Originally written on Raise the Jolly Roger!  |  Last updated 11/15/14
Reds (5-4) at Pirates (3-6) 7:05 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh MLB.com Gameday TV: ROOT The Bucs are back home from their west-coast road trip, but things don’t get any easier during this long 10-game homestand. All three opponents were in the playoffs last season and project to contend this season as well. First up: the defending NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were clearly the best team in the division last season and that should be the case again this year. The only major change they made over the winter was adding Shin-Shoo Choo, who solidifies their leadoff spot with a very good OBP guy (although he hurts their defense in CF). The Reds have solid starting pitching, a powerful lineup, and a lights-out back of the bullpen. They are going to be tough to beat and should be one of the best teams in the NL. They are off to a 5-4 start and are coming off a series loss at St. Louis. Last year before the Bucs collapsed (and during the collapse, I suppose), there was some bad blood between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. It’s early, but this has the feel of a fairly big weekend series. If the Pirates can set the tone with a strong showing this weekend, that would go a long way towards showing that they are ready to compete again in the division. Tonight’s starters… Mike Leake (0-0, 6.00) vs. A.J. Burnett (0-2, 3.27)  Leake gave up four runs in six innings in his first and only start of the year, striking out four and walking four. He’s a solid fifth guy in the rotation, but he’s just that – the fifth guy. This is the most favorable pitching matchup of the weekend for the Pirates and they need to take advantage of it.  The Bucs have seen Leake plenty of times in the past and have hit him OK. Burnett is 0-2 but has still pitched quite well in both his outings this year…he just needs some run support. The only issue with AJ’s performance so far this year is the fact that he failed to make it out of the sixth in both starts. He needs to be more efficient with his pitches early in the game. That said, it’s tough to keep the pitch count down when racking up so many strikeouts (19 in 11 innings). AJ fared pretty well against the Reds last season, going 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA against them. Oh, and tonight is the first Free Shirt Friday of the season, and it features AJ. And it’s totally awesome: This is where I’m supposed to make the joke: “good thing it’s a free shirt, because otherwise Mike Leake would steal it” Bucs vs. Leake // Reds vs. AJ  Go Bucs.
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