Manager: Clint Hurdle, fourth year
Last 10 games: 2-8
Who to watch: CF Andrew McCutchen (.286/.408/.500, 4 HR, 14 RBIs); 2B Neil Walker (.235/.291/.431, 6 HR, 12 RBIs); 3B Pedro Alvarez (.172/.280/.387, 6 HR, 14 RBI); RHP Brandon Cumpton (0-1, 2.57 ERA)
Season series vs. O’s (2013): Did not play
The Pirates were starting to become the darlings of baseball at this time a year ago, when play from a strong April never fully let up on the way to their first winning season since 1992.
The story isn’t quite the same to start 2014. Through 26 games last year, Pittsburgh was 15-11. They are almost the exact invert of that this time around at 10-16. Visiting Baltimore for the first time in three years, the Pirates are slumping heading into the two-game series.
They’ve lost eight of 10 and have won just four of 17 games since opening 6-3.
The main culprits have been a slow-starting offense and a rotation that hasn’t measured up to the group that was among the majors’ top five last season.
Outside of star center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.908 OPS), no other member of the squad has an OPS above .722 and no one else is batting over .262. The power has been there with second baseman Neil Walker and third baseman Pedro Alvarez leading the way with six homers apiece.
But the Pirates are 28th in the league with a .221 average and are 21st with 96 runs.
Pitching was Pittsburgh’s hallmark a year ago, and both Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole are leading the rotation again. But the Pirates are feeling the loss of A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez is again on the disabled list after being limited to 12 starts last season. As a team, Pittsburgh ranks 20th in starters’ ERA (4.17), which the league’s fifth-best bullpen (2.66 ERA) can’t overcome.
In this series, Pittsburgh will pitch Charlie Morton against Chris Tillman and Brandon Cumpton against Bud Norris. Morton has a 5.40 ERA in four starts since tossing six scoreless innings in his season debut.
Cumpton is in the rotation with Rodriguez shelved, and came through for a strong seven innings in his first start of the season. The 25-year-old hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his six career big league starts over the last two years.