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Phillies: 2020's NL East Rotation Surprises


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

In most seasons, the healthy team has an advantage over clubs with equal or slightly better personnel. And the Philadelphia Phillies are currently enjoying the good fortune of avoiding injuries to their five-man staff, while their three main competitors for the National League East pennant are not. Difference-maker, no?   


A One-of-a-kind Campaign:

On the surface, the Phillies faithful considered the Fighins’ rotation to be fourth out of five teams, but MLB injuries are an annual occurrence: 2019’s bullpen had withstood having eight relievers on the IL (injured list). And this summer has doubled MLB IL stints due to disrupted routines, plus COVID-19 is ever present.    


“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” - Arthur Conan Doyle

Following the trading deadline, five-man staffs will only change due to injury, ineffectiveness, the coronavirus and in-house surprises. Therefore, the Fightins, the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Washington Nationals -- barring unplanned situations-- have their starters.         

Some locals express themselves with disappointment and/or anger because a certain organizational weakness still remains despite their belief of available talent a general manager should acquire. Unfortunately, the other club has a say: asking price and/or a willingness to move the star at all.   

Phillies atop the Rotation:

  • RH Aaron Nola, 27: 7 Gms., 44 Inn., 4-2, a 2.45 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and a 1.3 fWAR.
  • RH Zack Wheeler, 30: 7 Gms., 45 Inn., 4-0, a 2.20 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and a 1.3 fWAR.
  • Stats through Sept. 3.

For the Phillies, Nola and Wheeler are a solid one-two punch, and round one of the playoffs is a three-game series. Ergo, the third contest is necessary if the clubs split the first two games, and the options here are Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin (probably), Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez.

Entering ‘20, Washington had Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. But Strasburg’s campaign ended quickly. So, their top of the rotation is Scherzer and Corbin, but missing Strasburg diminishes this most powerful asset to defend 2019’s championship.                           

In the four --now three-- spot, Anibal Sanchez has made only one solid start: Father Time may have caught up to him. Plus five-slot hurler Joe Ross opted out. Moveover, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde are only replacements.           

This dramatically affected rotation puts pressure on a weakened offense without Anthony Rendon. As for the relief corps, Sean Doolittle’s four-seam fastball is down 3 mph, so a shaky pen is problematic even when Scherzer and Corbin have at least seven-inning efforts. 

Nationals Rotation:

  • RH Max Scherzer, 36: 8 Gms., 43 ⅓ Inn., 3-2, a 3.95 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and a 1.2 fWAR. 
  • LH Patrick Corbin, 31: 7 Gms., 40 ⅓ Inn., 2-3, a 3.79 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and a 0.7 fWAR. 
  • RH Anibal Sanchez, 36.5: 7 Gms., 33 ⅓ Inn., 1-4, a 6.48 ERA, a 1.77 WHIP and a -0.1 fWAR.
  • RH Austin Voth, 28: 6 Gms., 23 ⅔ Inn., 0-4, a 7.99 ERA, a 1.77 WHIP and a -0.0 fWAR.
  • RH Erick Fedde, 27.5: 7 Gms. (3 in relief), 28 ⅔ Inn., 1-3, a 4.71 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP and a -0.1 fWAR.
  • Stats through Sept. 3.

Mets Rotation:

  • RH Jacob deGrom, 28: 7 Gms., 41 Inn., 2-1, a 1.76 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP and a 1.7 fWAR.
  • LH David Peterson, almost 25: 6 Gms. (1 in relief), 25 ⅔  Inn., 4-1, a 3.03 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and a 0.4 fWAR.
  • RH Rick Porcello, 31.5: 7 Gms., 33 Inn., 1-4, a 6.00 ERA, a 1.58 WHIP and a 1.1 fWAR.
  • RH Michael Wacha, 29: 5 Gms., 20 Inn., 1-2, a 7.20 ERA, a 1.75 WHIP and a 0.2 fWAR.
  • RH Seth Lugo, 30.5: 11 Gms. (9 in relief), 17 Inn., 1-2, a 2.12 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and a 0.4 fWAR.
  • Stats through Sept. 3.

The second best rotation in the NL East belonged to the Mets in early February, but only the staff leader deGrom still pitches every fifth day. Now, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman are looking ahead to 2021: the former due to season-ending surgery and the latter with an opt-out.      

