April 19, 2011

Series Preview: Florida Marlins

The second place Pittsburgh Pirates (8-8) start a three game series in Miami tonight against the Florida Marlins (8-6). This is Pittsburgh's only trip to Florida this year. After a few years as a .500 or slightly better team, the Marlins retooled by signing a lot of famous Cleveland sports. Their retooled three-star outfield of Grady Sizemore, Bernie Kosar, and Don King has the Marlins flying high in second place. The fans have really embraced this team as average attendance is up to 21,278. To be fair, a lot of those people are not baseball fans but they just came to see the great tradition and game day experience of venerable Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphins/Land Shark/Sun Life Stadium.

The Pirates are fresh off a 3-1 series win in Cincinnati which propelled them to within a game of the division leading Reds. The top Pirates at the plate have been Jose Tabata, .317/.427/.524 with 14 runs scored and eight steals, and Neil Walker, .290/.380/.516 with 13 runs scored and 12 RBI. The Marlins' lineup has struggled overall but the standouts so far are left fielder Logan Morrison, .327/.429/.654 with four homers and 11 RBI, and first baseman Gaby Sanchez, .340/.419/.472 with nine runs scored. This is a midweek series which will hardly get much airtime on Baseball Tonight, but these are a couple of young teams hoping to prove they're for real - more interesting to me than the Yankees.Pirates vs. Florida Marlins
Tuesday 7:10, Wednesday 7:10, Thursday 7:10

Paul Maholm (0-2, 2.33) gets the ball for the Pirates today. Maholm has pitched brilliantly in two of his three starts but the Pirates lost all of them, getting only five runs on offense total in the three games. This continues to be an important season for Maholm as he needs to prove he's a durable and reliable starter in his contract year. Florida's starter Josh Johnson (2-0, 1.35), on the other hand, has blossomed into a legit ace and a Cy Young candidate. He has a 2.73 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 since 2009 and brings it with a 94 mph fastball, 87 mph changeup, 86 mph slider, and now a slow curveball which he has mixed in a few times a game for the first time this year. My pick is the Pirates.

Tomorrow Charlie Morton (2-0, 1.64) goes for the Pirates against Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 4.05). Morton continues to prove me wrong for saying he shouldn't be in the starting rotation, although at some point he will need to throw more strikes to stay effective. Fangraphs posted an unreasonably detailed article on Morton yesterday. Nolasco has decent stats but looks to me like a candidate for arm trouble - he was injured last year and now his fastball velocity is down and so are his strikeout totals, while his home run totals are up. My pick is the Pirates.

James McDonald (0-1, 7.47) will look for his first win Thursday in a game which closes out this road trip. Despite disappointing results, McDonald's fastball velocity is where it was last year and his curveball still looks great. He and Ryan Doumit need to use that curve as a strikeout pitch; it's his best pitch by far yet he's only throwing it 20% of the time this season. The Marlins counter with Chris Volstad (0-1, 5.59), who is about as average as a pitcher can be - he is 27-27, 4.50 in his career and has no great pitches and no poor ones. My pick is the Pirates.

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