Pitchers: Jon Niese (5-2, 4.36) starts it off against LHP Steven Matz (7-1, 2.60) in a southpaw showdown. Kinda fitting that Niese should work the first contest between the two clubs since he and Neil Walker were swapped. After a rough patch, Jon has become the mid-rotation guy the Bucs were hoping for, and in the last four starts has given up just six runs in 24 IP (2.25 ERA). His ground ball rate has been roughly 2:1 and the long ball, an early season bugaboo, is under control, too - he's only given up a pair of dingers in that span. Matz won the May Rookie of the Month honors, going 4-0 /1.83 ERA and is sporting a personal seven game winning streak. The 25 year old is a ground ball machine who also averages nine K per nine IP. A 93 MPH sinker is his main weapon with a variety of breaking pitches in his toolkit.
|Jon meets his old mates tonight (photo Associated Press)|
Lineup: Jordy SS, Cutch CF, Gregory Polanco RF, Starling Marte LF, Josh 2B, Fran C, S-Rod 1B, Cole Figeroa 3B, Niese. Fran's back, and Freeser took BP, so he should be shortly climbing on the bike again, too. Cutch slides back in while JHK gets a blow; the lineup is still a bit shorthanded. BTW, give Stew some props; he bit the bullet while Fran was down, and played yesterday through a pretty gruesome looking bruise on his arm.
Preview: Bolstered by strong starting pitching, the Mets (31-24) have been a solid ball club even with a laundry list of players down, and they look like one of the nines the Pirates (30-26) will have to wrestle with for a wildcard spot. The Bucs face NY's Big Three of Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. Dueling them are Jon Niese, who has been coming around, along with Frankie and Juan Nicasio, a duo in a nosedive, and that makes this series an awfully tough matchup for the struggling Pirates. The Met offense isn't very strong, but can bang out some long balls, so limiting runners via the free pass and keeping the cowhide in the yard will be key factors for the staff.
- The Pirates swept the 2015 Mets series, winning all six matches.
- The fans will notice one big diff in The Kid - the NY staff has straightened him out as a RH batter. He's slashing .341/.396/.727 w/five homers in 48 PA against lefties. They've also gotten some muscle into his game - Neil has 13 HR now; he only cracked more than 16 once as a Pirate.
- The Kid isn't the only reunion; Antonio Bastardo is returning to PNC, too. With a 3.91 ERA (3.99 FIP) and 1.478 WHIP, he's so far performed well below his 2015 standards (2.98, 3.33, 1.134) when he was a major contributor to the Pirates bullpen. But he started slow here, too, and was flat out bad until he picked up steam at the end of May.
- Indy OF Danny Ortiz was named the International League Batter of the Week. Ortiz batted .476 during the seven-day stretch with five extra-base hits while adding seven RBIs and a .500 OBP. He had multi-hit games in four contests.
- Altoona CF Austin Meadows was named the Eastern League Player of the Week. In seven games, Meadows hit .444 with five triples and two homers. The 21-year-old scored nine runs, drove in six and stole two bases. He authored four multi-hit games and made a couple of sweet grabs in the pasture, too.
- The Cardinals signed RHP Daniel Bard, recently released by the Pirates, to a minor-league deal. And in the "what a difference a year makes" category, they also optioned 2B Kolten Wong to AAA to make room for the return of Jhonny Peralta.