With all sorts of speculation swirling about Manny Machado and the July 31 trade deadline, the second-place Phillies will begin an 11-game road trip Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at beautiful PNC Park. As lovely as the views of the Allegheny River, the Roberto Clemente Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh are at the Pirates' home park, it has been nothing but a torture chamber for the Phillies.
Regardless of the state of the two teams, the Pirates have dominated the Phillies since moving out of Three Rivers Stadium and into their new ballpark in 2001. The Phillies are 18-35 at PNC Park and have won only three of the 17 series they have played there. The Phils did sweep the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park in April, and the Bucs are 28-40 since arriving in Philadelphia for that series at 12-6. The Pirates have also lost 10 of their last 14.
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Nick Pivetta will make his first start Friday in Pittsburgh since giving up seven runs and getting just five outs in a 17-7 loss to the Washington Nationals last Friday. Pivetta, of course, picked up a victory since then by giving the Phillies a scoreless 13th inning of relief Sunday against the Nats. Still, Pivetta's numbers — 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA — would look so much better this season if not for three starts against the team that traded him to the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon in 2016. Pivetta is 0-2 with a 17.60 ERA in his three starts against the Nats and 4-5 with a 3.45 ERA in his other 14 starts. In five career starts against the Nats, Pivetta is 0-3 with an 11.94 ERA.
Jake Arrieta will pitch the middle game of the series against the Pirates and will be looking for his first win since May 29 against the Dodgers at Los Angeles. Arguably, his best start of the season came against the Pirates in April when he allowed just one hit and struck out a season-high 10 over seven innings. Arrieta has 11 career wins — his most against any major-league team — and a 3.01 ERA against the Pirates, so this should be a good spot for him to get back on track. He is 2-6 with a 4.20 ERA in his last 12 starts and, perhaps of more concern, has allowed 69 hits and 21 walks in 64 1/3 innings.
The Phillies' most interesting pitching decision for this series will be whom they decide to send to the mound Sunday with Vince Velasquez (bruised arm) on the disabled list. Mark Leiter Jr. would be the top candidate on the active roster, but he has not pitched more than two innings since a May 12 rehab outing with high-A Clearwater. With Jake Thompson optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley after Wednesday's game, it seems the more likely option will come from the IronPigs.
Ben Lively is probably the leading candidate, and that's based on merit. He was 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA in five April starts with the Phillies, but he has performed well with the IronPigs, going 2-2 with a 2.44 ERA in eight starts. He has allowed just 34 hits in 48 innings, and opponents are batting .199 against him.
Enyel De Los Santos has been the IronPigs' best starter this season, but he is not on the 40-man roster and he also pitched Thursday.
A lot of us — yes, I plead guilty — were wondering if Gabe Kapler would make it through his first week as Phillies manager. But, oh brother, has he more than overcome his early gaffes in Atlanta and the boos at Citizens Bank Park. Our Scott Lauber now suggests that Kapler is a strong candidate for National League manager of the year, and with the Phillies 10 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season, it does not seem far fetched at all.
The Phillies have developed a bit of a pipeline with Dallas Baptist University, and the power-hitting duo of Darick Hall and Austin Listi has emerged as the most likely Patriots to graduate to the big leagues.
South Jersey native Jeff Singer went undrafted out of high school and college, but the Phillies signed him after a stint with the Camden Riversharks in 2015. Three years later, the lefthander's manager (Greg Legg) and pitching coach (Steve Schrenk) at double-A Reading believe the Holy Cross High School graduate has a real shot at reaching the big leagues.
Tonight: Nick Pivetta faces Trevor Williams in series opener at Pittsburgh, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta vs. Jameson Taillon, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phils close out series at PNC Park vs. Nick Kingham, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Let's play two against the Mets at Citi Field, 4:10 p.m.
After a great start, infielder Scott Kingery has cooled considerably, and the stupid idea that he would be a National League rookie-of-the-year candidate has lost all its steam. Yes, it was my idea. This is turning into a confessions-of-a-mistaken-writer newsletter. Anyway, despite his struggles, Kingery is still third among rookies with 31 runs scored, seventh with 61 hits, tied for ninth with 17 walks, and tied for second with seven stolen bases. His biggest negative? His 72 strikeouts are the fourth most among rookies.
Trading or signing Machado doesn't answer the left side of Phils' infield. Does he play short or third? Where does Kingery go? Kingery belongs at 2nd, so what happens with [Cesar] Hernandez? Whatever they would do with Machado they still need another infielder who can hit with more power than they are currently getting.
Dennis G., via email
Answer: Thanks for the email, Dennis, and for being such a loyal reader. I disagree with you on this one. Machado wants to play shortstop, and that's where he will play if the Phillies can get him. He's good there. It's his bat the Phillies need. The Phillies have three hitters — Hernandez, Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana — who are among the top 22 in the National League in on-base percentage. They are all over .360, which means if put Machado fourth in the Phillies order, he should have plenty of RBI chances.