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Series Preview: Rays visit PNC Park

Blake Snell makes his return to the majors.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays limped to a 3-3 homestand by dropping the final two games to the Baltimore Orioles. The Pittsburgh Pirates return home after winning two of three against the St. Louis Cardinals.

For the season the Pirates are 35-41 and five games behind the National League Central leading Milwaukee Brewers.

The Matchups:

Tuesday 7:05 PM: Alex Cobb vs Trevor Williams

Wednesday 7:05 PM: Blake Snell vs Ivan Nova

Thursday 7:05 PM: Chris Archer vs Jameson Taillon

Pirates rotation has faced adversity

Trevor Williams started the season in the bullpen, but his last nine appearances have been as a starter. As a starter he has a 5.01 ERA and 4.11 FIP. Williams doesn’t get many strikeouts, but he limits his walks. In his last start he allowed three runs in six innings to the Brewers.

Ivan Nova has completely turned around his career since his trade to the Pirates last summer from the New York Yankees. Last season he had a 4.90 ERA and 5.10 FIP with the Yankees. In 167.2 innings with the Pirates he has delivered a 3.06 ERA and 3.34 FIP. Nova doesn’t get a lot of Ks, but his walk rate is down to 2.1%. The last time Nova started against the Rays was in his final start as a Yankee. The Rays lit him up for five runs in 4.1 innings. In his last start he allowed four runs in seven innings against the Brewers.

Earlier this year Jameson Taillon faced the prognosis of a future with testicular cancer. He had surgery to remove the cancer and missed about a month while recovering. It has been great to see him return to the mound to mostly positive results. On the season he has a 3.33 ERA and 3.79 FIP through 51.1 innings. The former number two overall pick from the 2010 draft has a good strikeout rate and average walk rate. In his last start he allowed two runs in six innings against the Cardinals.

Pirates bullpen led by former Rays farmhand

Overall the Pirates bullpen has been in the middle of the pack with a 4.09 ERA and 4.09 FIP. The bullpen doesn’t get an abundance of strikeouts, but they limit walks as a group.

Felipe Rivero, formerly in the Rays organization has been the best performer in the Pirates bullpen. Rivero has a 0.68 ERA and 2.47 FIP. He’s picked up three saves. Rivero was traded along with Jose Lobaton to acquire Nathan Karns from the Washington Nationals. The Nationals traded Rivero to acquire Mark Melancon last year at the trade deadline.

Juan Nicasio has been their second best reliever. He has a 3.16 ERA and 2.31 FIP.

Tony Watson has had a disappointing season. The large left hander was expected to be the Pirate’s main high-leverage arm but he has a 4.19 ERA and 5.21 FIP.

With both teams enjoying the day off Monday there should be no real workload issues for this series.

Pirates offense has disappointed

As a team the Pirates are hitting .245/.322/.391 and have a 89 wRC+. They have the fifth fewest runs scored in the majors. They are patient and will take a walk and they have the fourth lowest strikeout rate in the majors. They don’t hit for much power with the third lowest ISO.

The Pirates offense is led by Josh Harrison (121 wRC+) and Andrew McCutchen (119 wRC+).

After a tough start to the season at the plate Andrew McCutchen has turned things around. During the last 30 days McCutchen is hitting .376/.464/.667 and has a 197 wRC+. Whatever the Rays pitchers do they shouldn’t allow McCutchen to beat them. Pitch carefully and force others to do the damage.

Gregory Polanco has taken a major step back this year. He’s put up a 78 wRC+ and has been worth -0.1 fWAR.

PNC Park is great for baseball

If any Rays fans have managed to make it up for the series they are in for a treat. PNC Park is just the sort of intimate venue, seamlessly embedded into its neighborhood, that the Rays hope to build here in the Bay Area.

Those fans, as well as any watching from home, will get to see their pitchers hit as there is no designated hitter for the series. So we’re sure to see a lot of Corey Dickerson in left field. Oh, and be sure to vote for him and other deserving Rays players for the All-Star Game.

It’s quite probable we have a Brendan McKay appearance during the series. McKay went to Blackhawk High School in Chippewa, Pennsylvania which is about 45 minutes outside Pittsburgh. With his team eliminated from the College World Series, he would be eligible to sign his contract at this point.

The Rays have four series remaining until the All-Star break. A strong finish to the first half would be great.