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The World’s Least Interesting Team: Phillies vs. Pirates Series Preview

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The Phillies start out their road trip by facing a Pirates team that often fails to fascinate

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Diego Padres
Look out, folks: It’s Gregory Polanco!
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I hope everyone enjoyed the two off days this week, because the Phillies’ schedule is about to get very busy. The Phillies are about to embark on a ten-day, eleven-game road trip to end the “first half” of the season.

The Phillies have not played especially well on the road this season, with a .447 winning percentage away from Citizens Bank Park. That may be due more to the high quality of opponents the Phillies have faced rather than any real deficiencies on their part. If that is indeed the case, then there’s reason to be optimistic about their chances in the coming days. They’ll be facing some of the worst teams in baseball, as the four teams have a combined winning percentage of .391.

The Phillies will start off against the “toughest” of the opponents on the road trip. The Pirates are 40-46, and have avoided last place in the National League Central only thanks to the dreadfulness of the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates might also be the most boring team in the Major Leagues. They’re not good, they’re not dreadful, they don’t have any real stars, nor are any of their players laughably bad. They’re just there.

The Last Time They Met

The Pirates visited Philadelphia for a four-game series in April, and it didn’t go especially well for them. The Phillies won all four games, with the most dramatic being the finale which Aaron Altherr won with an RBI single in the 11th inning.

And Since Then?

The Pirates were doing pretty well until around Memorial Day weekend when a four-game losing streak knocked them down to fourth place. They’ve been stuck there ever since, and with a 4.5 game gap separating them from third place, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to rise higher any time soon.

Phillies Pitching vs. Pirates Offense

The Pirates offense is unspectacular. Unlike the Orioles, they don’t have any major liabilities in their lineup, but it’s hard to find anyone who you’d call a star either. The only regular with an OPS over .800 is catcher Francisco Cervelli, and he’s currently on the disabled list. The only player with double digit home runs is outfielder Gregory Polanco with 12, and he isn’t exactly the type of hitter who keeps opposing managers up at night.

The first Phillies starter to face this overwhelmingly mediocre collection of offensive talent is Nick Pivetta. Pivetta has been decent this season, provided he isn’t facing the Washington Nationals. Since (barring a surprise trade to the Marlins) he will definitely not be pitching against the Nationals on Friday, it’s reasonable to expect a good performance. He faced the Pirates earlier this season and had a solid start.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies
Nick Pivetta is likely hoping he isn’t traded to the Marlins today
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Next up is Jake Arrieta. Arrieta hasn’t had his best season - although when you’ve got a Cy Young Award under your belt, that’s a high bar - but he looked much better in his most recent start. When he faced the Pirates in April, he pitched seven innings of shutout ball. That’s no surprise as he has a career 3.01 ERA against the Pirates.

Things won’t get any easier for the Pirates in the finale, as they have to go against the Phillies’ hottest pitcher. Zach Eflin is 6-0 in his last six starts (can’t do much better than that), and he hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a start since May. While he might come back to Earth at some point, is that really going to happen against a lineup anchored by Gregory Polanco?

As for the Phillies bullpen, it’s been maligned, but has gotten the job done over the past four games. Victor Arano seems to be emerging as a late inning option, and having Pat Neshek back should make pitching changes less harrowing.

Pirates Pitching vs. Phillies Offense

Much like the Pirates’ offense, the pitching rotation is filled with guys who aren’t awful, but if any of them make the All-Star Game, they’re going to do it as the token representative. For instance, there’s Friday’s starter Trevor Williams. He’s 6-6 with a 4.22 ERA, and oddly enough, a matching 4.22 FIP. Every so often, Williams will provide a start where he goes seven shutout innings, but he’s far more likely to give up about three or four runs in six innings.

Next up is Jameson Taillon, who epitomizes just how uninteresting the Pirates are. His ERA has hovered around the 4.00 mark for most of the season. Sometimes he pitches well, other times, he doesn’t. He’s the type of pitcher who could give the Phillies fits, or they could just as easily crush him like they did in April.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates
Jameson Taillon: Not at all fascinating
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The finale will be started by rookie Nick Kingham. Kingham was a top 100 prospect heading into the season, and his major league career started off spectacularly when he shut out the Cardinals for seven innings. He hasn’t been able to match that performance in subsequent starts, and he’s coming off a game where the Dodgers jumped all over him early in a 17-1 loss.

Much like the rest of the team, the Pirates bullpen consists of people who exist. The closer is a fellow named Felipe Vazquez, and might make an appearance in the All-Star Game this month, simply because the Pirates need to send somebody, and Cervelli is hurt. To his credit, Vazquez has established himself as a good reliever who strikes out some guys, but is also prone to the occasional meltdown.

It seems likely to expect that the Phillies will either hit really well against these guys, struggle mightily, or maybe fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. (Yes, you can quote me on that.)

Boo This Man

Had they not both gone through horrendous slumps at some point this season, both Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera might be locks for the All-Star Game. As it stands now, they’re both likely to be excluded when rosters are announced. One reason for that is because every major league team gets at least one representative, whether anyone deserves it or not.

If Cervelli gets healthy, then fine, you can take him. Otherwise, it’s kind of annoying that someone like Gregory Polanco (and yes, I know I’m pretty much guaranteeing he has a monster series) might get chosen instead of one of the Phillies’ stars.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Arizona Diamondbacks
Why couldn’t Francisco Cervelli have just stayed healthy?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Seems like if baseball really wanted to market itself, they’d want a guy like Seranthony Dominguez in the game, rather than taking Felipe Vazquez simply because he happens to be the most palatable choice of selections on the Pirates’ roster. I’m sure it’s really going to spike the game’s rating in the Pittsburgh market if one of their players is in the game.

My point is, we should hold disdain for all of the Pirates’ players for simply being not good enough to make an All-Star team on merit. Especially Gregory Polanco.

Sports Writer Prickliness: Not a New Concept

Do you feel that some of the beat writers currently covering the Phillies can come off as a bit prickly at times? They’ve got nothing compared to a writer from the Pittsburg Dispatch (no idea about the spelling) in the 1880s.

In this thread (h/t to @historiancole), he made it clear that the concept of sports writers bashing Phillies fans predates any incidents where fans might have thrown snowballs at a guy dressed up like Santa Claus:

He didn’t just have disdain for Phillies fans. He was quick to criticize his own team when they didn’t play up to his standards:

Just imagine how mad this guy would have been if a blogger accidentally forgot to attribute his source.

Prediction

Since the Pirates are not good, but also not horrible, it seems likely that the Phillies will win two out of three.