Well, on the bright side, we have three weeks until we see the Braves again and then they are out of sight until September. After the Diamondbacks took 2 of 3 things didn’t get any better for the Phightins when the Braves came to town. After dropping 2 more games to the Braves, the Phils are 3-6 against Atlanta and 13-5 against everyone else.
Things started well on Friday night. Aaron Nola allowed 3 runs in the first inning and then went lights out the rest of the way. The Phils responded with 3 of their own in the first, then Nola shut the Braves down the rest of the way. Odubel Herrera did his part connecting on 2 HR’s and 4 RBI. Jorge Alfaro knocked in the other 3 runs with a 2 run HR and an RBI single as the Phils took the opener, 7-3. The offense disappeared from that point on in the series.
Nick Pivetta had a rough outing on Saturday allowing 4 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in just 5 innings. It could have been even worse if not for a highlight reel catch by Herrera leaping over the center field wall and pulling a HR back from the shrubbery. After Pivetta was lifted, the bullpen was able to shut things down but the offense was unable to put anything together. Maikel Franco hit a 5th inning solo HR to account for the only run the Phils would score and 1 of just 5 hits on the day as they fell 4-1.
If things were bad on Saturday, it’s tough to come up with a term to describe Sunday. Vince Velasquez pitched like well, Vince Velasquez as the Braves chopped the Phils down, 10-1. VV allowed 7 hits (including 2 doubles, 1 triple & 2 HR). He also walked 2 on his way to giving up 6 ER in just 4 innings of work. Jake Thompson didn’t fair any better in his relief effort. Thompson allowed 3 hits, walked 3 and conceded 3 more runs in 3.2 innings. Just to top things off, former Phils prospect Jesse Biddle (a nice reclamation story) pitched 2 shutout innings in relief for the Braves with 5 K’s…and he doubled off Luis Garcia. Meanwhile, the offense was invisible again. The Phils struck out 13 times (after whiffing 11 times on Saturday) and scored their lone run on a throwing error. It was not the way the Phillie Phanatic pictured his birthday going (Happy 40th, Phanatic!)
The Phils are now 1.5 games behind the Mets and tied with the Braves for 2nd in the East.
Ladies and gentlemen…Odubel Herrera. There is your offense. Herrera is hitting .337 after another big week. Oddly, the rest of the lineup did not hit poorly as a whole, they just can’t hit when runners are on base. After striking out 64 times in 6 games this week, they now have 275 on the season. Despite what Gabe Kapler and his analytics crew may tell you, a strikeout is not like any other out…especially with men on base. If you don’t put the bat on the ball and you don’t steal bases (they have just 16), then once again, you’re relying on the long ball. When that doesn’t come, you get results like this week (2-4). The 2 biggest stumbling blocks are the 2 hole (aka Carlos Santana) and the bottom half of the lineup. If Hernandez, Herrera or Rhys Hoskins don’t knock in runs, the team is almost guaranteed to go scoreless that inning. Franco is the only other hitter in the lineup hitting above .250 and no one else is even that close. The Phils were hoping that their young core would do what the Braves actually are doing but it’s not working as expected.
Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta continue to deal. Nick Pivetta had a rough outing on Saturday and it will be interesting to see if he can regain his composure in his next outing. After those 3, the soon to be interchangeable parts in the 4 and 5 spots of the rotation are not getting it done. Velasquez and Ben Lively have taken the “L” in 6 of the Phils 11 losses. Lively is now on the DL and Zach Eflin will get his chance before Jerad Eickhoff returns some time in May (as of now). The bullpen was not as lights out as it had been through the first month but it was tough to imagine them holding that pace up for too long. Despite the rough week, the highest ERA on the active roster is still just 3.18 Drew Hutchison and Yacksel Rios) and as long as the starters can keep them in the game, they’ve got a chance every time they go out there.
Around the N.L. East
Mets– The Mets completed their road trip with a 3-3 week against the Cards and Padres. After winning the opener in St. Louis, they dropped the next 2. The shut down the Padres in the opener in San Diego before being trounced 12-2 on Saturday. They got their revenge on Sunday with a 14-2 drubbing of their own. They return home this week to take on the Braves and Rockies. The Braves won 2 of 3 a couple weeks back and will look to continue their hot pace against the East and possibly making a jump in the standings. The Rockies (15-14) are currently 2nd in the West.
Braves– The Braves split a 4 game set in Cincy before coming into Philly and doing what they do best…beat up on the Phils. Their young hitters (Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies) are doing what the Phils hoped their young prospects would do. Albies has 9 HR already and Acuna is hitting .421 with 5 XBH in his first 5 games. The lowest average in their every day lineup is .267 (Preston Tucker). If their pitching staff can hold up, this could be the team to watch as the weather heats up. The Braves will finish their road trip in New York with 3 against the Mets then return home for a 3 game set with the Giants.
Nationals– The Nats completed their west coast swing in San Fran by losing the first 2 and riding Max Scherzer (5 of their 12 wins) and some offense to a 15-2 route in their getaway game. The D-backs were waiting when they got back to Washington however and grabbed the first 2 games of the series. The Nats took the closing game 3-1. This week the Central-leading Pirates come in for a 4 game set followed by their first meeting of the year with the Phils.
Marlins– After winning 5 games in the first month of the season, the Fish came out swinging this week and added 4 more to their tally. They closed an odd east-central-west road trip by taking 2 of 3 in L.A. against eh Dodgers. They went back home to face the Rockies and allowed just 2 runs in the 3 game set (they scored just 7 themselves). This week, they will look to actually cross the double digit threshold. They’ll get their first shot against the Phils who travel to Miami for 3. The Marlins will head out to Cincy after that to take on the 7-win Reds. Expect a barn burner in that series, folks.
The Phils get a chance to put some space between themselves and the 2 teams currently below them in the standings. First up is the Marlins in Miami. Jake Arrieta will open the series and Nola will close it out. If Zach Eflin can hold his own and/or the offense can produce, the Phils have a good chance of walking away with a sweep. On their way back home, they’ll stop for a weekend in D.C. for their first match up with the Nats. In the beginning of the season, not many would have predicted the standings to look like they currently do at this point as they meet for the first time. Could the Phils be the ones burying the Nats in the early going? It’s possible. The highlight should be the Sunday series finale of Arrieta vs. Scherzer.
It’ll be an interesting week for the Phils. If they can handle their business and take 4 of 6 (or better) things should be interesting as it warms up.