Monday, May 23, 2011

Pirates vs. Braves (Series Seventeen)

While a sweep would have been nice a series win is good enough for me. The Pirates have now matched last year’s inter-league total of wins in just one series. Any wins beyond on that are an improvement over last season and it’s only May! The Pirates probably would have swept the Tigers but Paul Maholm pitched and, as everyone knows, the Pittsburgh Pirates can’t score runs for him.

Something the Pirates have to be used to by now is playing a team with whom they had a losing record against last season. The Atlanta Braves are no different. Before I get into that though I must mention my seething hatred for this evil organization. I have a lot of ill-will towards the last team to defeat the Pirates in a winning season, and it obviously stems from that last game. The game that ruined the Pirates, and my, World Series dreams. The series that led to an unwatchable World Series for me, and the series that would engender a hatred of Barry Bonds that lasts to this day.

I’m not sure if it’s punishment for the cocaine trials, or just karma for having such a great organization like the Steelers to root for, but the baseball gods came together that fateful night to not only ruin the dreams of at least one young child, but they gave us a small glimpse of what was to come in the next 18 years. The hell of that game is pretty much a microcosm of the Pirates long losing streak. Maybe my hatred of the Braves in unwarranted? Maybe the Pirates would have lost that series to any team? Maybe the Braves were a bystander to divine Baseball God intervention? Maybe I’m being unreasonable?

I have never claimed to be a reasonable person.

I abhor the Braves. I hate CNN. I hated WCW. I hate the chop. I hate that, despite having a solid team and great young talent, their fans only filled the stadium to 61 percent last season. And I hated Bobby Cox and his played up, incessant whining.

Anyway, the Pirates were 3-6 last season against the Braves being outscored 41-24. They only go two games this series and have yet another day off. The Pirates are going to have a day off before and after this short series. A bit odd considering how much traveling they’ve done thus far after three and four games.

The Braves probable pitchers are Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson Mike Minor.

Jair Jurrjens (25) RHP

Jurrjens has had a kind of up and down career. My earliest memories of him were when the Jack Wilson to the Tigers rumors wouldn’t die. I really liked the idea back then, and have kind of followed him ever since. Jurrjens was traded for a shortstop though this one was an Atlanta Brave named Edgar Renteria. Another interesting note was that the Braves also picked up Pirates prospect and Indianapolis Indians outfielder Gorkys Hernandez in that trade.

After the trade to Atlanta Jurrjens rattled off two 13+ win seasons in 2008 and 2009, posting an ERA of 3.68 and 2.60 respectively. While that 2.60 ERA is phenomenal Jurrjens’ FIP of 3.68 is probably a much more accurate representation of what he is.

He struggled a bit last season though, missing time in the early going with a hamstring injury. He only started 20 games last year and his homers went through the roof. Jurrjens normally has been very good at keeping the ball in the park, but last year he gave up 13 homers in 116.1 innings, compared to 15 in 215.0 innings the season before. He also gave up more hits, 1.5 more per nine innings that the season before. His BB numbers stayed consistent, and his SO actually increase so it’s obvious that his problems last year can probably be chalked up to guys hitting him better. Pretty obvious huh?

This year Jurrjens seems to be doing much better. His HR numbers are back down to normal rates (.4 per nine right now!), his H/9 is .5 less than his career average at 7.9, and he is walking a scant 1.4 batters per nine. All those numbers explain why his record is 5-1 and his ERA is just 1.80.

With numbers like that it’s hard to call him anything but a stud thus far. He has seven quality starts in seven games this season and has more SO than BB in every single one. He has thrown 100 or more pitches in five of those seven games and has lasted more than 6.0 innings six times. To say Jurrjens is on fire right now is an understatement.

I guess if there is one positive it’s that Jurrjens has been better at home than on the road. His only loss came on the road this season and his ERA is a nearly human 1.93 in four starts. His WHIP on the road is a realistic 1.357 compared to his home WHIP of .636, and his SO/BB on the road is 2.50, compared to 7.00 at home. On the road opposing hitters are putting up a line of .286/.328/.420 with both homers, at home the line looks like something Pedro Ciriaco would hit, .164/.187/.233.

Jurrjens did not face the Pirates last season but has faced them four times. He has gotten a decision in each game and his ERA is 3.13 against the Buccos. He has never allowed a homer to the Pirates and has stuck out 24 batters in his 23.0 innings. His nine walks leave him with a pretty solid 2.67 career SO/BB against the Bucs and he has allowed just 18 hits total. The Pirates career slash line is a somewhat pathetic .217/.309/.289 against Jurrjens. The aforementioned four decisions against the Pirates? 1-3. Proving once again that you can’t judge a pitcher based solely on wins and losses.

Half of Jurrjens’ starts against the Buccos actually came at PNC Park, and that’s where he picked up two of his losses. His ERA is actually slightly better at PNC (3.09) but all his other numbers are just basically the same. There really isn’t much difference in him at PNC Park as opposed to facing the Pirates anywhere else.

Mike Minor (23) LHP

Atlanta Braves prospect, and the #37th ranked prospect entering the season by Baseball America, Mike Minor will take the ball for the Braves in place of veteran Tim Hudson, who is sidelined with a stiff back.

Minor doesn’t have a ton of experience in the majors, and has had just one start this year. His one start ended pretty badly, giving up five earned runs in just 4.2 innings. He also allowed seven hits, walked four, and only struck out two. That occurred on April 6th, and he was sent to the minors after.

