After having a pretty interesting series against the Atlanta Braves, the Pittsburgh Pirates come to Citizens Bank Park to take on the Philadelphia Phillies in a three game weekend set. The Pirates, at 54-49, are only a game and half behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central while the Phillies, at 65-39, continue to lead the National League East by five games. In case you were wondering, the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since Barry Bonds was still on the team way back in 1992. How exactly has Pittsburgh turned it around this year? The answer lies in their pitching staff which is sixth in all of baseball in Team ERA. Their offense is only 26th in runs scored, but the Buccos (am I allowed to call them that as a Phillies fan?) have several offensive pieces that are scary such as Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and the recently activated Pedro Alvarez. Pittsburgh took two out of three from the Phillies in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won on a Jose Tabata walk off in game 1. Charlie Morton out dueled Kyle Kendrick in game 2, but at least the firework show was good. Roy Halladay would then stop the losing streak by topping James McDonald in the finale. Fun fact- I was at all three games, if you haven’t attended a game at PNC Park, please do yourself a favor and go. beautiful ballpark.
Game 1- Charlie Morton (8-5, 3.69 ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (12-4, 2.55 ERA) Morton got off to a terrific start going 6-2 with a 2.51 ERA through May. However, he came back to earth after posting an 8.80 ERA in June. His July has been much better however, posting a 3.38 ERA. Other than his win this year vs. the Phillies (7 innings of 2 run ball), Morton has been terrible against them in his career posting an ERA over 7. None of the Phillies have more than 11 plate appearances against Charlie Morton, but Shane Victorino has had the most success against him, going 4-10 with a home run. Phillies’ starter Roy Halladay rebounded after his start in Chicago when he pitched 8 innings against San Diego allowing three earned runs. He retired the last nine Padres hitters he faced on 24 pitches which is remarkable considering it took him 95 pitches to get through the first five innings. Halladay has won his last nine home starts and 2-1 in his career against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his one start vs. Pittsburgh this year, Halladay went seven innings, giving up two earned runs and picked up a win. No Pirates’ hitter has had more than 8 plate appearances against Halladay, but Garrett Jones 4 for 7 off of him.
Game 2- James McDonald (7-4, 3.95 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (9-7, 3.05 ERA) Since coming over from the Dodgers two years ago, McDonald has enjoyed decent success transitioning to a starter. He’s 11-9 with a 3.79 ERA in his Pirates career. McDonald has a solid strikeout rate this year, 7.7 Ks per 9 innings, but his 4.4 walks per 9 have been the biggest reason he has yet to go seven innings in any start. However, he hasn’t given up more than three runs in his last twelve starts while the Bucs have won eight out his last nine starts. McDonald has three appearances against the Phillies in his career, but only one start. In the 5 1/3 innings against the Phillies, he’s walked seven and his ERA is over 5. No Phillies’ hitter has more than seven plate appearances against McDonald in his career. Cliff Lee was absolutely brutal in his last start against the Padres, going just four innings, allowing ten hits and five runs. Lee’s had one outstanding month, but a mixed bag of results in the other. He’s currently winless in the month of July. Cliff has only faced the Pirates one time in his career, giving up two runs in seven innings of work, but had a no decision.
Game 3- Jeff Karstens (8-5, 2.41 ERA) vs. Vance Worley (7-1, 2.02 ERA) Karstens is a solid pitcher who doesn’t strike out a lot (4.8 Ks per 9), but can get away with it because he doesn’t walk a lot of batters. (1.7 per 9). His WHIP (Walks/Hits per innings pitched) is also 4th in the National League at 1.070. He’s probably not quite as good as his 2.41 ERA, but it seems Karstens has turned a corner and put it all together. Karstens has only allowed more three earned runs once in his last 18 starts. In the last two months, he has a 5-1 record with 1.56 ERA. Karstens has started against the Phillies once this year, giving up just one run in seven innings. Vance Worley threw his first complete game of his career against the Giants on Tuesday, giving up two runs and three hits. Worley has given up two runs or less in 11 of his 13 starts this year. He’s never faced the Pirates. Obviously Worley isn’t a 2.02 ERA pitcher (No one is.), but he’s been a huge help to a rotation that has lost Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton for a significant time.
Prediction- Morton hasn’t really been the same pitcher since the Phillies outing in June. I see no reason why the Phillies can’t win Friday. If the Phillies are patient against McDonald like they were earlier this season, the Phillies will likely win Saturday as well. Karstens has been outstanding his last two months, so I can see this game as the trouble spot for the Phillies. Considering the Phillies haven’t been that great at finishing sweeps this season and the fact Worley is probably due for a let down game, I see the Pirates taking this game. Who knows, maybe Worley is traded Sunday and can’t pitch anyway. (Doubtful) Anyway, it should be a fun weekend at the ballpark, with fireworks tonight and the deadline on Sunday.