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MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies
He’s been layin’, waitin’ for your next mistake
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Bryce-a-Roni: Phillies vs. Pirates series preview

The reigning MVP returns!

When I woke on the morning of June 26th, I saw that the Phillies had won the night before. My joy at that news quickly turned to dismay over learning that Bryce Harper had broken his thumb.

That seemed like it might be the death knell of the Phillies’ season. At that time, the Phillies were on the edge of playoff contention, and losing the reigning NL MVP for an extended period didn’t seem like it was going to improve their chances.

To the Phillies’ credit, they didn’t fold without Harper. Even optimistic fans were saying things like, “Hopefully they can tread water until he gets back,” but the Phillies did more than “tread water,” they actually improved their playoff positioning. Part of that was the easy schedule they’ve faced over the past two months, but the rest of the Phillies roster deserves credit for stepping up in the absence of Harper.

Hopefully, with Harper back, the Phillies can solidify their hold on a playoff spot over the final stretch of the season. While that is important for the Phillies and their fans desperate to enjoy postseason baseball again, it might be even more important for Harper whose legacy could use a boost.

And remember what I said about a weak schedule? That isn’t changing this weekend, as they’ll be facing a last place team with the worst offense in the league.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 47-77 (Fifth place in National League Central, 24.5 games back)

The last time they met

In mid-July, the Phillies visited Pittsburgh for four games and won all four. To the Pirates’ credit, two of those games went to extra innings, and another was decided by a single run. When you’re 30 games under .500, you have to look for minor wins where you can.

Since then?

The Pirates’ misery has continued, going 7-15 since that series. They’re currently on a five-game losing streak and are coming off a sweep at the hands of the Braves.

Just awful

The Phillies just finished a series against a Reds team that looked fundamentally awful. Keith Hernandez can talk about the Phillies being unpleasant to watch, but the Reds continually handed the Phillies extra outs all series. And as bad as that Reds team looked, the Pirates are a game and a half behind them in the standings!

The Pirates have the worst offense in the National League, and I’m not sure it’s even that close. Their best offensive player according to bWAR is Bryan Reynolds, carrying a lofty .792 OPS. They don’t have a single player on the active roster with an OPS above .800.

Here are some of the players currently getting regular at bats for the Pirates: Josh VanMeter, Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Bill DeMarco, and Kevin Newman. You probably didn’t recognize any of those names, and sadly I only made one of them up!

When the Phillies made the decision to put Zack Wheeler on the IL - reportedly for precautionary reasons - that meant that Bailey Falter would get some additional starts, the first of which will come on Friday. The team probably assumed that Falter would be able to capably handle a lineup such as the Pirates’.

Who’s cold?

When a team is on a five-game losing streak, there are usually several good candidates for this honor. The coldest Pirate of all may be rookie infielder Tucupita Marcano. He’s got an on-base percentage of .205 over the past two weeks.

Four game magic

It’s just too bad that this series will only be three games instead of four, because the Phillies have been proficient at sweeping four-game series this season:

It seems like when the Phillies start to do well against a particular team, they continue to do well against that team. On the other hand, there have been a few series (The Blue Jays and Cubs come to mind) where they started out poorly and looked like dead men walking throughout the remainder of the games.

Bryce Harper: Time to define a legacy

Despite him being one of their franchise’s best players, most Nationals fans don’t hold Bryce Harper in high esteem. Part of that comes from taking a big money contract to play for a division rival. Part of it was due to the immense hype with which he entered the league. (There were some “LeBron of baseball” stories out there.) And part of it was because the team never won a playoff series with him on the roster.

It’s unfair to lay too much blame on Harper for those failures considering the team had many other problems in those series. But Harper’s postseason numbers are very uneven, and it certainly doesn’t look good when his old team wins the World Series as soon as he leaves while his new team is 0-3 as far as making the playoffs goes.

The 2022 Phillies are currently holding a playoff spot, and actually improved their standing while he was out. If the team collapses and misses the playoffs after his return, there are a lot of people who are going to point fingers at him. On the other hand, if he plays well down the stretch and helps the team end its lengthy playoff-less streak, that will go a long way towards erasing the myth that he’s not a winner.

Trivia

Last series’ answer: Yoenis Cespedes hit five home runs for the Mets at Citizens Bank Park in 2017. Nobody answered correctly.

This series’ question: Since Citizens Bank Park opened, there have been only two multi-home run games by a Pirates player, both by the same person. Who is he?

Non-Phillies thought

Coors Field hasn’t been kind to the Phillies in recent years, but I’ll give them props for their handling of Zack Hample.

If anyone reading this actually likes Hample, could you please leave a comment explaining why?

Closing thought

The Phillies have consistently beaten the bad teams on their schedule. And really, they’ve beaten most of the good teams on the schedule too. They just can’t beat the Mets.

The Pirates are assuredly bad, but it’s unrealistic to expect them to win every game against a team, no matter how awful they are. So, I wouldn’t be shocked if they dropped a game this weekend. But the Pirates are bad, and I expect the Phillies to get a boost from Harper’s return, so I’d be surprised if they didn’t win at least two of the three.

Whatever: Astros 3, Phillies 2

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