I’ve gone to this well too many times already, but it remains true that the San Francisco Giants are better than their latest opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates. They should’ve swept the Rockies and they didn’t. They should at least win the series in Pittsburgh to kick off the second half, but they probably won’t.
The Pirates took two of three in San Francisco at the end of May, but the Giants won the final game of that series with a 14-4 pounding of Rich Hill and Cody Bolton and other assorted Pirates. That’s really how this whole series should go. Why? It’s like I said: the Giants are better than the Pirates in every category; but also:
- Rich Hill starts the series opener for Pittsburgh. I think the lineup can get to him again.
- The Pirates are 2-7 in July, 9-21 in their last 30 games, and 21-40 since their 20-9 start.
- They’re 22-21 at home this season, but with a -36 run differential.
- Andrew McCutchen (121 OPS+) is on the IL until probably Sunday, if he even appears at all, and after him, the only players on the team with above average offense are Jack Suwinski (135 OPS+), Nick Gonzales (116), Bryan Reynolds (112), and Connor Joe (104).
- The team will miss their best starter, Mitch Keller (134 ERA+), instead facing Rich Hill (93 ERA+), Johan Oviedo (94 ERA+), and Osvaldo Bido (101 ERA+), a 27-year old rookie with just five major league starts under his belt.
Now, that last bit probably sent a shiver up your spine. Yes, the Giants will be facing a rookie pitcher. That almost certainly spells doom for them. Then there are the other guys I mentioned:
- Jack Suwinski has played just 6 career games against the Giants but has hit 5 home runs against them already and .429/.500/1.143 in 24 plate appearances. Two of those home runs, by the way, were hit into McCovey Cove, in the same game — something that had only been done before by Barry Bonds.
- Connor Joe never stops making the Giants pay for cutting him back in 2019: .347/.427/.556 (.982) in 20 games (82 PA) against them.
- Maybe Bryan Reynolds is miffed the Giants traded him to the Pirates for Andrew McCutchen, or maybe he’s just really good and the Giants stink against him, because in 21 careers games (92 PA) he also has a stellar line of .318/.370/.459 (.828).
You look at those box scores from the Oracle Park series earlier and it was basically this trio plus Andrew McCutchen and dominant relief work that held the Giants at bay. So, if the Giants do lose this series, figure they’ll be a part of the formula.
On the other hand, this three-game series kicks off an 11-game, 4-city road trip (a makeup game in Detroit closes it out) and it’s a series that’s ripe for the taking. The Pirates are rested from a nice, long All-Star break, but so are the Giants!
There’s nothing ambiguous about the Pirates’ decline. In yesterday’s first half recap, I pointed out that the Giants have been a different team since May 1st. As great as that calendar changing from April to May was for the Giants, though, it was terrible for the Pirates. Since May 1st, they’ve been a really bad team.
Offensively, they’ve scored the fewest runs in the NL (233), second only to Oakland (216). Their team ERA of 4.81 is 6th-worst in MLB, 4th-worst in the NL. The dirty secret has been that the bullpen has really been really bad. Just comparing the wins above replacement numbers between starters and relievers, and you’ll see:
PIT-SP: 3.0 fWAR since May 1st (320 IP) | 23rd in MLB, 11th in NL
PIT-RP: 0.4 fWAR since May 1st (211.1 IP) | 25th in MLB, 13th in NL
Still, it’s a group we saw hold the Giants down several times — particularly in the second game of the series when Johan Oviedo pitched just four and a third: Dauri Moreta, Jose Hernandez, Colin Holderman, and David Bednar allowed two hits, and two walks in 4.2 shutout innings. I call it a dirty secret, though, because you just expect the Pirates to still have a pretty solid bullpen. The numbers don’t show it, but it should be a spot where the Giants can attack, if they’re somehow unable to get to the starters.
The other side of this is that the Giants will be running out Ross Stripling, Alex Cobb, and a TBD to face the Pirates’ anemic offense. Do I think they’ve fixed Ross Stripling? No. And if he struggles against Pittsburgh’s lineup, it’ll just show how much of a loss this season has been for he and the Giants.
In their last 20 games, the Pirates as a team are hitting .215/.286/.334. If I stretch it back to the beginning of June — so, since they left San Francisco — they’re at .227/.303/.354. That’s the worst batting average in the National League to go with the 2nd-worst wRC+ in the NL (Colorado is last in MLB and NL with 73). Since the start of June, Bryan Reynolds is hitting .225/.337/.348 in 104 plate appearances, with just 2 home runs and 5 doubles. In the Pirates’ 2-7 July to this point, he’s 5-for-33 with a home run, a double, and a pair of walks. Connor Joe has hit .211/.302/.290 in 86 plate appearances.
