By Jared Lankes
The Pirates had a dreadful series against the Marlins, getting swept in three close games. It went from what looked like there was going to be a wildcard tie with the Cardinals on Friday to being three back of the Cardinals and suddenly 1.5 back of the Marlins for that second spot. It’s a series that the Pirates could ill-afford, but it happened. But they have to move on and face an old familiar face in the Astros. While these are two different teams than when they were division foes, they get a chance to check in on each other once again.
Monday: Jameson Taillon (3-2 3.00 ERA) vs Doug Fister (11-8 3.76 ERA) 7:05 ET
Jameson Taillon suddenly finds himself needing to be a stopper. He’s been great in his young career but his role on Monday will be what shapes him. Will he be able to provide the Pirates with a great outing when they need a win? We will see. This Astros lineup is a tough one to navigate with Jose Altuve and now the sudden emergence of Alex Bregman and the recent call up of Yulieski Gurriel. Taillon will need to be at his best. For the Astros, bounce back pitcher Doug Fister gets the nod. Foster had a bad year in 2015 in Washington in a season where he looked to be staking his case for a huge contract. This year has been a nice rebound for him. While not being the Fister of old, he’s been rather effective. The Pirates bats will have trouble here.
Tuesday: Ivan Nova (9-6 4.83 ERA) vs Joe Musgrove (1-1 4.18 ERA) 7:05 ET
Ivan Nova will get a crack at a good lineup, and that may or may not be good. While Nova has looked good numbers-wise overall, he has been lucky. Teams have been hitting it hard off him and his ground ball rate is laughable since joining the club. Against this Astros lineup, he can’t be leaving juicy pitches up in the zone or they will get crushed. Astros send Joe Musgrove to the hill. He doesn’t have a lot of MLB experience under his belt yet, but he’s been good in his little time. Don’t let the numbers fool you. This guy has all the abilities to be an MLB starter, but the Pirates hope they don’t find out why.
Wednesday: Gerrit Cole (7-8 3.30 ERA) vs Colin McHugh(7-10 4.99 ERA) 12:35 ET
While Gerrit Cole has had good numbers this year, and is still an ace, he has struggled to find any sort of consistency. I say it every time he takes the mound: he has to start finding that gear he did last year if the Pirates are going to go anywhere. Hopefully this is the start that gets him going. Another underwhelming pitcher this year is on the other end, Colin McHugh. McHugh hasn’t enjoyed success this year. His ERA is close to 5 and hasn’t shown signs yet that’ll change. He was supposed to have a breakout season, but it just hang materialized the way anyone had hoped. He will figure it out eventually. The Pirates just hope he waits at least one more start until he figures it out.
This is a big series for the Pirates. They need to get back on the horse and wash out the taste of the series against the Marlins. It’s hard to call this series a “must-win”, but it’s about as close as you can get to that. Winning two of three would get this team to a spot where they can feel comfortable in the wildcard race, especially if the teams above them scuffle. Losing two of three or worse would make it tough.