Pirates-Reds Series Preview

COULD ONE OF THE BEST SERIES IN BASEBALL INVOLVE THE...PITTSBURGH PIRATES?

It's a short list right now when you're talking about teams who are more than 10 games over .500 in Major League Baseball. You've got Boston and Oakland in the American League...then Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh in the National League. Only SIX teams out of 30 are playing at a truly high level roughly 70 games into the season.

The only two of those six who are playing each other the next few days were the last two listed, as the Cincinnati Reds host the Pittsburgh Pirates in a showcase of NL Central contenders AND Wildcard contenders. Given the relative lack of quality Wildcard potential in the NL right now...both of those teams are already very well positioned to reach the postseason.

Let's check the likely pitching matchups for this three-game set...

MONDAY'S PITCHERS
Pittsburgh... Liriano: 5-2, 2.36ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Cincinnati...Leake: 6-3, 2.76 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Liriano is arguably the linchpin player in determining how important the Pirates are going to be this year. He's a big question mark of course...because he's been injury prone in the past and had trouble getting American League hitters out consistently. He always had great stuff. Now, he's a 29-year old lefty who still has great stuff but gets to pitch in the inferior National League. THAT has potential! If a star just fell out of the sky into Pittsburgh's laps...then they're a real threat in this division. But, if that 2.36 ERA is just a case of having success the first time through a new league, then Liriano's fade will trigger what's become a traditional second half fade for the Bucs. BIG test here against the Reds.

Leake has been solid as a rock for the Reds, and has more games pitched than Liriano. Amazing what you can do in the National League if you can just find reliable starting pitchers and build a decent rotation. Sneaky great pitchers' duel in the series opener. Worth thinking about the Under with those ERA and WHIP numbers.

TUESDAY'S PITCHERS
Pittsburgh ... Morton: 0-1, 3.60 ERA, 1.60 WHIP (1 start)
Cincinnati ...Latos: 6-0, 3.08 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Morton made his first appearance of the year last week against San Francisco, and allowed seven hits and four runs in five innings. Only two of the runs were earned though, which is why the ERA isn't scary while the WHIP is awful. His career record of 23-46 with an ERA of 5.04 doesn't provide much optimism about a glorious return from Tommy John surgery.

Latos has been fortunate to dodge any losses this year...but that's a very solid ERA and WHIP. Not quite what Leake was doing...but we're at a point where the Reds rotation feels like interchangeable parts. Quality and depth. If Morton is still rusty, there's a big edge to Latos in this matchup...the only game of the series where one team will be a decisive favorite.

WEDNESDAY'S PITCHERS
Pittsburgh ...Locke: 6-1, 2.19 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Cincinnati ... Arroyo: 6-5, 3.27 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Locke has been one of the true surprise stories in baseball this year. He wasn't supposed to be this good! Young lefthanders sometimes put together a long string of success until second and third looks help opponents get things figured out. This will be his second game against the Reds, though the first one was way back in April. Locke has avoided the home run ball this year (only 5 allowed). If he starts allowing homers, that could be a sign the hot run is coming to an end.

Arroyo, Latos, Leake, all roughly the same pitcher in ERA and WHIP give or take a couple of hits here and there. If Cueto can get back to form and stay healthy...and Homer Bailey can settle down, this is going to be some staff in the second half of the season. Another game where Under might be worth considering unless weather or the home plate umpire will be helping out the Over.

JIM HURLEY has been studying all the big matchups this week, including Baltimore/Detroit and Oakland/Texas that start tonight, along with Tampa Bay/Boston and nostalgia fueled LA Dodgers/NY Yankees that start Tuesday. You can purchase game day baseball right here at the website with your credit card. And, don't forget about Game Six of Spurs/Heat in the NBA that's set for Tuesday. If you have any questions about service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back Tuesday with a preview of that huge game in the NBA Finals. Soon the NOTEBOOK will be squeezing in some early football notes since the NFL Preseason and College Football action will be here before you know it.

The winning never stops...and a new season is always about to begin. Ride the BIG MONEY MERRY-GO-ROUND with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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