The Pirates are 10-8. They're hitting the ball well and besides uneven starting pitching, playing a brand of baseball that I think we can fairly call "very good" over the last two weeks. They're coming off of a 7-2 homestand against the Reds, Cardinals, and Braves. Still, it feels like they're stuck in a sort of no man's land right now. Francisco Liriano is about 10 days away from re-joining the rotation, Charlie Morton is probably somewhere between two and three weeks off, and Gerrit Cole's ETA of early June has been put into question by his wild start with Indianapolis. Those three represent the Pirates' best chance to add arms to the rotation; until they're ready, Jonathan Sanchez, James McDonald, and Jeff Locke will continue to take 60% of the Pirates' starts. The team has managed to weather that to this point, but how long can a team win a majority of its games when its bullpen is called into serious action every night?
That's why this road trip feels so important, I think. On the other end of it, Liriano will be ready to rejoin the rotation and Morton, should he be needed, won't be far behind. The Pirates are playing good baseball and they're fun to watch, but after the last two seasons we Pirate fans know what's sustainable and what's not and what happened on this homestand doesn't feel sustainable because of the volatile nature of the starting pitching. If the Pirates can keep it going for ten more days on the road, until they can get to a more stable rotation, though? Well, then we'll see.
Luckily for the Pirates, this road trip starts out with a bit of a breather in Philadelphia. On pre-season paper, the Phillies projected out to be the same as or a little worse than the Pirates this year. In actual results, they're 8-11. Not only are they 8-11, but with John Lannan hurt they've had to call up Jonathan Pettibone to make a start tonight. Pettibone's 22 years old and was a third round pick in 2008. He's not a top prospect. His minor league league strikeout rate is very unimpressive (6.4/9 innings). His two starts with Triple-A this year have gone poorly and even in his seven decent Triple-A starts last year, he walked 4.7 hitters per nine innings. He's not very good, is what I'm saying, and the sort of team that can beat Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, and Kris Medlen in successive games should also be able to beat Jonathan Pettibone. AJ Burnett, who currently leads the Majors with 35 strikeouts and with his ridiculous 13.3 K/9 rate goes for the Pirates.
First pitch tonight is at 7:05. Because the Penguins are on ROOT, the Pirates will be on MLB Network if you live in the Pittsburgh area.