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Pirates-Astros Wednesday pregame: Drew Sutton remarks on heroics

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Drew Sutton came up with the game-winning home run Tuesday night, though his family is not around to share the joy with him.

When Drew Sutton returned to the clubhouse Tuesday night after hitting the game-winning homer, the first text he made was to his wife.


"She's about six months pregnant right now," Sutton said. "So I told her that our little boy gave me some dad strength."


Even though he wanted to share that moment in-person, Sutton got a hold of her and all his family members in Texas.


Moving between three organizations in two months has not been the only challenge for Sutton. Last year, his first child, a girl named Karsyn, passed away after one day of life.


"We go through a lot as players, through the minors, up and down," Sutton said. But moments like the walkoff shot last night "remind you why you continue to grind out the game and play."


Sutton, who just turned 29 on Saturday, will see see wife over the All-Star break, then may not meet with her again until their son is due -- in mid-October.


"Hopefully we'll be busy then," Sutton said.


The First-Place Pirates

To Sutton's point, the Pirates enter Wednesday with a 30-percent chance to reach the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus' highly-regarded odds. The Bucs own a 25-13 record at home, the best mark in baseball.


Most importantly, they are tied with Cincinnati for first place in the National League Central, with a chance to take sole possession this afternoon. Manager Clint Hurdle said this team is different from the one that dropped from first rapidly in 2011.


"We're built better. We have more experience, we have more depth across the board," Hurdle said. "We still have depth that has been untapped in Triple-A if need be. The lessons learned from last year are as valuable as anything that we have moving forward."


First baseman Garrett Jones agreed that Tuesday night was the season's most exciting game, noting the "amazing" energy at PNC Park.


"We're happy where we are at," said first baseman Garrett Jones. "The goal is to try to maintain this pace."


Bucs Have Faced Worse Pitching

It seems to be the buzz around the Pirates, where did this offense come from?


In the months of April and May, the Pirates scored a meager 2.94 runs per game. Even though they faced the best starting pitching in the National League Central during those first two months, they were still underperforming expectations by more than 1.3 runs per game. Yes, the Bucs were going up against good pitchers, but they were stinking plenty on their own.


Since June 1, it has been like the Pirates installed a fresh dynamo. The team has scored 169 runs, the most in all of baseball. But it has also come against worse pitching.


In June and July, the Bucs have played 24 of 30 games against teams in the bottom half of baseball in run prevention, as pointed out by SI's Joe Sheehan. Before June, the average starter the Pirates went up against had a 3.63 ERA. Since then, the average starter owns a 4.09 ERA.



Though that is a substantial change in opponents, it's not the only factor in the offensive surge. The poor opposing pitching since June 1would be expected to allow about 4.54 runs per game. Instead, the Pirates have averaged 5.63 runs scored per game.


Point is, the Pirates have faced worse pitching in their 19-11 run in June and July (the best record in the NL), but they have also scored runs at a far better than expectations in that time. The offense has substantially improved in every category, which you can explore with David Manel of Bucs Dugout.


And the Bucs have the opportunity to keep on capitalizing. In their next 26 games through the trade deadline, 23 are against teams with losing records and in the bottom third of the Majors in pitching (this weekend's series against San Francisco the only exception). If the Pirates' offense collapses over the next month, they will have only themselves to blame; the schedule looks easy.


Halfway Point - Cutch in batting lead

Today's Fourth of July game marks the 81st for the Pirates -- the halfway point of a 162-game season. And halfway through, Andrew McCutchen's .360 batting average leads all of baseball, after going 3 for 4 last night. Close behind is Philadelphia's Carlos Ruiz at .354.


"He's playing the game the best he's ever played," Hurdle said. "And that's never not fun to watch."


Being on top of the batting race has to be unexpected for McCutchen. He collected a .286 average in each of his first two seasons. After hitting .259 last year, he worked on reconstructing his swing.


"There were times when my [swing] path to the ball was either too early or too late," McCutchen told ESPN's Buster Olney in June. "There were pitches that I should've been on, but instead, I rolled over the ball."


So after working on his timing and balance, he has been on a tear. Most recently, the All-Star center fielder has posted a .485 average in his last 16 games. He is also hitting .458 and for a 1.285 OPS against left-handed pitchers, both the best in the game.


"Daydro" Alvarez

After not being in the lineup for the first two games of the Astros series with left leg cramping, Pedro Alvarez is hitting 6th Wednesday afternoon.


That "afternoon" part is important, as Alvarez has the most homers in baseball during day games (12) and the third-best day OPS (1.219). There's no reason for this tear; Alvarez didn't post better day numbers before this season. But who knows, maybe the Pirates added a solar panel to their third baseman.


Injuries Build Up

Pirates have mostly avoided the injury bug with position players this season. But in last 10 days -- McCutchen, Alvarez, Rod Barajas, and Alex Presley have all gone down with various injuries.


All the other guys are back, but Presley will sit Wednesday with concussion symptoms. Hurdle needs to make sure Presley is ready to go after suffering the injury diving for a catch Tuesday night.


"The player really has to interact honestly with the question process," Hurdle said. "This is not a test you want to cheat on. And it's amazing what kind of feedback you can get from the battery of tests. It's been very good."


Hurdle called the injury to Presley "a whiplash-type scenario" and that the outfielder approached the trainers that he wasn't feeling right.


"When he hit, the lower torso came up," Hurdle said. "There was no chin hitting the ground."


Pitching Matchup - Correia vs. Keuchel

Around this time last year, it was a poorly-kept secret that Kevin Correia would be headed to the All-Star Game. With an 11-6 record and 3.74 ERA, he had the most votes on the players' ballot of any pitcher not initially selected, and was bound to replace injured Phillies starter Cole Hamels. 


The last calendar year has not been as kind to Correia. Since last Fourth of July, Correia's 5.41 ERA is third-worst among qualified NL pitchers, and his 5.75 FIP (an ERA-like stat that measures only things a pitcher can control) is the worst among those 74 pitchers. He also hasn't worked into the 7th inning since May 26.


But the Astros aren't sending Nolan Ryan to the hill. Their starter is Dallas Keuchel, a soft-tossing lefty making his fourth MLB start.


Houston Astros (32-49, 5th place in NL Central)

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

SS Jed Lowrie

1B Carlos Lee

3B Scott Moore

C Jason Castro

LF J.D. Martinez

RF Brian Bogusevic

LHP Dallas Keuchel


Pittsburgh Pirates (44-36, T-1st place)

LF Drew Sutton

2B Neil Walker

CF Andrew McCutchen

1B Casey McGehee

RF Garrett Jones

3B Pedro Alvarez

C Michael McKenry

SS Clint Barmes

RHP Kevin Correia

Neil Walker’s contract expires after the 2016 season. The Pirates second baseman is due for a big raise in arbitration this offseason—likely to $10 million—and signing him to a long-term extension will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.
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