Things started well over the weekend for your Phightins’ giving a glimmer of hope into the potential this team has. After getting the majority of their Gabe Kapler-centered booing out of the way in the Home Opener on Friday, the crowd wasn’t quite as spiteful over the weekend, mainly because the offense made it hard to be.
On Saturday night, things didn’t start any better for Vince Velasquez in his 2nd start than they did in his first. Velasquez gave up a couple hits and an unearned run (courtesy of a Jorge Alfaro throwing gaffe) in the first inning and things got testy early on a cold night in Philly. After that, things seemed to settle down for Vinny V and the offense did the rest from that point on. In the Phils first at bat, the offense was patient taking walks and making timely swings. After loading the bases in the first, Maikel Franco his his 2nd HR of the year. The grand slam was not the last time we’d see the electronic Liberty Bell sway. In the 3rd inning, Aaron Altherr came to the plate with the bases loaded again and deposited a souvenir into the stands for the Phils 2nd slam of the night extending the lead to 9-1 in just the 3rd inning. Carlos Santana hit a 3 run homer in the 4th (nearly a 3rd slam after a sacrifice by Cesar Hernandez in the previous at bat). After a Rhys Hoskins double, it was 17-1 after 4. Scott Kingery and Hoskins would add RBI’s in the 6th and Alfaro rang the bell one more time in the 7th to cap the scoring. Jake Thompson relieved Velasquez in the 7th (amazing considering his pitch count after 1) with an 18 run lead and recorded the easiest save in the history of the stat with 3 innings of 1 hit ball. He was promptly rewarded by being sent down to AAA to make room for Jake Arrieta. Every starter (including VV) as well as 2 replacement players had at least one hit on the night. Thompson was the only player used to go 0-fer in the 20-1 rout. If this night showed what this team is capable of even when the temps are in the 30’s and 40’s, Sunday would show the inconsistency that we’re likely to see more of.
Sunday was the day everyone had prepared for, the debut of Jake Arrieta. After a 3 run first inning, fans might want a 2nd chance at a first impression. Arrieta surrendered a HR to the 2nd batter he faced then conceded 2 more runs before the Phils even got to bat. After Santana and Nick Williams got 2 runs back in the bottom of the first, Arrieta settled down retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced. Hoskins tied things up with an RBI double in the 3rd and things slowed to a crawl from there. Arrieta departed after just 4 innings after giving up 3 runs (2 earned) on 3 hits with 5 K’s and 2 BB’s. It wasn’t his best stuff, but the hope is that he’s still in Spring Training mode and we’ll see progression every 5 days. Gabe Kapler reared his micro-managing head yet again using 6 pitchers over the next 5 innings. Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan gave up 3 runs in the 8th and the Phils offensive well had run dry after the 3rd inning resulting in a 6-3 loss.
Overall, the Phils won their first series of the season and are not (currently) the worst team in the division.
Rhys Hoskins and his .440 batting average has been off to a hot start. Hernandez (.310) has been setting the table nicely and Maikel Franco (.304) has been cleaning things up when runners are on base with 11 RBI already. Beyond that, the offense has been inconsistent at best. The biggest issue thus far has been J.P. Crawford who looks plain lost at this level. Crawford has reached base just twice this season (1 hit, 1 BB) in 24 plate appearances. Despite his defensive abilities (though he’s got 2 errors already as well), with plenty of other options to man that position (Kingery, Pedro Florimon), Crawford needs to get some time off or potentially even a trip up the turnpike to get his swing together. Santana has also been a minor disappointment although, despite the .172 average and .250 OBP (isn’t that was he was touted for???) he has driven in 7 runs so far. I fully expect to see more production as things warm up. Despite a 20-1 win on Saturday, the Phils are just a +2 in run differential through 8 games.
The strength of this team was expected to be the bullpen. Multiple issues have conspired to throw a wrench in those plans: 1) No Tommy Hunter or Pat Neshek, 2) Kapler’s overuse of the pen from Opening Day and lack of defined roles (5 pitchers have already appeared in at least 4 of the 8 games played) and 3) inefficiency from the starters. The starters have thrown just 39.1 innings (Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta have 21 of those innings). If the starters can’t pitch at least 5 innings, preferably more, things will only get worse as arms start to wear out.
Around the N.L. East
Mets– The Mets are off to a hot start at 7-1. After losing the final game of their first season, they’ve rattled off 5 straight wins including a sweep of the Nats. Yoenis Cespedes is hitting the ball hard (3 HR) but not often (.212 average). The key for the Mets has been the pitching staff. They have a team ERA of just 2.40 and that is surprisingly skewed by the 5.4 ERA of Noah Syndergaard (one of only 2 pitchers with an ERA over 4). If the pitching staff can stay anywhere even close to that pace, this will be a team to deal with all season. The Mets head to Miami for 3 with the Marlins before returning to New York for 3 with the Brewers.
Braves– The Braves have won 2 of 3 in each of their series thus far to get out to a 6-3 start. 5 starters have averages above .324 including Ryan Flaherty who is hitting .414 in the early going. They’ve also hit 11 HR’s so far including 3 from rookie Ozzie Albies. Like the Mets, the pitching is getting it done as well. They have a team ERA of 3.23 despite 2 pitchers with ERA’s over 9. Next up is a road trip to Washington and Chicago for 3 games each with the Nats and Cubs.
Nationals– Things looked as expected after the Nats won their first 4 games of the year. Since then, they’ve lost 5 straight. Bryce Harper (.357, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 13/5 BB/K ratio) is making his push for the largest contract in MLB history in the early stages of the season. However, he’s getting minimal help from the rest of the offense and no help from his pitching staff (team ERA of 4.83) beyond Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer. Things are unlikely to stay this stale for too long but it will be interesting to see if the Nats make an early exit plan for Harper if they do and try and get something for him before he leaves after the season. Atlanta comes to D.C. for 3 followed by the Rockies coming in for a 4 game set on the weekend.
Marlins– What do you get when you mix a Hall of Fame shortstop with no experience running a team, a plan to dismantle a franchise from the top down and a bunch of retreads and rookies? The Miami Marlins, folks. Derek Jeter dismantled the team in the offseason and they are getting, I’m guessing, exactly what they expected. Bryce Harper has twice as many HR’s as the Marlins entire offense combined. Add in the team ERA of 5.48 and you are looking at your N.L. East cellar-dwellers. The Fish will welcome the Mets and Pirates (currently leading the Central at 7-2) into Miami for 3 games each which probably won’t go so well.
The Reds (2-6) will come to CBP for a 3 game set before the Phils head back on the road with a trip to Tampa to take on the Rays (1-8). If you could base predictions on records alone this early in the season, there might be reason for hope. However, the Phils have yet to show much consistency that leads me to believe the next 6 games will be a walk in the (ball)park. Ben Lively, Nola and Pivetta will get the starts against the Reds and we’ll see Arrieta again on Saturday in Tampa. If the team can put a few things together against 2 bad teams, it could give a little bit of hope in the beginning stages of a long season.