Opinion

The Phillies won, and now here’s what I think



The Phillies won. They beat the Braves, 4-0, to take a crucial three-game series at home. We’re now heading into Memorial Day weekend rooting for a 28-19 baseball team, a team 0.5 games in back of first place in the National League East and (don’t look now) two games up in the wild-card picture. Yes, if the season ended today, the Phils would host the Pirates in a one-game playoff for a chance to play the Brewers.

Instead of one piece about one thing, or a recap of the game, I’m just going to write a bunch of things I think about this team right now:

1. I suppose we should start with Seranthony Dominguez, the Fuego-Takis-throwing rookie who has quickly become the Phils’ relief ace. When Jake Arrieta put two Braves on with two outs in the seventh inning last night, Gabe Kapler turned to Dominguez to extinguish the fire. He fought fire with fire, striking out Preston Tucker with a sharp 98 mph fastball and ending the threat.

Then Kapler came back to Dominguez in the eighth, and the rookie needed just six pitches to get out Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman. He threw a couple of 97-98 fastballs and, to Acuna, a pair of 88 mph sliders. It’s just incredible what this kid can do, and I am so, so happy that Matt Klentak and the front office pushed him up the ladder so quickly. Of course it’s easier for relievers to get pushed to the majors quickly, as they can more often rely on their most refined pitches to get outs, but this kind of ascent doesn’t happen frequently. Also, we figured the bullpen was pretty well assembled heading into 2018, but Pat Neshek hasn’t been able to get healthy, Hoby Milner struggled, and there was clearly a need for a bridge reliever who could take some of the weight off Luis Garcia and Edubray Ramos. Dominguez has answered the call in every way, and he’s quickly become a must-watch performer.

The last time this happened in the bullpen? In 2014, Ken Giles broke out in Reading with a 1.80 ERA and 29/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 innings. (Yeah, read that again.) Whispers of this 100 mph phenom grew louder, and Giles went to Lehigh Valley for another 11 games. He actually struggled a bit there, but it didn’t matter, as he was up in Philly by June. In Giles’ first nine innings he allowed one run and three hits, striking out 14 and walking three. Dominguez has allowed no runs and one hit, striking out nine and walking none.

All this to say Dominguez is the flame-throwing late-innings reliever we’ve been waiting to see, and I love that the Phils have made him the relief ace.

2. Jake Arrieta is more 2015 than 2017. He has relied on a superb ground ball rate of 56.3 percent to get out of sticky situations this season, which so far is right in line with his 56.2 percent GB rate of ’15, the year he put up an insane 1.77 ERA and won the Cy Young. And the more he pitches (and the more he seems in control of his sinker), the more I’m convinced he’s not the guy from 2017 who struggled with a high fly ball rate and, consequentially, put up a 3.53 ERA.

The issue is still the strikeouts. He has only struck out 6.14 per nine, which is far below his career norms (in the high 8s). He did strike out seven Braves last night, but he also endured plenty of foul balls and long counts (the Braves are good at that type of thing). The good news is Arrieta’s BABIP is .263, a bit up from his peak years, and I attribute to (what else) bad defense. My hope is better defense is coming because Carlos Santana isn’t that bad, J.P. Crawford should be back at shortstop soon, and Jorge Alfaro is getting more reps. That should help.

Bottom line: Arrieta isn’t 2015. He’s not absurdly striking out 9.2 per nine while getting a ton of groundouts. But he’s not last year’s fly ball machine, at least not now. Give me some better defense,  because we’re seeing a guy who’s mastering the low part of the zone.

3. Jorge Alfaro. We’ve seen the Statcast stuff now. We know he zipped from first to home on that Nick Williams double. There isn’t much more to say. Yes, he strikes out more than we’d like, but if this is the floor and he’s almost 25? I’m taking this for a few years, that’s for sure.

4. I really like that Kapler isn’t shying from Hector Neris. At some point things may change back there, but it behooves skip to get good outings out of Neris. Maybe he’s effective in a different role down the line. Maybe he gets out of this rough patch and becomes unhittable again. Whatever the case, I like that Kapler still likes Neris in some save situations, and I like that he’ll even put him in with two outs in the ninth, just to get one out. Confidence is a crucial component in late relief work, so it’s essential that Kapler builds it up in his “closer.”

5. I’d like to see more Nick Williams in my lineup, but how cool is it that he’s become the perfect professional bat? Remember when he and former IronPigs manager Dave Brundage got into those tizzies? Remember his sit-downs with his next skipper, Dusty Wathan? Heck, he told us he was thinking more about being in the majors then his triple-A at-bats. Yeah, I want more Williams in the lineup, but the guy just gets big hits.

I feel like good Phillies teams have that guy. Before the Phils really broke out, in 2006, they had David Dellucci putting on a hitting clinic. Then Greg Dobbs socked some giant hits in 2007 and ’08. Williams (.429/.455/.762 in 22 plate appearances as a sub) has suddenly become the new David Dellucci, or something like that.

6. Carlos Santana check: .202/.325/.423. He’s over the Mendoza Line, folks. One month ago, here’s what I wrote about Santana:

“Carlos Santana has started the season 12-for-78, which isn’t optimal. But let’s say, over the next 78 at-bats, he doubles that up with 24 hits, or a .307 average (which is actually a normal thing to do). His average is then .230. No, not really optimal either, but Santana was a .249 hitter in Cleveland. Yes, just .249. His forte isn’t average but getting on base and driving in runs. I am confident he does that. It may not be in droves until summer, when the weather warms and he’s comfortable and seeing more pitches, but I am confident.”

So in his next 79 at-bats he had 18 hits, good for a .228 average. Baby steps.

As low as his average has been, Santana is still getting on base at a decent clip (31 walks to 28 strikeouts!) while driving in runs. Of all the players in this offense, Santana is one of the guys I’m worried about least.

7. I am a teensy bit worried about Rhys Hoskins, but I feel like he’s streaky and he’ll bounce back pretty soon, if not this weekend.

Now. Some people are really, really stupid when talking about him. I saw someone on Twitter yesterday compare him to Darin Ruf and Tommy Joseph. In Hoskins’ first 409 plate appearances, he’s .249/.386/.526 with 24 home runs, 70 walks and 102 strikeouts. Ruf actually started his career hot but was definitely worse in his first 400 plate appearances. And Joseph? Come on, people.

Hoskins has plus plate discipline, which will carry him when his bat isn’t squaring up with the ball. Be patient.

8. Also, be patient with Scott Kingery.

9. The Phillies are nine over .500. A month ago, when I took stock of the team, they were 14-8. Now they are 28-19.

Still good. Still good. Still good.

We’ve made it to Memorial Day weekend. Still good.

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