Ok quick, name the team in baseball that has the most road series wins in the 2011 season. If you said the Pittsburgh Pirates, you would be right. This is hard to imagine being that the Pirates won all of 17 games on the road last year. Yes, 17 games, not series. It’s the first week in May and the Pirates already have 11 road wins this season. At home however, the Pirates are a lowly 4-8 at PNC Park, where they won 40 games last season. This weekend, the Pirates look to right their ship in their homestand against the Houston Astros.
The Astros (12-19) come in to Pittsburgh (15-16) looking to get out of the cellar of the National League Central. In game one of the series, the Astros will send Wandy Rodriguez (1-3 4.26 ERA) to the hill to square off against Paul Maholm (1-4 4.14 ERA). Rodriguez has been a streaky pitcher throughout his career and is able to put together a good game. The Pirates offense is going to have to attack early and get to the Astros bullpen sooner than Houston would like them too. Maholm, another streaky pitcher, gave up four runs in his last start against Colorado and is looking to rebound for his second win of the campaign.
Game two will feature Bud Norris (2-1 3.03 ERA) for Houston against Charlie Morton (3-1 3.52 ERA) for the Bucs. Morton has put together quite an impressive season thus far, thanks to help from Pitching Poach Ray Searage. His control still needs work as he has walked 23 batters compared to only 19 strikeouts. With the ERA where it is and the three wins, we’ll take it from Morton. Norris is a hot name being mentioned for the trade deadline as many experts expect the Yankees to make a run for him.
Game three has youngsters J.A. Happ (2-4 6.23 ERA) and James McDonald (2-2 6.75 ERA) squaring off. While both of the ERAs look high, they are both misleading. Happ is coming off his best start of the season with a win against the Reds and is considered by many to have the best stuff on the team. In his last two starts, McDonald has looked like the pitcher we expected him to be, surrendering only two runs in twelve innings of work, both wins against the Giants and Padres.
Things to watch for this weekend:
1). The health of Jose Tabata: Tabata left last Saturday’s game with tightness in his hamstring, an injury he has had history with, and hasn’t played since. Originally he was supposed to play on Tuesday, but now Friday is the targeted date for his return. Xavier Paul his filled in quite nicely for Tabata hitting 6-18 with two steals and two RBIs.
2). The lineup: At the beginning of the season, it was supposed to be the lineup carrying the Pirates and the pitching being the weak spot. Thus far, the roles have reversed. Pedro Alvarez (.226), Andrew McCutchen (.221) and Lyle Overbay (.226) all need to start hitting, and soon. Alvarez is questionable for Friday’s game with right quad tightness but expects to play. Alvarez is a notorious slow starter and is pressing to hard. A demotion for a confidence build may be in the plans. McCutchen is coming around and is too talented to stay at his current pace. Overbay needs to live up to his $5 million he’ll be making this year. As a first baseman and a career-proven doubles hitter, he needs to get the ball rolling.
3) The Pirates need to take advantage of the questionable status of Astros outfielder Carlos Lee. Lee got a knee in the ribs by his teammate while they were both sliding for a ball earlier in the week. Without Lee, the Astros don’t have a homerun threat. They are dead last in the National League with only 17 homeruns on the season.
If the Pirates can take advantage of the Astros’ league-worst 4.80 ERA and get out of the gate early, then they’ll be able to take the series. If the bats are going to break out of the slump, this is the team to do it against. Pirates take the final two games of the series to reach .500 at 17-17.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com