It’s only a week and a half into the season but you can already tell this is going to be a fun one to watch. After a quick 2 game split in D.C., the Phils returned home again for their first Interleague matchup of the season. The Twins came into town and left with 2 more losses than they came in with.
On a cold and rainy Friday night, Rhys Hoskins drove in 4 runs on 3 hits. The Phils put up a 5-spot in the first and never really looked back. Bryce Harper may have been 0-4 but may have made the play of the game anyway (that’s saying something on a night when Jorge Polanco of the Twins went 5-5 and hit for the cycle). After drawing a 2-out walk in the 7th, Hoskins hit a single into left field. Harper, running on the play hustled all the way, noticed a lack of urgency from the left-fielder or 3rd baseman and hustled all the way home from first. We may not see that kind of hustle all the time for the next 13 years, but the first few years sure should be fun to watch if he does. Meanwhile, Nick Pivetta wasn’t sharp (5 innings, 9 hits, 4 runs- 3 earned) but it’s tough to tell how much of that was due to the weather. When all was said and done, the Phils cruised to a rain-soaked 10-4 win.
Saturday was night and day in many aspects. While the weather for the 2PM start was absolutely gorgeous (I would know, I was there), the play on the field was a bit less fruitful. Jake Arrieta pitched 7 fairly strong innings with the exception of back to back 2 out HR’s in the 3rd inning. The offense could not get things going however. Hoskins homered for their first run and they had a chance for more in the 6th but the Twins defense shut things down. Trailing 3-1, Jean Segura singled to start the inning and Harper hustled a single into a double. Hoskins walked to load the bases and Odubel Herrera knocked in a run on a sac fly cutting the deficit to 1. Cesar Hernandez flew out to center on the next at bat. While not hit deep, Harper attempted to tag up and despite an attempt to hurdle the catcher, a strong thrown and good tag cut him down to end the rally. Eddie Rosario hit a 3-run homer off the right field foul pole in the top of the 9th off Seranthony Dominguez to essentially put the Phils away. After the 6-2 loss, it was on to Sunday.
Quick…name the Phillies starter with the following stat line: 2-0, 12 IP, 0.75 ERA, 14 K’s, 1 BB. You’d think it was Aaron Nola. However, if I told you it was Zach Eflin, you may miss the rest of this article after fainting. But it’s true. Eflin allowed 6 hits and 1 run over 7 strong innings and led the Phils to another series win. Eflin allowed a leadoff homer in the first and then shut the Twins down the rest of the way. With timely defense (Andrew McCutchen gunning down a runner at the plate in the 3rd) and timely hitting (Hoskins 3rd homer in the 6th). The home run was the only offense the Phils put together but a much needed strong bullpen performance made it stick. David Robertson had, by far, his best outing in a Phils uniform recording 2 outs in the 8th and Adam Morgan got the 3rd out. Hector Neris came in a worked a perfect 9th striking out the final batter on a FILTHY split.
With another series win, the Phils sit atop the East at 6-2.
After 8 games, the Phils have:
- 5 players at or above a .300 average
- 3 with an OPS above 1.200
- 6 with 5 or more RBI
- 4 with at least 4 XBH
- 7 with at least 3 BB’s
I’m fairly certain there was not an 8 game stretch at any point last season where any of those stats applied. This team is just constructed totally differently and is bringing back memories of the 2007-2011 stretch. While J.T. Realmuto (.185 avg.) and Hernandez (.179 avg.) have not found their stride yet, the Phils finally have the pieces they need to make up for ti.
Nick Pivetta has given up 17 hits in 9.2 innings. Aaron Nola has walked 7 and allowed 3 HR in 9 innings. Eflin leads the rotation in most stats with the exception of innings (Arrieta with 13). Vince Velasquez will get his chance this week. It’s a safe assumption that Nola will turn things around. Pivetta doesn’t have that track record. While Eflin may not stay as hot as he is, even if you can get 80% of what he’s given thus far, that’s more than you can ask for from a #4 guy in the rotation. The bullpen has had it’s ups and downs. Thus far, the biggest concern centers around Dominguez. Many, myself included, chalked up his 2nd half drop-off last year to overuse by Kapler. So far, his start to this season is looking more like that was the norm than the exception. If hitters have figured him out thanks to video, the Phils coaching staff need to find out what they are seeing and counteract it soon.
Around the N.L. East
Mets– The Mets are at 6-3 and will host the Twins for 2 games before heading to Atlanta for 4.
Braves– The Braves won 5 of 6 after leaving Citizens Bank Park with an 0-3 record. This week will be tough as they fly to Colorado for 3 games then back to the east coast for 4 at home with the Mets.
Nationals– The Nats (4-4) travel itinerary thus far has essentially been bus rides up and down I-95. That will continue this week. The Nats will start the week with 3 against the Phils at CBP before heading back home again to face Pittsburgh for 3.
Marlins– The odds-makers in Vegas have the over/under set at April 22nd (after they’ve completed their first round against the N.L. East) for when I stop including them in this recap.
After 1 appearance out of the bullpen, Vince Velasquez gets his first start of the season on Monday night against the Nationals. He’ll take on Anibal Sanchez in the series opener. The Phils tagged Sanchez for 4 runs in 4 innings last week in Washington.
Tuesday night is Nola vs. Strasburg. Strasburg has pitched well thus far. Nola has not.
Wednesday is Nick Pivetta vs. Jeremy Hellickson. Bryce Harper is licking his chops.
The Phils head to Miami for 3 on the weekend. Arrieta, Eflin and Velasquez will toe the mound against the Fish.
We’re less than 2 weeks in but this team is infinitely more enjoyable than anything we’ve seen in the last 5-6 years.