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Pirates, Phillies set for four-game scuffle

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It's that time of year when the Phillies stop being a piece of crap team and start -at best - being the team that's gets off on ruining the season for everyone else.

NOT PICTURED: a bird exploding just out of view
NOT PICTURED: a bird exploding just out of view
Brian Kersey

Yet another team is coming into Philadelphia fresh off a sweep and in desperate need of wins to continue a playoff run. The Pirates have taken advantage of the Brewers' seemingly endless pursuit of a new low, climbing over Milkwaukee in the standings this morning for the first time since April 4. The Phillies, who are also hot, may be an especially irritating team to play right now, given their lack of post season hopes, but apparent ability to win games.

Four and a half games from the NL Central lead behind the Cardinals and clinging to a 0.5 game lead over the Brewers and Braves for that second Wild Card spot, the Pirates are fully focused, to the point that they can't even give children autographs without demanding cash in return.

"What would we be, if we just started letting Neil Walker sign things for children?" the Pirates demanded. "Suckers, that's what."

This series will also see the return of Vance Worley, a one-time Phillies scamp who filled catcher's mitts with called strikes and dugouts with rebellious glee. What a rapscallion! Vance hasn't been doing so hot, but in recent times, has managed to get himself to the level of "vaguely tolerable:" 4.71 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 38 H, five HR in his last five starts. What's old Vance up to these days?

Uh huh. Running that through the translator, we discover that...

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That sounds like the start of a really great poem, Vance. Nicely done.

In other Pirates news, Orlando Bloom may be returning to the franchise!

Heavy Hitters

Josh Harrison

Rolling his ankle while doing something of course incredible might be the key to taking the Pirates infielder (.315/.348/.513) out of the NL batting champion race, and leave a spot for Ben Revere to slip past him. It's not like anything else was going to stop him.

Andrew McCutchen

A survivor of Kirk Gibson and Mike Matheny's unchecked, misguided wrath, McCutchen's star continues to burn brightly. "The Dread Pirate" is the coolest nickname in baseball. His numbers are so high. He seems nice. Everybody loves Andrew McCutchen.

Russell Martin

Russell Nathan Coltrane (Jeanson) Martin has maybe the most meandering full name in baseball. The hell's that about.

Anywho, Martin leads the NL in OBP for active players with at least 300 AB (.411). This season, he's hit 3-for-7 against Phillies pitching, with a double, three RBI, and two walks.

Probable Starters

Jeff Locke vs. Kyle Kendrick

Jeff Locke has never lost to the Phillies, with a mere 1.37 ERA against them, with 12 SO and 6 BB. Last year he had the NL lead in walks (84) and this season his ERA is pushing 4.00.

In a shocking turn of events, Kyle Kendrick's first inning ERA actually went down after his last start against the Braves. But not only that, in a pitching performance lost after the group-no hitter of Atlanta, Kendrick actually shut the Braves out for seven innings on the way to a 4-0 win in Maikel Franco's debut.

That's right. To Maikel Franco, Kendrick is one of the Phillies' most dominant weapons.

Edinson Volquez vs. David Buchanan

Along with Worley (2.87), Volquez has one of the top two ERAs on the Pirates' pitching staff (3.31). Also this happens sometimes.

Buchanan's last start against the Braves was the first time he'd allowed more than three runs since early June. He was pitching in front of family and friends in his hometown, and found himself unable to nail down a strike.

What if Sally Perkins from high school was watching? What if he pitched well enough, she'd finally dump her jock boyfriend and profess her love to him? He may have tried to smother the torch he carried for her by putting on a baseball glove, but... this summer... love gets a free pass.

David Buchanan and Sally Perkins star in... A Walk (in Baseball) to Remember.

Vance Worley vs. Jerome Williams

Worley rewarded the Braves in his last start for jumping on him early - it was 6-0 by the time he left the mound at PNC Park as the top of the first finally ended. But that was all it took for him to settle in and throw five scoreless innings, with seven strikeouts. Sadly, the Pirates couldn't best an instant six-run deficit on that night, so there may be a particular portion of that start on which Worley should be focused.

Jerome Williams finally cracked under the pressure of being on the Phillies' top starters, giving up five runs and nine hits through five innings against the Nationals.

Fortunately, Ben Revere bailed him out with two outs and two strikes in the ninth, and got Rafael Soriano fired by hitting a game-tying solo shot. But let's not rely on that this time. Rafael Soriano doesn't play for the Pirates.

Francisco Liriano vs. A.J. Burnett

In the series finale, when everybody will be sick of each other and the Pirates will be anxious to escape their four-day imprisonment in Philadelphia and return to the welcoming embrace of Pittsburgh's citywide stank cloud, Francisco Lirian will take the hill. He's allowed two runs or less in nine of his ten last starts. He threw six shutout innings and struck out nine Cubs in his last start. And since the All-Star break, he's been third in K/9 in the NL, behind Madison Bumgarner and..... A.J. Burnett.

Burnett dominated the Nationals his last time out, punching through them like wet paper for the Phillies' fifth win against Washington in a row. In his 400th career start, he allowed only one run in seven innings, with two walks heaped on his NL-leading total (80) and four strikeouts.