The host Pittsburgh Pirates and in-state rival Philadelphia Phillies meet for the first time this season when they open a four-game series Thursday.
The Phillies, who are chasing a National League wild-card spot, had lost four of five before Wednesday, when they beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2 to take two of three in that series.
Before Wednesday, Philadelphia had scored three or fewer runs in 11 of 14 games, but there are some bright spots. That includes Alec Bohm, who had two RBI hits Wednesday and has a 12-game hitting streak.
Bohm has been batting sixth or seventh, and Phillies manager Rob Thomson said he probably won’t be moving up “for the time being.”
The Pirates, meanwhile, have lost eight of 10 during a stretch when they have been reshaping the roster through trades and could continue to do so leading up to Tuesday’s deadline.
One part slated for the future already in place is 6-foot-7 rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz, who is hitting .221 but has come up with some clutch hits and has six homers in 30 games.
In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss against the Chicago Cubs, Cruz hit his second homer in three days. However, he also struggled defensively with three errant throws. Two were salvaged by strong plays at the other end by first baseman Michael Chavis, and one was ruled an error, then changed after the game.
“Overall, I’m learning a lot and just trying to make sure I’m growing in every aspect that I can,” Cruz said through an interpreter.
In the series opener, Philadelphia right-hander Zack Wheeler (8-5, 2.78 ERA) is scheduled to start against Pittsburgh right-hander Zach Thompson (3-7, 4.64 ERA).
Wheeler did not get a decision Saturday despite a strong outing against the Chicago Cubs. He went seven innings, giving up one run and three hits, with six strikeouts and no walks in what became an extra-inning loss.
That was during the stretch when the Phillies weren’t offering much run support for their pitchers.
“It is what it is,” Wheeler said. “That’s baseball.”
In particular, Wheeler and Philadelphia’s “co-ace,” Aaron Nola, have been left out to dry a lot, as the Phillies are just 17-21 in games they have started.
Against the Cubs, despite the pretty numbers, Wheeler indicated he was rusty after the All-Star break. “I didn’t have my best stuff,” he said.
Wheeler is 2-0 with a 2.22 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates.
Thompson has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his most recent 12 starts, but his last time out was not one of those 10. Far from it.
Thompson is coming off a loss Friday against Florida when he gave up seven runs and nine hits, with two walks and two strikeouts, in 5 1/3 innings.
“I didn’t think Zach was very sharp,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “I thought the cutter was the only pitch that he had going. He left some breaking balls up.”
Perhaps Philadelphia is a good team to face for his next start. Thompson is 1-0 against the Phillies in five games, one of them a start, and he has never given up a run against them. Granted, that covers just eight innings total, all in 2021.
–Field Level Media