The Pirates return to PNC Park for a rare three-game series against the Angels Friday night. Here's what to expect from the Halos, whose injury problems are even worse than the Bucs' right now.
Game times and probables
Friday, 7:05: Jered Weaver vs. Francisco Liriano
Saturday, 4:05: Nick Tropeano vs. Jeff Locke
Sunday, 1:35: Jhoulys Chacin vs. Gerrit Cole
As you've probably heard, the Angels are struggling to stay aloft right now, due in part to a rotation undone by significant injuries to Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and C.J. Wilson. (The team is also currently waiting on former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who's pitching at Triple-A in his comeback from offseason hip surgery.) None of the three pitchers the Angels will use this weekend look all that tough.
Good control is all Jered Weaver has going for him right now -- with an average fastball velocity of just 82.4 MPH, he's an extreme soft-tosser, particularly for a righty who doesn't throw a knuckleball, and he's very vulnerable to home runs, the result of a 29.5 percent ground ball rate.
Nick Tropeano was pressed into duty when Heaney got injured. His fastball, which sits in the low 90s, rates as one of the worst of any qualified starter by Linear Weights (worse, even, than Weaver's), although he has a decent curveball and gets his share of whiffs.
The Angels acquired Jhoulys Chacin in a minor deal with the Braves this month. He might actually be the best starter the Pirates face this series, with good breaking stuff and a strong ground ball rate.
C Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy
1B Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron
2B Johnny Giavotella
SS Gregorio Petit
3B Yunel Escobar
IF Brendan Ryan
IF Jefry Marte
OF Rafael Ortega
OF Mike Trout
OF Kole Calhoun
OF Shane Robinson
The brilliant Mike Trout and the underrated Kole Calhoun aside, there isn't much to love here. It doesn't help that the Angels' position players have been -- and stop me if this sounds familiar -- been hit hard by injuries. They've currently got Andrelton Simmons, Geovany Soto, Cliff Pennington, Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava on the DL.
The Angels figured to be a little short-handed this year anyway, the result of a farm system that isn't producing talent and a budget constrained by the team's desire to avoid paying luxury tax. It's strange to see a big-market team that headed into the season with designs on contending head into the season with, essentially, two starting outfielders, but that's what the Angels did. They also could have used additional infield help, even after acquiring Simmons.
The Pirates will use two lefties this series, which is convenient -- the Angels' .656 team OPS against southpaws beats only the Phillies and Braves. Oh, and in this series, Albert Pujols is expected to play first, even though he's usually their DH. That probably makes C.J. Cron the Angels' top pinch-hitting option.
Jose Alvarez (lefty)
Greg Mahle (lefty)
Hey, this group is relatively healthy! The Angels' 3.87 bullpen ERA rates is in the middle of the pack, although underlying stats like xFIP have been less impressed with their relievers' work. It isn't hard to see why -- Huston Street, Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, Cam Bedrosian and Greg Mahle have underlying numbers that aren't consistent with their ERAs. The Angels' bullpen generally isn't a hard-throwing one, with only Bedrosian regularly throwing in the mid-90s. In fact, Street, Smith and Mahle all have average fastball velocities below 90 MPH this season.
By the way, the Angels outrighted old friend Deolis Guerra today, so we won't get to see his funky changeup this week.