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Three Rivers Run Red: Phillies at Pirates, August 17-19

August 17: Phillies 11, Pirates 8 WP: Durbin (5-2) LP: Gorzelanny (11-7)
August 18: Pirates 11, Phillies 6 WP: Maholm (9-14) LP: Moyer (11-9)
August 19: Pirates 8, Phillies 4 WP: Snell (8-10) LP: Romero (0-1)

For more on the Pirates, please visit our SBN sister site Bucs Dugout

The Phillies and Mets have been "paired" schedule-wise for the last month, on the road and at home against the same opponents in each one-week block, such that while the Phils were in Chicago for a mid-week series, the Mets visited the Brewers, and then the teams switched locales. Thus, as the Phils traveled from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh late Thursday night, the Mets were making the same trip in the other direction. For a New York-based Phillies fan, this has provided a useful scouting primer for each upcoming Phils opponent; I just have to turn on the TV and watch the Mets for a few innings.

Doing so this week as they played at PNC Park, I saw a Pirates team that looked quite a bit like the Nationals club from whom the Phillies just took two of three. Like Washington, the Bucs have some very talented young pitchers, a few dangerous bats surrounded by weaker sticks, and a dogged energy that's presumably gratifying for fans of a team long since dead and buried standings-wise. The Pirates fell behind 5-0 both Wednesday and Thursday nights; they came back twice in the first game before ultimately losing 10-8, but a night later completed the rally against Aaron Heilman to deny New York a road sweep.

The bad news for the Phillies is that the two lesser pitchers who got the Pirates into those holes, Matt Morris and Tony Armas, won't be taking the hill this weekend. Instead, the visitors will see two talented young lefties in Tom Gorzelanny, whose ERA would lead the Phillies, and Paul Maholm, coming off a complete-game three-hit victory, before concluding against Ian Snell, a 25 year-old with a 3.87 ERA and potential ace talent, on Sunday.

Under normal circumstances, few pitchers south of, say, Roy Oswalt  would put the fear into the Phillies' potent lineup. But these aren't normal circumstances: after initially bearing up well despite the losses of Chase Utley and Shane Victorino, the offense is in a full-fledged slump with just 26 runs scored over the last seven games. The middle of the lineup has gone almost completely silent, with Pat Burrell in a 1-for-13 skid and Ryan Howard (3 for 22) and Aaron Rowand (4 for 24) little better. Howard probably isn't looking forward to this weekend's action: he's never hit the Pirates, with a .115 batting average (6 for 52) and no home runs against them for his career. A little regression to the mean would go a long way right now.