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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Phillies will need another starting pitcher if they want to make playoffs

Aaron Nola has been a Phillies rotation bright spot in 2018
Last Friday night, the Phillies opened a weekend series with the visiting Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park with a 7-3 victory.

That win, behind the pitching of Aaron Nola, lifted the Fightin' Phils record to 17-9 in the early going of the 2018 MLB regular season. It also moved them within a half-game of first place.

As has happened in a couple of recent seasons when the Phillies got off to a hot start, there was talk among some in the fan base of possible Wildcard playoff contention.

Maybe you were one of them last season, when a six-game winning streak lifted them to an 11-9 start in the early going. Or perhaps it was just two years ago, when the club sat at 24-17 and just that same half-game out of first place on May 19, 2016.

Alas, it was not to be for either of those Phillies teams. The 2016 club would win 71 games and finish in fourth place. Last year's bunch sank to 66 wins and a fifth place finish.

This time it seemed to be different. The Phils had opened up their wallets and signed a true Cy Young-winning ace in Jake Arrieta. They had brought in a proven veteran on-base machine in Carlos Santana to tutor and provide an example for the gaggle of talented young hitters who peppered their lineup.

Surely this year, there would be no similar collapse to the last two seasons. Surely this time around, the ball club would fight to contention all through the summer for new skipper Gabe Kapler.

But now after a week in which the Phillies dropped five of six games against division rivals Atlanta, Miami, and Washington, the club has dropped to just three games over the .500 mark. In three of those losses the starting pitchers, Vince Velasquez, Arrieta, and Nick Pivetta were each bombed by the opposition.

After nearly six weeks of the season, the starting pitching has to be a genuine concern. That is especially so if club management actually believes that they can contend for at least a Wildcard berth over the course of the coming summer.

Nola and Arrieta are generally providing the Phillies with good work. Arrieta has allowed 23 hits over 28.1 innings with a 20/10 K:BB ratio. He has solid 3.49 ERA and 1.16 WHIP marks, with slightly better ERA+ and FIP marks.

Nola appears to be elevating himself to true 'Ace' level this season. He is 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 0.920 WHIP, surrendering 31 hits over a staff-high 45.2 innings with a 35/11 K:BB ratio. His last four outings have each resulted in a Quality Start effort.

But behind those two, the starting pitching is becoming a true mess.

Velasquez continues to be an enigma, with fantastic stuff and unimpressive results, including a 5.70 ERA and WHIP of 1.467 to this point. While he has a strong 34/9 K:BB ratio over 30 innings pitched, the righty has also allowed 35 hits, including a staff-high five home runs.

After getting blown up by the Braves in his last start, he had this to say per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki:

"You're going to have one of these days and you shouldn't beat yourself up because it's just going to add up. I'll look back at some film and reflect back and go back to the actual first outings and maybe even reflect back to a couple years ago and how I was successful in a couple of games. This is the process of getting better and you utilize stuff like this to better you."

Problem is that his "one of these days" has become a regular occurrence. Just 16 of Velasquez' 45 starts with the Phillies over the last three seasons have been of the Quality Start variety. The argument that he would be more suited to a bullpen role is going to grow louder and louder if something major doesn't change quickly.