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Nola, Arrieta have given Phillies one of league's best one-two punches

 

By Jesse Larch, Sports Talk Philly editor 

When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Jake Arrieta during Spring Training, it was viewed as a move that would save an otherwise uninspiring starting rotation. Instead, it's helped to give the Phillies an inspiring one-two punch at the top of their surprisingly effective rotation. 

At the time of the Arrieta signing, Aaron Nola was coming off of a breakout 2017 campaign and was entering his first season with any serious expectations. Those expectations were heightened with Arrieta's arrival, as it elevated the Phillies from being viewed as a bottom-dweller in the National League East division to becoming a frequent name attached to a Wild Card spot. 

Nola was  named the team's Opening Day starter prior to Arrieta's arrival -  entrenching him as the team's ace before the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner knew what team he would be signing with. 

Arrieta donning the red pinstripes immediately took pressure - and attention - away from Nola and the rest of the team's starters. Even though attention was indefinitely taken off of Nola by the arrival of Arrieta, his performance through his first nine starts of the 2018 season has put the spotlight, both locally and nationally, back on him. 

All Nola has done since the addition of Arrieta is get out to one of the hottest starts in Major League Baseball. Nola is 6-1 through his first nine starts of the 2018 season, with the league's sixth lowest ERA (1.99) through 58.2 innings, which also is sixth in the league. 

While Nola has been in the premature National League Cy Young discussions that start up around this time of the year, Arrieta has been far from a slouch in his own right. The 32-year-old is 17th in the majors in ERA (2.59) and has held opponents to the 20th lowest batting average among qualified starters. 

After the first quarter of the season, the Phillies duo of Nola and Arrieta has pitched at a level that can lift Gabe Kapler's inexperienced roster to a playoff berth if they are able to maintain it. There have been very few duos to match the production of Arrieta and Nola, and the team's that do harbor these duos are teams that are expected to make postseason appearances. 

Below is a table that shows how Arrieta and Nola compare to the best 0ne-two punches around the league. The table examines the combined statistical performances of the top starting pitching duos to this point in the season. The Philadelphia pair consists of Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola; Washington's duo consists Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez; Boston's duo consists of Chris Sale and Rick Porcello; St. Louis' duo consists of Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas; Cleveland's duo consists of Corey Kluber and Mike Celvinger; Houston's duo consists of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and the the New York Mets' duo consists of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. 

The statistics that are calculated in the below table are based on performances prior to the slate of games on Monday, May 14:

Team GS W-L ERA WHIP OPP BA Innings 

Philadelphia (Arrieta & Nola)

16

9-2 2.26 1.02 .209 99.4

Washington (Gonzalez & Scherzer)

17

11-3 1.93 1.05 .199 102.4

Boston (Porcello & Sale)

17

8-1 2.47 0.92 .202 109.2

St. Louis (Martinez & Mikolas)

15

8-2 2.06 1.02 .206 96.2

Cleveland (Clevinger & Kluber)

17

9-2 2.51 0.94 .205 118.2

Houston (Cole & Verlander)

17

8-3 1.33 0.73 .150 115.4

NY Mets (DeGrom & Syndergaard)

16

5-1 2.49 1.12 .228 90.3

The biggest observation from this table is that Arrieta and Nola's performance thus far is not out of place among names like Verlander, Scherzer, Kluber, and Sale. Arrieta and Nola have combined for the second most wins of any of the listed duos, despite having the second least number of starts.

Together, Arrieta and Nola have posted a better WHIP than their National League East counterparts in Washington and New York. Despite having the best combined WHIP among division duos, Arrieta and Nola have shown a penchant for getting beat by contact. Among the seven pairs of pitchers listed they have the second highest opposing batting average. Arrieta and Nola's combined ERA is fourth lowest among the seven pairings, placing right in the middle of the elite one-two punches in Major League Baseball. 

This is not to say that Arrieta and Nola are as dominant as the pairing of Cole and Verlander, who have been other-worldy in 2018, but to acknowledge that the Phillies have themselves two of the most effective starting pitchers in all of baseball on their roster. 

If we reach September and the Phillies still see Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola producing at or near their current level, it is entirely possible that we will also be talking about the Phillies reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

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