The Pittsburgh Pirates should snap their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons this year.
Last year, the Pirates collapsed down the stretch after a great first half, but with the way they’re clicking on all cylinders right now, it’s hard to imagine something similar happening the last two months. The Pirates have extended their lead to 3 games over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central and they’re 6 ½ up on the third place Cincinnati Reds. Their All-Star centerfielder continues to lead the way this season, batting .312 with 16 home runs, 65 RBI’s, 71 runs, and 24 stolen bases. He’s an MVP candidate and he’s been supported by the monster power year that Pedro Alvarez is having. His .239 average leaves a lot to be desired, but the third baseman has smashed 27 bombs this year and driven in 73. Jeff Locke has struggled his last few outings and Pittsburgh will need him to snap out of it heading down the stretch. Locke has been plagued by far too many walks and he’s also been giving up a lot of base hits recently. The good news is that the rest of the rotation has been pretty solid, starting with A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano. The Pirates were 25 games over .500 heading into Thursday afternoon’s series finale with the Marlins. They’ll travel to Colorado before heading to St. Louis for a big series against the Cardinals next week.
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August has been more kind to the Cardinals than the end of July was. They’re just 4-3 to start the month, but it’s better than the seven game losing streak they ended last month on. After stealing the final game against the Pirates, they took two of three from the Reds and put up 28 points in the two victories. They managed to defeat Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday night behind another strong outing from Joe Kelly, but they’ve lost the other two games in the series and will look to get a split with a win on Thursday night. Carlos Martinez will make his first start of the season. The team is hopeful that Shelby Miller won’t have to miss a start after leaving Wednesday night’s game after being hit in the right elbow. Yadier Molina should come off the DL on August 15, but look for the Cardinals to give him more days off than he usually receives. Molina is one of those catchers who seemingly plays every day, but that won’t be the case down the stretch. The Cardinals will host the Cubs this weekend.
The Reds are 12 games over .500 at 63-51 this season but they’ve been overshadowed because they’re in the same division as the Pirates and Cardinals. They repaid the favor to the Oakland Athletics and roughed up Bartolo Colon in the process on Wednesday afternoon. The A’s starter had been dominant for months, but Cincinnati knocked him out in the third inning in their 6-5 win. This is a huge stretch of games for the Reds because now is their opportunity to make a run at the division. Their next 10 games are against the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, and Milwaukee Brewers. They’re only 6.5 games out and they’ll have the Pirates and Cardinals playing each other next week so if they can get some consistent pitching, they should be able to pick up some games here. They’ll need better performances this time around from Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey. Mat Latos pitched a gem in the Tuesday win over Oakland.
Chicago is just 2-8 in their last 10 games and are now back to 13 games under .500 on the year. They lost three of four to Milwaukee last week, got swept at home by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and look like they’re going to lose two of three against Philadelphia. Their offense has been anemic for the most part, aside from Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies that saw them put up eight runs and still lose. Their pitching hasn’t been terrible for the most part, but they just can’t score runs right now, and if they don’t score runs they usually don’t win. Jeff Samardzija was roughed up for nine earned runs on Thursday afternoon and, for whatever reason, when Samardzija gets hit he usually gets roughed up pretty badly. This will be the third time this season he’s allowed seven or more earned runs in one of his starts. Junior Lake has been a pleasant surprise since his call up, but it’s still too small a sample size to know if this type of production will last moving forward. The Cubs travel to St. Louis this weekend before returning home to host the Reds next week.
Since the Ryan Braun fiasco has passed, the Brewers are actually playing slightly better baseball. The team is 6-4 over their last 10 ball games and they’ll be looking to take three of four from the San Francisco Giants on Thursday afternoon. Tyler Thornburg was great in his first start of the season, pitching six innings and not allowing an earned run, while striking out four. Wily Peralta also pitched well against the Giants and Donavan Hand has given them quality starts his last two times out as well. Carlos Gomez continues to be the spark on the offensive side of things and the speedy centerfielder can get it done with his glove as well. Having Braun back next year next to Gomez in the outfield is a good place to start for Milwaukee. If they can find some other pieces the rest of the way and develop some of these young pitchers, they might rebound quicker than some people expect.