furcal, a single from Matt Carpenter, and a five pitch walk to Matt Holliday loaded the bases with no one out. But from that point on, Burnett was nearly untouchable. Two strikeouts and a line drive to short got him out of the first. He set down the next nine in a row. Only two other Cardinals would reach base in his seven innings. He even survived a bunting attempt in the third. It was exactly the kind of outing the team had hoped for when they acquired him in February.

The offensive hero of the night? None other than Pedro Alvarez, who had been 2 for 30 coming into the night.  In the fourth inning, a hot shot to third that David Freese couldn’t field cleanly brought in Andrew McCutchen with the game’s first run. In the sixth, Pedro would knock in Cutch again with a hard grounder to right. Hopefully this will be the start of changing fortunes for Alvarez.

Joel Hanrahan made his first appearance since tweaking his hamstring in San Francisco. He wasn’t sharp, walking two, but finished off the game to nail down the Pirates’ sixth win. The rubber match is today at 1:35.

Correia Hurt, Burnett activated.

I’m posting this from my phone so please forgive the lack of links. The Pirates have announced that tonight’s starting pitcher, Kevin Correia, has been scratched due to discomfort in his left side. A left oblique injury forced Correia to miss the end of last season.

Starting in his place will be A.J. Burnett, who was supposed to make his final rehab start tonight in Altoona. A corresponding roster move will be announced before the start of the game.

Update 4/22, 10:58: Jared Hughes was optioned to AAA to make room for Burnett. Added links.

Karstens to DL, Lincoln called up

Jeff Karstens lasted just one inning in last night’s 5-4 win over Arizona. Today he was placed on the 15-day DL with what was called “shoulder inflamation” last night. Brad Lincoln has been called up from AAA.

The bullpen was used extensively last night due to Karstens’ short outing so look for Lincoln to get some work in this afternoon’s rubber match (3:40 start). A.J. Burnett is scheduled to make one more rehab start in the minors before he is activated, but this injury could change that. Expect either Lincoln or Burnett to take Karstens’ turn on Sunday.

Quick Note: Be sure to send well wishes and prayers to Pirates Prospects’ Kristy Robinson, who was in a bad car accident yesterday. Get well soon, Kristy!

Update: Today’s lineup was just tweeted:
Presley 7
Barmes 6
McCutchen 8
Walker 4
McGehee 3
Jones 9
Alvarez 5
McKenry 2
McDonald 1

Clint Barmes batting second? Ugh. Jose Tabata is sitting for the second day in a row. No word of any injury there.

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