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Pirates-Giants set to open four-game set

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates nor their opponent for the next four days – the San Francisco Giants – has any hope of extending their season beyond the last game of the regular season on Sept. 29.

After all, the Pirates are buried in the National League Central, 21 games under .500, and the Giants – who look good in comparison at 69-74 – sit 7.5 games out of a wild card spot.

But that doesn’t mean the upcoming four-game series is void of any intriguing story lines.

For starters, tonight’s 9:45 p.m. start at Oracle Park will see Trevor Williams look to put together a fourth straight quality start when he matches up against the Giants’ jolly left-hander, Madison Bumgarner.

Williams, one of the National League’s top pitchers during the second half of last season, saw his 2019 campaign unravel after suffering a right side strain in mid-May. After coming off the IL, Williams surrendered 24 earned runs in 21.5 innings and later had another stretch during which he yielded 16 earned runs in 12 frames.

But Williams appears to have turned things around, putting together a 2.37 ERA in his last three starts – wins over Cincinnati and Colorado and a no-decision against Miami.

Bumgarner, meanwhile, allowed a season-worst six runs in his latest outing – a five-inning stint against St. Louis that dropped his ERA on the season to 3.81.

Tuesday night’s matchup could be even more worth watching, as the Bucs will battle an old NL Central friend in Johnny Cueto.

Cueto was the starter in one of Pirates fans’ most memorable moments in more than a generation – the NL Wild Card matchup against Cincinnati in 2013. In that game, the veteran right-hander became unglued by the PNC Park faithful and surrendered a back-breaking home run to Bucs catcher Russell Martin. The Pirates went on to a 6-2 win.

Fast-forward six seasons, and Cueto will make his first start in more than a year, as he has spent the past 13 months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

The 33-year-old veteran made six minor league rehab starts and put together a 3.38 ERA in 21 1/3 innings at three different levels. He had hoped to return during the Giants’ weekend set in Dodger Stadium, but his return was delayed to due back tightness.

Despite Cueto’s problems in the 2013 Wild Card matchup, he has virtually owned the Pirates over his career, fashioning a 20-4 record with a 2.19 ERA in 30 career starts.

Cueto will take on the Pirates Latest and Greatest Hope, Mitch Keller, who so far has struggled in his brief career, going 1-3 with an 8.18 ERA. Keller had to leave his most recent start, on Tuesday against the Marlins, after being struck on the right wrist by a line drive.

In Keller’s previous outing, he was touched for 11 hits and eight earned runs in four innings at Philadelphia. Five days earlier, though, he looked strong in a win over the Reds, going six innings and giving up just one earned run in a no-decision.

The Pirates have yet to name a starter for either Wednesday’s 9:45 p.m. start or Thursday’s series finale, which is set to start at 3:45 p.m. Giants rookie Logan Webb will pitch Wednesday night; he gave up seven earned runs in less than three innings in a loss to St. Louis in his most recent start Thursday.

Veteran Jeff Samardzija, who has quietly turned his season around, will bring a 3.64 ERA into Thursday’s game. Since July 1, Samardzija has held opposing hitters to a .193 batting average and posted a 2.72 ERA.

The series will also see former Giants farmhand Bryan Reynolds make his first appearance before what could have been his home crowd. The standout switch-hitter, a second-round draft pick of the Giants in 2016, was dealt to the Pirates along with Kyle Crick for Andrew McCutchen.

Reynolds made his major league debut against the Giants at PNC Park in late April and went 4 for 6 – and hasn’t stopped hitting since. One of the NL’s top rookies, Reynolds brings a 327 batting average and a .920 OPS into the series.