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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 7:34 PM

It’s the nature of the NL Central right now that the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs Tuesday and Wednesday before getting Thursday off…but LOST ground to the Cincinnati Reds who were busy beating the San Diego Padres those three days. That sets up a huge series this weekend where the Pirates must try to cool off the red-hot Reds. If they don’t…it will hurt them in both the NL Central and Wildcard races.

Who would have imagined, even two months ago, that Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would be playing in the showcase series of an August weekend?!

Cincinnati’s rampage through some of the worst teams in the NL in recent days has helped them extend their lead to 3.5 games over Pittsburgh in the Central division. If you’re not beating the patsies, you’re losing serve right now in the frantic senior circuit. There are so many bad or at least slumping teams that most contenders are finding it easy to string together victories. Let’s see what happens when two contenders play each other.

Here are the projected pitching matchups for the series. Note that this WON’T be a big TV series because Middle American generally gets short shrift from the national networks. Saturday Night’s game will be on the MLB Network if you want to check out the series on the upstairs TV while your wife and kids are watching the Olympics in the family room. The best pitcher in the series will be throwing that night for the Pirates.



Pittsburgh: Rodriguez (7-9, 3.82 ERA, 1.30 WHIP)

Cincinnati: Latos (9-3, 4.17 ERA, 1.24 WHIP)

Still odd to see Wandy Rodriguez pitching for Pittsburgh. Heck, it’s still odd seeing Latos throwing for the Reds! Rodriguez had lost some of his fire this year with the Astros, as a dark cloud hung over that franchise most of the season. Is he wearing down with age? Or, will pitching in a pennant race rejuvenate him? We find out here because this is the first pennant race type action he’s seen in a long, long time. Latos has a decent WHIP, but the bandbox tendencies of his home park will allow a little more pop and a higher ERA than is normally associated with a 1.24 WHIP. The media is marveling about his won-lost record. They need to pay more attention to ERA! Pitchers shouldn’t be praised for the run support they get in a weak league. Who has the edge? Tough call because it’s hard to know how Rodriguez will handle big game pressure. JIM HURLEY is working with his sources to solve that riddle before the picks go up online.


SATURDAY (on MLB Network)

Pittsburgh: McDonald (10-5, 3.38 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)

Cincinnati: Leake (4-7, 4.44 ERA, 1.35 WHIP)

If McDonald was having this kind of year on a TV team, he’d be on the cover of a Wheaties box already. Very strong stuff in terms of strikeouts and that low WHIP. And, remember that Pittsburgh didn’t score many runs in the first third of the season but McDonald’s still managed a .666 winning percentage. Leake has been the worst of the five Cincinnati starting pitchers this season. Those aren’t horrible numbers for a fifth guy as you compare Leake to the rest of the league. But, he’s clearly outmatched by an ace like McDonald in this head-to-head matchup. This is obviously the best chance for the Pirates to get a win in the series. Frankly, if they don’t win this game, it’s hard to take them very seriously as a threat in October. They might still make the playoffs as a Wildcard because of a soft schedule. Winning in OCTOBER means being able to beat the worst starter on playoff caliber opponent, no matter where the game is being played. 



Pittsburgh: Bedard (5-12, 4.83 ERA, 1.48 WHIP)

Cincinnati: Bailey (9-6, 3.85 ERA, 1.33 WHIP)

Horrible numbers for Bedard, who’s enjoyed kind of a halo effect because the team has been doing so well this year. People see the standings, and figure the Pirates pitchers must be getting the job done. Many are. Bedard has a HORRIBLE WHIP for a NL pitcher, and a composite of stats that are below what the market and media have realized. We’re normally not big fans of Homer Bailey. He’s been erratic and immature in the past. He has definitely settled into his role this year though. He’s getting the job done on a consistent basis. Maybe we’ll have trouble pulling the trigger on him in October. Anyone below Cueto in the rotation is going to give you cause for concern in an important game. Against Bedard, Bailey might make some sense. We’ll see what price the market brings on Sunday…and we’ll see what the texture of the series has been up to that point.

These teams will meet again in Cincinnati on September 10-12, and then see each other in Pittsburgh over the final weekend of the regular season September 28-30. Cincinnati will face St. Louis, the only other serious NL Central contender August 24-26 at home, and then on the final days of the season Oct 1-3 (the season ends on a Wednesday this year). Pittsburgh visits St. Louis August 17-19, and hosts the Cards August 27-29. You need to circle those series now…all three of these teams have such weak remaining schedules that those matchups are going to loom very large in the divisional and Wildcard pictures.

JIM HURLEY is likely to have at least one big play in this weekend’s Pittsburgh/Cincinnati series, and may be stepping out with one of his strongest releases of the whole summer.  There are other big matchups this weekend as well. The whole NETWORK team is looking very closely at these matchups:

LA Angels at Chicago White Sox (Sundays’ game on TBS)

Baltimore at Tampa Bay (big Wildcard implications)

Toronto at Oakland (A’s try to get back on track)

Look for big play blockbusters every day this weekend. And, don’t forget that the NFL Preseason starts Sunday Night! That will be Arizona facing New Orleans in the Hall of Fame Game to be televised by the NFL Network. Check this website for announcements each day, and have your credit card handy if you’d like to try out the service.

If you’re ready to make a longterm commitment, this is a GREAT weekend to put together a two-sport combination package. Call the office at 1-800-323-4453 for details. Our representatives will be available during expanded hours this weekend since football is finally on the calendar. We’ve been waiting all summer long, and FOOTBALL IS FINALLY HERE!

We’ll be talking football here in the NOTEBOOK all weekend and for the next several days. Our summer series of weekend college football conference previews will continue Saturday and Sunday with the Atlantic Coast Conference (Atlantic Saturday, Coastal Sunday). Then we’ll run our four AFC Divisional previews Monday through Thursday, before picking up with the NFC the following week. We’ll be pretty football heavy in the NOTEBOOK during the month of August…but BIG, JUICY BASEBALL WINNERS will still be posted every day here at the website.  

It’s been busy all summer…and it’s about to get busier. Be sure you’re making the most with your Las Vegas bets during this DREAM TIME for sports fans WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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