Four nights in Pittsburgh. It's a trip only a Steeler could love. Let's hope the Braves can at least earn a split on the series heading into the weekend. On to the matchups!
Game 1 - Perez v. Niese
Game 2 - Blair v. Nicasio
Game 3 - Teheran v. Liriano
Game 4 - Foltynewicz v. Locke
Williams Perez is back in the rotation. For now. The second he screws it up, he'll probably get demoted to whatever log that Bud Norris is sitting on, but if he can go back to back on his prior performance? Who knows what will happen? Perez went 8 innings giving up 1 earned run on 85 pitches against Philly last week. But that was Philly. These are the 2nd place Pirates in the NL Central. And the Pirates can hit since they are 6th in scoring in the NL.
Against Williams Perez, goes long time Met Jonathon Niese. You may remember Niese from such games as last years 4 meetings where he went 3-1 against the Braves and only gave up 4 runs in 23.1 innings. It's a freaking miracle the Braves even won a single game in that stretch, and it was all due to the Mets bullpen. Still, when you look at Niese's career splits against the Braves lineup, a few things stand out. First, Jeff Francoeur owns him with a 4-11, 4 RBIs, and 3 walks plus Kelly Johnson also has the same 4-11 with 3 walks, sans the RBIs. Second, the only guy with a homer against Niese in 106 combined ABs is Freddie Freeman with 2. Third, Niese has a 5.64 ERA on the season which is well above his normal career 3.97, so I expect him to return to form in this game.
Aaron Blair is getting plenty of hard knocks in his early career at the MLB level, which should surprise nobody. He looks good, but his 4.05 ERA isn't good enough to put him in a winning position very often just yet. I'm looking for him to bounce back from a horrible outing against the Phillies where he was knocked out in the 4th inning with 4 runs surrendered and 77 pitches. I think he's trying way too hard to nibble at the edges when he should be focused on making hitters produce poor contact. From what I can see Blair isn't much of a strikeout pitcher, but he can't afford to screw around and walk people either.
Juan Nicasio faces Blair in game 2, and he's been knocked around in his last 2 games, giving up 4 runs in each outing. Since both he and Blair are looking for better results in this next matchup, you'd have to give the edge to Nicasio, who has done a good job of containing Braves hitters not named Freddie Freeman. If you are named Freddie Freeman, you have 4 homers in 12 ABs against Nicasio which seems impossible. If the Pirates pitch to Freddie at all in this game, they are morons. There's pitching scared, and then there's just looking at the numbers and realizing only one guy in this lineup is a true threat.
Julio Teheran has apparently decided he wants to be good again, and I love that. I'm still wary it will all go to pieces, because I've seen it depart from Julio as quickly as it arrives, but I'm going to ride the wave in the interim and hope they can score him some freaking runs. Do you know how bad Julio's run support is right now? It's 2.13 runs a game, which is 102nd in the MLB amongst qualified pitchers, 2nd to dead last. Apparently before Shelby Miller was traded, he passed the torch of getting absolutely no runs to Julio for the year.
Francisco Liriano goes opposite of Julio for Game 3, and I hate this guy as a Braves fan. He's a lefty who honestly isn't that good overall, with a 4.00 career ERA and a 4.99 ERA this season, but we make him look like Cy Young most of the time we play him. The team OPS against Liriano right now is .510, and the team average is .197. That's...horrific. The last time we beat Liriano was August 19th, 2014 in a 11-3 Shellacking of the Pirates, and Liriano gave up 9 runs. Other than that? He's owned us. With the way Julio's been getting run support, I wouldn't be shocked if this was a 2-1 loss, because it would be a fitting way to piss me off.
The last game is Folty v. Jeff Locke, which should be interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Folty is coming off the best start of his career with an 8 inning shutout win. Second, Locke is really struggling this season and coming off a 6 run beatdown against the Cubs. You've got two guys trending in different directions, and something has to give. Luckily for us, the Pirates have never seen Folty pitch before. Unluckily for us, the Braves have seen Locke before and they are 0-5 since 2013. The last time the Braves beat him was Oct 1, 2012. Soooo, better now than never.
Once again, the CPA was right that the Braves would only win one game on the series, and it got that game wrong. That hurts because it's the double whammy of loss, so it went 1-2 on the weekend, and it's drawing ever closer to .500 at 18-16. Let's turn the tide on mediocrity.
Game 1 - Pirates by 2
Game 2 - Pirates by 1
Game 3 - Pirates by 2
Game 4 - Braves by 1
Braves may take a game in this series, and the CPA thinks it's the last game. I don't disagree, but I worry about the record against Locke. Let's hope they pull off one more to go along with it.