Bucs open '20 vs. Cards as schedule unveiled

July 7th, 2020

PITTSBURGH – After months of uncertainty, the Pirates now know what to expect from the 2020 season. And they have a pretty good idea what to expect from the teams on their newly unveiled schedule, too.

The Pirates’ 60-game schedule, which was announced by MLB on Monday, features 40 games against their National League Central rivals and 20 more against clubs from the American League Central, the division in which Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton spent the last two years as Minnesota’s bench coach.

Their season is scheduled to begin at 8:15 p.m. ET on July 24 with an Opening Day matchup against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It will be the 33rd time in franchise history that the Pirates play the Cardinals in the first game of the season and the first such time since they opened the 2016 regular season at PNC Park. The Pirates are also slated to finish the season on the road with a three-game series in Cleveland from Sept. 25-27.

After playing three games in St. Louis on opening weekend, the Pirates are scheduled to return to Pittsburgh for their home opener against the Brewers at 7:05 p.m. on July 27. It will be the Bucs’ third-ever home opener against Milwaukee and the club’s first home opener at night since 2003.

“After you see it and know the places you’re going to go and see the outline of how it’s going to work, it starts to make you formulate in your head, ‘OK, this is what we should do. This is how we should do it. This is who we should pitch,’” Shelton said. “It gives our staff and it gives our analysts and informatics group a chance to actually start preparing for things.”

Shelton knows what to expect from Aug. 3-4 at Target Field, too: a hard time from Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, his friend and former bench boss in Minnesota. When the Pirates traveled to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 29, Baldelli set up a Shelton-only slideshow on the video board at the Twins’ Spring Training ballpark. He’ll immediately have a chance to return the favor, as the Pirates’ home-and-home series with the Twins moves to PNC Park from Aug. 5-6.

"It’s going to be a cool situation to play them. Lot of friends there on their staff I'm extremely close with,” Shelton said. “I talk to Rocco if not every day, every other day, still. It will be cool. Any time you get to play in a place where you've been and you have special relationships, it makes it fun. But Lord only knows what he's going to do to me once I go in there.”

The Pirates’ original schedule seemed to be almost perfectly designed for Shelton in his first year as Pittsburgh’s manager. They opened in St. Petersburg, where Shelton previously served as the Rays’ hitting coach, then traveled to play the Cubs in Shelton’s home state.

Rather than facing the AL East this year, the Bucs’ Interleague schedule now has them hosting the Tigers for three games, facing Cleveland six times, playing a pair of two-game series against the White Sox and visiting the Royals at Kauffman Stadium for the first time since 2015.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a break. Those are still Major League ballclubs that are really good,” second baseman Adam Frazier said. “The Twins and White Sox, Shelton said, have good pitching. Cleveland is really good. The Tigers have some guys. … Each and every day, you’re playing a big league ballclub, so you’ve got to bring it.”

The Pirates will spend a lot of time on the road in the early going, with only 14 home games from July 24-Aug. 31. They’ll be tested right away, too, with the second-hardest schedule of any team in the Majors through Aug. 6. Their scheduled opponents in the first two weeks put together a .568 winning percentage last season.

And they’ll finish at a sprint, with only two days off (Sept. 7 and 10) from Aug. 28-Sept. 27. The first stretch includes an eight-game homestand against the Cubs, Reds and White Sox, and later followed by eight home games against the Cardinals and Cubs.

“Seeing a lot of the NL Central the past few years for myself, I kind of know what to expect with each team. The Reds have a lot of significant additions, so they’ll be different,” Frazier said. “Other than that, I’m pretty familiar with the ballparks and all that, so you know what to expect.”