No Bullpen, No Problem

After the Yankees series and the opener with the Nats the Phils still had 3 games left with the Nats. With Nick Pivetta hitting the mound for game 2, the Phils were hoping to to ride a little momentum. NOPE!

Pivetta came out struggling early and never made it out of the 2nd inning after allowing 7 hits and 7 runs while recording just 5 outs. Yacksel Rios and Austin Davis didn’t fare much better allowing 5 runs over the next 4 innings. Meanwhile, the offense finally started to click a bit in the 4th using the long ball. After scratching out a couple of runs in the 4th, Rhys Hoskins hit his 14th bomb in the 5th (2 runs) and Scott Kingery followed that up with a solo shot of his own to make it 11-5. After Carlos Santana cut it to 12-7 with a 2 run homer of his own in the 7th, the comeback was put to rest when the recently re-promoted Hector Neris was called in for the 9th. His short stint at AAA didn’t help much. Neris allowed 4 hits, including 3 HR’s, a walk and 5 runs to put the game out of reach. Final score: 17-7. Final result: 7 innings of work from the bullpen.

Game 3 brought Vince Velasquez to the mound and a hope that he could stretch things out a bit to give the pen a rest. That didn’t happen although through no fault of VV’s. Velasquez got in a bit of trouble in the 2nd but managed to get out of it thanks to the play of the year so far. With a runner on 3rd and 2 outs, Adam Eaton hit a liner right back at Velasquez that ricocheted off his right elbow towards the 3rd base line. Velasquez followed the ball, dropped his glove, picked it up and rifled a throw to Santana to get the 3rd out…WITH HIS LEFT HAND! It’s one thing to do that from 20 feet away. From 75, that’s nearly unheard of. VV would writhe in pain for a minute or two before finally leaving the game. That meant the bullpen would be called on for at least 7 more innings. After Odubel Herrera broke another big 0-fer with a 400 foot bomb to right in the 3rd, Jorge Alfaro and Aaron Altherr hit RBI doubles in the 4th to give the Phils a 3-1 lead. Victor Arano threw 2 scoreless innings after VV’s departure. Tommy Hunter pitched 2 more decent innings with the exception of a 450 foot jack by Anthony Rendon in the 6th. Adam Morgan, Yacksel Rios and Seranthony Dominguez each threw a scoreless inning and the Phils had managed to at least spit the series with the finale coming up on Sunday. Final score: 3-2 for the good guys. Final result: 7 more innings of work from the bullpen.

The final game of the series saw Jake Arrieta take the bump and the Phils desperately needed him to eat some innings after the pen had worked 14 innings in 2 days. That wouldn’t exactly prove to be the case though not necessarily his doing. After the Nats scratched out a run in the 4th, they scored 2 more with 2 outs in the 5th thanks to a Cesar Hernandez error extended the inning. Down 3-0 in the 5th, Gabe Kapler could have let Arrieta go and if it meant a loss, so be it. Instead, when the offense started to put something together in teh bottom of the inning, he lifted Arrieta for a pinch hitter, Santana, who walked to load the bases. Cesar walked after him to push the first run across, followed by a Hoskins sac fly and an Odubel RBI single…game tied at 3. OK, so the bullpen can manage 4 innings, right? Well… The pen, including the first appearance by Pat Neshek did just that. However, the Nats pen matched them and the game was still tied after 9. The Phils pen would go on to work 4 more scoreless innings (without a position player taking the mound!!!). Nick Pivetta, after his short start 2 days prior, would work the 13th inning, allowing just 1 walk. In the bottom of the inning, with 1 out, Andrew Knapp would come on as a pinch hitter for Pivetta (despite being the last position player and having basically no more arms available in the pen) and would make Kapler look smart by hitting a 3-2 bomb to right that stayed inside the foul pole and sent the sweltering CBP crowd home happy. After being rocked on Friday and taking the loss, Pivetta came full circle 2 days later and recorded the win. Final score: 4-3. Final result: 8 innings of work from the bullpen.

22 innings of work from the pen in 3 days. Yikes! Even after a day off Monday, it’s likely a few of those guys will need some rest.

