Sunday Night Baseball Preview with ESPN’s Aaron Boone

The Pirates and Cardinals will conclude their three game series at 8:08 tonight on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Pirates Talk Now sat down with ESPN’s Aaron Boone to discuss the matchup and some of the main focal points about the Pirates’ season so far.

ON THE MATCHUP

This is the second of three scheduled Sunday Night games for the Pirates this season, and their first against St. Louis. They will be the prime time game again on August 20 in Williamsport.

Boone: “I think in the case of the Cardinals, you have a wildly popular and consistently successful franchise. It’s just one of those teams that their is undeniable.

And as far as the Pirates go, we’ve seen them kind of change not only the perception of their organization, but the reality of their organization. It’s now been four or five years of a team that’s either in the playoffs or a certainly relevant club.

And it being that they’re rivals in the National League Central and two franchises that have been around for a long, long time, it feels like a natural game for us to take, and one we always enjoy having when these two get together.”

ON THE NATIONAL IMPRESSION OF PIRATES

“I think they’ve restored their proud franchise in the eyes of the national perspective of them. They’ve had an MVP in Andrew McCutchen. They’ve played in some wildly exciting playoffs games where they’ve had a bad ending and a great ending. But I think it’s also been great games that have really shown off the Pirate black and gold tradition, their beautiful ballpark, the fanbase that has shown up in those moments. So I think it’s one that the national perspective of them has certainly been restored.”

On McCUTCHEN’S BOUNCE BACK

McCutchen’s recent hot streak in June has been well documented. This month he is hitting .387 with six home runs and 20 RBI.

Boone: “When we had them a few weeks ago when we were from the seats (May 28 against the New York Mets), he was really in the midst of struggling. It was right before they moved him to the six hole, and I really felt like I was starting to see him come out of it. And I felt like this not only could start at any time, but inevitable, because I started to see his timing come back. [I] started to see him square the ball up consistently. And I said it on our Sunday Night game when we had them, whatever it was- three or four weeks ago- that I felt like this Andrew McCutchen was gonna come out. I didn’t realize it would be the next night and continue like it has right away. I felt like this was absolutely still in there…

I think in the last few weeks he’s absolutely restored his value across major league baseball.”

ON CHAD KUHL’S START TO THE SEASON

Kuhl (2-6, 5.46) will start opposite of Mike Leake (5-6, 3.03).

Boone: “I think Chad Kuhl came up last year and was kind of the least heralded of the bunch, of the Taillons and the Glasnows…

Kuhl was just the guy along the way having success and then gets called up last year and does really well. Obviously there’s been some ups and downs this year. There’s been some inconsistencies. We’ve seen the velocity climb, and that’s been a big topic of conversation: him throwing the mid and upper 90s at times. Last year he came up and really just poured in his sinkers, two-seam fastballs, and had great success. As he’s trying to evolve as a pitcher and trying to be able to work not only down in the strike zone, but up in the strike zone as well with his four-seamer, I think he’s been more inconsistent with his command, which has always been a hallmark of his coming up through the minor leagues and last year. That’s been a little bit of an issue, but I think it’s all part of the growing process, the growing pains and the evolution process that he’s going through in learning how to really use his fastball.”

ON WHY ST. LOUIS IS FAILING TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

The Cardinals and Pirates both have 40 losses early in the year. The Pirates currently sit a game up in the standings against the Red Birds with a 35-40 record (St. Louis is 33-40).

Boone: “I think they’ve struggled enough in every aspect. Their bullpen hasn’t been as strong as we thought it would be coming into the year. Their rotation, which got off to a great start [and] was the one consistent element of their game the first month or six weeks of the season, has been more ordinary the last month or so. The offense has been up and down and sputtered. The defense and baserunning is still an issue for this club.

I think with both of these teams, they’re looking at the next month. I think they have to play at a very high level- I mean several games over .500- to really justify them being buyers at the deadline. Otherwise, if they continue to wallow in this kind of three, four, five games under .500 (record) or playing .500 over the next month, I think they have to look at retooling some things and look at being sellers.

I think these are both teams that if they can make the right tweaks and the right moves, say come the deadline, they can shorten that window. And I think we’d be looking at heading into next year with these teams being highly competitive, or potentially highly competitive, again.  This next month is going to be really crucial for these two clubs to tell you which direction they have to go.”

OUTLOOK OF THE NL CENTRAL AND IF EITHER TEAM COULD STILL WIN THE DIVISION

Despite their lackluster records, the Pirates entered play Sunday just four games out of the division. St. Louis is just five.

Boone: “Yeah. I think a lot has to go right, and again, I still think over the next 30 days, both of these teams have to play at a high level, whatever that is…I don’t think .500 over the next month is going to justify being buyers at the deadline.

But absolutely. I think they have the talent on both of these rosters, especially in the NL Central, to turn things around. And if they can get rolling and get hot, now all of a sudden in the NL Central, you add a piece or two and our perception can change pretty quickly.”

Boone will be calling the game with Dan Shulman, Jessica Mendoza and Buster Olney.

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