The Braves are coming off a second consecutive series loss on the road trip, this time two of three to the Angels. Whatever ground they gained on the Phillies during their little hot streak has disappeared. They are looking to right the ship (yeah, I said it) against the Pirates in Pittsburgh over two games.
The Pirates have been a pleasant surprise in the NL Central this year, sitting at 22-24 and 5.5 games out of first. Their mark of 18-17 on May 9 was the latest date the team has been over .500 in quite a few years, but as if on cue, they lost their next six. They were able to come back and win their next four, and their most recent series was winning two of three against the Tigers.
Tuesday, May 24 - 7:05 (SportSouth)
Jair Jurrjens (50 IP, 1.80 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 1.44 BB/9, 5.22 K/9, 50.6 GB%, 6.6 SwStr%)
(59.8 FB%, 22.9 CH%, 17.3 SL%; 48 Swing%, 86 Contact%)
Charlie Morton (55 IP, 2.62 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 3.89 xFIP, 4.25 BB/9, 4.75 K/9, 61.9 GB%, 6 SwStr%)
(81.5 FB%, 9.8 CB%, 7.3 CH%, 1.4 SL%; 45.1 Swing%, 86.7 Contact%)
Jurrjens continued his strong pitching with 6.2 innings in his last start against the Diamondbacks, allowing two runs on eight hits with one walk and three strikeouts. He had double digit ground balls for the fourth time in five starts, and while the strikeouts were a bit low, he held his walk total to less than two for the fifth straight start.
Morton, a former Brave, has rediscovered the ability to pitch this season due to a newfound sinker that he is throwing 81.5% of the time; his fastball percentage last season was 59.1%. The pitch has been very successful for Morton and is the real reason for his turnaround. His ground ball rate is second-best in all of MLB and No. 1 in the National League, and it has seen a 15% jump from his total last season. The one issue with Morton has been walks, but that comes with increased movement on the fastball, especially when it's a new pitch.
Wednesday, May 25 - 12:35 (SportSouth)
Mike Minor (AAA: 52.2 IP, 2.73 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 2.39 BB/9, 9.23 K/9; MLB: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K)
James McDonald (47.1 IP, 5.51 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 4.34 xFIP, 4.37 BB/9, 7.42 K/9, 38 GB%, 7.4 SwStr%)
(70.2 FB%, 19.4 CB%, 10.4 CH%; 46.7 Swing%, 83 Contact%)
Minor is receiving a spot start in place of the injured Tim Hudson. It's his second spot start this season after filling in for Jurrjens on April 6, which didn't go well, allowing five runs in 4.1 innings to the Brewers. Minor has pitched pretty well for Triple-A Gwinnett, though he hasn't been lights out as his ERA suggests. He gave up five runs on 10 hits in his last start, not walking any and striking out eight. Here's to hoping his second spot start goes better than the first.
McDonald has had his share of ups and downs this season, and the downs have affected his numbers. Eight homers and a 12.9 HR/FB% have been a big part of it. This is McDonald's first full season at age 26, so these struggles are expected, but he has some good stuff, including a low-to-mid-90s fastball and solid curve. His most recent start was one run on seven hits against the Reds, including one walk and four strikeouts.
Joel Hanrahan has been solid at the back of the Pirates bullpen, recording 13 saves and a 1.66 ERA. Daniel McCutchen has been among the best in baseball in the pen, allowing just one run in 20.1 innings. Jose Veras and Jeff Karstens have solid ERA's, as well.