Offense

The Odubel Herrera roller coaster continues. After an epic start, then a major free fall, Herrera seemed to come out of his funk with another hot tear. Now, he’s back in a slump. Though he had just 2 hits this week, they were both huge (a big game tying HR on Saturday and an RBI single to tie the game on Sunday). Hoskins recorded just 6 hits for the week but 3 of them left the yard and he knocked in 8 runs. As the weather has heated up, the bats haven’t exactly come to life as far as average but power-wise, they are scorching. The Phils hit 8 HR’s during the week and some were big in size (Santana’s blast to the Harry Kalas status) while others were big in significance (Knapp’s walkoff for the series win). They also recorded 12 doubles and a triple. Cesar has managed to stay consistent (currently at .268) going hit-less just 21 times this season and he has only had one hit-less stretch of more than 2 days. With most of the offense around him up and down throughout the season, at least the Phils know they have some dependency at the top of the lineup. If they can give him some help, things might get that much more interesting over the final 3 months.

Pitching

Courtesy of my partner, Brett Krasnov, this weekend represented the first time since 1928 that the bullpen had worked 3 straight games of 7 innings or more.

Let’s see…Aaron Nola is still really good. Tommy Hunter still stinks. Vince Velasquez is the new Aaron Rowand. Despite the extra work, 6 relievers came out of the week with a spotless ERA. Some (cough, Hunter and Neris, cough) absolutely did not. Hunter will be here for the remainder of the year due to his contract but he HAS to stop seeing action in anything resembling an important situation. Neris, on the other hand, needs to be at AAA until he figures things out. While Neshek may be the equivalent of an added arm, the Phils should most certainly be looking to add another arm to the pen if they expect to sty in the hunt. Nola and Zach Eflin remained the hottest parts of the rotation. If Arrieta can get things straightened out (and his defense can get their $#!@ together behind him) there is no reason they can’t hang with the best.

Around the N.L. East

Braves– If you are still waiting for the Braves to falter, it’s not happening, folks. They are for real. After a couple of surprising series losses to Baltimore and Cincy, the Braves cooled down the Cardinals offense and swept a 3 game series in St. Louis. They actually managed to extend their lead over the Phils by a half game in the process. Sitting 3 games up with 12 games left before the break, the Braves aren’t going anywhere. That said, this week could be a tough one. They’ll open the week in the Bronx with a 3 game set against the Yankees before heading to Milwaukee for 4 games with the Central-leading Brewers.

Nationals– In the last week and a half, they’ve lost 5 of 7 to the Phils and were swept in  2 game series by the Rays. They’ve fallen 6 back of the Braves and 3 behind the Phils. They won’t have a day off over the next 2 weeks until the break. Boston comes to Atlanta to start things off this week with a 3 game series before the Marlins come in for 4. Can they do enough in the next 2 weeks to make themselves market buyers or will they need to go the wholesale route and do a full overhaul?

Mets– After the Pirates and Marlins each took 2 of 3 against the Mets, they’ve now lost 4 straight series. They were 5-21 in June including 2 7 game losing streaks). They are now just a game ahead of the Marlins. In short, they are not a good team. They’ll fly north to Toronto for 2 games with the Jays before heading home for 3 with the Rays. If you don’t see updates on this team here in the 2nd half, it’s because everyone else will have forgotten about them by that point so there is no point to remind people they exist.

Marlins– While they stink too, they have actually won 4 of their last 6 series. They won their opener against the D-backs before being shut down in the next 3 games. Then they took 2 of 3 against the Mets to draw within a game of getting out of the basement. They have 3 against Tampa and 4 against the Nats (only their 2nd meeting of the season- Washington swept the first series). The way the Mets have been playing, they may only need to win a few of those games to make the leap out of last place.

After a brutal schedule in June which the Phils came out 13-14 (really good considering the 2-7 start), July starts off significantly easier. The Phils will have a much needed (for the pitchers) short week. They start the week on Tuesday with the Orioles coming to town for 2 games. Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola will take the mound and maybe the Phils fans can show Manny Machado what a winning atmosphere looks like. After that, they head out on the road where they’ll remain until the break. They’ll start off in Pittsburgh for 3 games with the Pirates. The Buccos have struggled but they’ve won their last 2 series (albeit against the Mets and Padres). Pivetta and Arrieta will take the mound for the first 2 games. Thanks to the extra off days, Velasquez 10 day DL stint may not hurt the rotation. Eflin will start game 3 on regular rest. Both series are winnable and dare I say, must win as far as staying/jumping up in the race as we hit the All Star break. At that point, with a few days off to recuperate (except maybe for Nola), it’ll be Matt Klentak’s time to make his first important moves as GM of the Phils.

With 3 months to go, this team is heading in the right direction. Can they keep up the momentum heading to the break with an eye on adding some needed pieces? It’s gonna be fun to watch and find out.

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