But Jack Suwinski has a .900 OPS since leaving San Francisco, including 8 home runs. The team is rested. Baseball isn’t fair. This should not be a tough series for the Giants to win, but we’ll probably see them struggle to win just one game.
Gosh, this is a whiny post. Let me see if I can turn it around. The Giants should be able to out-hit, out-pitch, and out-catch the Pirates, especially with Andrew McCutchen on the IL and young players like Ke’Bryan Hayes, Ji Hwan Bae, and Oneil Cruz out, too.
I really want to see Austin Slater open up on Hill like he did back in May (3-for-6, HR, 4 RBI). J.D. Davis has a chance to regain his power stroke, too. The Pirates are a tough team, but they’re a little bit short-handed. The hands they do have, though, are the ones who usually inflict the most damage on the Giants. Can the orange and black take their punches and be able to punch back?
Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
Where: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
When: Friday (4:05pm PT), Saturday (4:05pm PT), Sunday (9:05am PT)
National broadcasts: Friday — Apple TV+ | Sunday — Peacock
Friday: Ross Stripling vs. Rich Hill
Saturday: Alex Cobb vs. Johan Oviedo
Sunday: TBD vs. Osvaldo Bido
Where they stand
Record: 41-49, 4th in NL Central
Run differential: -46, 12th in NL
Postseason standing: 8 games back of the third Wild Card, 8.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 1-game winning streak; 3-7 in their last 10 games
Record: 49-41, 3rd in NL West
Run differential: +31, 4th in the NL
Postseason standing: 3rd Wild Card, 2.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 2-game winning streak; 4-6 in their last 10 games
Pirates to watch
Osvaldo Bido: A five-pitch guy I’d say is closer to a kitchen sinker: 33.3% slider usage, but a low spin slider (2151 rpm); a 94 mph four-seamer 28.3% of the time; 25.2% sinker (94 mph); a changeup (8.2%) and a cutter (5%). It’s a decently effective mix, though, as his changeup has a 30.8% Whiff Rate and has been his put away pitch 27.3%. The slider is next as a put away at 26.2%, but the cutter — which he’s thrown just 22 times so far in 5 starts — has his next highest Whiff Rate at 30%. Watching his fastball, it looks like it has a lot of ride, whether that’s side to side or up and down, and combined with the other pitches in his arsenal, he’s able to keep hitters off balance. Will be a nice test for veteran hitters Michael Conforto and Joc Pederson.
Jack Suwinski: Can the Giants get this guy out? Like, are they capable? Have they fired the dumb-dumbs who didn’t scout him properly? Will they get this guy out? Very few teams have!
Nick Gonzales: The Pirates’ #6 prospect, a middle infielder, called up in June and sort of having his Casey Schmitt moment right now. The 7th round pick of the 2020 draft has hit .278/.310/.500 in 16 games since being called up on June 23. He’s 11-for-32 in July, but with 8 strikeouts against just 1 walk. Recall that Casy Schmitt was .339/.339/.516 through his first 16 major league games. Gonzales has a .351 BAbip, which isn’t some sort of flukeish crime, but he’s a burner and can get a lot of hits on infield grounders. His xwOBA is just .284.
Andrew McCutchen: We might not see him this weekend, but let us not forget him, since this could be his last season in pro ball. In today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jason Mackey wrote about the new Pirates who weren’t around when McCutchen was first with the team and their interactions with him during this return era. Even Mackey didn’t cover him when he was first on the team. It’s a nice article with comments that square with what we Giants fans got from the experience of him being on the team in 2018. Don’t forget about this or — especially — this.
The Pirates bullpen: Mitch Keller and David Bednar were the Pirates All-Star representatives, and both deserving (Keller: 134 ERA+, 9-4; Bednar: 352 ERA+, 17 saves) and since Keller is a starter, let’s just contextualize Bednar in his bullpen. They have several relievers with ERA+ well above league average, but their dirty secret is too many walks or hits or home runs, and whereas Bednar’s 1.27 ERA is paired with a 1.87 FIP, his cohorts are closer to 3.50-4.00 FIP guys. It’s not a soft underbelly the Giants can exploit, but and like I said, the Pirates already flexed this strength in San Francisco, but they’re not invincible before Bednar.
Giants to watch
All of them, really. It’ll be great to have baseball back!
Giants @ Pirates - How will it go?
This poll is closed
Pirates win series
Giants win series