After taking two of three from the Chicago Cubs to open the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will set out on a nine-game road trip against National League Central opponents Tuesday. That journey begins on the North Side of Chicago with a three-game set against the Cubs.
Fresh off a series win against the defending NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates come into Tuesday's contest with a .229 team batting average, which ranks 22nd in the majors. The team's strength was expected to be its pitching, and it has produced so far. A 2.18 team ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a .203 opponent's batting average all rank inside the top six in MLB.
The team will rely on those strengths, starting in the first game of the series, which pits Charlie Morton (0-0, 0.00 ERA) against Edwin Jackson (0-0, 1.69) at 8:05 p.m ET.
Morton's first start of the season came against the Cubs and yielded a no-decision in what was a 16-inning game. In six innings, the right-hander surrendered four hits and one walk while striking out six. The Pirates will have to find a way to retire Emilio Bonifacio, as the switch-hitting infielder collected two of those four hits and went 11-for-16 in the series.
Jackson opposed Morton in the extra-inning affair, lasting 5.1 innings while yielding two runs and four walks on two hits. Walks came back to hurt Jackson in the first matchup, so control will be the key toward success in the upcoming showdown. Starling Marte, who has already drawn three walks, will need to be a catalyst at the top of the order.
Wednesday's game, which gets underway at 8:05 p.m., features Wandy Rodriguez (0-1, 4.50) against Jason Hammel (1-0, 1.35).
In his first start since June 5 of last year, Rodriguez lasted six innings and allowed three runs to cross on five hits. While the outing wouldn't be characterized as "bad," the Pirates offense is averaging 3.7 runs per game through six games—largely aided by a 12-run outburst April 4 against the Cardinals. Performances that just get the job done won't always be enough.
Hammel put a stop to any thought of a sweep during the opening series, contributing 6.2 innings of two-hit ball while giving up one run and one walk. The right-hander allowed 13 fly balls to only four ground balls in the win. If that ratio rears its head Wednesday, the scoreline could be substantially different.
According to the National Weather Service, the current forecast is for a southwesterly wind of 15 to 20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph. In terms of visualizing Wrigley Field, that's blowing straight out from home plate to the bleachers. This will be Hammel's first appearance at Wrigley Field.
The finale of the series commences Friday at 2:20 p.m. Gerrit Cole (1-0, 2.57) and Travis Wood (0-1, 4.26) are scheduled to take the mound.
Cole was the beneficiary of the Pirates' offensive explosion, but he did his part in shutting down the Cardinals. The 23-year-old allowed two runs on six hits, walking two and striking out three. Putting away the leadoff hitter, something that has been an issue thus far for this staff, was a trouble spot and the cause of the blemish on Cole's line.
The former first-round pick won both of his starts last season against the Cubs, allowing three runs on 12 hits in 13 innings pitched.
Wood's first start of the season resulted in a loss, as the 2013 All-Star gave up four runs in 6.1 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. The lefty did strike out eight Phils in the 7-2 loss.
Andrew McCutchen, who is a career .336 hitter against lefties, is a mere 2-for-18 against the 27-year-old.
Games against teams likely to finish near the bottom of the standings are as important as those against the top, especially with the Cardinals embroiled in a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates were 12-7 against the Cubs last year and 5-4 at Wrigley Field.