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Second ‘rates: Phillies vs. Pirates series preview

The Phillies should be able to score some runs this weekend.

Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates
Trevor Williams in the midst of another shaky start
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After a series against the team with the best record in the National League, the Phillies will travel to Pittsburgh to play a Pirates team that doesn’t appear to be quite as strong.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 45-50, Fourth place in National League Central

The last time they met

The Phillies visited Pittsburgh in July 2018, and won two out of three. The loss in the finale prevented the Phillies from sweeping the seven-game season series.

Wait, who was the hero?

In the first game of that series, the biggest star for the Phillies was backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He went 2-4 with a home run.

PNC has not been kind to the Phillies

Last year’s performance was not typical of how the Phillies usually fare at PNC Park. The Phillies went 8-20 in games played there over the previous ten seasons.

However, not all of the Phillies memories of PNC Park are bad:

Road woes

The Pirates had played well before the All-Star break. After play resumed, they embarked on a six-game road trip against NL Central opponents. With a strong showing against the Cubs and Cardinals, the Pirates might have begun to dream about working their way back into contention.

And then this happened:

Kings of batting average

The Pirates are leading the National League in batting average. I’m sure there are still some people out there who highly value batting average, but the Pirates aren’t really helping their case. Yes, they hit a lot of singles, doubles, and triples, but they rarely walk and don’t hit for much power, and as a result are only tenth in the NL in runs scored.

The sadness that is the Pirates’ rotation

There was a time when the Pirates’ rotation was performing well and looked like a potential team strength.

The good times did not last. Since the first week of the season, the Pirates’ rotation has been a major weakness, and their starters’ ERA of 5.09 is second worst in the National League behind only the Rockies. The Phillies should be able to score some runs against them.

First up is Jordan Lyles. Despite a career ERA of 5.27, Lyles is in his ninth major league season. He’s not lefthanded, and he’s never really had a successful stretch that teams could point to and convince themselves that there might be something to work with. So why does he keep getting work?

Next up is Trevor Williams. At least he can point to a 2018 season in which he went 14-10 with a 3.11 ERA as a successful track record. That success hasn’t carried over into 2019 though, as his ERA is over two runs higher this season. When he faced the Phillies last July, they had their way with him, scoring five runs in 2.1 innings.

The series finale will be started by Joe Musgrove. Unlike most of his rotation mates, Musgrove isn’t offensively bad, but rather a nondescript back of the rotation starter.

Are there any good players?

In the sake of fairness, I’ll mention that first baseman Josh Bell is having an excellent season. Although much like his teammates, he hasn’t come out of the break hot.

Remembering some crappy Pirates

Let’s take a look back at some Pirates players from past seasons who weren’t very good.

Ross Ohlendorf

When he went 11-10 with a 3.92 ERA in 2009, the Pirates thought they might have something in the young righty. Those hopes died the next season when he went 1-11. To be fair, the 2010 Pirates were awful, and most pitchers would have had a tough time winning a lot of games. But Ohlendorf wasn’t especially good either, and the bottom dropped out the following year.

After nine starts in 2011, Ohlendorf had an 8.15 ERA before being shut down due to a shoulder injury. He was released at season’s end, and then bounced around the majors for a few years, mostly to underwhelming results.

Houston Astros v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Pat Meares

Pat Meares started his career with the Twins, and he spent several seasons in Minnesota as a good-fielding, bad-hitting shortstop. Wanting a veteran presence on the team, the Pirates signed him before the 2009 season. His bat never got much better than it was with the Twins, and at age 30, his fielding skills began to decline. The Pirates were then stuck with three years of a bad-fielding, bad-hitting shortstop.


With the disarray of the Phillies’ pitching staff, calling for a sweep of any team seems unreasonable. Still, the offense showed signs of life against the Dodgers, and that should continue this weekend as they take two out of three.