What happens when you put hitting and pitching together (I’ll leave fielding out of the conversation) in the midst of a baseball season? Often times, as is the case for the Phillies, you wind up with a winning streak. The Phils have shaken off their early troubles, albeit against inferior teams, to win 6 in a row and 8 of 9. After sweeping the Rays in Florida over the weekend, the Phils are now in 2nd place behind the Mets in the East.
After their sweep of the Reds, the Phils were more than happy to fly south for a few days and soak in some sun… at least between games. Friday night, they began a series in Tampa/St. Pete against the Rays with a 2-1 win. Despite his best outing (by far) of the season, Vince Velasquez had to sit and watch as Jorge Alfaro knocked in the eventual game winning run with 2 outs in the 9th for their 4th 1 run win of the young season. After conceding a 2nd inning run, Carlos Santana tied it with an RBI single in the 6th before Alfaro capped things off and Hector Neris closed it out.
Jake Arrieta is still not in Cy Young form but was once again solid in his 2nd start with the Phils. This time, the offense spotted him 6 runs in the 2nd inning and he did most of the work from there going 6.2 innings and allowing 3 runs on 7 hits. J.P. Crawford added another bomb in the 4th (where did this mammoth power come from?). Crawford’s bat has started to come around after a dreadful start and the Phils hope that will continue. The Phils added 2 more runs in the 5th on a Scott Kingery double and Maikel Franco sac fly and cruised the rest of the way to a 9-4 win.
Ben Lively got himself into early trouble on Sunday by conceding a lead off HR and an RBI triple in the first. Then the offense took over again. After Cesar Hernandez knocked in Andrew Knapp on a throwing error in the 3rd, Kingery came up a few batters later and blasted a bases clearing double to center to put the Phils up 4-2. The Rays and Phils traded runs in the 4th and 5th before the floodgates opened again in the 8th. Rhys Hoskins and Franco each had RBI singles before Aaron Altherr broke out of his slump with a 3 run HR to left and all but wrapped up the series. After allowing a harmless run in the 8th, the Phils celebrated their 6th straight win, 10-4 and now have a considerably better view of the division from their current spot on the ladder.
The Phils have scored 37 runs during their 6 game win streak. Many of the runs have come in bursts rather than spreading things out but if it results in wins, we’ll take it. The majority of the starters have started to level out with the exception of Santana who is sitting at .154 with just a .254 OBP. He does have 2 HR and 10 RBI but the Phils will need much better percentage numbers if Gabe Kapler is going to continue to keep him near the top of the lineup. Hoskins (.326) and Odubel Herrera (.327) have been an effective tandem in the middle of the order. If Herrera can find additional ways to get on base as well, things could continue to trend upwards. Crawford was a huge highlight of the week. After a 1-23 start, he has 5 hits in the last 4 games including 2 no doubt bombs. Keeping that switch turned on will be another major necessity for this lineup to succeed consistently. With many of the bats coming around, there are still some pieces that need to step up. The catching rotation of Alfaro and Knapp are hitting a combined .205. Add in Franco’s .237 and Altherr’s .083 averages and there are some glaring gaps in the lineup (at least when they make Kapler’s lineup).
When Yacksel Rios leads the team in wins, the starters need to go farther or the offense needs to kick in a little earlier. After the opening week cluster**** that was Kapler’s bullpen use, things have leveled out. The Phils have 6 wins and 5 quality starts from their rotation. Aaron Nola has a 1.96 ERA and Nick Pivetta is at 2.70 with a 10.26 K/BB ratio. Arrieta has settled in and Velasquez has settled down. The biggest key was the bullpen. After the disaster of a start to the year, they have looked more like what was advertised as the likely strength of the team. Over the last week, the pen pitched 19 innings allowing just 2 earned runs.
If there has been a potential Achilles heel, it’s been the fielding. The Phils have committed 15 errors in their first 14 games. The catchers have made 5 of them and the middle infield, 6. As the pitching (hopefully) continues to pick up, they will need the defense to stand tall behind them.
Around the N.L. East
Mets– The Mets put their foot on the gas from day 1 and haven’t let up yet. They had run off 9 straight wins before a loss on Saturday. They swept the Marlins in Miami and took 2 of 3 from the Brewers at home. The rest of the division will be hoping that the Mets bullpen starts to show sign’s of cracking soon. The starters have been good but the pen has been lights out. 8 of their 12 wins have been by 2 runs or less. The Nats come into New York for 3 games this week looking for revenge for a sweep by the Mets the last time around. After they finish up with the Nats, they’ll head to Atlanta for a 4 game set.
Braves– It was a tough week for the Braves (wiping away imaginary tears). After losing 2 of 3 in Washington, they flew to Chicago where they got a shutout win in the opener, gave up 9 runs on just 3 hits in the 8th inning Saturday leading to a 14-10 loss and then got SNOWED OUT on Sunday (one of 6 games postponed). Yes, it is the middle of April for those keeping score at home. Many expected this to be a growing year for the Braves. So far, after a quick(ish) start, things have leveled out for the young squad. This week, they’ll get some home cooking and likely better weather. The Phils will come into town for 3 to start the week off before the red-hot Mets come in for 4.
Nationals– Much like the beginning of their season, this week started well for the Nats before the wheels fell off. After taking the first 2 games of a series against the Braves, they lost the series finale and waited for the Rockies to come to town. They probably wished they were in Colorado after the first 2 games however as they managed just 2 runs and dropped them both. The offense opened up a bit on Saturday and Max Scherzer was dominant again as he has started another potential Cy Young campaign in 2018. Their .232 team batting average is 11th in the NL (barely above the Phils and Marlins). They’ll head out on the road this week with a 3 game stop in New York to take on the Mets before heading to the west coast, starting with 3 against the Dodgers.
Marlins– Really! Who would have thought that a team who sold off every decent player they had would start a season 4-11, rank 23rd in batting average in MLB (.227) and average just 3.3 runs per game? OK, pretty much everyone. But at least they can pitch, right? Oh, they’re 29th in ERA (4.93)? On the bright side, Giancarlo Stanton is hitting just .220 with 3 HR. So…maybe they won that trade after all??? Yeah, probably not. Speaking of Stanton, the Fish will head to the Bronx for a 2 game set with Stanton and his new club in what could be the highlight of the season if they can stick it to the Yankees. They’ll head off to Milwaukee after that for 4 games with the Brewers.
So we’ve basically established that the East is a bit of a dumpster fire in the early stages of the season (Mets excluded). A trip to Atlanta and could add some fuel to the fire as the Phils take on the Braves for 3 games to start the week. Nola, Pivetta and Velasquez will get the starts. After that, the stretch of bad teams comes to a halt as the Pirates come to CBP for a 4 game set. The Buccos have the 2nd best record in the NL (11-4) and 3rd most runs scored in the majors (87). After a couple of easy weeks, this could prove to be a test to see just how real the Phils run of late has been.
We’ve seen signs of both the bats and the weather warming up. If they both continue to do so, things could get fun around the ballpark this summer.