Before Steven Matz earned his bullpen demotion, the Metropolitans had promoted Peterson to join Porcello and Wacha: free-agent signings. But they needed a fifth starter to replace Matz and switched Lugo to the rotation. Realistically, their greatest strength became their weakest link.    

For New York (NL), the pressure on the hitters is to carry them, but runs alone cannot make up for their pitching woes. And even though they are currently 1.5 games out for the second wild card, they only picked up two relievers because they have too many holes: They’re long shots.

Braves Rotation:

  • LH Max Fried, 26.5: 8 Gms., 45 Inn., 6-0, a 1.60 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a 1.8 fWAR.
  • RH Ian Anderson, 22: 2 G ms., 12 Inn., 2-0, a 2.25 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP and a 0.3 fWAR.
  • LH Tommy Milone, 33.5: 7 Gms., 31 ⅔ Inn., 1-4, a 5.68 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP and a 0.5 fWAR.
  • LH Robbie Erlin, almost 30: 7 Gms. (3 in relief), 22 Inn., 0-0, a 6.95 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP and a -0.1 fWAR.
  • RH Josh Tomlin, almost 36: 11 Gms. (8 in relief), , 22 ⅔ Inn., 1-2, a 4.37 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and a 0.2 fWAR.
  • Stats through Sept. 3.

Atlanta has Fried and rookie Anderson atop their five-man staff due to the injury-related losses of Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels plus two demotions. Unfortunately, Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz were ineffective. Translation: Fried can’t afford two bad outings.              

They added Milone for the third slot, plus they had previously moved Erlin and Tomlin from the relief corps. Basically, their bottom two rotation arms are four-frame hurlers needing their solid pen to get 15 outs. A heavy workload, no?                     

Offensively, they are a challenge to most moundsmen, but scoring heavily every contest is difficult for even this powerhouse lineup. Therefore, their hitters, relievers, rookie starter, and best pitcher are under the pressure to frequently perform for them to win.   

After Nola and Wheeler, Eflin has only one poor outing due perhaps to an improved curveball, and he has roughly doubled its usage from 5.4 percent to 10.5 percent. Proof-wise, this change has only occurred after pitching coach Bryan Price had joined the red pinstripes.                    

In his last two appearances, Arrieta had his best and worst outcomes this year. Meanwhile, Howard is improving with each opportunity, but he will experience more growing pains as his Phils’ career progresses.  

Phillies Rotation:

  • RH Aaron Nola, 27: 7 Gms., 44 Inn., 4-2, a 2.45 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and a 1.3 fWAR.
  • RH Zack Wheeler, 30: 7 Gms., 45 Inn., 4-0, a 2.20 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and a 1.3 fWAR.
  • RH Jake Arrieta, 34.5: 6 Gms., 26 ⅓ Inn., 2-4, a 6.49 ERA, a 1.56 WHIP and a 0.2 fWAR.
  • RH Zach Eflin, 26.5: 6 Gms., 32 ⅓ Inn., 2-1, a 4.45 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP and a 0.9 fWAR.
  • RH Spencer Howard, 24: 4 Gms., 16 ⅔ Inn., 1-1, a 5.40 ERA, a 1.86 WHIP and a -0.1 fWAR.
  • RH Vince Velasquez, 28: 5 Gms. (2 in relief), 15 Inn., 0-0, a 6.60 ERA, a 1.67 WHIP and a -0.1 fWAR.
  • Stats through Sept. 3.

Because the Phillies have five doubleheaders on September’s schedule, Velasquez will start even though fans prefer him in the bullpen. Unfortunately, the Fightins relief-wise have only two left-handed arms --Ranger Suarez and Jojo Romero--  with Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez due back by mid-month.    

Despite the interruption after their first set with the Miami Marlins, the Phils have scored 183 runs over 33 contests to average 5.6 runs per game. And although hitters are streaky, the Phillies can easily have 2-3 hot regulars to plate enough runs and offset any pitching weaknesses.  

The starting staff is also a strength by mostly keeping enough runs off the scoreboard, and having six healthy arms is a plus many franchises don’t have in ‘20. Also, the rebuilt relief corps is now solid enough to handle three innings per contest even with two southpaws on the IL.                      

With only two championships, many don’t need the Internet to picture the glory days of 1980 and 2008. But I remember the Cardiac Kids and the Team to Beat having one thing in common, and this gang of Phillies also has that magical ingredient, which is? They’re never out of it! 



The Pitching Trade, Behind and Ahead




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