On Friday, the Pirates begin a three-game set against a very weak Phillies team. Here's what to expect.
POSITION PLAYERS: .239/.290/.356. 1.2 fWAR, 14th in the National League. 22-year-old third baseman Maikel Franco is hitting .286/.320/.551, a breakout that has to be thrilling for Phillies fans. Beyond that, there isn't much to get excited about. Ryan Howard has 11 homers so far, but with a .278 OBP. And ... Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez have been acceptable from the shortstop position.That's all I've got.
Chase Utley's season has been a full-on disaster -- he rebounded in May after an April that even Adam LaRoche would have been embarrassed about, but now he's hitting .138/.229/.276 in June. Carlos Ruiz is slugging .285. The Phillies' current outfield of Cody Asche, Odubel Herrera and Jeff Francoeur is embarrassing -- Asche and Herrera are converted infielders who haven't hit nearly enough to start in the outfield, and Jeff Francoeur is Jeff Francoeur. Asche and Herrera might have futures, but Herrera in particular ought to be in the minors. (The Phillies picked him from the Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft last winter.) Ben Revere has been arguably the Phillies' best outfielder; he doesn't officially have a starting job right now, but they've found playing time for him by having him pick up starts at all three outfield spots.
PITCHING: 4.30 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 4.27 xFIP. 3.0 fWAR, 14th in the National League. Oh man, these starting pitchers. Friday starter Kevin Correia signed with the Mariners in the offseason, but the Mariners released him just as he reached his opt-out date at the end of Spring Training. He then signed with the Giants and pitched two decent months for Triple-A Sacramento before opting out of that contract. Then the Phillies signed him to a big-league deal. Correia is a bad pitcher, the kind of guy you turn to only when your other options are even worse. (I hope Correia's 2014 performance was awful enough that we don't have to debate this point anymore.) For example:
The coolest thing about Kevin Correia is he's not Sean O'Sullivan— Paul Boyé (@paul_boye) June 8, 2015
Guess who Saturday's starter is? It's Sean O'Sullivan, who has a 5.76 career ERA and 19 strikeouts in 45.1 innings this season.
Of course, Cole Hamels starts on Sunday, and the Pirates have their own rotation headache to deal with in Jeff Locke on Friday, and sometimes the Kevin Correias and Sean O'Sullivans of the world roll into town and eat your lunch, because that's how baseball works. But two of these three opposing pitchers look terrific for the Pirates offense.
The Phillies' bullpen is uneven. People have been handwringing for years about Jonathan Papelbon's lost velocity, but he keeps getting great results despite it. Ken Giles has struggled with his control this season, but he still has a terrific fastball. Old friend Jeanmar Gomez has gotten good results this season despite terrible peripherals. The rest of the 'pen (which currently contains Elvis Araujo, Justin De Fratus, Luis Garcia and Dustin McGowan) isn't anything to write home about.
OUTLOOK: It's hard to find nice things to say about this team. They've lost six of their last seven. They have the worst record in the National League. They're 7-23 on the road. Their roster is filled with pure placeholders like Correia, O'Sullivan, Francoeur, Jerome Williams and Aaron Harang, not to mention former starts like Howard. Being bad is one thing, but being bad and uninteresting is worse, and with the exceptions of Franco, Hamels and a few others, the Phillies aren't interesting.
Pirates fans can relate, of course -- we remember Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa and Chris Stynes and Mark Redman and Matt Morris and Victor Santos and Shawn Chacon and Tony Armas and Phil Dumatrait and dozens of others I could name. (It's mostly pitchers, isn't it? It's one thing for, say, an outfielder to stand around and be bad, but if you have a young pitching staff that's completely incompetent, your games simply won't end. To say that a pitcher "eats innings" damns him with faint praise, but it does imply some baseline level of competence, which is why bad teams have to bring in guys like Correia and Williams. In contrast, an outfielder can "eat innings" simply by donning a glove and jogging out to the grass nine times a game.)
But while the Phillies' current struggles might have been inevitable, it is their fault that there's still so little to get excited about. They're in what appears to be their third straight sub-.500 season, and their decline could have been seen from a mile away. Past-their-prime remnants of the last good Phillies teams linger on their roster. The Phillies also had the ninth-highest Opening Day payroll in baseball this year, an advantage the Pirates never had when they were giving playing time to the Chris Gomezes and Jeff D'Amicos of the world.
Last summer and fall, the Phillies began trading some veterans -- Jimmy Rollins, Roberto Hernandez, Marlon Byrd. They'll surely deal Hamels this summer, and likely Papelbon as well. They drafted Cornelius Randolph this week, and once they sign him, he'll add to an increasingly strong group of prospects that also includes terrific former first-rounders J.P. Crawford and Aaron Nola. Eventually, the Phillies will pull themselves out of the muck they're in. Right now, though, they're a mess of their own making.