Series 14: The Cross-State Series

Series Quick Look
Friday, May 19, 7:05PM
Saturday, May 20, 4:05PM
Sunday, May 21, 1:35PM
at PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

The Pirates (18-23) continue their homestand against the Philadelphia Phillies (14-24) this weekend. This series doesn’t have the same buzz as a Pens vs. Flyers series as you can imagine from looking at these two teams records. It does, however, weigh pretty important for the Pirates if they are going to try and weigh out the storm for a potential playoff push by the deadline. The Pirates (18-23) have had a bit of a resurge after losing six straight games and have now won four out of their last five. The Phillies, on the other hand, have won three out of their last 18 games. In that span, the Phillies are giving up 6.28 runs per game. If the Pirates can take two out of the three games in this series, it’s quite possible they could move up into fourth place and position themselves right behind the Cubs.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Pirates lead 1,211-1,057
Last matchup…September 9-12, 2016. Both teams split that series with the Pirates outscoring Philadelphia 24-17.

About the Phillies:
The Phillies have come a far way since their days of having Ruben Amaro, Jr. wheeling and dealing to try and get this rebuild going. With Matt Klentak at the helm since 2015, the Phillies have brought in solid talent and have turned things around quickly. Last year they were the talk of baseball in the early going as they had the fourth best record in the NL on this day last season. Things then began to normalize, but you saw what the future was holding. Fast forward to this season and things are quite shaky now. Offseason veteran additions in Clay Buchholz and Howie Kendrick are on the shelf while Michael Saunders has only a 83 wRC+. With some of the youngsters coming through, the team ranks 16th in wRC+, but dead last in FIP and second to last with 4.82 earned runs per game.


PROBABLES & NOTES:

5/19: RHP Trevor Williams (6.41 ERA/6.01 FIP, 148 FIP-) vs.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (3.71 ERA/5.65 FIP, 130 FIP-)

Trevor Williams is making his third start of the season here which might give us a clearer understanding of what type of pitcher he is. After giving up eight runs (six earned) in three innings for his first start, he backed it up by allowing just one in his second. His ground ball rate of 39.4% is still at an all-time low and his 7.7% K-BB% is an all-time low. His 85.8 MPH average exit velocity is rather low compared to average, but he is giving up much more harder hit balls this season than ever. All of this is in a rather small sample size given he has only pitched 19.2 innings. Jeremy Hellickson hasn’t made it past the fifth inning since April 27th and has a 7.90 ERA in that span. Also, he is clearly overachieving this year as his FIP speculates. Last season he had the same exact ERA as he does now, but this year his BABIP is down 56 points, his K% is cut in half to a now 10%, and he has dropped to only an 8.4 MPH difference between his four seamer and his change up.

5/20: RHP Ivan Nova (2.48 ERA/3.35 FIP, 82 FIP-) vs.
RHP Vince Velasquez (5.63 ERA/5.28 FIP, 122FIP-)

Ivan Nova has been a very consistent pitcher this season. He has allowed more than three earned runs only once which is the same amount of times he has walked over one batter. He hasn’t been striking out a lot of batters this season, but has picked it up starting with his April 23rd start. Since then he has been striking out an average of 6.55 batters per nine innings. Nova has been giving up a lot more hard hits recently which is to credit to the three home runs he’s allowed in the past two games. Currently, he ranks quite high in exit velocity on line drives with a 93.5 MPH mark. Velasquez was one of the prospects that came over from Houston and had a solid debut season last year. Things this year aren’t going as well for him. Though he has reduced the amount of fly balls, he is giving up a solid dose of homers with eight. As a matter of fact, he has only pitched one game where he has not given up a shot. On top of that he is walking an additional runner this year compared to last even with him throwing his fastball almost 10% of the time more.

5/21: RHP Chad Kuhl (6.69 ERA/4.01 FIP, 98 FIP-) vs.
RHP Aaron Nola (4.50 ERA/3.10 FIP, 72 FIP-)

Chad’s FIP is Kuhler than the other side of the metric right now as he seems to be getting a lot of bad luck this season. His ERA is more than 2.5 runs greater than his FIP suggests it should be. This is somewhat encouraging since Kuhl has a BABIP of .377. He also has found new velocity in his fastball. This year he is averaging 95 MPH compared to the 93.1 he threw last. Though maybe some of his misfortune can be traced to the fact that he is falling in love with the fastball as he has thrown it 18% more at the mercy of throwing his sinker 16% less. Aaron Nola is another prospect the Phillies have coveted and he is pitching about the same as he did last season. Even the ERA/FIP differential is about the same. Nola possesses a fastball that averages just 92.6 MPH, up 2.3 MPH from last year. He has an extreme ground ball rate of 54.2%. Though he will be making just his fourth start this season due to injury, he has allowed just one home run in 16 innings.


