The Philadelphia Phillies (50-47) will be spending the next three days at one of the most beautiful ballparks in the game when they visit the Pittsburgh Pirates (45-50) for a weekend series.
The Pirates are struggling, losers in five of their last six and seven of their last 10 games. Though just 6.5 games out in the NL Central Division standings, the Bucs have not been able to rise above fourth place in their division since the start of June. They have not won more than three straight since mid-April.
For their part, the Phillies enter the series coming off a 2-2 split with the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, but are still struggling mightily themselves to put back together what once appeared to be a winning season.
The Phillies went 3-4 on their just completed home stand in which they faced two tough teams in the Dodgers and division-rival Washington Nationals. They are just 7-9 going back over the last three weeks, since ending a four-game winning streak. While nine games over the .500 mark at home, they have fashioned only a 20-26 record on the road
Head-to-head, the Phillies won six of the seven games between the two clubs a year ago. However, that was the first time since their record-setting 2011 campaign that they had a winning seasonal mark against the Pirates.
Pittsburgh is 17th in MLB in runs per game (4.74), just behind the Phillies (4.84) who rank 15th. The Pirates are 13th among the 15 teams in the National League in home runs, 10th in stolen bases, and 9th in OPS. The Pittsburgh pitching staff is collectively ranked at 13th in the NL in both batting average and OPS against, ninth in strikeouts.
With the hot summer weather fully entrenched here in the eastern United States, and with two struggling pitching staffs, this could end up a high-scoring series. That is especially so if the Phillies do not get improved starting pitching, and if they can get into the Pirates bullpen by the middle innings.
TOP LINEUP THREATS
Josh Bell: (26/1B) – .293/.367/.623, 27 HR, 84 RBIs, 61 extra-base hits, 71 runs. Bell finished third in the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year voting, made his first NL All-Star team earlier this month, and if the Pirates can reach the postseason will be a legitimate NL MVP candidate. On top of all that talent, he is also a switch-hitter.
Starling Marte: (30/CF) – .275/.316/.482, 16 HR, 52 RBIs, 37 extra-base hits, 59 runs. Marte was a 2016 NL All-Star and won Gold Glove Awards in both 2015-16.
Colin Moran: (26/3B) – .294/.334/.472, 10 HR, 50 RBIs, 27 extra-base hits, 31 runs. Lefty bat at the hot corner.
Kevin Newman: (25/SS) – .331/.370/.468, 6 HR, 35 RBIs, 20 extra-base hits, 26 runs. Pirates first round pick at 19th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of Arizona was called up to stay in early May.
Bryan Reynolds: (24/LF) – .340/.413/.520, 7 HR, 37 RBIs, 28 extra-base hits, 40 runs. Giants second round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft was dealt to the Pirates in January 2018 along with reliever Kyle Crick in exchange for currently injured Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen. One of three switch-hitters in the Pittsburgh regular starting lineup.
Adam Frazier: (27/2B) – .281/.333/.407, 4 HR, 26 RBIs, 29 extra-base hits, 49 runs. Lefty bat is a solid, consistent hitter with a .281 average and .342 OBP in 1,322 big-league plate appearances.
Melky Cabrera: (34/RF) – .303/.339/.443, 6 HR, 21 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs, 31 runs. 15-year MLB veteran switch-hitter signed with the Pirates back in February. He won a World Series ring when the New York Yankees defeated the Phillies back in 2009.
Chris Archer: The Phillies will not see Archer in this weekend’s series. This seems like a good time to shine the spotlight on him as we approach the 2019 MLB trade deadline with the Phillies linked to a number of talented starting pitchers. Archer was obtained by the Pirates from the Tampa Bay Rays at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for a pair of premium prospects, outfielder Austin Meadows and pitcher Tyler Glasnow.
A two-time AL All-Star with Tampa Bay, Archer had finished third in the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award voting while with the Rays during a freshman season in which he also made two relief appearances in the ALDS. The Bucs were in the midst of a playoff push, having won 16 of 20 games at the time of the deal in a stretch that pulled them within three games of an NL Wildcard berth and six games of the AL Central lead.
It didn’t work out. The Pirates struggled to a 26-27 record after obtaining Archer, who went 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA and 1.357 WHIP over 10 starts with Pittsburgh. In this, the final year of his guaranteed contract, Archer has gone just 3-6 with a 5.36 ERA while getting bombed for an NL-high 22 home runs over 17 starts.
