PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Phillies sitting at 10-6 and having won seven of their last eight games comes as somewhat of a shock. That their pitching is sixth in Major League Baseball with a 3.21 ERA and an MLB-low eight home runs given up in 16 games is beyond comprehension—and a good reason why they are just two games behind the National League East Division-leading New York Mets.
Before the season began, the Phillies could have been summed up by the 1960’s rock group name “Aaron Nola and the Question Marks,” or one of those old Batman villains with Nola surrounded by a bunch of henchmen with question marks on their green pajamas.
The addition of Jake Arrieta has certainly been a plus to the starting rotation, though he is not the “Jake Arrieta” he used to be. What’s happening here, at least so far, is Nick Pivetta is showing some maturity no one expected to see this quickly, with a 2.49 ERA in four starts, while relievers Yacksel Rios and Adam Morgan have kept the Phillies in games.
Last year the Phillies were 18th in the majors with a team ERA of 4.55. More significantly, they gave up 221 home runs to opposing batters, which was the eighth-worst in the majors. Opponents hit .265 against Phillies pitching, which was the seventh-highest average in MLB. This year, that figure has deflated to .233, which is 19th in Major League Baseball.
Again, this is a small sample size, though if Gabe Kapler continues to progress and fend away from over-managing, which he did in embarrassing abundance the first week of the season, this pitching group could be a strong point. They have two winners in Nola and Arrieta at the top of their rotation.
This is where it gets iffy.
Can Pivetta keep pitching the way he has? Vince Velasquez has shown he could have superior ability, then he throws bombs, like in the March 31 15-2 romp by Atlanta. Velasquez was placed in a rough zone, starting the game after Kapler used 13 relievers in the first two games of the season’s opening series. Velasquez gave up seven runs, four earned, on nine hits over 2 2/3 innings. Since then, he’s helped the Phils win two-straight games, giving up two earned runs over 12.2 innings pitched.
If the Phils can keep this up, they’re going to be a dangerous team. But that is a big “if.”