The Pittsburgh Pirates were a league-worst 17-64 on the road en route to a dismal 57-105 record last season, while they went 40-41 at home. So far this year, the Pirates are 11-8 on the road and 4-8 at home.
Talk about night and day.
After taking two out of three in San Diego against the Padres, the Pirates return to Pittsburgh for a seven-game home stand against the Astros and Dodgers. On paper, the Pirates are a better overall team than the Houston Astros, which is more than we could say from last year.
With the town buzzing about the success of the team early on, a sweep of the Astros could be just what the Pirates need to get on a roll at home, set the tone for the month of May and maybe even the season. Here are the pitching match-ups for the three game set:
Game 1: Wandy Rodriguez (1-3 4.26 ERA) vs. Paul Maholm (1-4 4.14 ERA)
Game 2: Bud Norris (2-1 3.03 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (3-1 3.52 ERA)
Game 3: J.A. Happ (2-4 6.23 ERA) vs. James McDonald (2-2 6.75 ERA)
It is amazing how the starting pitchers mirror each other in each game this series. If you like a pitching match up where runs are at a premium, watch Saturday's game featuring Bud Norris and Charlie Morton.
If you enjoy a high-scoring thriller, watch the Mother's Day game on Sunday afternoon featuring J.A. Happ and James McDonald. Regardless, the edge in pitching still goes to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team bullpen ERA is second in the league, while the Astros were recently forced to put their closer, Brandon Lyon, on the DL.
Although the Astros are currently sixth in team batting average, I still believe the Pirates have a better lineup. Pittsburgh's bats have been ice cold since the start of Spring Training, but they have the talent to turn the offense around. With the Astros owning the worst team ERA in Major League Baseball, expect the offense to heat up sooner rather than later. Jose Tabata is due to come back in this series and could instantly inject a little offense into the lineup.
Pittsburgh is currently 15-16, third in the Central Division, 2.5 games back from the St. Louis Cardinals. If the Pirates sweep the Astros, they will be over .500 with the city of Pittsburgh watching their every move heading into a four-game series against the L.A. Dodgers. The Dodgers, currently 15-17, are an underachieving team distracted by their financial issues and ownership problems. If the Pirates can take two out of three against the Rockies, they can certainly win a series against the Dodgers.
Why do these two series matter for the month of May? Because the Pirates are a young squad that prides itself on proving everyone wrong with each win. Because they could significantly increase the popularity and belief in the city of Pittsburgh. Because they have to play the Brewers on the road after the Dodgers at home.
Just by looking at the schedule, after the series against the Brewers the Pirates could end up with a winning record by the start of June. They have series against the Nationals, Cubs, and Mets who are among the league's worst teams. If they can weather the series against Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee, they could come out of May with a winning record and force the ownership's hand into buying around the trade deadline.