MLB Battle of Pennsylvania: 5 Reasons It Will Matter in 2012
The Pirates have five World Series titles to the Phillies' two. To say that there is a rivalry between these two teams would be false. For now.
Right now, the numbers say that it will matter.
Both teams are putting up eerily similar numbers. The Phillies are supposed to be the favorites to win the NL East, while the Pirates are supposed to be one of the worst teams in the entire National League.
The Phillies, in all of ESPN's regular-season rankings, are mostly in the 20s (runs 28th, 15th batting average, 27th on-base percentage and 24th in slugging percentage).
In comparison, the Pirates are in last in all of those rankings. The number 30 nearly streaks across the screen (with their 29th-ranked batting average being the only stat that keeps them out of the cellar).
With all of these numbers being close, it could mean something big down the road for the Phillies. Strangely enough, the Pirates do not have the worst record in baseball. That shameful spot belongs to the 3-14 Kansas City Royals.
Lack of Offense
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Both teams lack offense thus far. That is actually an understatement. Both teams have produced the fewest runs in the majors.
The Phillies are 29th with only 48 runs scored and the Pirates are last with only 30 runs scored.
The Texas Rangers, who lead the majors, have 98 runs. That is 20 more than the Phillies and Pirates combined.
For the Phillies, it is because of injuries. The lineup is no longer feared by National League teams. When Hunter Pence is your guy in the cleanup position, your team is trouble. The Phillies are 16th in the league in batting average, but you cannot win games if you cannot score runs.
The Pirates have one guy they can depend on—Andrew McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez is supposed to be the other guy, but he has had a hard time getting some consistency at the plate in the majors. Alvarez is 4-for-37 with a .108 average.
It doesn't help that another key player in the batting order, Rod Barajas, also has the same number of plate appearances with the same number of hits for the same average. As a team, the Buccos are hitting an NL-worst .202.
Pennsylvania as a state should be embarrassed about its baseball right now. Luckily for the state, the governor is not very popular, so baseball can take a backseat.
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As of right now the two teams have decent earned run averages. They are close to each other with the Pirates in second (2.63 ERA) and the Phillies in fifth (2.81).
Phillies: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, Joe Blanton
The rotation is not what it used to be, but it is still one of the best in baseball. Roy "Doc" Halladay is still Roy "Doc" Halladay. He doesn't need an explanation. All he needs is a little run support in games that matter. Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS is the perfect example of that.
If Cliff Lee's oblique does not bother him after the 15-day DL stint, he should have no problem. He tweaked it during his 10-inning game in San Francisco.
According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn't sure which pitch did it, but the injury leaves an opening for left-hander Joe Savery from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Kyle Kendrick will fill in for Lee on Monday night at the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Cole Hamels is back in the third spot in the rotation following the departure of Roy Oswalt. He is 2-1 right now and is on the right path. It is now a matter of staying on that path.
Vance Worley is coming off a great rookie season. Will the sophomore jinx get him? So far it hasn't. He is currently 2-1 as well.
Joe Blanton has never really been that great of a pitcher for the Phillies. He helped them win the World Series but has been pretty useless ever since.
Pirates: Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett, Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Charlie Morton
The Pirates rotation is not as good as the Phillies'. To be honest, Philadelphia's isn't that strong either. Right now, with A.J. Burnett out, it is hard to be Erik Bedard. Bedard is really the only pitcher who is capable of being consistent for the Buccos.
The Pirates, in all honesty, will only get anywhere because of their pitching. If Correia, McDonald and Morton can find some sort of rhythm, instead of putting up .500 seasons and above-five ERAs, the Pirates can possibly get above .500 on the season.
The numbers are also similar. The Pirates are sixth in bullpen ERA (2.37), and the Phillies are seventh in bullpen ERA (2.51).
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Missing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley has been a problem for the Phillies.
They have found a temporary solution defensively at second in Freddy Galvis. If Galvis can get his act together at the plate, then the Phillies will be more threatening.
Ryan Howard's timetable is still unknown, like Utley's. What is known is that Howard is not ready to resume baseball activity. Utley took batting practice and ground balls with the team in Arizona prior to playing the Diamondbacks.
The Phillies desperately need one of these guys back, at minimum.
For the Pirates, it really only has been about A.J. Burnett and how he got his injury. If you haven't seen the video clip, all you need to do is listen. You hear the ball make contact with eye socket and it makes you cringe.
Jeff Karstens is also on the DL for a shoulder problem. He will continue to rest it and will return before Burnett.
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The Pirates beat the Phillies in two of three games in the first series of the season. The Phillies could have easily swept the Pirates. They had two straight games that they should have won.
Every game in the series was a one-run game. The Phillies won the first one, 1-0, before losing the next two, 5-4 and 2-1.
But Utley brought up a good point after taking BP:
"We've had some good games and we've had some bad games," Chase Utley said. "We've played 17 or 18 games. There's a reason why there's 162 games in a season."
A pretty standard answer is the easy response to what Utley said. But let's be honest—he's right. It is all part of the game.
The two wins in the opening series gave the bragging rights to the Pirates in the baseball battle of Pennsylvania. But, if there were a trophy for the season series, right now the Pirates would have more of a claim to it.
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The Phillies built their supposed dynasty by utilizing the draft and farm system.
The Pirates have not signed a star nor traded for one in a long time. They are trying to use the same method the Phillies did with building a winning team.
Two of the best pitching prospects for the Pirates are Jameson Taillon (ranked eighth overall in MLB.com's top 100 prospects) and Gerrit Cole (11th overall). In the near future, the Pirates will have a solid team that can do more than just hope for a season above .500. They will be able to actually get that season above .500 and compete for the Wild Card and even the NL Central.
The Phillies do not have a prospect list like they used to in the early 2000s. Those prospects were the guys that played major roles (and still do for the most part) on the 2008 World Series team.
Domonic Brown and Freddy Galvis look promising for the Phillies, but poor performances at the plate for both of them could result in longer stays down in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
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The Phillies, at the moment, are far better off than their Pennsylvania counterparts. They are on a level playing field. The NL East and NL Central are now tough divisions.
Both the Phillies and Pirates are in similar positions in their divisions right now. The season is an ultra-marathon. Teams will break down the season into months when they go back and analyze them, like they have been doing for decades.
There was a period in time last year when the Buccos got hot and found themselves in first place in the NL Central. It did not last very long.
The next time these two teams face each other will be June 25-28 at Citizens Bank Park. In two months, things could look very different as far as the division standings.
Over the last 20 years, that may have been the case. Roger hasn't been so jolly in that time.
Phillies fans may see this as easy pickings. Well, this year they may get humbled. The Phillies are vulnerable, and if they cannot win the games that fans consider easy (which include the Pirates), the Phillies will have very little shot at the World Series.
Right now, it is way too early to say that they have a great chance or no chance.