PITTSBURGH PIRATES (6-6)
at CINCINNATI REDS (4-8)
First pitch: Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET
Line: Pittsburgh -115, Cincinnati +105, Total: 7.5
After a historical power performance on Monday, the Pirates and Reds continue their series with game two on Tuesday night.
These clubs met on Monday night and had to suspend the game due to rain after the sixth inning with a tie game of 7-7. If the last three innings are anything like the first six, the ending will be explosive, as the two teams combined to hit an incredible 10 home runs, including three separate occasions of back-to-back homers by the Pirates. This was only the third time this has been done, while the 10 homers were the most in the majors since 2006. Pittsburgh hit six of the bombs, bringing its season total to 18 (T-3rd in MLB). Neil Walker was responsible for two of the home runs and now has four on the year, which is surprising, as he has averaged just 13.5 HR per year since 2010. The Reds have struggled in the early going of 2014 and could not win any of their first four series. Their bats are coming alive though, and after they put 12 runs on the board Sunday against the Rays, they hit four home runs and scored seven runs over the first six innings on Monday. The pitchers who are expected to tame these hot hitting offenses will be 23-year-old phenom RHP Gerrit Cole (2-0, 3.46 ERA) for the Pirates and RHP Mike Leake (1-1, 2.45 ERA) for the host Reds. This matchup has been dead even over the previous two seasons with the two clubs splitting 38 games between each other while Cincinnati holds a slight edge at home (10-9). Recent trends show that Pittsburgh is 24-9 (.727) after having lost four or five of its previous six games since the beginning of last year, while Leake has gone 29-10 (.744) versus teams whose hitters strike out seven or more times per game, and the Pirates are fanning 8.5 times per game so far on the season.
Gerrit Cole has been one of the more heralded prospects over the past few years and he has lived up to his billing thus far. In his 2013 rookie campaign, he went 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA (1.17 WHIP) while striking out 7.7 batters per nine innings as a 22-year-old. He’s already showed that he is ready to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Bucs for years to come. Over his first two starts in 2014, Cole has earned a win both times while striking out 10 Chicago Cubs batters and allowing four runs (3 ER) in his last outing. He has yet to face Cincinnati in his young career, but will need to be sure to be careful against 1B Joey Votto who is a career .324 batter against right-handers. The other power lefty in the Reds lineup, OF Jay Bruce, is much better against righties (.265 BA) than he is against lefties (.235 BA) but is hitting just .179 in 39 at-bats overall this year while striking out 11 times (12 walks) and hitting two home runs (8 RBI). The Pirates' bullpen has been fantastic up until this point in the season, going 4-1 while putting up a 2.48 ERA but has been successful in just 3-of-5 save opportunities. Closer Jason Grilli (1.80 ERA, 3 saves) has gone 3-for-4 in his save chances so far, but has had trouble with his control, walking four batters in his first five innings of work.
Mike Leake is not a big strikeout pitcher, averaging just 5.9 K/9 over his career, and has just six in 14.2 IP in his first two starts this year. He gets plenty of groundballs though, and will rely heavily on his defense to provide support for him over the entire year. Leake put together a very impressive effort against the reigning NL Champion Cardinals in his last start, going eight scoreless frames while allowing just four hits. He’s also had previous success when facing the Redbirds, going 5-3 (7-8 team record) with a 3.79 ERA (1.30 WHIP) and has received a win in each of his past three starts against them. Leake has allowed just four total runs in those three games (18.2 IP) while striking out a total of 13 batters with only four walks. One of the stars in Monday’s game, 2B Neil Walker, has gone 9-for-28 (.321) with a homer and 11 RBI in this matchup and is not the only player to put up great numbers against the righty, as C Russell Martin is 9-for-19 (.474, 1 HR, 3 RBI) against him in his career. OF Andrew McCutchen is only 9-for-40 (.225) with 9 K’s against Leake, but does have 2 HR and 6 RBI when facing him. One area where Cincinnati has a clear disadvantage in this game will be its relievers, as the team has combined for a 5.29 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 16 walks over just 27.2 innings. Aroldis Chapman threw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Monday before the game and will watch as Jonathan Broxton (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who also just returned from injury, works the ninth inning for the time being. He has saved 111-of-153 games (73%) so far in his career.