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Trudging on: Phillies vs. Pirates series preview

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After (barely) beating the Orioles, the Phillies move on to another bad opponent who they’ll probably struggle with

Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates
Will Crowe’s best start of the season came against...you guessed it, the Phillies!
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Despite the Orioles possessing one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball, the Phillies’ offense struggled in the last series. To be fair, the Orioles have one solid starter in John Means. But its not like they were lighting up the other guys they faced either.

Now they’ll move on to face a Pirates team that doesn’t even have a Means-caliber pitcher on the staff to give them some hope. Does this mean that the Phillies’ bats will re-awaken, and this will be a romp? Sure, that’s a theory.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 57-94 (Fifth place in National League Central)

The last time they met

The Pirates are bad, but they were also bad in late July when the Phillies traveled to Pittsburgh and lost two out of three. In the first game, Will Crowe - currently owning a 5.77 ERA - shut them out for six innings, and they didn’t do much better against J.T. Brubaker and his 5.36 ERA the following day.

The Phillies did score 15 runs in the finale, but as far as I know, baseball does not allow you to retroactively spread those runs out.

So which luminaries will the Phillies struggle with this time out?

In the opener, the Phillies will face a pitcher who has never given up a run in the major leagues.

It feels like Connor Overton is due to allow at run at some point, and I wish I had more confidence that it would come in this series.

The Phillies will get another shot at Crowe. He’s coming off one of his best starts of the season (Five innings, one run), and based on his track record, there’s no reason to expect him to pitch well two games in a row. Then again, it’s the Phillies, and they’ve made some very bad pitchers look respectable lately.

The Phillies will also face Max Kranick, a rookie who pitched five shutout innings in his debut, but has struggled since. He apparently tries to strike everyone out, which has had sporadic success, although seems like a formula for success against the Phillies.

In the other game, the Pirates will try to capitalize on the hot new trend throughout baseball: Bullpen games! This seems like an advantage for the Phillies, until you remember that they had trouble against the Orioles’ bullpen in a similar situation.

What about the Pirates’ offense?

As opposed to the pitching staff which ranks 14th of 15 National League teams in ERA, the Pirates’ offense ranks 15th in runs scored. They’ve got All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds as a potential building block, and a lot of hopes and dreams.

It’s possible that the teams can bond over having third basemen suffering through nasty sophomore slumps after encouraging rookie seasons. Much like Alec Bohm, Ke’Bryan Hayes looked like a real player in 2020. But in 2021, Hayes might not top the five home runs he hit in just 85 at bats last season. (Unlike Bohm, Hayes does grade well defensively.)

Is there any hope for the Pirates?

Considering the Pirates’ less-than-stellar turnout of prospects in recent years, there’s not much reason to hope that the young players on hand are on the verge of a breakthrough. This is simply an awful franchise.

The Pirates are headed towards their third straight fifth place finish. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015, and hasn’t won their division since 1992. It’s been a long, long time since these days:

They never spend money, and unlike other small-market teams like the Rays and Royals, they haven’t been able to overcome that with stellar player development. If you were going to contract a franchise in baseball, the Pirates would be among the first on the list. If you feel strongly that there should be a team in Pittsburgh, maybe dismantle the existing iteration, and move the Rays to Pittsburgh.

Analyzing Ian

There’s been a lot of angst regarding Ian Kennedy lately. This isn’t surprising because the closer role naturally invites a good deal of angst, and this seems especially true for the Phillies. As far as I can recall, there’s only been one season in franchise history that there hasn’t been any angst about the closer role.

Kennedy hasn’t been great since being acquired in July. But I don’t think he’s been especially bad either. He’s had some ugly blown saves, and also come through in some tough situations, which is probably true of almost every closer in the league.

His biggest problem seems to be that he can’t get hitters to chase pitches on two-strike counts. Which means that at bats seem to stretch on much longer than they should, and even when he does eventually close it out, it feels much harder than it should have.

He’s a free agent at season’s end, and the Phillies will probably pursue other options. Which means one year from now, we’ll all be stressing over a different closer. (Or maybe it will be Hector Neris again. Who knows?)

Trivia

Last series’ answer: Cole Hamels (6/21/2009) and Zach Eflin (8/12/2020) both had ten strikeouts in a single game against the Orioles. MG77 got it right.

This series’ question: There has been one Pirates player in history to have a multiple home run game at Citizens Bank Park, and this player did it twice. Who was it?

What to expect

  • Andrew McCutchen’s career numbers against his old team haven’t been great, but he will hit a home run this series.
  • The Phillies will gain a game on Atlanta.
  • The Phillies will also have a stretch of offensive futility that makes you question why you continue to watch this team play.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

After helping to preserve a win with his throw on Wednesday, the MVP award seems like it’s Bryce Harper’s to lose at this point. Wouldn’t it be nice if he somehow carried the team into the playoffs to seal it?