After winning a Labor Day matinee by a 5-1 score, the Astros go up against a familiar face tonight in Pittsburgh. Wandy Rodriguez takes the mound for the slumping Pirates against the Astros and Jordan Lyles. It will be the second time Rodriguez has faced his former team since being traded earlier this season. Wandy got a no-decision against Houston in his Pirates debut on July 28.
The lowly Astros are 2-1 in September, after winning only five games last month and three in their franchise worst month of July. Tony DeFrancesco sends this lineup out to face Wandy tonight in an attempt to gain a rare series win.
Astros fans get their first look at Brandon Laird at 3B and Jimmy Paredes will be in LF for the first time.
Rodriguez has had a bit of a tough time since joining the Buccos, going 2-4 with a 4.12 ERA in six starts and one relief appearance. One of the wins came courtesy of his lone bullpen appearance in an extra-inning game. Wandy didn’t get a win as a starter for the Pirates until his most recent outing, last Wednesday, when he threw six shutout innings against the Cardinals.
After residing at or near the top of the division for the first half of the season, the Bucs have fallen on hard times lately. Pittsburgh has lost four in a row and ten of their last thirteen. The recent tailspin has dropped the Pirates 2.5 games behind St. Louis and two games behind the Dodgers for the second wilcard spot. Pittsburgh fans have to be saying, “oh no – here we go again” after experiencing a massive collapse last season. The 2011 Pirates went from a first place team in late July to a 90-loss team by the end of the season. It was their twentieth consecutive losing year, many of which have been at or around the 100 loss mark.
Andrew McCutchen looked like a shoo-in for the MVP Award until a recent drop-off. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still in the running and has plenty of time to turn things back around, but August was a killer for the Pirates centerfielder. Only two of McCutchen’s 24 homers have come since August 1. His OPS that remained north of an incredible 1.000 all season has dropped to .964. Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones have helped pick up the slack, but the Pirates need McCutchen to get back to performing at his super-human level if they are going to contend.
Pitchers A.J. Burnett and James McDonald have also come back down to earth after performing at star levels for most of the season. Erik Bedard had a 3.12 ERA at the end of May but was released when it ballooned to over five in late August.
The Pirates have had a Jekyll and Hyde offense all year, going from the worst in the league in the early going – to the best for more than a month – only to become inconsistent in recent weeks. If they can get it back in gear the sky is the limit, otherwise Pirates fans could be looking at a 21st consecutive losing season. If the Astros win this series it will be time to take away any and all sharp objects from our friends who root for the Buccos.