There are team options on his contract for $9 million next season and $11 million in 2021, when Archer will be just 31 and 32 years of age. Those are reasonable prices for an experienced pitcher with a winning pedigree. But there’s the rub – Archer does not have such a pedigree. His career record is just 60-77, and he has put together just two winning seasons, all the way back in 2013 and 2014. To pick up that option will be an interesting decision for the Pirates come this off-season.
SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS
FRIDAY – Jordan Lyles – 28/RH: 5-6, 5.16 ERA, 1.400 WHIP, 74 hits over 75 IP across 15 starts with an 80/31 K:BB
Trevor Williams: 27/RH: 3-3, 5.17 ERA, 1.357 WHIP, 88 hits over 76.2 IP across 13 starts with a 61/16 K:BB – SCRATCHED – ILLNESS – MUSGROVE (BELOW) TO START
SUNDAY – Joe Musgrove – 26/RH:6-8, 4.31 ERA, 1.227 WHIP, 102 hits over 104.1 IP across 20 games (19 starts) with a 90/26 K:BB. MOVED TO SATURDAY; SUNDAY SP NOW TBD
NOTE: The Pirates announced during Friday night’s game that Williams will not make his scheduled Saturday start due to illness. Musgrove will move to Saturday, and Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined.
Clint Hurdle: The first-round choice of the Kansas City Royals at 9th overall in the 1975 MLB Draft, Hurdle appeared in 10 big-league seasons as a player between 1977-87. He appeared in 14 playoff games with the Royals, including in four of the five games of the 1980 World Series against the Phillies.
Hurdle managed the Colorado Rockies for parts of eight seasons from 2002-09, guiding them to the 2007 NL pennant, the only one in the history of the Rockies franchise, and their lone World Series appearance. However, that was his only winning season with Colorado. He was fired after 36 games in the 2009 season with the club at 18-28.
Hired to manage the Pirates in 2011, Hurdle guided the Bucs to three straight winning seasons from 2013-15. That included the first playoff appearance for the franchise in 21 years, and a 98-win season to cap the run off in 2015. The Pirates have enjoyed just one winning season since, last year’s disappointing 82-win campaign.
Coming out of last week’s MLB All-Star Game break, Hurdle was interviewd by MLB.com’s Adam Berry as quoted by Jim Sankey of Allied News: “We’ve had multiple opportunities during the first half to find out what we are capable of doing when it maybe wasn’t the way we thought we were going to do it. From that standpoint, I still believe the best is yet to come.”
However, the Pirates lost five of six games after returning from the break on the road in Chicago and Saint Louis. This series will mark their first time in front of the home fans in nearly two weeks. If they don’t turn it back around quickly, Hurdle could find his job on the line.
PNC Park is widely considered as one of the most beautiful ballparks in America. That reputation comes largely from the views of the downtown Pittsburgh skyline and the iconic yellow Roberto Clemente Bridge over the outfield walls. The bridge is closed on game days, which allows fans to park in Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle and then walk across the bridge to the ballpark. The ballpark is unique in its use of limestone in the building’s facade, and also features steel truss work and a riverside concourse.
It is 325 feet to left, 383 to left-center, 410 feet to what is known as deep left-center, and then a wall jut-in brings the fences to a 399 oot to dead center field. It is then 375 to right-center, and 320 feet down the right field line.
PNC Park has hosted the 2006 MLB All-Star Game. During those festivities, Ryan Howard of the Phillies won the Home Run Derby.
SERIES WEATHER REPORT
FRIDAY: It will be 89 degrees with a real-feel of 98 at the 7:05 PM EDT first pitch. Winds will be light, and there is almost no chance of precipitation.
SATURDAY: Getting hotter with a game time 7:05 PM EDT first pitch temp of 93 degrees, feeling like 102. Winds will remain light, and there is again almost no chance of precipitation.
SUNDAY: Scattered thunderstorms can be expected for the 1:35 PM EDT first pitch and all during this game. Temps will be around 90 degrees with real-feels at just over 100. While winds remain light, there is a 35-45% chance of those thunderstorms passing through on Sunday as of the start of this series.
Pittsburgh, PA weekend forecast from The Weather Channel
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