After a tough series with the Braves the Phils got significantly better results at home with the Pirates.
The Phils opened the 4 game set on Thursday with Jake Arrieta doing his best Jake Arrieta impression. Breaking out the powder blue unis (at home, no less), Arrieta allowed 1 hit in 7 innings while striking out 10 and walking 2. Rhys Hoskins homered again while Cesar Hernandez contributed your everyday run of the mill bases clearing single on the way to a 7-0 shutout. Yacksel Rios and Victor Arano combined to close out the final 2 innings allowing just 1 hit while striking out 3. Read more on this and the rest of this past weekday’s games here.
Things were a little tighter on Friday night. After 5 scoreless innings by Ben Lively and Ivan Nova, the Buccos struck first in the 6th on a HBP, a double and a sac fly. The Phils answered right back with a fielders choice by Hoskins to score Carlos Santana. After a clean 7th, Odubel Herrera untied things with a triple down the line in the 8th, scoring Cesar. Once again, the bullpen came through. Lively left after 6 strong innings (his best start of the year by far) and Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia (who got the win) and Hector Neris (his 3rd save) each pitched a scoreless innings to wrap things up. The 2-1 win was the Phils 6th 1 run win of the season.
After a slow start through the first 5 innings, the Phils opened things up with some more 2 strike magic from Hoskins. After Santana and Herrera reached base, Hoskins watched 2 fastballs right down the middle. Assuming Hoskins had his eyes closed, Pirates starter Steven Brault decided to challenge him with a 3rd. That didn’t go well. Hoskins deposited the ball into the left field seats for a 3-2 lead. That combination would strike again in the 8th as Hoskins singled to score Santana. Scott Kingery would follow that with a single of his own to score Herrera and Jorge Alfaro would knock in another run on a fielders choice to score Hoskins. Neris would get the save (4) pitching 1.1 innings allowing 1 hit and closing out the 6-2 win setting up a possible sweep.
Sometimes, getting a view from the bench can help. This was certainly the case for Aaron Altherr on Sunday as he came off the bench to pinch hit in the 7th, Altherr ended up with 3 hits, including a triple and a walk off RBI single in the 11th. Nick Pivetta contributed everywhere except in the W-L column. Pivetta pitched 6.1 strong inning allowing 2 runs on a HR in the 5th. He made up for that in the bottom of the inning with an RBI double of his own. He then moved up to 3rd on a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly by Hernandez. The bullpens took over from the 7th inning on and ultimately, as has been the case of late, the Phils pen came out on top. 4 pitchers combined to throw 4.2 innings of scoreless ball before Altherr closed things out in the 11th for 1 run win #7.
After the sweep, the Phils sit just a 1/2 game behind the Mets for first in the East. The biggest surprise though, is how they’ve done it.
I’m switching things up a bit this week as the this is what has been carrying this team so far this year. The Phils currently have a 3.01 ERA for the season. In and of itself, that’s a really good number. Take into account that it includes a position player, Pedro Florimon and his 18.00 ERA as well as Jake Thompson (7.20) and Hoby Milner (7.71), both of whom are no longer on the active roster and it gets a whole lot better. Lively pitched his best game of the season against the Pirates and is the high man among the starters at 4.64. As a 5th starter, that’s just fine. Starters 1-4 are sitting between 2.04 (Arrieta) and 3.0 (Vince Velasquez). Oh, and they have that Aaron Nola guy too. The bullpen has been lights out the last few weeks and keeping the Phils in every game. With Tommy Hunter replacing Hoby Milner in the pen over the weekend, things got even stronger. Can they keep this pace up all season? Probably not. If they can do it until things warm up and the hitters catch up…the Phils may just keep things interesting.
Timely? Sure. The Phils offense has come up with some pretty timely hits when they needed them. The problem is that they need more of them. The Phils currently have a .230 team batting average. That is not indicative of a 14-7 team. This team was expected to mash the ball and hope the pitching could keep them in games. So far, it’s been just the opposite, for the most part. While Herrera (.329) and Hoskins (.323) continue to rake, Santana (.151…with a surprising .301 OBP thanks to 14 BB’s) and J.P. Crawford (.185) have not found their stride (yet?). Despite a decent weekend, “bad luck” or not, Santana is hurting the Phils in the 2 hole and needs to be moved until he starts getting hits. With just 3 everyday players hitting .280 or above, we can only hope that a warm up in the temps will coincide with a warm up in the bats.
Around the N.L. East
Mets– The Mets red-hot start finally cooled a bit this week. After the Nats came to town and took 2 of 3, a trip to Atlanta didn’t fare any better. Before Sunday’s game was postponed, the Braves had taken 2 of the first 3 as well giving the Mets 5 losses in their last 8 after winning 11 of their first 12. The rough week allowed the Phils to jump right into the thick of things and the Mets own a 1/2 game lead over the Phightins. The Mets will head to St. Louis to take on the Central leading Cardinals before heading out west for a 3 game set with Freddy Galvis the basement dwelling Padres in San Diego.
Braves– The Phils have visited Atlanta twice already this season and have accounted for 4 of the Braves 12 wins after the Braves took 2 more to start the week off. Then the Mets came into town and gave them 2 more. Add in the Nats and that’s 12 wins against their division in the first month. 8 of those have come at home though. Can we expect different results when they head out on the road? With a trip to Philly looming this weekend, we hope so. First though, they’ll head to Cincy for a 4 game set to start the week.
Nationals– If Max Scherzer can pitch every 3 days, the Nats may just jump right back into the race. With the exception of the days when he doesn’t, the Nats are struggling. Scherzer has 4 of the Nats 10 wins thus far. Bryce Harper is carrying the load offensively on his way to the first ever 1 gazillion dollar contract (it could happen…but not in D.C.) . After taking 2 of 3 from the Mets in NY, they could only muster one win in L.A. with Scherzer out-dueling Clayton Kershaw. This week, they’ll finish their west coast trip with a set against he struggling Giants before coming home to face the West-leading D-backs. Scherzer pitches on Wednesday so they have a shot!
Marlins– The Fish started the week off with a trip to NY visit the Yankees. The teams split the series with a pair of blowouts. The Yanks took the opener 12-1 before the Marlins closed things out with a 9-1 beating of their own. That’s as good as things got for them. After leaving NY, it was on to Milwaukee for 4 and things got out of control quickly. The Brewers took the first 2 by a combined 20-3 score. Games 3 & 4 were closer but the Marlins ended up on the losing end of both. At 5-16, the Marlins are not tanking…at least according to Derek Jeter. He might want to change his mind though. If they are tanking, they are doing it well. If they aren’t, he just stinks running a baseball team. The coming week will see them continue their road trip with a visit to Los Angeles for 3 against the Dodgers. After that, they’ll head back home for 3 with the Rockies.
As our Phightins’ battle the Mets at the top of the East, they’ll start things off against another division leader in the D-backs (15-6) starting on Tuesday night in South Philly. The Braves will come to town on the weekend and the Phils will finally get a crack at them at CBP. If the pitching can hold up and get a little more on the offensive end, we may just get some payback and hopefully get a new view from the top of the standings by the end of the week.