He made eight starts for AAA Gwinnett, posting a 2-2 record and a fantastic 2.56 ERA. Minor seems to have little to prove at the Triple A level, dominating the level in his few starts there. Last year he started six games there going 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA.

Still he has failed to have success at the Major League level. He is a control pitcher and those types can take a little longer to develop than guys who can just blow pitches by batters. Maybe some time at AAA, even if the domination continues wouldn’t be a bad thing for him.

Minor made nine appearances for the Braves last season, picking up eight starts and a 3-2 record. All three of his wins came in his first four games and his only three games of 6 innings came in the first three. After those three he lasted no more than five innings, and his first three starts were his only three quality starts. Minor struggled big time in his last five games with the big club, going 0-2 with an 8.66 ERA while giving up a line of .377/.402/.701 allowing 29 hits in just 17.2 innings.

One thing Minor did do last season was strike guys out. Minor posted a very nice SO/9 or 9.5, or 43 SO in 40.2 innings. That is a bit lower than his minor league numbers, but is a pretty reasonable estimation of where he might end up in that regard. His minor league numbers are just absurd, striking out 10.4 per nine while walking 2.9. Minor doesn’t have the most overpowering stuff (high 80s to low 90s), but he throws four pitches and has a good changeup. He has pretty good control and isn’t afraid to throw all his pitches for strikes.

Minor has never faced the Pirates.


vs. Jurrjens

vs. Braves

Pedro Alvarez



Xavier Paul



Ronny Cedeno



Matt Diaz



Ryan Doumit



Garrett Jones



Andrew McCutchen



Lyle Overbay



Steve Pearce



Brandon Wood



Chris Snyder



Jose Tabata



Neil Walker



Pedro Ciriaco



The Pirates probable pitchers are Charlie Morton and James McDonald.

Charlie Morton (27) RHP

Charlie Morton gets the start against the team that traded him. Just what the doctor ordered for all the lunatics who follow Bob Smizik and Dejan Kovacevic a Morton vs. McLouth duel. How anyone is still knocking this trade I do not know, but Morton seems to have transformed himself into a stopper, and is the unquestioned Ace (at least from a performance standpoint) of this staff.

Morton takes his 5-1 record and 2.62 ERA into this game after yet another complete game against the Reds. It’s one thing for Morton to be winning games and getting guys out, it’s another thing entirely that he has pitched 55 innings over his eight starts, that’s just under seven innings per start for the guy who had so much trouble last season even getting outs. Morton has failed to go 6 or more just twice in eight starts, and every single time he has gone 6 or more he has had a quality start.

Morton has received criticism for his somewhat poor secondary numbers but they are starting to get to at least a reasonable place. His SO/BB does need to improve, and it slowly is, but results are what matters. Can Morton continue to keep getting results with poor secondary numbers? I doubt it. I also doubt his secondary numbers will continue to be so poor. Morton is still learning, still building confidence, still figuring his control out. I would think his secondary numbers will eventually match his ERA and record, not the other way around.

This isn’t the first time Morton has faced his former team. Last season he picked up the loss in his only start against the Braves. It wasn’t a bad start, in fact it was a quality start. Morton lasted six innings, giving up two earned (both solo homers), on six hits. He struck out and walked three batters. Not a great start, but definitely put his team in a position to win, something this team proved time and again wasn’t enough last year. His only other start against the Braves came on June 10, 2009 and he gave up one hit and no runs in just one inning of work.

Morton has been better at home this year, hopefully it keeps up. At PNC Morton has a 1.74 ERA (compared to a 3.15 on the road) and guys are hitting him to the tune of .222/.305/.306 (slightly lower than on the road where guys are hitting him at a .234/.324/.289 rate). Surprisingly though the numbers at home seem a bit better, Morton is 4-1 on the road and just 1-0 at home.

James McDonald (26) RHP

James McDonald answered some questions his last time out, bouncing back pretty well from his disastrous start in Milwaukee to pick up the win against the Reds. McDonald is slowly getting his ERA back in line and his current 5.21 ERA is the lowest it has been since his 3.86 after his first start of the season. McDonald now has four quality starts in the last five games, and all three of his wins have come over that same span. McDonald seems to be getting back into the form we saw last season, and I think the time he missed in Spring Training was definitely the culprit.

McDonald is another player who had poor secondary numbers but seems to be getting them back in line. In his first four games he had the exact same amount of walks and K’s in each game, then in his fifth game he had one more walk than SO. Since then he has had more SO than BB in all four games, and not just one more walk. McDonald has a total of 17 more strikeouts than walks in that four game span and unsurprisingly the Pirates are also 3-1 over that time.

McDonald picked up the win in his only start against the Braves last season, throwing seven innings of five hit, shutout ball at PNC Park.

PNC Park was good to McDonald last season. In six starts he was 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA. That success has carried over to PNC Park this year too. While McDonald has struggled overall this season he has been great at PNC. JMac has a 1-0 record at PNC with an ERA of 2.41 in three starts there. He is averaging just over 6 IP per game and has given up just 13 hits in his 18.2 innings.

McDonald has just two more appearances against the Braves, both as a reliever, and has never allowed a run. He has pitched a total of four innings of relief as a Dodger giving up no hits or runs.

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