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By: Josh Taylor, KDKA-TV Sports

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — An in-depth preview of the Pirates’ season against the Cincinnati Reds.

Dates, Times and Probable Pitchers:
– Thursday, 7:05: RHP Homer Bailey vs. LHP Steven Brault
– Friday, 7:05: RHP Luis Castillo vs. RHP Trevor Williams
– Saturday, 7:05: RHP Sal Romano vs. RHP Chad Kuhl
– Sunday, 1:35: RHP Tyler Mahle vs. RHP Jameson Taillon

Games Pirates Should Win: Thursday’s matchup favors the Pirates since both David Freese and Starling Marte are in the starting lineup with Bailey on the mound. Freese has a lifetime batting average of .379 with two doubles and two home runs in 26 at-bats against Bailey, and Marte is hitting .333 with six extra base hits in 22 at-bats. Brault, starting in place of the injured Joe Musgrove, is making only his second career appearance against the Reds, but held them to only two runs in five innings in the first one.

Games Pirates Should Lose: Friday could be rough for Williams, since the Reds roster hits a collective .358 against him with six doubles, three home runs and six walks in 77 plate appearances lifetime. Also, Castillo has been fairly good in his two career starts against the Pirates, pitching 11 innings and allowing only three earned runs with 14 strikeouts. He held them to only one run in seven innings in a 1-0 loss against Gerrit Cole last August.

Game That Could Either Way: Saturday and Sunday will be the deciding factor in this series. Kuhl has pitched well against the Reds in two starts, allowing just four runs in 11.2 innings with 12 strikeouts, but he’s also given up four home runs. If he can’t keep the ball down against a lineup that has quite a few hitters with power, they’ll make him pay. Taillon’s track record against Cincinnati is pedestrian at best with a 5.30 ERA in seven starts against them. He has faced Joey Votto more than any other hitter in his career, but has held him to a .200 batting average with six walks. He might be able to contain Votto, but if the hitters behind him take advantage of the opportunity to drive him in, that’s when it could get out of hand.

Guy Pirates Should Be Worried About: Billy Hamilton is a career .247 hitter, but if he played against the Pirates every day, he’d be in Cooperstown. In 260 career plate appearances against the Pirates, Hamilton is hitting .302 with an on-base percentage of .349 and a slugging percentage of .387. He doesn’t hit many home runs against the Bucs, but he’s stolen an absolutely absurd 50 bases in 58 attempts. Keep him off base is Priority One, and hoping he trips and falls is the second.

Guy Reds Should Be Worried About: Freese hits a collective .294/.374/.459 against the Reds’ staff, and has logged at least one hit in a handful of plate appearances against each of the three starters pitching after Bailey. There could be a few situations where manager Clint Hurdle goes against stacking the lineup with left-handed hitters against the four righty starters for Cincinnati because of Freese’s success against them lifetime.

Key Matchup: Votto is already one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, but he’s exceptionally good against most of the Pirates’ pitching staff. Votto has slash numbers of .339/.435/.508 against the Pirates’ current five-man starting rotation, but if he comes to the plate late in the game with the Reds trailing, he might have to face Felipe Rivero, whom he has not put the ball in play against in eight plate appearances (five strikeouts, three walks). So if the Bucs hope to win games in this series, limiting the damage from Votto early is paramount.

Stat That Does Not Matter: The man whom the Reds have tortured over the past five seasons is no longer a Pirate. Gerrit Cole, the former 1st overall pick who was traded to the Houston Astros in January, has a career record of 1-8 with a 4.97 ERA against the Reds in 12 career starts. Cole struck out 73 batters in 67 innings against Cincinnati, but lasted six innings or more in only five of his starts.

Prediction: The Pirates have scored six runs per game so far this season, (four per game in their two games at home), and it appears that offense may not be their weakness this season. Their ability to win games will lie with how well they pitch from day-to-day, and facing a lineup that has at least a couple perennial threats in Hamilton and Votto, the Bucs will have to be at their best at the plate. I expect a lot of runners to cross home for both teams and a 2-2 split for the four-game series.