It’s easy to highlight all the things that have gone wrong with the 2021 Philadelphia Phillies. Injuries have decimated their positional depth. The hitters who are healthy can’t stop striking out. The bullpen has faltered in the later innings. The defense is the worst in the majors. It’s June 4 and the Phillies have to win 61 of their final 106 games to reach 87 wins to at least give themselves a chance to win the NL East.
If anyone is going to revive the Phillies’ October dreams, it’s the starting rotation — specifically the top three of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin. The Phillies rank fourth in the majors in innings pitched by their starters. Wheeler, Nola and Eflin all rank in the top 20 in innings pitched among all major league starters. The rotation’s league-average 4.10 ERA undermines the accomplishments of the trio, but the three have a combined 3.42 ERA through 34 starts.
The Phillies have seven days off during the month of June. Fourteen of their 24 games are against divisional opponents. The other games are against the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants. Their performance in June will go a long way in deciding whether the Phillies buy or sell at the trade deadline.
The next month will be the one of the tougher ones from a strength of schedule perspective. The off days make it one of the easiest. Therefore, the Phillies have to consider optimizing their rotation to make sure their top arms are pitching as often as they can.
We already know that Wheeler, Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez are scheduled to start Friday, Saturday and Sunday against the Washington Nationals. The Phillies had the option of starting both Nola and Eflin on normal rest over the weekend, but they decided against it.
Eflin — if he starts Tuesday against Atlanta — would essentially be pitching as if his spot was skipped over once in the rotation. Considering that Eflin hasn’t eclipsed over 163 1/3 innings pitched in a season and has already exceeded his 2020 workload by nine innings through two months, the decision to give him time off is reasonable. His 68 innings pitched through May is the highest mark of his career.
If Joe Girardi goes with Eflin next Tuesday, turns to a Triple-A arm in a doubleheader against the Mets later in the month and makes no alterations to the rotation, the Phillies will allocate five starts each in the month of June to Nola, Wheeler and Howard and four starts apiece to Eflin and Velasquez.
The Phillies do have the option of shifting the share of starts so that their top arms are throwing as often as they can. Girardi’s rotation plans for the upcoming series doesn’t do much to change that.
Here’s how the rotation plan in June could look like after this weekend if the team prefers to give a couple extra starts to their top arms.
- June 8th vs. Atlanta Braves: Zach Eflin (eight days rest)
- June 9th vs. Atlanta Braves: Aaron Nola (seven days rest)
- June 10th vs. Atlanta Braves: Zack Wheeler (five days rest)
- June 12th vs. New York Yankees: Vince Velasquez (five days rest)
- June 13th vs. New York Yankees: Zach Eflin (normal rest)
- June 14th vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: Aaron Nola (normal rest)
- June 15th vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Wheeler (normal rest)
- June 16th vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: Spencer Howard (start skipped; 11 days rest)
- June 18th vs. San Francisco Giants: Zach Eflin (normal rest)
- June 19th vs. San Francisco Giants: Aaron Nola (normal rest)
- June 20th vs. San Francisco Giants: Zack Wheeler (normal rest)
- June 22nd vs. Washington Nationals: Vince Velasquez (start skipped; 10 days rest)
- June 23rd vs. Washington Nationals: Zach Eflin (normal rest)
- June 25th vs. New York Mets Game 1: Aaron Nola (five days rest)
- June 25th vs. New York Mets Game 2: Triple-A call-up
- June 26th vs. New York Mets: Zack Wheeler (five days rest)
- June 27th vs. New York Mets: Spencer Howard (start skipped; 11 days rest)
- June 28th vs. Cincinnati Reds: Zach Eflin (normal rest)
- June 29th vs. Miami Marlins: Vince Velasquez (seven days rest)
- June 30th vs. Miami Marlins: Aaron Nola (normal rest)
Nola would lead the pack with six starts in June, followed by Wheeler and Eflin with five apiece, Velasquez with four and Howard with three. All of this could — and will most likely — change in the event of a rainout or injury. The Phillies have been fortunate that their rotation injuries have only been limited to Velasquez’s missed start against the Marlins due to right index finger numbness.
But if everything goes as planned, the Phillies could control Howard’s workload and get an extra outing for both Nola and Eflin.
With a Mets loss to San Diego on Friday night, the Phillies are now four games out of first place in the NL East. It’s a good place to be for a team that went 6-11 with one of either Wheeler, Nola or Eflin on the mound during the month of May.
They might not deserve it, but they can get themselves back on track with a strong showing in June. To get to October, the Phillies need to start by treating June like it’s September. The least they can do is win with their best pitchers on the mound.
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