After beginning the season with series against American League and National League East foes, the Pittsburgh Pirates play their first division series of the year, taking on the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park.
Despite the team looking different this season without the likes of Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, the Reds come to town with a 4-2 record after series wins against the Philadelphia Phillies at home and St Louis Cardinals on the road.
The Reds are still led by Joey Votto and an abundance of talented youth that make them no easy opponent to play against.
After beginning the year with back-to-back losses to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Bucs bounced back with a series sweep of the Atlanta Braves, capped off by a 6-5 win yesterday thanks to a two-run walkoff home run off the bat of Starling Marte. The Pirates find themselves with a 3-2 record and an opportunity to build upon that in the next few days.
Here are our top three matchups to watch for this three game set at PNC, a series in which the Pirates starters will be keys to victory:
3.) Tyler Glasnow vs. Reds in season debut
After a spring of uncertainty regarding his status to open the year, Pirates top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow makes his 2017 debut tonight against the Reds.
The 23-year old is coming off of a season in which he made his MLB debut, making seven appearances at the end of the season and starting on four occasions. In those appearances, Glasnow sported a 4.24 ERA and has yet to pick up his first major league victory.
While he walked 13 batters in 23.1 innings, he did strike out 24 in that span, providing a bright light for Pirates fans.
Glasnow won’t be facing the Reds for the first time tonight as he made two relief appearances against them last season. In those two outings, Glasnow allowed no runs on two hits while walking two and striking out five in four innings of work.
The key for Glasnow tonight will be to limit the walks, as usual. We all know he can strike a ton of guys out, but he has to maintain solid command in the process.
It will be interesting to see how the young hurler approaches a lineup that remains similar to the one he went up against last season.
Over on Twitter, we asked you what you wanted to see from Glasnow in his first tart o the season. If you haven’t already, hope over to our feed, cast your vote, and RT!
What are you hoping to see from Tyler Glasnow in his first 2017 start?
— Pirates Breakdown (@pbcbreakdown) April 10, 2017
2.) Jameson Taillon vs. Adam Duvall
Taillon is coming off a beyond stellar outing against the Boston Red Sox in which he pitched seven scoreless innings while punching out six batters.
The 25 year old will make his first home start of the season tomorrow which is good news for the right hander. In 11 home starts last season, Taillon posted a 2.86 ERA compared to a 4.26 ERA in seven starts away from PNC Park.
Taillon will also face off against the Reds for the third time in his young career. In two starts against Cincy, the former second overall pick is 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. Taillon has compiled eight strikeouts in 11 innings against the Reds.
While the Reds are in a rebuilding stage, they do have a major threat in the middle of their lineup with Adam Duvall. Duvall is coming off of an outstanding season in which he hit 33 home runs and drove in 103 runs for the Reds.
He also has some experience against Taillon, going 1 for 6 against him last season with the lone hit being a three-run home run in Taillon’s start on the road on Sept. 17, 2016.
Duvall serves as one of the biggest threats in the Reds lineup and it will be interesting to see Taillon face him. While the numbers point at Taillon getting the edge in this matchup, Duvall has plenty of pop to go yard once again.
1.) Ivan Nova vs. Tucker Barnhart
Every pitcher has one, or even a few, guys around major league baseball that they just can’t seem to figure out how to get out.
The numbers tell the same story when it comes to Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart and Pirates veteran hurler Ivan Nova.
Nova enters his start Wednesday against the Reds after a solid 2017 debut against the Atlanta Braves Saturday in which he allowed just one unearned run in six innings.
Nova is familiar with a majority of the Reds lineup and has had success against the likes of Duvall, who is hitting just .111 in nine career at-bats against the 30 year old.
However, Barnhart has been able to get the best of Nova in the past. In his career, Barnhart is 3 for 6 against Nova with a double, a run scored, four RBIs and a strikeout. All six plate appearances came last season as Nova made three starts against Cincinnati including his Pirates debut.
In those three outings last season, Nova posted a 2-1 record with a 3.79 ERA while striking out 11 and walking none in 19 innings. In his career against Cincy, he is 3-2 with a 3.82 ERA in five starts.
Nova will get yet another taste of the Reds in this series and will have a chance at redemption as he attempts to shut down his kryptonite, in Barnhart, and the stingy Cincinnati offense.