Steel City Starter: Phillies open season in Pittsburgh

Placido Polanco, Brian Schneider and the Phillies open their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Philliedelphia/Lindsey Crew)

Opening Day. The start of a new season is upon us, and it all starts in Pittsburgh.

The Phillies are set to open their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last season, the Pirates posted a 72-90 record, good enough for fourth in the National League Central.

The Phillies faced the Pirates six times last season, going 5-1 in those games. In their trip to Pittsburgh last June, the Phillies took two of three from the Pirates. At home in July, they swept the Bucs in a three-game series.

The Pirates return with a strong young core filled with quality players. Andrew McCutchen has a new contract and will be a fixture of Pittsburgh teams for years to come. Young players like Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez also have great potential, and should develop further over the season. Also don't forget about several veterans the Pirates added this offseason. Returning is Nate McLouth, who got to know the Phillies by playing in Atlanta, and Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee provide the power game to the Pirates.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series.

In the opener, Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA in 2011) takes on Erik Bedard (5-9, 3.62 ERA in 2011) – Halladay takes the mound on Opening Day for the third straight season for the Phillies, coming off a near repeat performance in his second season with the Phils. He was one win shy of his second straight 20-win season, and was the runner up in the Cy Young Award race. In his career against the Pirates, Halladay is 3-1 with a 1.18 ERA.

Bedard comes in as the big free agent acquisition for the Pirates, who are taking a chance on the lefty who has battled injuries his entire career. In his career against the Phillies, Bedard is 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA.

In the middle game, Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA in 2011) faces Jeff Karstens (9-9, 3.38 ERA in 2011) – Cliff Lee is back in the No. 2 spot for the second straight season. Following Roy Halladay in the rotation is no easy task, but if anyone can do it, Lee seems to be the guy. In his career against the Pirates, Lee is 1-0 with a 3.68 ERA.

Karstens is coming off a solid season in terms of ERA. After having to battle for his rotation spot for several years, a strong second half last season has secured him a spot this year. In his career against the Phillies, Karstens is 0-0 with a 3.46 ERA.

In the finale, Vance Worley (11-3, 3.01 ERA in 2011) takes the mound against James McDonald (9-9, 4.21 ERA in 2011) – Worley is coming off a strong rookie campaign, and is looking to build on his career. Worley has been given an unusual rotation spot. Many people would likely expect Cole Hamels to start the third game of the season, but to avoid scheduling conflicts, Hamels was announced as the starter for the home opener. In his career against the Pirates, Worley is 0-0 with a 6.00 ERA.

McDonald is coming off a tough season with the Pirates, where he barely managed to pull even in record. His track record against the Phillies isn't all that great either, but a lot of that has to do with the injured Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. In his career against the Pirates, McDonald is 0-2 with a 6.97 ERA.

Prediction:
April 5 – Phillies 5, Pirates 2
April 7 – Phillies 6, Pirates 1
April 8 – Phillies 2, Pirates 4

The Phillies definitely have the pitching edge in this series, and with aces like Halladay and Lee being able to go much longer than spring games usually allow, the Phillies should be in control on the mound. Runs will likely come at a premium, but the Phillies have a tendency to come out of the gate with plenty of pop, especially when Halladay and Lee are on the mound. The finale may cause problems with the Phillies' injuries showing their first signs of holding the Phillies back, but a series win is definitely in the cards here.

The Phillies follow this series with the Pirates by opening their home schedule with three-game series against the Miami Marlins and New York Mets.

Kevin Durso is a contributor to Philliedelphia. You can follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.