From the West Coast to the Steel City, the Philadelphia Phillies (39-44) will open up a 3 game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night, concluding their 10 game road trip. After a promising start to the trip, taking 2 out of 3 from the San Diego Padres, the Phillies dropped 3 of 4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a series which they outscored their opponent 24-17. Philadelphia’s 16 run outburst on Friday night snapped Los Angeles’ 6 game winning streak and marked the first time all season the Phillies scored double digits in runs. Their consistently inconsistent season continues with an in-state series against the hottest team in baseball.
Did you know: Steel melts at an astounding 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Figuratively speaking, the Pirates have been just as hot over the last week and a half.
Winners of 9 straight, Pittsburgh (51-30) owns baseball’s best record and look to have their first winning season since 1992. The Pirates have defined futility over the past two decades, but manager Clint Hurdle’s youth movement is finally starting to pay dividends for the organization.
If the Pirates winning streak wasn’t enough for the Phillies to overcome, playing in Pittsburgh has been a difficult task for Philadelphia throughout the past decade. Since 2001, the inaugural season of PNC Park, the Phillies are 14-24 (.368) in Pittsburgh, which is their lowest road winning percentage against any National League opponent. Add to that, the Pirates have the best team ERA (3.11) and opposing batting average (.225) in the Majors.
These statistics may not bode well for a Philadelphia Phillies team who is hitting .255 and has scored 3 runs or fewer in 44 games this season. In those games, they are 9-35.
Ironically, the Pirates and Phillies have scored the same amount of runs this season (320) heading into the cross-state rivalry. The difference is that Philadelphia’s team ERA is more than a run higher at 4.20 and Phillies pitchers have given up 366 runs compared to the Major League low of 275 allowed by the Bucs staff.
The Phillies will hand the ball to 22 year old rookie Jonathon Pettibone (3-3 4.17 ERA) in the opener. Pettibone has done an adequate job replacing Roy Halladay in the rotation after Halladay went down with a shoulder injury and has recently gotten surgery to clean up bone spurs. In his last start against Los Angeles, Pettibone allowed 3 first-inning runs but settled down after that, keeping the Dodgers scoreless over his next 5 innings while retiring 15 straight batters before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh. He recorded a no decision and has not won since May 14th against Cleveland.
In the middle game, Philadelphia will send John Lannan (1-2 4.83 ERA) to the rubber, who is coming off his first victory as a member of the Phillies. Lannan was the pitcher of record in the 16-1 route Friday night against the Dodgers, allowing 5 hits and 1 run over 7 innings of work. The left-hander will look to build off of that win and continue to be a solid contributor for the back end of the rotation.
Monday’s off day allowed the Phillies to push Cole Hamels back in the rotation to help him figure out his recent problems. Hamels (2-11 4.58 ERA) will get the start in the final game of the series, a matinee on Thursday, the 4th of July. The 2008 World Series MVP has gotten very little run support this season but has also had trouble keeping opponents off the scoreboard when his team gives him runs early in games. Hamels has given up 54 earned runs so far this year, compared to 73 last season, a career low 67 in 2011, and 71 earned runs allowed in 2010. He is on pace for his worst season in the Majors in many statistical categories, but hopefully the extra couple of days off can get his mind back on track.
Phillies 1B Ryan Howard is in the midst of a 0-20 slump with 11 strikeouts. So it wouldn’t be premature to say that he probably isn’t looking forward to facing the best pitching staff in baseball. He sat out Friday and Saturday, but that didn’t seem to help the slugger who went 0-4 with 3 strikeouts in the series finale in L.A.
Philadelphia is still hanging around in the National League East race, trailing first-place Atlanta by 9.5 games, but they will need to make a move soon in order to rise in the standings. The Wild card looks as if it will come out of the National League Central with St. Louis and Cincinnati comfortably sitting atop the standings.
Winning the series in Pittsburgh will give the Phils at least a .500 road trip, which is not all that bad considering who and where they played. They seek revenge over a Pirates club who took 3 out of 4 from them at Citizen’s Bank Park in late April. Pittsburgh is white hot, but we can expect this series to be as competitive as ever, dominated by quality pitching with the state of Pennsylvania on the line.