Upcoming Series Matchups (8/11/10)--Padres Bats vs. Pirates Arms

I continue my rather rushed preview of the Pittsburgh series ( it’s now less than two hours before the first game starts, hence the rush) by looking at Pirates’ starters Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, and Zach Duke.

How’s that for a short intro? Follow me after the jump for analysis.

Like the SD pitching/PITT offense preview, I’m going to steal some material from my late July preview of the Friars’ last meeting with the Bucs. Unfortunately for me, the only hurler that started a game for Pittsburgh then that’s pitching in this series is Karstens. Here’s what I had to say about the former Yankee righthander three weeks ago:

Next up is Karstens, who is really the antithesis of a pitcher who can beat San Diego. His high-80’s fastball and high-70’s changeup are both very poor pitches, so he throws a breaking pitch–either a slider or a big, slow curve–about a third of the time. The slider isn’t a very good pitch, making it easy meat for San Diego hitters. The curveball is actually something of a plus pitch, thanks to its impressive horizontal sweep, but the Padres are tied for the seventh-best team in the majors against curves, so whatever advantage Karstens normally has there is neutralized against the Padres.

Few major league starters have less of a chance for success against San Diego’s offense than Karstens.

Okay, that’s pretty damning. Karstens actually didn’t implode on July 24, though; he allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits in six innings. He got five strikeouts, issued two walks, and didn’t allow a homer.

The Padres have beefed up on changeups since that game, so Karstens better watch out there, as his is, like I said above, very poor. San Diego has regressed to close to average on breaking pitches, so that big curve Karstens throws may cause a bit of trouble if he can get to two strikes on San Diego’s hitters…but that’s hardly a recommendation. He got through this team once without disaster, and he’s not likely to completely implode, but I’d be pretty surprised if he was anywhere near dominant.

It’s worth noting that Karstens’ opponent, Wade LeBlanc, probably has the lowest chance of San Diego’s three starters at containing the Pirates’ offense. Could we see a shootout in Petco? It’s more likely than usual.

James McDonald, stolen from the Dodgers in the Octavio Dotel trade, is a three-pitch guy who relies heavily on a big curveball in the upper 70’s. He also throws an average 90-94 mph fastball and a playable changeup. The 12-to-6 curve could give San Diego problems if he commands it, and it looks like he usually does. The changeup can be a surprise weapon, even with the Padres being a stellar changeup-hitting team, because McDonald throws so many curves that nobody ever looks for the change. Here’s a nice stat–McDonald has thrown 31 changeups in 13 2/3 innings this year. Only eight have been in the strike zone, but 17 have been offered at, and 12 of those 17 swings have missed.

The changeup, however, largely draws its strength from the fact that it’s clearly his third pitch, so it isn’t going to factor in too much. McDonald usually goes to the curve with two strikes anyway, so the change isn’t likely to finish many hitters off.

McDonald’s fastball, though, is also solid. With the good curve, the sneaky changeup, and the sort of quality fastball that can really work against a San Diego team that really hasn’t done much with heaters this year, McDonald has a chance to do some real damage. His opponent is the inconsistent Kevin Correia…I’m a bit worried about this second game. McDonald is young and pretty unproven, so he certainly isn’t immune to struggle, and there’s always the bullpen battle, but I’d bet on McDonald beating the Padres over Correia defeating the Pirates.

Finally, the Padres face lefty Zach Duke, who is a similar pitcher to Joe Saunders, who they just beat up on in their last game. Duke has an ERA well over 5, although he hasn’t been that bad. He throws strikes (2.66 BB/9), but doesn’t have much stuff, so he’s allowed 17 homers.

Duke features a horrifically poor fastball in the 84-90 range. It’s been at least one run below average per 100 pitches every year since 2006. He backs it up with a plus changeup–which the Padres should be able to deal with, and two breaking balls. Duke’s upper-70’s slider is strictly a show pitch, and his loopy low-70’s curve is okay, but not the sort of pitch the Padres should lose sleep over, particularly since they stay back well on breaking stuff. With the changeup unlikely to do too well against the Padres, Duke will be struggling to finish hitters off even more than usual. Matching up against Jon Garland, he’s going to need a whole lot of luck and/or help from Pittsburgh’s defense (26th in MLB in UZR/150) to come out on top.

So, looking purely at the starter matchups, I think Game 1 slightly favors San Diego, Game 2 slightly favors Pittsburgh, and Game 3 should be a Padres victory. Hopefully the bullpens tilt the first two games in the Padres’ favor as well.

Tags: San Diego Padres Series Preview

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