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Phillies Nuggets: What Phillies have the best chance of being All-Stars?

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor 

For better or for worse, MLB All-Star voting begins June 1. So what members of the Philadelphia Phillies stand the best chance of playing in July's All-Star Game in Washington D.C.?

Notice the "s" after the word member. The Phillies haven't had multiple All-Stars since 2013, when both Cliff Lee and Domonic Brown represented the club at Citi Field. That streak figures to end this year, as the Phillies have six legitimate All-Star candidates. As long as you remember that #thisonedoesntcount, feel free to take a look at the six All-Star candidates that the Phillies have. 

Jake Arrieta

After not signing until mid-March, Arrieta didn't make his regular season debut until April 8. All things considered, Arrieta was pretty effective in April. Despite allowing six earned runs across 3.2 innings at Miami in his final start of April, Arrieta went 3-1 with a 3.49 ERA in his first month with the Phillies. 

In his second month as a Phillie, Arrieta pitched himself into the All-Star discussion. 

The 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner put together one of the best months of his career in May, posting a 0.90 ERA in 30.0 innings across five starts. Arrieta's 4.00 xFIP suggests that he could see some regression in the coming months, but through the first two months of the 2018 season, Arrieta has a 2.16 ERA, a 3.17 FIP and a 1.4 fWAR. The National League starting pitching All-Star race appears as though it will be heavily contested, and Arrieta could get burned by the fact that he hasn't been the best pitcher in his own rotation. But he's in the discussion. 

He also has a few narratives working in his favor.

First of all, he's a former Cy Young Award winner and World Series champion that didn't sign a free-agent contract until halfway through Spring Training. Not only do players around the league understand that it would be a great story for him to be an All-Star months after a prolonged free-agent stint, but they know his success could help future free-agents have more fruitful negotiations in free-agency. 

Secondly, much has been made, both locally and nationally, about how much better Arrieta is pitching than Yu Darvish, who the Chicago Cubs essentially chose to sign to a six-year/$126 million contract over retaining Arrieta. While Arrieta is coming off one of the best months of his career, Darvish, who was guaranteed three more years in free-agency, has a 4.95 ERA and 4.82 FIP. Arrieta making the All-Star team would further the revenge tour narrative, one that peers are likely sympathetic to. 

(For the record, the second narrative is a strawman argument. Signing Darvish to a six-year deal, given his injury history, wasn't very smart. However, signing Arrieta to a six-year deal at age 32, given the regression that he showed in 2016 and 2017, also wouldn't have been smart. There's no indication that the Cubs had the chance to sign Arrieta to the same deal that the Phillies did. It appeared at that time that Arrieta was seeking a five or six-year deal as well. Narratives often don't make sense, though.)

Aaron Nola

On May 31, 2017, Nola allowed four earned runs in three innings as the Phillies lost 10-2 to the Miami Marlins. Nola's ERA increased to 5.06, as the Phillies completed a 6-22 month. 

Since that date, Nola's posted a 2.77 ERA in 221.1 innings, including seven innings of one-run ball against Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday night. A year to the date after his start against the Marlins, the 24-year-old is 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 2018. Even prior to his start Thursday, Nola had a 2.1 fWAR, a 2.72 FIP and 3.15 xFIP. FanGraphs had Nola rated as the seventh best pitcher in the MLB in 2018 before he turned in another ace-type performance Thursday. 

To a degree, it feels that Nola's dominance hasn't been talked enough. But it hasn't been lost on his manager, Gabe Kapler. 

“I think there’s a lot of pride from Noles,” Kapler told the media, including Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think he understands that he put our team on his back against the best pitcher over the last six, seven years in Clayton Kershaw, and went toe to toe with him and outlasted him. Noles was just sensational.”

For the first time in half a decade, the Phillies have two pitchers pitching at an ace caliber in Nola and Arrieta. But there's been a clear 1A - Nola. And Nola will ride his hot start to the 2018 season to The Nation's Capital in mid-July. 

Nick Pivetta

Some may think Pivetta's inclusion in this article is a stretch. That crowd would be mistaken. 

The 25-year-old, who the Phillies acquired in the July 2015 Jonathan Papelbon trade, has been one of the league's best stories through the first two months. After posting a 6.02 ERA in 26 starts in 2017, Pivetta has a 3.26 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 3.19 xFIP and 1.7 fWAR through 11 starts in 2018. How great of a story would it be for him to make an All-Star appearance at the home stadium of the organization that traded him for Papelbon in 2015? 

