Key in rise to first place, the Phillies back-end rotation arms have slipped in the second half

Pivetta’s FIP is a full run better than his ERA, hinting that poor defense is hurting him.

The Philadelphia Phillies were carried to the top of the National League East Division standings over the season’s first four months by their starting pitching rotation.

All season long the team had struggled to consistently produce runs. They played shoddy defense on an individual and team basis. And for the first three of those months the bullpen struggled to close out victories or keep the Phillies in ball games.

But that starting rotation competed hard and propelled the Phillies to a surprise contending campaign. Aaron Nola became a true ace and a National League all-star. Jake Arrieta provided a proven, quality, veteran presence that had been missing since Cole Hamels was traded three years ago.

Those two pitchers were expected to win. The true revelations were coming from performances being delivered on a consistent basis by the Phillies back-end starting pitchers Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and Zach Eflin.

Through August 3, Velasquez had made 21 starts over which he went 8-8 with a 3.80 ERA. Turning 26-years-old at the end of June, he was dominating opposing batters, holding them to a .222 batting average against with 129 strikeouts over 113.2 innings. A dozen times he had pitched at least six full innings.

Eflin turned just 24-years-old right after the season opened. He would go 8-4 over his first 16 starts with a 3.57 ERA. The right-hander had allowed just 91 hits over 90.2 innings with an 86/19 K:BB ratio.

The 25-year-old Pivetta began the season going 4-6 over his own first 16 starts, but he was pitching much better than that win-loss record indicated. He allowed 80 hits over 84.1 innings in those outings with a sensational 101/24 K:BB ratio.

But those three starting pitchers would not hold up as the summer wore on. As Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia pointed out in a tweet just yesterday, that has been especially so when it comes to outings against divisional opposition.

In his last half-dozen starts, Velasquez has a 6.66 ERA and has given up 28 hits over his last 24.1 innings. Hitters have spanked him to the tune of a .292 batting average against in that span. He hasn’t reached the sixth inning even once.

Over his last 13 appearances, a dozen of those starts, Pivetta is 3-5 with a 5.49 ERA. He has surrendered 66 hits including 11 home runs over his last 60.2 innings. Over his last five starts Eflin has a 7.71 ERA, allowing 36 hits across 23.1 innings.

I have nothing but confidence in Eflin,” manager Gabe Kapler said per Scott Lauber of after the pitcher’s latest failed outing last week against the Mets. “Eflin’s going to go out there and make his next start.¬†And I would not be surprised if we rode him to the end of September.

The offense continued to struggle with consistency and timely hitting and the defense remained inefficient as the summer droned on. And then the collapse of that back-end starting pitching saw the Phillies lose the support pillar that had propped up their rise. It’s no surprise then that the team has dropped back in the standings.

Eflin has stumbled in the season’s second half

Those three back-end starters have been hurt more than either Nola or Arrieta by the sub par defense. All three have FIP marks which are more than a half-run better than their ERA. In fact, Pivetta’s is a full run better. It would be logical to assume that each could have better numbers and results with stronger defensive support behind them.

All year long the Phillies have continued to play youngsters Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery out of position in left field and at shortstop respectively. These two future keys would be best served playing on the right side of the infield at first and second base respectively for the next half-decade or longer.

Committing to putting Hoskins and Kingery where they belong would allow the Phillies to concentrate on pursuing impact players who would help improve the pivotal shortstop position as well as the outfield. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper anyone?

Nola will be back for the 2019 season to lead the rotation. Arrieta will be back as well, his contract guaranteeing one more season before he can either opt out or the Phillies can renew him for his ages 34-36 seasons from 2020-22 at a $60 million total price tag.

While he has been better than the team’s #3-5 starters, Arrieta himself has been slipping down the stretch as well. Over his last five starts the veteran is 1-3 with a 5.93 ERA, surrendering 30 hits over his last 27.1 innings. He has surrendered two home runs in each of his last three outings.

Phillies Nation taking applications for Fall 2018 internship

At the MLB all-star break it seemed as if starting pitching was going to be one area that Phillies management could rely on next year without necessarily needing to reach outside the organization in the coming off-season. That is no longer the case.

Questions are now resurfacing regarding Velasquez ultimate best role possibly being as a back-end bullpen arm, even perhaps as the team’s future closer. And would either or both of Eflin or Pivetta be capable of providing a winning arm on a consistent basis for a contending ball club?

After five losing seasons, it is likely that general manager Matt Klentak and controlling owner John Middleton entered 2018 hoping that the team would show improvement and move towards a .500 record, perhaps even a winning finish. Actually contending was not likely the plan.

That will be different entering next season. Middleton clearly wants to win. The organization has been positioning it’s finances in such a way that they could take advantage of expected free agent talent that will be coming available this off-season.

A number of changes will be needed this fall and winter, but a contending 2019 is within range with the right moves. Now in addition to a couple of new impact everyday bats, it is becoming clearer that the addition of one more proven starting pitcher will need to be part of the plan as well.







  1. Craig Glessner

    September 11, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Biggest change we need to address is Kapler. Number 2 trade Santana so Hoskins can play first and Hernandez so Kingery can play 2nd. This team plays with no emotion and no energy we need a personality in the dugout. I’m tired of hearing about big series coming up how are we going to win a playoff series when you can’t win a series against the Marlins or Mets. Start the billboards Utley for head coach in 2019 GEAUX PHILLIES

    • Matthew Veasey

      September 12, 2018 at 11:02 am

      Kapler won’t likely be going anywhere after just one season, especially one in which the team is going to improve by at least 10 games in the standings and possibly finish at .500 or better after five horrible bottom-feeding years. Way too soon to even consider Chase as a manager at the big-league level. Now, those two player moves, I absolutely agree with both. Santana was a mistake from the get-go, and Cesar has been over-rated by this organization for years. Hoskins and Kingery are clearly the future on the right side of the infield.

  2. Craig Glessner

    September 12, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    I know Kapler isn’t going anywhere yet but to give him credit for the improved record is a mistake, they won those games despite his coaching. Utley is a pipe dream but they need someone with an attitude that gets more out of their players and doesn’t watch the team lay a complete egg on a double header that ended the season. Charlie was very passive but his guys played hard for him I don’t see that with this team. This is a great team they need a leader.. Make the Phillies great again GEAUX PHILLIES

    • Matthew Veasey

      September 12, 2018 at 4:34 pm

      First, Utley isn’t even a pipe dream. That’s nothing more than a pure fantasy. At least pipe dreams have some unrealistic chance of happening. Giving credit to Kapler for the improvement is no mistake. In the middle of the season when the team was trying to figure out if it was really a contender, he kept them believing in themselves. It didn’t hold up, but he gets credit for driving them to 15 over .500 and into first place after five bottom-feeder campaigns. The “guys” that played hard for Charlie included at least a half-dozen future Wall of Famers. Those teams were much more talented than this current Phillies bunch. Patience, grasshopper. At least just a little bit more…..

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