Pirates-Giants: First place at stake

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The headline above is one that could well be repeated many times in the days and weeks ahead as the NL Central appears headed for a frantic down-to-the-wire finish between the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds, with the winner getting a bye in the postseason and the two losers stuck with the one-and-done game.

The Reds and Cardinals face off in a three-game series beginning tomorrow, while the Pirates have three at home with Milwaukee Tuesday-Thursday. On the weekend, the Pirates and Cardinals play three at PNC Park, while the Reds are at Colorado for three.

Over the past 10 games, the Cardinals are 8-2, the Reds 6-4 and the Pirates 5-5. Since the start of August these are their records: Cincinnati 14-7; St. Louis 14-9; Pirates 11-11.

Outfield options limited: With Starling Marte on the disabled list, the Pirates' options for a third outfielder after Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata are extremely limited. They include Andrew Lambo, a rookie who has one hit in 12 bat bats, and two veterans, Josh Harrison and Felix Pie, who have career on-base percentages under .300, slugging percentages under .400 and OPSs under .700. At Indianapolis, Alex Presley, who has somewhat better MLB offensive numbers than Harrison and Pie, is another option. Garrett Jones, batting under .200 since the All-Star Game and with a lower OPS than Clint Barmes, also is an option.

Pirates since the All-Star break (H-AB, BA, OPS): McCutchen: 48-129, .461, 1.073; Harrison: 14-47, .298, .858; Jordy Mercer: 30-97, .309, .808; Gaby Sanchez: 17-58, .293, .777; Neil Walker: 32-115, .278, .773; Russell Martin: 26-99, .263, .755; Marte: 29-115, .252, .731; Tabata: 22-89, .247, .725; Barmes: 13-58, .224, .711; Pedro Alvarez: 28-139, .201; .680; Jones: 18-93, .194, .674; Tony Sanchez: 7-33, .212, .604; Presley: 7-31, .226, .540; Pie: 1-5, .200, .533; Lambo: 1-12, .083, .381.

It's still August: A.J. Burnett, 6-8, 3.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP is coming off a strong start, one run and four hits in seven innings, but has been historically bad in August. His ERA since 2009 this month is close to 7.00. Countering that is his lifetime record against the Giants: 6-2, with a 1.95 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Burnett has interesting splits. Right-handers are batting .203 with a .551 OPS against him and left-handers .263 and .740. Burnett leads the National League in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.89. This is a link to Burnett's stats against San Francisco hitters.

Opposing pitcher: Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the long ago Pirates flop, is 2-4 with a 6.29 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP -- which are pretty awful numbers. But they don't tell the full story of Vogelsong, who was on the disabled list from May 20 until earlier this month with a broken hand. After a strong rehab assignment, 1.72 ERA in four starts across three levels, he has a 3.78 ERA in three starts. His most recent start, against the Red Sox, might be an indication of what the Pirates can expect: seven innings, six hits, two runs, one walk, five strikeouts. Jones is 5-for-11 with a home run against Vogelsong. This is a link to Vogelsong's stats against Pirates hitters.

Pirates lineup, 4:05 game time:

1. Tabata, LF
2. Walker, 2B
3. McCutchen, CF
4. Alvarez, 3B
5. Martin, C
6. Jones, 1B
7. Lambo, RF
8. Mercer, SS
9. Burnett,P


First Published August 25, 2013 12:00 AM


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