Per FanGraphs leaderboards, Pivetta has been the 14th best pitcher in the MLB in 2018. With an increasingly effective curveball, one that he's using 22.4 percent of the time, Pivetta has graded out as a better pitcher than the aforementioned Arrieta, Patrick Corbin, Gio Gonzalez and others expected to draw All-Star consideration. 

Pivetta faces an uphill battle to make the 2018 National League All-Star team, though perhaps he shouldn't. 

Cesar Hernandez

When Gabe Kapler was asked last week about the best start that the Phillies have had in over half a decade, he pointed to one person. 

“I think we are where we are because of the consistent play of Cesar Hernandez in many ways,” Kapler told the collective media, including Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He’s been that much of a steady rock.”

Even with Scott Kingery on the major league roster, Hernandez has continued to force Kapler's hand. The 28-year-old second baseman has a 7.7 oWAR, tied for the fourth best among National League second basemen. He's led the Phillies in walks three consecutive seasons, but currently has a 15.5 percent walk percentage, a increase from the 10.6 percent that he's posted the last two seasons. Quietly, Hernandez continues to be an elite fielder, as his 2.2 dWAR is the second best among qualified second basemen in the National League. 

The problem for Hernandez is that Ozzie Albies is second in the National League with 14 home runs. The rookie has been a spark-plug for the upstart Atlanta Braves. Scooter Gennett is among the National League leaders in batting average, and his performance is being more closely examined than Hernandez's because he's expected to be a trade target this July. Even Asdrubal Cabrera is having a career-year for a New York Mets team that has faltered since a scalding hot start. 

So is Hernandez likely to be elected to the National League All-Star team? Probably not. But as voting opens Friday, he's very much in the discussion. 

Odubel Herrera

In my 2018 season preview, I wrote that it would be difficult for Herrera - or any Phillies outfielder - to be an All-Star. With Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon and Tommy Pham among the potential All-Star caliber outfielders in the National League, it's just tough for the math to end up in Herrera's favor. Sure, he was an All-Star in 2016, but that was propelled by a few things. First of all, he had a pretty incredible April for a Phillies team that was winning at what proved to be an unsustainable clip early on. Secondly, Jeanmar Gomez was the only other real option at that time to be the Phillies All-Star. 

Little did I know when writing that piece that Herrera was bringing a one-game on-base streak with him into the 2018 season. Despite dealing with a shoulder injury in Spring Training and not starting on Opening Day, Herrera turned that one-game on-base streak into a 45-game one, good for fourth longest in franchise history. 

As you can imagine, Herrera has ridden that streak to a .313 batting average, a .380 wOBA and 141 wRC+. Herrera's 10.9 oWAR is tied for third among National League outfielders. 

Traditionally, Herrera has graded out as an elite fielder as well. Through the first two months of the season, Herrera actually has an uncharacteristic -0.1 dWAR with a -0.8 UZR and a -1.1 UZR/150. Luckily for him, he's made a slew of highlight worthy plays in the outfield, such as robbing Freddie Freeman of a home run in late April: 

Given the national headlines that Herrera's streak made, the guess here is that he's going to be an All-Star. Harper and Starling Marte will likely join him. Both Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp have had career revivals through the first two months of the season. Pham is having another excellent campaign. But the biggest question facing Herrera, assuming he doesn't fall off a cliff in June, is whether he'll be a starter or a reserve for the 2018 National League All-Star team. 

Seranthony Dominguez

Dominguez wasn't promoted to the major leagues until May 7, but he's been other-worldy in his first 11 appearances at the major league level. As SportsTalkPhilly.com's Matt Rappa noted after Dominguez's two-inning save Thursday, he's allowed just two hits while striking out 15 in his first 13.2 innings at the major league level. During that same stretch, he's posted a 0.00 ERA, a 0.15 WHIP, six holds and two saves. 

Think about this: over the last 20 years, what Phillies reliever has been more physically gifted than Dominguez? One of Jonathan Papelbon or Billy Wagner is the best reliever the Phillies have had over that span, and Brad Lidge had the best individual season in 2008. But since Aroldis Chapman ushered in the era of freakishly talented relievers, the Phillies haven't had a freakishly gifted reliever of there own. Until now, that is. 

Will Dominguez be an All-Star? Who knows. He's not a traditional closer, came up late and the Phillies won't be pressed for an All-Star this year. Still, fan voting has no impact on what pitchers make the All-Star Game. So it doesn't matter on June 1 whether Dominguez has a large enough sample size to be voted into the All-Star Game. It will matter closer to the game - when players and those at the commissioner's office cast their ballots - whether Dominguez has caught their attention. Ask the six Los Angeles Dodgers batters that faced Dominguez Thursday whether Dominguez is already one of the very best relievers in the National League. 

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