A tip of the cap is in order for the Padres as they ride a four-game winning streak into Pittsburgh. (Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE)
After their sweep of the Cubs, the Padres have now won five of their last six games. That's pretty impressive. And I don't want to hear "they swept a last place team, who cares?" I care. San Diego fans care. The Cubs aren't a minor league team. They're a Major League club with a website and everything. They have Major League talent. Anthony Rizzo, Bryan LaHair, and Starlin Castro look like they will all be stars before their careers are done. So let's leave it at that; our Padres are on a hot-streak right now and hope to continue that in the Steel City.
The Pirates are still good. Last year at this point, they were beginning their rapid decline. On August 10, 2011, the Pirates had dropped all the way to four games under .500 after spending a lot of the summer fighting for first place. This year, they are 63-48. They have the second Wild Card slot by 2.5 games and trail the Reds in the NL Central by just 4.5 games. This team, despite their long history of losing, is good and looks poised to make the postseason. Let's see if our boys can knock them down a notch.
The Padres scored a total of 11 runs in three games at Petco verse the Cubs, but that was all they needed as they gave up just four runs. Hopefully the offense can score a few more runs in this series, but surprisingly, PNC suppresses runs more than Petco. This year, PNC Park has a park factor of 0.698 for runs scored. Petco's park factor is 0.783. But the Padres have a club that's seemed to figure it out since the return of Carlos Quentin and the break-up between San Diego and their original 2012 middle infield (Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson).
Since Quentin's return from the DL on May 28th, the Padres are 32-31. Since June 15th, the club is 26-22. They're playing good ball now which will hopefully carry them through the rest of the year and into next season. And don't say they are hurting their draft order by winning in a lost year - I already covered that.
Game One - 4:05 PM PT
Volquez is coming off a tough start. His wild ways got the best of him as he walked four in 1 2/3 innings verse the Mets. He also gave up two hits and four runs. While Volquez has been solid all year long, we're seeing a troubling trend as the season wears on, and it's not his walk totals. Volquez's ERA has risen from a low of 3.30 on July 24th to 3.73 coming into play today. This could be a regression toward the mean considering his FIP is 4.06 and his xFIP is 4.28. The defense has definitely helped him, and pitching at Petco has helped him. His HR rate is down to 0.67 verse a career average of 0.98. But never fear, Volquez has fared well at PNC Park. Surprisingly, he has only started three games there in his career, but he owns a 2.16 ERA at PNC and has walked "just" 8 in 16 2/3 innings.
JMac, which I'm sure they call him in The 'Burgh, has been the second-best starter for the Pirates this year. He is 10-5 with a 3.32 ERA. If it weren't for A.J. Burnett's crazy resurgence, JMac (see, if people weren't calling him this before, they will now) would be the number one starter for Pittsburgh. McDonald came up with the Dodgers, but he was used primarily in relief. It wasn't until he was traded to the Pirates for Octavio Dotel that McDonald was converted to a full-time starter. It was a good trade and a good choice to convert him on the Pirates' side. McDonald has his lowest ERA of his career this year. He's reduced his BB/9 ratio to its lowest total since his rookie year in which he played in only four games. But here's the good news: In 15 1/3 innings against San Diego, McDonald has given up 11 runs. The Padres own him over the course of this incredibly small sample size. So basically, we don't really know if they own him, but it's a start.
Game Two - 4:05 PM PT
Jason Marquis vs. A.J. Burnett
It'd be easy to chalk Marquis' recent success up to the magic of Petco Park, but take a closer look people. Are you putting your face really close to the computer screen? Good. In his last six starts, Marquis has given up three earned runs or less in five of them. Of those six starts, half of them came on the road. Marquis is just pitching better period since joining the Padres. I choose to believe it's the San Diego atmosphere. The city has great people and must just boost the mood of players coming in from places like Minnesota. Marquis has a much bigger sample size for us to pull for games pitched at PNC Park. He's started 11 games there and thrown a total of 72 2/3 innings. His ERA at PNC is 3.34. I can live with that.
A.J. Burnett was good, then he was bad, then he was real bad, and now he's good again. I believe that's what his SABR biography will read, but it will just be stretched out over 5,000 words or so. With the Marlins, Burnett had a 3.73 ERA. With Toronto he had a 3.94 ERA. With the Yankees, he had a 4.79 ERA and a reputation for collapsing under the pressure. Now, with Pittsburgh, he has a 3.19 ERA. Obviously the pressure is far less in Pittsburgh than it was in New York, and probably less than it was in Toronto. Remember, Toronto, while in Canada, still plays in the American League East. That in and of itself carries inherent pressure. The good news is that Burnett has a 4.54 ERA in his career against San Diego (33 2/3 innings). The bad news is he has a 2.08 ERA at PNC Park in his career (86 2/3 innings).
Game Three - 10:35 AM PT
This is already being billed as the match-up of the proper way to spell Eric(k). Stults is looking to prove that despite the fact that he should be spelling his last name with a "Z" at the end, he knows his first name is spelled right. Bedard, of course is countering with the old, "I'm a pitcher, pitchers like striekouts, and I'm using a 'K' in my name." It's an age-old defense, but the Eric(k)'s will have to battle this one out on the field. OK, enough of that...
Stults has been surprisingly good for San Diego this year. In six starts this season, he has posted a 2.72 ERA. Stults came from the Cubs and started his Padres' career in the rotation. He was eventually moved to the bullpen for some time after coming off the disabled list in late July. He's worked his way back into the starting rotation though, and pitched well in his last start. In 5 1/3 innings-pitched against Cubs, Stults gave up no runs and allowed just five hits. Stults has pitched well both at home and on the road. His road ERA this season is and even 3.00.
Bedard is a hit or miss type pitcher. Let me explain by giving you his earned run totals for each of his last nine starts: 0, 8, 1, 1, 4, 5, 4, 1, 7. He's hot or he's cold. All that equals a 4.54 ERA this season. Well not exactly just that. He has made 21 starts this season after all. Bedard has spent a lot of time in the American League, so he's only made four starts against the Padres, all part of the Vedder Cup while he pitched for the Seattle Mariners. He owns a 1.64 lifetime ERA against San Diego. He was 2-0 in Vedder Cup action thus making him one of the San Diego's most hated men.
The Padres are winners of four in a row. They will be facing two pitchers in which the numbers seem to favor San Diego (but then again what do numbers know?). I've been pretty darn close with my predictions in the last two series. With that said, I am starting to believe I have a super power based on positive thinking. Therefore, I call for the sweep again! I call for the Padres to extend their winning streak to seven games and push the Pirates out of the Wild Card slot as St. Louis sneaks in. Let it be written, let it be done.