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Oh good, another last place team: Phillies vs. Pirates series preview

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The Phillies have another opportunity to lose to a bad team

Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers
Just like his team, Josh Bell has had a rough second half
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

After this past weekend’s thrilling Marlins series, the Phillies will take on another last place team when they welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates to Citizens Bank Park. For some teams, a visit from a last place team would be a good thing. But as the past few weeks have shown, there is almost no correlation between the quality of the Phillies’ opponent and their resulting performance.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 55-75, Fifth place in National League Central

The last time they met

The Phillies showed they sometimes can beat the teams they should by winning two out of three games in PNC Park. One of those wins was rather difficult (A 2-1 win in eleven innings), but it still counts.

Hitting the skids

The Pirates have gone 9-22 since that series. So far in the second half, they’ve endured two losing streaks of eight games.

But of course they now have momentum

For the first time in forever, the Pirates are actually coming into a series hot, having swept three games from the Reds over the weekend. That might indicate that the Pirates might be turning things around, or they might just be the Reds’ version of the Marlins.

Crack in the Bell

Perhaps the biggest cause for the Pirates’ awful second half is because their power-hitting first baseman has been dreadful since the All-Star break. (Sound familiar?) Josh Bell deservedly made the All-Star Game, but his slash line since then is .198/.312/.366. Part of the problem is that he’s been popping the ball up too often.

What happened? Did The Pirates hire John Mallee after the Phillies fired him?

Star fire

For the second straight series, the Phillies will face a player with the word Star in his first name. Let’s just hope that their pitchers can do a better job against Starling Marte than they did against Starlin Castro (4-11 with seven RBIs over the weekend). Based on Marte’s history, that might be a lot to ask for, since he has a career 1.009 OPS at Citizens Bank Park.

Speaking of his career, Marte’s has been better than you probably realize. He’s made an All-Star team and has won two Gold Golves. (Although his defense has graded out poorly this season, for whatever that’s worth.) In other words, he’s probably going to have at least seven hits and two home runs this week.

Then again, he might not have as much success without pushovers like Cliff Lee hanging around the Phillies’ staff anymore.

The uninspiring pitchers the Phillies will face - and probably struggle against

The three starting pitchers for the Pirates in this series are not going to conjure memories of the 2011 Phillies. But does anyone expect that the Phillies won’t struggle to score runs against at least one - and possibly all three?

Joe Musgrove earned a win over the Phillies the last time they faced, but that might have been the highlight of his season. His ERA for the month of August is 7.71. You would think that a guy who has access to the Infinity Stones would have more success.

Steven Brault has spent much of his major league career as a reliever. The Pirates decided to make the lefty a full-time starter recently, and he’s been solid in that role. Not that it’s resulted in many wins though.

Mitch Keller has spent most of the season in the minors, partly because he’s made six starts for the major league club, and has given up six earned runs in half of them. He is coming off the best start of his career, in which he struck out nine batters in six innings against the Reds. While that’s impressive, there’s nothing in his history to make me think that he’s poised to repeat that performance.

He’s also apparently really young.

New dad strength?

As you’ve probably heard, Bryce Harper’s son was born on Thursday. Perhaps the thrill of being a father will grant Harper newfound strength, and cause him to go on a tear at the plate. Or maybe he’s coming off a few sleepless nights, and stumble through these games in a zombie-like state. Let’s hope its the former, but either way, congrats to Bryce!

Phlashback of ineptitude: Andy LaRoche

Most of us probably remember Adam LaRoche as being a productive player who really liked spending time with his son. I’m not sure if his brother Andy has children, and if he does, whether or not they have a solid relationship. But I can say that Andy was considerably less productive than Adam on the field.

The Pirates received the third baseman as part of a three-team trade in which the other two teams received All-Star players, while the Pirates are still waiting for LaRoche’s power to develop. After a decent season as a starter in 2009, LaRoche cratered in 2010. His OPS of .555 prompted the Pirates to grant him free agency.

He is not remembered fondly by Pirates fans.

Prediction

I think I’ve figured out how this works. The Pirates are a bad team, so the Phillies will lose two out of three, causing most of us to lose hope. They’ll then spend the weekend beating up on the Mets, drawing most of us back in again.