Game 94: Reds (47-48) @ Pirates (49-44)
Tonight marks the beginning of a critical homestand – and two-week stretch — for the Pirates, even if those in the clubhouse refuse to label it as such. After beating up on the Cubs and Astros, the Pirates are going to get a big-time test as the month comes to a close. The Reds and Cardinals are in town this week, both making their first trips to PNC Park this season. The Pirates have won five of the first six meetings against Cincinnati, and the Reds play Pittsburgh nine more times before the season ends.
As for the Cardinals, the Pirates have 13 games left against them, including four in St. Louis. If the Pirates can win a good number of these division games, it can put distance between themselves and some of the other division members. Losing these games, though, is the quickest way to sink the Pirates down the NL Central standings.
And while the Pirates have their hands full during this six-game homestand, it’s probably not too early to look ahead to next week, which has the Pirates playing the two best teams in the NL (Atlanta and Philadelphia) – and the Pirates have the task of doing so on the road. How the Pirates fare during this 13-game stretch to end the month is going to tell us a lot about the club’s chances at a serious run to the postseason. This week’s results, too, could dictate what the Pirates do at the Trade Deadline (July 31).
Lots of news and notes to get around to…
- Charlie Morton is making the start tonight, not James McDonald, as the Pirates had announced in Houston. There is no significance to that, other than that the game notes were printed incorrectly. Morton is 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA against the NL Central this year and has pitched two complete games against the Reds already. This will be his first start in 12 days.
- McDonald will start Tuesday’s game against Mike Leake.
- Looking ahead to the weekend set against the Cardinals, the Pirates will draw Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse.
- Second baseman Neil Walker enters tonight with an 11-game hitting streak. There are only three active streaks that are longer.
- Of all the offensive contributors this month, Alex Presley and Lyle Overbay have to highlight the bunch. Presley is hitting .343 since being called up on June 28 and has 10 hits in his six games at PNC Park. Overbay has gone 14-for-38 with three extra-base hits and five RBIs since July 3. The Pirates certainly need to add some punch in the middle of the lineup, and getting power and production from Overbay could be one internal answer to that.
- Speaking of needs, the Pirates are actively seeking bullpen help and a right-handed bat in advance of the Trade Deadline. I’d also have to believe that nabbing a corner infielder or right fielder is the target position. You’ll hear all sorts of names floating around between now and July 31. Just remember that it takes two to tango. In other words, if the Pirates are going to get someone of value, they’re going to have to give up value (likely prospects). How much the Pirates want to deplete their farm system vs. how much of a boost they expect to already get as guys get healthy will be an interesting balance to watch play out.
- Outfielder Jose Tabata did not resume his rehab assignment in Bradenton (Class A) today as expected. Hurdle didn’t go into more detail than that. Check out pirates.com later tonight for a full injury rundown.
- Though Steve Pearce has performed well so far in his rehab stint in Triple-A Indianapolis, it doesn’t sound like the Pirates will call him up until Friday, at the earliest. The Pirates want him to get a sufficient number of at-bats before he is thrown in the lineup against big-league pitching.
- Thanks to you all for being patient while I was away over parts of the first three weeks of the month. I will be gone again this weekend but then will be back in Atlanta on Monday and on for almost all of the rest of the regular season.
PIRATES: A. Presley (LF), C. d’Arnaud (SS), N. Walker (2B), A. McCutchen (CF), M. Diaz (RF), L. Overbay (1B), B. Wood (3B), M. McKenry (C), C. Morton (RHP)
REDS: D. Stubbs (CF), Z. Cozart (SS), J. Votto (1B), B. Phillips (2B), M. Cairo (3B), F. Lewis (LF), R. Hernandez (C), D. Willis (LHP)
Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB