Back Home Series Preview- Pittsburgh Pirates Take 2

Season Series: Pirates lead 2-1

Anybody think the Pirates would enter this series with a better record than the Dodgers?  Me neither, but here we are and the Pirates come to the Ravine in a rematch of the opening weekend series.

Old Friends: Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young, Joel Hanrahan

Position Breakdown

1st Base-  As noted in the first series preview the Pirates awareded the starting first base job to converted catcher Jeff Clement.  Clement never figured to be an excellent defensive first basemean and Phil was concerned that Clement could hit enough to play first base.  The answer so far appears to be "no." Clement is struggling at the plate and enters the series with a wOBA of .269. Clement has been a bit unlucky sporting a BABIP of .216 on the young season.

2nd Base- Akinori Iwamura came over from the Rays and has been the Pirates every day second baseman and leadoff man. Iwamura was considered a pretty solid on base man but has been dreadful so far this season, sporting an OBP of .294.  Iwamura is the second member of the Pirates infield to have a sub .300 wOBA to start the year. 

SS - Ronny Cedeno came over from the Mariners to replace Jack Wilson and is considered to be an inferior fielder to Wilson. Cedeno hasn't brought much at the plate either as he is the 3rd member of the Pirates infield with a sub .300 wOBA (.297.) 

3rd Base - Andy LaRoche (hey I remember this guy) came over from the Dodgers in the Manny deal. The opening series preview noted that LaRoche started finding his power stroke at the end of last season and that has certainly carried over so far this season. The former top prospect for the Dodgers currently has an OPS of .959 and a wOBA of .432.  As great as this start is for LaRoche its built on a shaky foundation at this point. His BABIP is absurdly high at .459 and his ISO is nothing to write home about at .089. It seems LaRoche is getting a bit lucky on balls finding holes resulting in extra base hits, despite hitting in a pretty hitter friendly park. 

C - Ryan Doumit continues to be the everyday starting catcher for the Pirates.  Doumit has some pop and has racked up 2 home runs so far this season to go along with a solid wOBA of .356.

CF - Andrew McCutchen who broke out in 2009, hasn't quite been able to duplicate his success so far this season. McCutchen has dropped his average, on-base percentage and his slugging percentage since last season and has an OPS of only .710 so far this season.  I haven't yet heard if Neal Huntington has blamed McCutchen for the Pirates slow start, but I'll continue to check the Pittsburgh press.  

OF - Lastings Milledge was once a top Met prospect but he has actually continued to get worse at the plate.  He's still young at 24 years but he is on borrowed time as a major league player if he doesn't drastically improve his OPS of .557 and wOBA of .247. It seems the Pirates are platooning Milledge with Church for the time being. 

OF - Garrett Jones was the MVP of the opening series as he punished the Dodgers with the long ball.  Last season Jones hit 21 home runs along with a .938 OPS. Jones was destined for a drop off since the opening series against the Dodgers but the regression to the mean has been pretty brutal with Jones currently sitting at an OPS of .748 and a wOBA of .342. 

OF - Ryan Church came into the season as the backup to Milledge but has actually started in 2 of the past 4 games.  Church remains a capable backup as he has decent on base skills and some pop.  On the season, Church has a wOBA of .332. 

OF - Delywn Young has the same role with Pittsburgh as he had with the Dodgers which is a lefty pinch hitter.  After a huge spring Young hasn't done much with limited plate appearances so far as he's posted a wOBA of only .290.

Starting Pitching for our Series:

Game One - Brian Burres - Burres was called up earlier in the week and is scheduled to make the spot start in Game 1.  Burress has appeared in 3 games for the Pirates this season and made 1 start (0-1 record.) So far his numbers have been pretty terrible, ERA 9.31, FIP of 5.97 and x-FIP of 7.03. 

Game Two - Charlie Morton - At first glance Morton appears to be even worse than Burres with his ERA of 16.20 and his 0-4 record. Unlike Burres though, Morton has been very unlucky.  Morton enters the series with an x-FIP of only 4.61 and transitioning from the hitter friendly Pittsburgh stadium to the pitcher friendly Ravine will be a welcome change for Morton.  If theres one pitcher in this series who figures to have a "where did that come from" peformance, Morton is due. 

Game Three - Zach Duke - Duke was the opening day starter against the Dodgers who came away with the victory.  Duke has been struggling so far this year with his x-FIP up to 5.20 compared to 4.31 last season.  Duke doesn't strike out a lot of hitters and has been struggling a bit with his control compared to last season. 

Game Four- Jeff Karstens - Karstens will be making his second start of the season.  Karstens isn't a particularly good pitcher with an x-FIP of 5.50 last season along with an ERA of 5.42.  The 27 year old Karstens started the year in AAA Indianapolis where he didn't exactly dominate racking up a FIP of 4.47.

Bullpen:

The Pirate bullpen has also struggled. Octavio Dotel was imported from the White Sox to take over the closer duties that left with Matt Capps. Dotel on the year has appeared in 8 games and has an x-FIP of 4.00 which is much better than his ERA of 12.27.  Joel Hanrahan the ex - closer for the Nationals and one time Dodger prospect is the primary setup man. Evan Meek leads the Pittsburgh bullpen with an x-FIP of 2.74.

Series Prediction:

You would think after the Dodgers have been dreadful on the road after we had picked series victories would leave me a little gun-shy about making a prediction, but I just can't help myself. I see nothing that suggests the Dodgers shouldn't take at least 3 out of 4. Even though the Pirates enter the series with the better record, the Pirates enter the series with a run differential of <77> compared to the Dodgers at a <14>. We've seen the Dodgers put in some good hitting performances and pitching performances, I am betting that the return to the West will finally see the Dodgers firing on all cylinders. 

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