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Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Can Aaron Nola win the clincher for a second straight year?
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Finish it off: Phillies vs. Pirates series preview

Give us a week of no stress before the real games begin

It wasn’t always easy, but the Phillies are on the cusp of doing what most of us expected them to do before the season began: Make the playoffs. All they need to do is beat the Pirates. (Or not really. They could lose every game the rest of the way and still get the top Wild Card berth, but I don’t think anyone wants to see that, and it’s much more fun to clinch with a win.)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 74-82, Fourth place in National League Central (14 games back)

The last time they met

The Phillies visited Pittsburgh in late July and actually lost the series. The Phillies prevailed in the opener, but a trademark Aaron Nola mid-inning meltdown cost them game two. In the finale, the Phillies blew a pair of two-run leads and fell in ten innings.

Since then?

The Pirates started the season well, and apparently are determined to finish it well. (Just ignore everything that happened from May to July.) They’re 27-24 since August began, and just won consecutive series against Wild Card contenders in the Cubs and Reds.

With that in mind, I’ll offer the usual caveat that the Pirates aren’t a complete pushover, and wins won’t necessarily be easy to come by. But I said the same thing about the Mets, and the Phillies just swept their butts out of town.

Who’s hot?

Over the past month, Ke’Bryan Hayes is batting .327 with six home runs. However, I’m still a little annoyed with him because when I saw him in Spring Training and told him that my family once named a cat after his father, he seemed very unimpressed.

Speaking of his father, I just looked at his Baseball Reference page, and found that Charlie received MVP votes in 1995. But looking at his stat line, I’m not entirely sure why.

Who’s cold?

Connor (Eye) Joe is batting just .154 in that same span. For some reason, I thought Joe was a younger player, but nope, he’s 30. One sign of a bad team is when older, not very good players like Joe get a lot of plate appearances, and he has 455 of them this year.

What about the pitching?

The three starters the Pirates have lined up aren’t awful. Mitch Keller, Johan Oviedo, and Luis Ortiz might all be okay in a good team’s rotation, as long as they’re more towards the back of the rotation than the front. That said, these are the types of pitchers the Phillies have largely succeeded against in recent weeks and should succeed against this week as well.

Last chance for Nola

Barring an unexpected run of losses, Tuesday could very well be Aaron Nola’s last start of the regular season. He has a chance to pitch the team to a playoff-clinching win for the second season in a row, but more importantly, he has a chance to end the season with two strong efforts.

Nola’s performances are notoriously inconsistent, so even if he pitches well on Tuesday, it might not mean anything for next week. But I think we’d all feel a little bit better if the projected playoff game two starter ended the season on a high note.

Reminder about the awfulness of the Pirates franchise

Up through the 70’s, the Pirates were one of baseball’s most successful franchises. But since then, they’ve arguably been the worst in baseball, with just six playoff appearances over the next 44 years, with just one “series” win, coming in a one-game Wild Card playoff back in 2013.

Much of the Pirates’ misery has been self-inflicted. They rarely spend much money, and when they do, they don’t spend it wisely. Unlike other successful small-market teams, they haven’t been able to compensate with strong acquisition and development. The Pirates just seem to churn along with no real long-term plan except making sure they don’t spend too much on payroll.

Every once in a while, the Pirates do develop a star player. But the fans should never get that attached because they’ll inevitably be allowed to leave in free agency or traded for a sub-optimal return.


Last series’ answer: Earlier this season, Bryson Stott had three stolen bases in a single game at Truist Field. Chappdaddy had it first.

This series’ question: Only one player in Pirates history has a four-hit game at Citizens Bank Park, and it came in 2017. Who was he?

Non-Phillies thought

Hey, did you happen to hear that Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is dating Taylor Swift? It’s amazing how this story has flown so far under the radar.

Closing thought

There’s always a slight concern about a team losing intensity when they clinch “too early,” but I don’t think Tuesday night would qualify. I think it would be nice to end the drama early, secure a home playoff series, and then treat the remainder of the week like Spring Training. They can then set the rotation and get the relievers as much or as little work as you want without worrying about game situations.

Just do the thing on Tuesday, Phillies. Give us a few days of relaxing Garett Stubbs and Rodolfo Castro starts before we get all stressed out again for the playoffs.

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Rise and Phight: 11/29/2023