Monday, August 24, 2015

Next Up: The Miami Marlins

Since the beginning of July, the Pirates have played 30 games against teams that, at the time of the game, had a winning record, and only 16 games against teams below .500. It hasn't hurt them, as they've played better against the winning teams (22-8) than the losing teams (9-7). Tonight start a streak of ten straight games against teams with records below .500--three of the five worst teams in the National League, in fact--with four games in Miami against the Marlins.

How Are They Doing Lately? This is probably the most salient fact about the Marlins: Their two most recognizable stars are right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and starting pitcher Jose Fernandez. Due to injuries (a broken bone in Stanton's hand, recovery from Tommy John surgery and a strained muscle for Fernandez), the two have not been active at the same time all season. As a result, the Marlins, picked by some (not I) to possibly contend this year, are tied with the Phillies for the worst record in the National League East, just percentage points ahead of the Rockies (whom the Pirates play next) for the worst record in baseball. Over the last 30 days, their 9-18 record is the fourth worst in the National League. They've scored 4.0 runs per game, the fifth fewest, while allowing 5.1, the third most. The Pirates, by contrast, arrive in Miami with the second-best record in the National League: 18-8, tied with the Mets.

What's Going Right? Marlins starting pitchers have a pretty terrible record over the past 30 days, with a 4-13 won-lost record and a 5.26 ERA, but one could argue that they've been unlucky: a .326 batting average on balls in play (the National League average is .308) and only 65% of baserunners left stranded (average 72%), both likely markers of luck as much as skill. With more normal performance, though, the starters would be average, not good. On offense, they've been the toughest team in the National League to strike out over the past 30 days, largely because they've swung at pitches outside the strike zone less frequently than any other team.

What's Going Wrong? One of the reasons the starting pitchers have allowed 35% of baserunners to score compared to the league average of 28% is the bullpen. The relievers' 4.48 ERA is the fourth worst in the league over the past 30 days. They've allowed the second highest walk rate in the league and allowed an above-average number of homers. At the plate, the Marlins' .249 batting average over the last 30 days is the fifth lowest in the league, their .311 on base percentage sixth lowest, and their .360 slugging percentage the worst. Their team speed has enabled them to leg out 13 triples over the last 30 days, the most in the league, but they are last in doubles with 29 (the only team with fewer than 35) and homers with 15 (four fewer than the next-worst team). 

Who's Hot? Left fielder Derek Dietrich leads the team in home runs (five), runs (17), RBI (14), walks (12), on base percentage (.376), and slugging percentage (.506) over the past 30 days. Second baseman Dee Gordon's hit .323 with a .368 on base percentage and eight stolen bases. Cole Gillespie has filled in at all three outfield positions, batting .328 with a .388 on base percentage. Over the last 30 days, rookie left-handed starter Justin Nicolino (he'll start Thursday night's game, opposing Gerrit Cole) has a 3.60 ERA but only seven strikeouts over 20 innings. Tomorrow night's starter, lefty Brad Hand, has a 3.13 ERA. The only Marlins starters with lower ERAs over the last 30 days are Fernandez, who's hurt, and Dan Haren, who's been traded. Setup man Bryan Morris has six holds and a 2.53 ERA over the past 30 days, though he's walked as many batters as he's struck out (five each in 10.2 innnings).

Who's Not? Between injuries and trades, the Marlins have had to mix-and-match with the starting rotation, and ten different starters have gotten the ball over the past 30 days. Excluding Nicolino, Hand, Fernandez, Haren, and another traded veteran, Mat Latos, the remaining Marlins starters have a combined 7.66 ERA over 15 starts. Closer A.J. Ramos had given up four homers, seven walks, and 11 hits over his last 11 innings, good for an 8.18 ERA. Rookie first baseman Justin Bour has cooled off, with a .215/.295/.316 slash line over the past 30 days, and third baseman Casey McGehee has been worse at .156/.240/.200. Catcher J.T. Realmuto's hit .205 with a .266 on base percentage during the span. 

What's the Outlook? The Marlins are not a good ball club, but the Pirates haven't always done well against weaker competition (4-9 against Cincinnati, 6-6 against Milwaukee). However, they did sweep three from Miami in May, when they had Stanton in the lineup. With the Pirates playing ten games against three of the worst teams in the league at the same time the Cardinals play ten against teams with winning records (the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Nationals), there's an opportunity for the Pirates to pick up ground heading into a Labor Day weekend matchup in St. Louis.

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