Phillies-Pirates (Game 20): Must-Know Stuff
Phillies (8-11) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (10-8)
First pitch at 7:05 p.m.
The Phillies don’t exactly enter on a high note, but it could be worse. If not for last night’s gamesmanship from Ben Revere (eighth-inning go-ahead RBI single) and Erik Kratz (three-run home run the next at-bat), they’d have lost 7 of 9 games and 5 of 6 series.
Instead, they’re back within three games of .500, and pushed for their first non-series loss since April 8-10 at home against the Mets. With a sweep, they'd break .500 for the first time this year, and whittle the Braves’ 5.5 game National League East lead.
The Pirates, meanwhile, are tearing. They’ve won 7 of 10 games, and went 3-1 against Atlanta in their latest four, all of which were decided by two or fewer runs. The model was pretty simple: in Game 1, the Braves bopped three home runs. The Pirates lost. The rest of the way? Not a one, and Pittsburgh took the rest.
Of note, the Buccos recent run has all gone down at PNC Park, and they're 2-4 away from Pittsburgh on their only road trip so far. The Phils are 5-5 at home, 3-6 on the road.
The cross-state rivalry has seen as many blows dealt as taken recently. The Pirates took 4 of 7 games last year, while the Phillies went 10-8 over the three years prior.
The Phillies will need to do their damage early, on the Pirates 18th-in-baseball starting staff (4.34 ERA). Pittsburgh’s 2.03 bullpen ERA ranks third in baseball.
Righty closer Jason Grilli (seven saves) has yet to allow a run in nine appearances, though in Citizens Bank Park, his 42.9% fly ball rate could hurt him (36% is average). He’s got two pitches, a 93-94 m.p.h. fastball (.067 opp BA this year) and a slider (.167) -- and the fourth-highest strikeout percentage (41.9%) in baseball so far.
Their middle relief is no more fragile, as Mark Melancon (6), Tony Watson (4), Jared Hughes (3) and Justin Wilson (1) have more holds than the entire Phillie ‘pen, probably because the Phillies have a worst-in-baseball zero holds this year. The Pirates rank second (14), and every other team but the Yankees (3) has at least five.
Overall, Pirates pitching surrendered just seven runs in four games to a Braves team that averaged five per game before the series began.
How Pittsburgh ranks so low (21st) in runs scored is baffling, seeing as their Nos. 1-4 hitters all hit for average and power and get on base and their .259 average with RISP is perfectly average. Crazier, the Phillies actually enter with a power edge, having scored the 20th most runs in baseball with a .287 average with RISP, good for 9th.
Jonathan Pettibone, And Other Names
He might not be Cliff Lee today, but the 22-year-old Pettibone, a righty, isn’t likely to be Tyler Cloyd in his big-league debut tonight, either.
He’s more likely to be, ironically, Aaron Cook.
Unlike Cloyd, who was tagged for eight home runs in six starts after his big-league callup last September, Pettibone’s game lends itself to ground balls. His 50.8% ground ball rate in Triple-A last year was well over average in the International League.
Pettibone’s outfield fly ball rate last year was 17.2%, where Cloyd’s was 30.9%.
Hits are hits, and any kind can score runs, but ground balls typically lead to more singles, which makes pulling the plug before it’s too late much easier on Charlie Manuel. Kind of why GM Ruben Amaro signed Aaron Cook (his 58.6% GB% in 2012 was second in baseball) this winter, and why fans bemoaned Cook being cut this spring.
If he can’t dazzle, it’s pivotal that Pettibone at the very least lasts today, seeing as a lengthy run from the bullpen early could tank the Phillies chances the rest of the series.
Pettibone so far hasn’t been able to duplicate the impressive 4-1 mark and 2.25 ERA he posted after his first promotion to Triple-A last year.
He’s got a 9.64 ERA through two starts with the Iron Pigs, after serving six runs on eight hits in just 5 1/3 innings in his 2013 debut in Syracuse, and another four runs in four innings in his follow up last Tuesday. His next scheduled turn was, conveniently, today.
Chris Johnson and Tyler Pastornicky each belted a home run for the Braves in Pettibone’s only Grapefruit League game this spring, and Pettibone served four runs in two frames on Apr. 28. Earlier, the Dominican Republic WBC roster blasted him for another four runs in 2 2/3 once they were through with Cole Hamels on Mar. 5.
So no, there wasn’t the same hype around Pettibone as there was Cloyd in 2012. But seeing how that turned out, and how this isn’t likely to, maybe less will prove more.
The Other Guy
After a powdery start, A.J. Burnett (1-2, 2.63 ERA) has been money for the Pirates.
He’s yet to surrender more than three runs in any of his four starts this season, and has gone no fewer than 5 1/3 innings. His past two starts have been quality, his latest being a seven-scoreless on-hitter against the Cardinals last Wednesday.
The 36-year-old righty is yet another favorable draw for the Phillies’ lefty-heavy lineup, for getting on base in particular. Lefties have a .263 average and .404 OBP on him so far.
Still, Burnett’s enjoying a career-high 36.1 K%, third-best in baseball.
Burnett has taken his lumps from the Phillies over his 14 years. He’s 6-9 with a 5.06 ERA against them in 18 starts lifetime, 1-1 and 8.10 in two over his last three seasons.
He’s faced them just once since joining the Pirates in 2011: last June, when he served three runs in 6 2/3 in a 5-4 Phillies loss at Citizens Bank Park, tonight’s venue.
Chase Utley is 8 for 27 (.296) with two home runs and a triple against Burnett in his career, while Michael Young is 10 for 38 (.263), and Jimmy Rollins is 12 for 49 (.245). Ryan Howard is 3 for 17 (.176), with all of those hits leaving the yard.
The four have struck out in 39 of 131 (29.7%) times, for, basically, a Mark Reynolds rate.
Young has started 19 of 20 games so far, and pinch hit on his only day off, on April 13. Picking Manuel’s brain, today’s Phillies lineup against RHP Burnett could look like this:
Rollins, SS (.257/.295/.419) S
Galvis, 3B (.250/.323/.393) S
Utley, 2B (.294/.347/.553) L
Howard, 1B (.277/.300/.385) L
Mayberry, RF (.316/.409/.553) R
Brown, LF (.228/.313/.351) L
Revere, CF (.213/.253/.240) L
Kratz, C (.214/.211/.357) R
Pettibone, P (.000/.000/.000) R
Today’s probable Pirates lineup against RHP Pettibone:
Starling Marte, LF (.319/.373/.464) R
Travis Snider, RF (.357/.449/.524) L
Andrew McCutchen, CF (.273/.329/.485) R
Garrett Jones, 1B (.300/.345/.420) L
Neil Walker, 2B (.266/.356/.359) B
Pedro Alvarez, 3B (.125/.222/.232) L
Russell Martin, C (.216/.333/.353) R
Clint Barmes, SS (.130/.167/.174) R
A.J. Burnett (.000/.000/.000) R