You’ve heard of the Battle for Ohio, but it’s high time we start calling the Indians-Pirate series what it is: The Battle for Erie.
My hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania sits on the lake that share its namesake, with a beautiful peninsula and a mall that may or not be shaped like a gun and owned by the mafia. There was a Netflix documentary made about its most notorious murder. Its zoo was a punchline in a Mike Birglia bit and it infuriated people for years. It’s a small town just big enough to think it deserves more recognition than it gets, and in a lot of ways it does.
Erie sits nearly equidistant from Cleveland to the west and Pittsburgh to the south. Without a professional team above Double-A or the NBA’s G League to call its own, it created a power dynamic that I didn’t realize was abnormal until I was well into my teens. There is no citywide pull for one team, or even a state.
With one trip down Peach Street or one ride on Waldameer’s Sky Ride, you’re as likely to see Pittsburgh fans as you are Cleveland. You won’t see a string of businesses with a Block C in their window and Tom Hamilton piping into the streets, it’s a mix of everything and no one is afraid to show it. Browns, Steelers, Indians, Pirates, Bills, Eagles, Penguins. a perplexing dose of the Broncos — it’s all there in a veritable melting pot of sports fandom. And it rules.
This three-game set between the Indians and Pirates won’t mean a whole lot — there will be no trophy in the shape of the Bicentennial Tower handed out, no award named after the city’s greatest athlete, Bob Sanders. But to many people in Erie, it’ll be a conversation starter — and ender — for a lot of friends who grew up rooting for opposite teams that are the furthest things possible from “real” rivals.
Why did I spend the first several paragraphs of this series preview waxing poetic about my hometown? Because there isn’t much else to talk about the Pirates. They are coming off their fourth straight losing season and barreling toward another in the shortened 2020 campaign with a roster glued together with bargain bin free agents and Josh Bell’s falling stardom.
When the two teams take the field, the Tribe will again be facing another team coming off an extensive break due to COVID-19. The Pirates missed their last two games against the Reds after a positive test halted operations for both teams.
Team in a box
2020 Pittsburgh Pirates
Tuesday, August 18, 7:05 p.m. ET: LHP Steven Brault vs. Aaron Civale
Steven Brault was an 11th round pick by the Baltimore Orioles back in 2013 and made his debut with the Pirates three years later. Since then, he’s been pretty bad. He carries a career 4.89 ERA and has walked nearly five batters per nine innings in his career as he bounced between starter and reliever for the Buccos.
Wednesday, August 19, 7:05 p.m. ET: RHP JT Brubaker vs. Carlos Carrasco
Twenty-six-year-old JT Brubaker may be the most compelling players on the entire Pirates roster, just because of his journey from a struggling college pitcher to starter in the major leagues. A sixth round pick in 2015, Brubaker had a slow climb through the minor leagues until his debut out of the ‘pen in 2020 and his first career start against the Twins on Aug. 6. Brubaker doesn’t have a mass of pitches to analyze in the majors yet, but he features a fastball that touches 96 and a fast-spinning slider.
Thursday, August 20, 7:05 p.m. ET: RHP Trevor Williams vs. Shane Bieber
Trevor Williams looked like he might be a legitimate front-line starter back in 2018, when he had a 3.11 ERA and kept his walks down in 31 starts. But then he regressed in 2019 and now in 2020 he’s been rocky through four starts. He’s relied on his fastball less this year, instead opting to throw his slider, changeup, and curve more than ever before.
Pop quiz, don’t cheat. Within five seconds of finishing this sentence, see how many Pirates position players you can name. Bet it’s not that many. Here are a couple of them, anyway.
INF, Erik González - Ayyyyy, there he is. Old friend Erik González, who seemed like a good player but never had a spot on the Indians, has played a mix of third base and shortstop for the Pirates this year and he’s been one of their brightest offensive surprises with a .349/.349/.558 slash in 43 PA. That’s not a typo — his batting average and on-base percentage are exactly the same as he hasn’t drawn a single walk this season. But he’s also seen his strikeout rate plummet in the short sample size, so basically what I’m saying is he’s Ichiro now.
1B/DH Colin Moran - Colin Moran is already on pace to set a new career-high in home runs — he has six through 17 games where he had 13 in all 149 he played in last year. He’s also only had seven singles on the year and sits in the upper percentiles of just about every hard-hitting stat. It all culminates in a weird .226/.294/.532 slash on the year.
How many games will the Indians win against the Pirates?
This poll is closed