TV/RADIO INFO:
TV (Friday, Saturday, & Sunday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, CSN Philly (CSNP)
Radio (All games): KDKA-FM 93.7

ON THE SHELF:
Pittsburgh:
Jung Ho Kang (3B): Restricted List (March 11)—Work visa denied.
Starling Marte (OF): Suspended 80 games (April 18)—Use of PED’s.
Antonio Bastardo (P): 10-Day DL (April 25)—Left quad strain.
Gregory Polanco (OF): 10-Day DL (May 16)—Strained left hamstring.
Jameson Taillon (P): 10-Day DL (May 6)—Groin discomfort.

Philadelphia:
Clay Buchholz (P): 60-Day DL (April 26)—Partial tear in right flexor pronator mass in forearm.
Jeanmar Gomez (P): 10-Day DL (May 9)—Right elbow impingement.
Howie Kendrick (2B, OF): 10-Day DL (May 12)—Oblique injury.
Aaron Nola (P): 10-Day DL (May 16)—Lower back strain.


FRAZIER RETURNS
Since returning from the 10-day DL (hamstring) on May 12, Adam Frazier is 11-for-26 (.423) with one walk, two doubles, and just three strikeouts. He tallied a total of seven hits in the Nationals series and is currently on a four-game hit streak. Frazier is slashing .347/.395/.467 for the season with a 133 wRC+. while exclusively playing the outfield that is depleted.

ALL HAIL THE KING?
It was just a few days ago where we released this article on the decline of Andrew McCutchen. What has he done since that article was released? Well is a very short sample, he played two games where has has gone 4-for-9 (.444) with a double, three runs, two RBI’s, and two stolen bases. It hasn’t been since July 10, 2014, that Andrew McCutchen successfully stole two bases in a game. Sure, this has been just two games in mention, but Cutch has been notorious for starting slow and if this can be the turn he needs to get going, things might start to get real interesting for the NL Central.

HIT THE LONG BALL
The Phillies pitching staff has given up 1.64 home runs per nine innings which ranks them, you guessed it, dead last in MLB. Pittsburgh has struggled this season to hit for power, though one could argue they have completely struggled to just hit—period! The Phillies outfield rank seventh on defensive runs saved (6 DRS) and first in UZR (8.6). With the pitchers park that PNC Park is the Pirates won’t get many in the gaps. Pittsburgh has been hot lately with the long ball hitting nine homers in the last seven games. Josh Bell himself has actually hit four of them.

AARON ALTHERR OR AARON ROWAND?
There hasn’t been an Aaron hitting as well as Aaron Altherr since Aaron Rowand had his best career year in Philly during the 2007 season where he put up a 127 wRC+. Mr. Altherr currently has just 107 plate appearances but has racked up eight home runs and 22 RBI’s, good for a .319/.421/.670 slash and a 181 wRC+. His .352 ISO ranks 10th among MLB hitters with at least 50 at bats while his wOBA (.455) ranks ninth. He has been red hot this month as six of his homers have come since May 2.

CLOSERS? WE TALKIN’ BOUT CLOSERS!?
Philly has had three players record a save this season. Jeanmar Gomez started the season as the closer, but quickly lost it after recording a 7.94 ERA and then going on the DL. Joaquin Benoit also earned a save and as you can imagine his ERA is not so hot either. It’s currently at a 5.06 and his FIP of 4.98 suggests thats about as well as he is pitching. Currently Hector Neris is titled as the closer and leads the team with four saves. Even with that said, he owns a 3.72 ERA and 5.06 FIP in 19.1 innings. He certainly has been the most successful of the bunch, but he hasn’t been good by any means. To go with the story line here, he has not done any help to the HR/9 as he is allowing 1.86 HR/9. Basically, even if the starting rotation gets a lead, nothing is safe for this team.

EVERYBODY’S WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND
This season has been crazy with the fact that the Pirates are 18-23 but have won 14-of-18 games played on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The teams they beat were no slouches either as they swept the Braves and Cubs, and then took two from the Yankees, Marlins, Brewers and Diamondbacks. With some of the young stars for the Phillies struggling in Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, and Velasquez, the Pirates will look to keep their good fortune going. As this series is being played during the weekend, the Buccos could sure use some of that pixie dust as they take on the weakest team they’ve played thus far.

NEXT UP:
The Pirates will head to the road again and face the Atlanta Braves for a four-game series. This will be the second series these teams have played each other this year.

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