The road ahead isn’t easy for the Pittsburgh Pirates as they face off against a pair of National League contenders this week.
Following a pair of series victories against the New York Mets and San Diego Padres, the Pittsburgh Pirates (40-43) seem to be trending in a bit of a positive direction for the time being.
That’s the good news for a team that hasn’t won much since the middle of May when they disguised themselves as contenders in the National League Central.
The bad news is that this next week won’t be a walk in the park by any means for the Bucs.
The Pirates, who sit eight games back in fourth place in the NL Central, begin a three game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers (44-39) tonight. The Dodgers are tied for second place in the NL West and sit 2.5 games behind the first place Arizona Diamondbacks.
Following a day off Thursday, the Bucs return home to Pittsburgh to host the Philadelphia Phillies (45-37). Like the Dodgers, the Phillies are also in second place in their division, trailing the Atlanta Braves by three games for the lead in the NL East. During the last meeting between the two teams in April, the Phillies swept the Pirates in four games and outscored them, 18-5.
The Pirates are going from taking four of six from two of the worst teams in the NL to playing a pair of the best. Here are some of the matchups to watch out for during this week in Pirates baseball.
Josh Harrison vs. Alex wood
Wood hasn’t exactly had the best season for the Dodgers, sporting a 4.00 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 16 starts. However, he has been stellar over his last three outings, allowing five earned runs in 18.2 innings. In that span, Wood has struck out 15 and walked three while leading Los Angeles to wins against the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs.
In the past, Wood has been able to have a good amount of success against the Pirates. He is 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) against the Pirates in his career. Wood has punched out 47 batters and walked nine in 44 innings.
There are only three members of the Pirates current roster that Wood has faced more than 10 times. He has held Starling Marte to a .250 average in 16 at-bats while Jordy Mercer is hitting .313 against Wood in 16 career AB’s.
Josh Harrison has the most career at-bats of any Pirate against Wood. In his career against the southpaw, Harrison is 6 for 19 (.316) with a solo home run and two doubles. Wood has also gotten the best of Harrison via the punch out, setting him down on strikes three times.
There shouldn’t really be any doubt that Harrison will be in tonight’s lineup against Wood and the Dodgers, despite the fact that he’s hitting .185 with 10 strikeouts over his last 15 games.
If Harrison is in the lineup, he might be faced with a nice opportunity to get things back on track against a familiar opponent, while Wood will look to continue his stellar string of starts against a team sitting near the bottom of its division.
Corey dickerson vs. clayton kershaw
This matchup very well might not happen during this series as you never really know what Clint Hurdle is going to do with his lineup on a daily basis. But it’s still a matchup worth noting considering Corey Dickerson hasn’t exactly fared well against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in past meetings.
To be honest, Kershaw has absolutely owned Dickerson, who is 2 for 12 in his career against the best pitcher in baseball. In those 12 meetings, Kershaw has done what he does best, punching out Dickerson eight times.
Kershaw, who will start tomorrow night, has been plagued by injuries this season, but he looks as if he is back healthy and ready to continue the dominance that has allowed him to compile 2,183 strikeouts and carry a 2.38 ERA over his 11 year career.
Considering Dickerson’s past struggles against Kershaw along with the fact that he’s a lefty going up against another lefty, the Pirates left fielder could very well be held out of the Pirates lineup tomorrow night.
But on the other hand, Hurdle could also look at the fact that Dickerson is hitting .295 against left handed pitching and give him the opportunity to put a halt to his struggles against Kershaw.
Dickerson has had his fair share of struggles over his last 15 games, hitting below .200. With that being said, I don’t expect to see him in tomorrow’s lineup. But if we do, I don’t expect the matchup against Kershaw to end up in Dickerson’s favor.
Elias Diaz vs. nick pivetta
I’m sure Philadelphia fans were pleased with what they saw the last time Nick Pivetta pitched against the Pirates.
On April 22, Pivetta threw 6.1 solid innings against the Bucs, allowing two runs on five hits while walking a pair and striking out seven.
The only blemish on Pivetta’s line was a two-run home run by Pirates catcher Elias Diaz with one out in the fifth inning.
Pivetta gets another shot at the Bucs during this weekend’s series in Pittsburgh and Diaz could be waiting to do more damage.
In that last game against Pivetta, Diaz went 2 for 2 including the two-run blast.
Yes, it’s a small sample size as the two never faced one another before that particular matchup, but was that just the start of a long string of dominance for Diaz over Pivetta? Maybe.
Over his last seven games, Diaz has been heating up while getting more playing time with Francisco Cervelli on the disabled list.
Diaz is hitting .280 with a home run and six RBIs in his last seven contests. He is batting .294 on the season with six homers and 21 RBIs.
Pivetta hasn’t exactly had the same amount of success. The 25-year-old, who sported a 2.79 ERA in April and a 3.24 ERA in May, allowed three or more runs in four of his six starts in June while posting a 0-4 record along with a 7.71 ERA.
Pivetta allowed seven runs on seven hits in 1.2 innings against the Nationals in his last start Friday.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Pivetta’s struggles continue against the Pirates this weekend. And it also would be much of a shock to see Diaz continue to swing a hot bat and continue where he left off against the Phillies right-hander.