HOUSTON ASTROS (11-30) VS PITTSBURGH PIRATES (24-17)
PNC PARK IN PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA
The Houston Astros were able to snap their third six-game losing streak of the season on Wednesday. They had lost six straight games to the Tigers over the course of two series, and were finally able to snatch one away from Detroit in a wild, back-and-forth affair. Houston is off to their worst start in franchise history, and have the league’s worst pitching staff to thank. Now they get to face an old National League Central foe in their first interleague series of the season. In 2012 the Astros went 5-12 against the Pirates, including a 2-8 record at PNC Park.
After 20 straight losing seasons, the Pirates seem to be on the verge of righting the ship. Last season, their 79 wins was their highest win total since 1997. This year they look to not only break the losing streak, but find their way into the playoffs for the first time since 1992. The Pirates are currently in third place in the Central, and are just 2.5 back of the St. Louis Cardinals. They come into this series having taken three of four from the Brewers, and have won six of their last seven overall. The Pirates’ offense has been nothing to write home about, but their pitching has managed to carry them thus far. They have a 3.51 team ERA (5th best in the NL) and are holding hitters to a .223 batting average, which is best in all of baseball.
After having somewhat solid starts against the Angels and Tigers in his first two appearances of the year, Jordan Lyles was bum rushed by the Rangers on Sunday afternoon. He continued to lack command of his pitches and got shelled for 11 hits and eight runs in just four innings. This will be Lyles’ first road start of the season, and for his career, Lyles is 2-11 with a 6.14 ERA in 20 starts away from Minute Maid.
Jeanmar Gomez may not be a household name, but he has made 41 career starts for the Cleveland Indians and the Pirates. In three starts this season for the Pirates, the righty has thrown 14 innings, striking out 11 and allowing just three runs (all on solo homeruns). Jason Castro and J.D. Martinez are the only two Astros’ hitters with at-bats against Gomez; Martinez being 1-2 with a two-run homer in his career vs Gomez.
Erik Bedard had been demoted to the bullpen but after a major rotation shuffle, the Astros decided to give him another start against the tough Rangers’ lineup. Bedard went out and gave his team his best start of the season, throwing five innings and allowing just two runs. Bedard pitched for the Pirates in 2012, making 24 starts in-between his injuries. He ended the season 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA and a 4.07 FIP. His numbers were far better at PNC than away, posting a 3.26 ERA in 66.1 innings.
A.J. Burnett was able to revive his career last season with the Pirates. He finished 2012 going 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA and eclipsed the 200 inning mark for the first time since 2009. So far this season Burnett is off to an even better start. Burnett is racking up strikeouts at a career-high pace, striking out nearly 12/9 innings and 31.6% of the hitters he has faced. Left-handed hitters have fared much better versus Burnett than righties, putting up a .258/.378/.344 line, so expect to see Bo Porter load up on the lefties for this one.
Bud Norris continued his road struggles against the Tigers on Monday, allowing seven runs in five innings. He had to leave the game early with back spasms, and this start is still in doubt for him. So far this season, Norris has had four road starts and is 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA. Opponents are hitting .329 against Norris away from Houston, compared to .275 at home. In six career starts at PNC Park, Norris is 2-4 with a 3.96 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. He has managed to contain the Pirates’ best hitter, Andrew McCutchen, by holding him to a .233 average in 30 at-bats with no homeruns.
Jeff Locke forced his way into the Pirates’ rotation based on his good spring and minor league track record. So far the young lefty has rewarded them with quality starting pitching through eight starts. So far Locke has had some luck on his side, as evidenced by his 4.73 FIP. He is walking 10.5% of batters he has faced, and has managed to strand 80.8% of his base runners allowed. If he continues to put people on base, it will eventually catch up to him as he is not exactly a strikeout pitcher. I think the Astros score some runs in this game, and if Norris can give them at least a quality outing, they win this one.