Cardinals (62-40) at Pirates (61-42)
7:05 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh
Here we go. The five game mega-series between the Pirates and Cardinals. I can’t remember the last time the Bucs played a five game series, and this one is probably bigger in length AND importance than any series in the history of PNC Park. The Bucs are 1.5 back of the Cards, who have played stellar baseball all season before getting swept in Atlanta this weekend. It’s tough to objectively say the Pirates are the better team right now, but they are in a position to prove that they are and can make a move down the stretch with a ton of head-to-head matchups coming up. Even during last year’s collapse, the Pirates played well against St. Louis and they went 3-2 against the Cards in April this season (Jonathan Sanchez and James McDonald pitched in the two losses), so there’s no reason to think they can’t match up with Mike Matheny‘s club.
If this series ends up 3-2 either way, it won’t change things very much. But a 4-1 or 5-0 swing either way would be enormous for the winning team. For the Pirates, it would vault them into first place and establish themselves as extremely legitimate division contenders. For the Cards, a big series win would distance themselves from the Bucs quite a bit and leave the Pirates hoping to hang on to a wild card. So, the stakes are pretty high this week – about as high as they could get in late July - and it’s going to be an unbelievable weeknight atmosphere at PNC Park.
This was actually yesterday’s pregame news (barely), but Tony Sanchez has indeed joined the team. Sanchez replaced Travis Snider on the roster….he hit the DL with discomfort in his left big toe. Yeah, I don’t know either.
Michael McKenry has also been placed on the DL after his injury on Saturday, so Sanchez is now the backup catcher and should make his first career start at catcher in game two tomorrow. The Pirates called up Alex Presley to replace McKenry, and Presley is in the lineup tonight as the slumping Starling Marte gets a day off. I think everyone would’ve rather seen the red-hot Andrew Lambo, but Presley is a lefty and is already on the 40-man, I guess.
Expect another move or two tomorrow, since teams can add a 26th man for doubleheaders. The Pirates will likely be adding a starting pitcher for the second game.
Nothing significant on the trade front yet. The deadline is Wednesday at 4 PM. Maybe the first three games of this series could affect how the Bucs approach it…
Jake Westbrook (7-4, 2.95) vs. Francisco Liriano (10-4, 2.23)
Westbrook is a good pitcher, but for whatever reason the Pirates have owned him in the past. It would be great if he can help cure this slumping offense. Even when he is at his best, he won’t strike out a bunch, which has to be good news for the whiff-happy Pirates.
Liriano returned to his brilliant form in his last start – a great outing against Strasburg and the Nats. The Pirates will look for him to set the tone tonight against the powerful Cards offense. Luckily for Frankie, they might finally be slumping a bit – the Braves shut them down this weekend in Atlanta.
Bucs vs. Westbrook
Cards vs. Liriano
Here’s the lineup for tonight’s game at PNC. #LetsGoBucs #PackPNC pic.twitter.com/A6u7DKleui
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) July 29, 2013