With just under half of the MLB season in the books, the NL Wildcard leading Pittsburgh Pirates travel to Comerica Park today to take on the Detroit Tigers, who sit in third place in the AL Central, for a three-game series (starting 7.05pm ET, Tuesday).
The Pirates have had a tough season for a number of reasons not the least of which is the St Louis Cardinals. Once again at the top of the baseball world, the Cardinals have been a thorn in Pittsburgh’s side for most of the year. Recently the Pirates have caught fire, winning all but nine of their 25 June games. They still remain nine games out of first in the NL Central but their surge has helped Pittsburgh take over the top spot in the NL Wildcard. All things considered however, six of those nine June losses have come in the last nine games.
The Tigers meanwhile have been dealt the injury bug, namely to starter Justin Verlander. An MVP just four seasons ago, Verlander was on the shelf for most of this year and has only made two starts. He was forced to miss his third scheduled start because of a stiff back but is expected back on the mound for game one of the series. Opposing him will be the current frontrunner for the NL Cy Young, Gerrit Cole (pictured), whose only kryptonite this year has been the Cincinnati Reds.
Here’s a look at the pitching matchups for the series:
Tuesday, June 30 @ 7:08 PM – Game One (PIT) Gerrit Cole vs (DET) Justin Verlander
Cole has been the best pitcher in the NL this year. He leads the league with his 11 victories and adds 102 strikeouts (9th) and boasts a 2.16 ERA (6th) which includes his most recent start in which he surrendered five runs. Cole has an ERA of 1.50 in a single start against the Tigers this year giving up just three hits and striking out eight in six innings. The 24-year-old pitcher has a 6-1 career record in interleague play as well.
Verlander was once the most dominant pitcher in all of baseball but now finds himself just another name in the crowd. This year he has just a small sample size to judge from and it’s not great. In just 11.2 innings pitched, Verlander has a 6.17 ERA and just four strikeouts. Overall, he has struggled but with a guy like Verlander, that could change at any time, especially since he has had great success against the Pittsburgh hitters.
Overall, the Pirates have to be the favorites in this one and for good reason. Cole has been dominant against every team not named the Reds and has been even better (1.71 ERA on the road) away from home. He may be coming off a loss but Cole has never lost back-to-back games and it doesn’t seem like he will this series either.
Wednesday, July 1 @ 7:08 PM – Game Two (PIT) AJ Burnett vs (DET) Alfredo Simon
Yet another Pittsburgh pitcher having a solid season is the 38-year-old veteran journeyman AJ Burnett, who will have the ball for the second game of the series. Burnett has bounced back from last season which saw him lose an MLB-high 18 games, to this year, in which he has 12 quality starts in 15 games pitched. Burnett has struggled however at Comerica, coming in with a 6.26 ERA in five career starts. But to his credit, in 14 at bats, Burnett has handled one of the best pure hitters in baseball in Miguel Cabrera (.350 AVG, 15 HR, 53 RBI this season), allowing him just a .214 average.
Opposing Burnett is Alfredo Simon, who is considered by manager Brad Ausmus to be the most consistent pitcher on the Detroit staff this year. Simon has pitched just over 85 innings and has a respectable 3.57 ERA with 63 strikeouts. And while he has been solid for the majority of the year, Simon seems to have pitched into a slump, allowing 12 runs over two outings. His last three starts have seen him pitch 14 innings with a 7.71 ERA.
Once again, the edge has to lean Burnett. He has pitched his way into the All-Star conversation and there is no reason to believe his quality start streak will end.
Thursday, July 2 @ 1:08 PM – Game Three (PIT) Francisco Liriano vs (DET) Kyle Ryan
In the getaway game, Francisco Liriano takes the mound for the Pirates. The veteran lefty has a 1.01 WHIP this year as well as a stellar opponents’ batting average of .189. He has been a good pitcher on the road this year as well, posting a 2.30 ERA, bettered by a 2.25 ERA in the daytime. Like Burnett, he has handled Detroit’s biggest bopper, allowing Cabrera to hit just .261 in 23 at bats over the last five years. Victor Martinez on the other hand is 8 for 16 against Liriano and has really had his number.
Kyle Ryan will be making his fourth start this year for the Tigers in opposition to Liriano. Like Verlander, the sample size is small and not so good. Ryan, who has not faced a single player on the Pittsburgh roster, has pitched just 10.2 innings in his three starts, striking out five and carrying an ERA of 7.59.
Pittsburgh Pirates vs Detroit Tigers Betting Picks
The Tigers do enter as the hotter team, winning five of their last seven, but Pittsburgh is the better team. Pitching-wise, the Tigers rank in the middle of the pack in all key categories. Offensively, Detroit is much better however. Spurred on by Cabrera’s MVP numbers, the Tigers are baseball’s best in both batting average (.275) and on base percentage (.335). They are just three wins behind the Pirates record-wise.
But ultimately, pitching is crucial and the Tigers just don’t have it. The Pirates on the other hand do. They look to dominate all of the matchups this series and should do so with good reason. The team is second in baseball in ERA with a very impressive mark of 2.91 and is fifth in quality starts with 47. So for the series, don’t be surprised if the Pirates sweep but our preview’s betting picks advice is: