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Battle Of Aces: Arizona Diamondbacks' Zack Greinke Vs. Pittsburgh Pirates' Gerrit Cole

Zack Greinke and Gerrit Cole open up a four-game series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates at Chase Field Thursday.

The Arizona Diamondbacks (19-16) ended a three-game losing streak Wednesday night. Now the team looks to build on that with seven games against two feeble opponents, the Pittsburgh Pirates (14-20) and the soap opera New York Mets (16-17)

Field manager Torey Lovullo's club sits in third place in the National League West, three games back of the division-leading Colorado Rockies. The Los Angeles Dodgers are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are 1.5 GB of Colorado. The Dodgers and Rockies start a three-game series at Coors Field Thursday. 

Arizona and Los Angeles are tied for the best home record in the National League. The Diamondbacks pitching staff tied a major league record Wednesday with 9 consecutive home games recording at least 10 strikeouts. From April 20-May 9, the Houston Astros accomplished the same feat. Right-hander Zack Greinke looks to help set the major league record Thursday against the Pirates. 

Scouting the Buccos

The Pirates enter Thursday's game holding up the rear in the National League Central, 5.5 GB of the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals. Clint Hurdle's club has a run differential of -33 this season (123 RS, 156 RA). Pittsburgh has played above .500 baseball (8-7) at PNC Park, but the team is 6-13 away from home. The Buccos have lost four in a row and are 3-7 in their last 10 games. 

The Pirates have scored the third-fewest runs in the majors. It is safe to say a lack of offense is a major reason for their struggles. They are batting just .228 as a team and are 21st in the majors in extra-base hits (92). Only one batter in their starting nine is hitting above .260 for the season. Third baseman Josh Harrison is batting .299 but Andrew McCutchen is hitting .215 and Gregory Polanco has a .238 average. 

The Pirates offense was dealt a big blow before the season began. Outfielder Starling Marte has suspended 80 games for steroid use in late April. Marte had been a key cog in Pittsburgh's lineup and the absence of his services clearly has had an effect. The Pirates, like the Diamondbacks, are worse offensively on the road. As a team, Pittsburgh is hitting .216 on the road. McCutchen is batting .192 away from PNC Park. 

In addition to Marte, the Pirates are also without the team leader in several offensive categories, third baseman David Freese. In addition, second baseman Adam Fraizer is out with a hamstring strain and starter Jamison Taillon is out after undergoing surgery for what is thought to be testicular cancer. 

The Pirates own the fifth-best ERA in the majors (3.98) and while the absence of Taillon is a big blow, the offense needs to start scoring more if the Bucs are going to get back into contention.

Game Essentials 

What: Pirates at Diamondbacks

Game No. 36 Home Game No. 20 (13-6)

When: 6:40 p.m., Arizona time

Where: Chase Field (roof open)

Pitching Matchup: Right-hander Gerrit Cole (1-3, 3.14 ERA) vs. Right-hander Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.09 ERA)

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Arizona/98.7 FM Arizona's Sports Station/KHOV 105.1 FM (Spanish)

Weather: First pitch temperature of 89 degrees 

Umpires: HP: Tom Woodring 1B: Ed Hickox 2B: Chris Conroy 3B: Jerry Meals 

**

Currently, Greinke is pitching like the $210 million dollar ace the Diamondbacks signed prior to the 2016 season. Last time out, the right-hander earned the win against the Colorado Rockies. At Coors Field, he gave up just 2 runs on 6 hits in seven innings. 

In his last four starts, Greinke is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA. Unlike last season, his command has been there with 33 strikeouts and just three walks over his last four outings. Exit velocity tells a lot about Greinke's early season performance. In his first three starts, opposing batters hit the ball 95 mph or harder on 37.7 percent of balls in play. In his last four starts, the percentage has dropped to 21.1, the second-lowest total among pitchers with at least 50 batted balls in that span. 

Greinke ranks second in the NL and third in the majors in swing percentage on balls outside of the strike zone behind Marco Estrada of the Toronto Blue Jays and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals. Opposing hitters have made contact 72.3 percent of the time against Greinke, the sixth-best mark among pitchers this season. 

Greinke is third in SO/BB ratio, fifth in BB/9.0 IP, sixth in whiff rate, strikeouts in seventh and tied for ninth in innings pitched. Greinke has also pitched well at Chase Field this season, going 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA (7 ER/23.2 IP) in 4 home starts. Greinke tends to pitch well when he goes at least six innings and he has done that in his last four starts. 

The slider has been a great pitch for Greinke, with more break compared to past seasons. Opposing hitters are batting .217 off that pitch this season and a measly .083 in May. 

In 10 career starts against the Pirates, Greinke is 6-3 with a 5.04 ERA. 

Pirates batters versus Greinke:

Runs could be at a premium at Chase Field. Gerrit Cole has been at his best as well. In his last start, the Pirates ace allowed 1 run in seven innings. Since allowing five earned runs on Opening Day, Cole has a 2.37 ERA in six starts. Cole is just 1-3 because Cole has earned just 2.09 runs of support per start, the second worst in the majors. 

In four career starts against the Diamondbacks, Cole is 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA. Cole will make his second career start at Chase Field. 

Diamondbacks batters versus Cole:

Lineups

Pirates:

Harrison 5

Cervelli 2

McCutchen 8

Polanco 9

Jaso 3

Osuna 7

Mercer 6

Ngoepe 4

Cole 1

Diamondbacks:

Pollock 8

Peralta 9

Goldschmidt 3

Lamb 5

Owings 6

Drury 4

Descalso 7

Mathis 2

Greinke 1

Jeff Mathis gets the nod behind the plate. Mathis is Greinke's personal catcher. 

Yasmany Tomas is really struggling and has never hit well against right-handers. With a tough righty on the bump, Tomas is not in the starting lineup. Daniel Descalso gets the start in left field. 


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