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Series preview: Pirates face the weak end of Giants' rotation

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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates begin a three-game set in San Francisco tonight. Here's what to expect from the Giants, who are clinging to a one-game lead in the NL West.

Game times and probables

Monday, 10:15: Ryan Vogelsong vs. Matt Moore
Tuesday, 10:15: Jameson Taillon vs. Jeff Samardzija
Wednesday, 3:45: Ivan Nova vs. Matt Cain

Vogelsong's start, of course, marks his return to AT&T Park after his five-year stint ended last season. He'll face new Giant Matt Moore, to whom the Pirates were connected at the trade deadline. He's managed two quality starts as a Giant so far despite walking 11 batters in 12 innings; that's a trend that's unlikely to continue, although there's no particular reason to think Moore is going to continue to struggle so much with walks. His first full season back after having Tommy John surgery has been unremarkable, with a 3.99 ERA, 7.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 so far. (Much of the value the Giants acquired when they traded for him comes in the form of his series of cheap 2017-2019 options.) Moore still doesn't throw as hard as he did when he entered the league, but he's edged his fastball back into the 93-MPH range this season, and it's returned to being an above-average pitch. Moore is left-handed, so expect to see David Freese at first tonight.

Former Pirate-killer Jeff Samardzija, too, has had an unremarkable first season in San Francisco, posting a 4.23 ERA, 6.6 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. His ERA is down half a run from last year, but he continues to look, physically and in terms of stuff, a lot more like an ace than he actually is. He pitched 5.2 shutout innings against the Marlins in his last start, but allowed at least four runs in all of his four previous outings.

Cain hasn't really been himself since 2012, the same year he signed a $112.5 million extension. He has a 5.47 ERA for the season, has allowed a ton of home runs, and missed almost two months this summer with a hamstring injury.

As you might have heard, the Giants have struggled since the All-Star break. Their starters have been the biggest reason why, posting a 4.61 ERA and allowing 29 homers in 148.1 innings over the past 30 days. The Pirates also won't have to face Madison Bumgarner or Johnny Cueto in this series. So there's opportunity here.

Position players

C Buster Posey, Trevor Brown
1B Brandon Belt 
2B Joe Panik
SS Brandon Crawford
IF Ehire Adrianza
3B Eduardo Nunez
3B Conor Gillaspie
LF Angel Pagan
CF Denard Span
RF Hunter Pence
OF Gregor Blanco

This bunch is solid offensively and very good defensively, particularly in the infield -- Panik and especially Crawford are terrific fielders, and Belt has long been above average as his position, so John Jaso and anyone else planning on hitting ground balls should beware. Elsewhere in the infield, Nunez replaces former third baseman Matt Duffy, who headed to Tampa in the Moore trade.

Overall, Belt, Crawford and Posey make a formidable core, although their best hitter lately has been Pagan, who's batted .305/.381/.486 in the past 30 days. Posey was scratched from the Giants' lineup yesterday and is currently day-to-day.

Bullpen

Santiago Casilla
Will Smith
Sergio Romo
Javier Lopez
George Kontos
Hunter Strickland
Derek Law
Jake Peavy

That's two former Pirates (Lopez and Strickland) and an almost-Pirate (Kontos, who reportedly nearly was part of the Xavier Nady / Damaso Marte deal years ago). Also included is Will Smith, who arrived from Milwaukee in a deadline deal designed to boost this middle-of-the-pack bullpen. (And no, I'm not going to make the obvious joke about where Will Smith came from. You're welcome.) Santiago Casilla is the Giants' closer. But their best reliever this year has been ... Derek Law? Yes, Derek Law, about whom I know pretty much nothing. (Edit: He's a local product who went to high school at Seton-La Salle, which I probably should've known.) He's a 25-year-old righty who has average-ish velocity for a reliever but walks almost no one and has only allowed one homer this season. Jake Peavy, by the way, is in the bullpen because he lost his rotation spot when Moore arrived.