Thursday, August 20, 2015

Next Up: The San Francisco Giants

The Pirates swept three games against the Giants in June. They'll try to keep beating up on the National League West (16-3 so far this season) with four against the Giants starting tonight in PNC Park.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Giants are 16-11 over the past 30 days, tying with the Mets for the fourth best record in the National League. (The Pirates are third at 17-9. Exasperatingly, the Cardinals are first and the Cubs second.) The Giants have scored 4.70 runs per game, fifth most in the league, and allowed 3.30, tied with the Mets for the second fewest. Their run differential is second to the Mets', and is suggestive of a team with a better record than the 16-11. The Giants start play today two games behind the Dodgers in the West and three behind the Cubs for the second wild card.

What's Going Right? The Giants' starting pitching, a problem much of the season, has been better of late, and the club's 3.49 starters ERA is third best in the league over the past 30 days. They've allowed the fourth fewest home runs in the league over the period despite getting fewer ground balls than any other team. The bullpen's 2.51 ERA is third best in the league over the past 30 days, and they've been the second-stingiest relief corps at allowing walks, but the .237 batting average the relievers have allowed on balls in play is probably not sustainable. On offense, the Giants are fourth in batting (.265), fifth in on base percentage (.323), and fifth in slugging (.429) over the past 30 days. They've been the third-hardest team to fan and have an excellent 21-4 record on steal attempts.

What's Going Wrong? The National League Central, that's what. The Giants are 9-11 against the Pirates' division this year. Within the last 30 days, they've taken two of three from Milwaukee but lost four straight to the Cubs and two of three to the Cardinals.

Who's Hot? The Giants have gotten power from shortstop Brandon Crawford (seven homers, 20 RBI, .313/.346/.625 slash line) and first baseman Brandon Belt (eight homers, 22 RBI, .273/.360/.545); high averages from catcher Buster Posey (.340/.373/.468) and rookie third baseman Matt Duffy (.321/.347/.473), and speed from outfielder Gregor Blanco (7 stolen bases, 18 runs) over the past 30 days. World Series hero Madison Bumgarner has a 2.06 ERA and a 4-1 record over the past 30 days, with 50 strikeouts and only three walks over 39.1 innings pitched. He'll start Friday. Ryan Vogelsong, who'd been demoted to the bullpen as he struggled earlier this season, has a 2.40 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15 innings over his past three starts, and could start Sunday. (The Giants haven't named their Sunday starter yet.) Setup man Sergio Romo has been dominant over the last 30 days, with a save and six holds. He's allowed five hits, one walk, no runs, and has struck out 17.

Who's Not? The Giants' entire outfield--left fielder Nori Aoki, center fielder Angel Pagan, and right fielder Hunter Pence--is on the disabled list. (Aoki's back today.) One of the fill-ins, Justin Maxwell, is batting .189 with a .216 slugging percentage over the last 30 days. Injured second baseman Joe Panik's replacement, Ehire Adrianza, is batting .205 with a .273 slugging percentage over the past 30 days. Closer Santiago Casilla has been wobbly, with a 6.43 ERA over the last 30 days.

What's the Outlook? While the Giants are banged up, the Pirates could get third baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer back during the Giants series. Despite their injuries, the Giants have played well. Tonight's game is the Pirates' tenth in a span of 20 straight days with no time off. Adding the two veterans could give others on the roster a breather.

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