Every year, the MLB scheduling gods bring the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers together for a manufactured interleague rivalry series that doesn’t have any really history as a rival pairing. Regardless, we can always count on some quality baseball to be played when these two clubs clash, and when the Tigers visit Pittsburgh, we can also count on those magnificent PNC Park views.
This week the Pirates will visit Comerica, the first time the teams are meeting since the Tigers took half of the Pirates infield over the offseason. Jordy Mercer won’t be playing, but Josh Harrison should be ready to face his old team.
We decided to chat with someone who was familiar with this dynamic duo about what we could expect from Mercer and Harrison this season, and how the Pirates feel about their chances in 2019. Alex Stumpf from the SB Nation Pirates site Bucs Dugout was a natural choice, and was kind enough to take the time to talk to us about this upcoming rivalry showdown.
BYB: Not related to the Tigers, but Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows have done really well since moving to Tampa Bay, how has the Chris Archer trade felt in retrospect?
AS: A lot of people have “Glasnow” and “Meadows” muted on their Twitter feeds because they’re tired of hearing about them. Honestly, outside of his first couple starts with the Bucs where he was adjusting, Archer has been better than advertised and is becoming a fan favorite, easing the blow. It just sucks that it cost three guys to trade for him. I think most of the frustration is with the player development and coaching since they gave up on Glasnow so quickly.
Lots of people seem to think either the Brewers or Cardinals will run away with the NL Central this season. Do you think the Pirates have a team that could potentially best them in the division?
I think they can compete for the division or a wild card spot, especially if the starting pitching continues to dominate. The bullpen has suffered some injuries and has lost three or four winnable games so far, which is a tough to swallow this early. The hard part of their April schedule is in the books, and if they can get Gregory Polanco/Corey Dickerson back and some more consistent work out of the ‘pen, then they’ll be pesky and stick around all year.
You have some experience watching Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison play together. What can Tigers fans look forward to? What (like Mercer’s injury...) should we be worried about with this pair?
Jordy was pretty healthy in his time in Pittsburgh- with the once notable exception being when he was the victim of a takeout slide in 2015. Unfortunately, that really impacted his range in the field, so while he usually makes the plays he can get to, a lot of ground balls got by. Harrison’s range is better, but he’s more prone to making errors. I would still say he’s the better defender out of the two. As far as their bats go, Jordy is going to be a below average, but not terrible hitter. Harrison broke the same metacarpal in his right hand in back to back years, sucking him of his power, but if the BABIP gods are smiling on him, he can still produce.
Is there a particular Pirates player you would consider to be “under the radar” and one folks should watch out for?
Nick Burdi has quietly been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball so far, striking out 50% of his batters faced with a -0.30 FIP. (You’re welcome for stealing him from the Twins.) If I can make it two under the radar guys, I’d say Joe Musgrove. He’s at the start to what will be his breakout campaign.
Which Tigers player would you say is the biggest concern for you going into this series?
I’m really excited to watch Boyd pitch Tuesday. I also expect him to strike out a dozen in 7 innings.
A few years ago, Clint Hurdle was being hailed as an old school manager who embraced analytics, as recounted in Travis Sawchik’s Big Data Baseball. Any advice for Ron Gardenhire?
Hurdle really only started to embrace shifts/analytics thinking when he was backed into a corner and it looked like his job and career were on the line. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been very receptive of new ideas and has become one of the most progressive minded managers in the game, but desperate times called for desperate measures. That first step is the toughest one to take, and with the Tigers clearly in rebuild mode, I don’t know if Gardenhire is going to change unless the job demands it. If I was to give him advice, I’d say “keep an open mind.”
Do you also wish MLB would stop trying to convince people that the Pirates and Tigers are somehow “rivals”?
I think I’m the only person who looks forward to these series every year. Obviously the Pirates’ AL rival should either be Cleveland for proximity or Baltimore to relive those 70s World Series, but I think these two teams match up well and have played some fun games over the years.