After finishing off the Chicago Cubs for the second time in a week, the Pittsburgh Pirates will travel to Milwaukee for a National League Central showdown with the first-place Brewers. The three-game set kicks off Friday with the Pirates hoping to continue to put the past behind them.
Miller Park has historically served as a house of horrors for the Pirates, but 2013 was a turning point.
From 2006-2012, the Pirates were a horrific 9-48 against the Brewers in their home park. Last year, the team was able to match more than half of that win total by posting a 5-4 record. The Brew Crew were a disappointing 74-88 last season, but that was largely without outfielder Ryan Braun, who dealt with injury issues and a suspension from MLB in connection with the Biogenesis scandal.
This season, Braun is back, and he is producing. The Brewers' only two losses thus far have come when Braun has failed to record a hit.
The 30-year-old has raked against the Pirates in his seven-year career, clubbing 23 home runs and 85 RBI in 95 games. Those numbers rank second and first, respectively, in relation to his production against the rest of the league. In 37 at-bats last year against the Pirates, Braun hit .351 with six doubles, four RBI and an OPS of .914.
Can the Pirates shut down the controversial slugger?
Friday's game gets underway at 8:10 p.m. ET and features Francisco Liriano (0-1, 3.00 ERA) and Wily Peralta (0-0, 3.60). Both starters have limited experience against each respective team in recent years.
For Liriano, the Brewers were the most difficult of the divisional opponents to deal with, notwithstanding his 0-3 mark against Cincinnati last year. In 14.2 innings, including a three-inning outing that resulted in seven earned runs in September, Liriano allowed 20 hits and nine earned runs, on top of a .317 opponents' batting average.
The Brewers will look to Carlos Gomez to spark the offensive attack at the top of the order. The 28-year-old has gotten off to a strong start, hitting .390 (16-for-41) with three home runs and six RBI. Gomez's limited numbers against Liriano are solid, as the seven-year veteran is hitting 8-for-16 with two home runs and three RBI against the lefty.
Peralta's only start against the Pirates was ironically as the opposition to Liriano in the Brewers' 9-3 win during the aforementioned short outing last year. The 24-year-old right-hander went six innings and yielded three runs on six hits while striking out six. With a .284 team batting average, which ranks second in the NL, the offense has carried the team in its moments of need so far, such as Peralta's only start this season, and it will be needed again this weekend.
The second game of the series is slated to begin Saturday at 7:10 p.m. Edinson Volquez (0-0, 1.17) will take on Yovani Gallardo (2-0, 0.00) in a matchup that features one of the hottest pitchers in baseball right now.
Among qualified pitchers, Gallardo, who has dominated the Pirates over his seven-year career, is the only hurler to have yet to allow a run. Several Pirates have histories with Gallardo, but none stand out as prominently as Pedro Alvarez. The 27-year-old has gotten off to a strong start this season, smashing a league-leading five home runs, but he has struggled when pitted against Gallardo. Alvarez is 1-for-20 with nine strikeouts against the Brewers ace.
Volquez is 4-1 in his career at Miller Park, but his 5.67 ERA alludes to his struggles with those in the Brewers lineup. Braun (10-for-28) is one who has tagged the right-hander in the past and will look to do so again.
The first start of the season for Volquez was a success, as he went 5.2 innings and gave up one run on three hits.
The series finale is Sunday at 2:10 p.m. and showcases Charlie Morton (0-0, 3.75) against Kyle Lohse (1-1, 4.50). Both starters topped the 100-pitch mark in their last outings.
As a team, the Brewers have a relatively low ground-ball/fly-ball ratio so far this year (0.79). Morton will have to work his sinker to maintain his ground-ball tendencies and not overly rely on his curveball, which can get him into trouble.
Sooner or later, the Pirates offense will have to come to life and support the pitching staff, and Sunday could be the day. Jose Tabata could get the start over Travis Snider, as he has great numbers against Lohse (13-for-26). Alvarez also has a reputable past (8-for-25), however that does include nine strikeouts.
Lohse will be looking to build on his strong career numbers against the Pirates, which include a 9-2 record and a 3.59 ERA in 115.1 innings.
1992 has come back to rear its head once again, as the Pirates will be attempting to win their fourth consecutive series to start the season since the fabled squad of '92 won its first six. The Brewers will be searching for their seventh straight victory Friday after dropping two of three against Atlanta in Milwaukee to start the season.