Philadelphia Phillies establishing identity via clutch pitching

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Phillies have formed a pitching staff that has become the team’s biggest strength through the first quarter of the season.

It is a well-known fact that to win in Major League Baseball, a team must have quality pitching. Yet, many clubs struggle to find more than one or two quality hurlers to fill their rotations. For the past several years, the Philadelphia Phillies have been one of those teams.

Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt came together as The Four Aces in 2011, forming what was perhaps the most dominant rotation since the 1993 Atlanta Braves, but it has been seven years since those four names wore the same uniform. It’s been seven long years since the Phillies have been able to claim that they possessed quality starting pitching from top to bottom.

During that magical 2011 season, the Four Aces combined for 59 of the Phillies 102 wins and finished first overall in the NL in terms of total ERA at 3.02. Over the next several years, that numbers rose steadily. One by one, the Four Aces went their separate ways, and the Phillies organization failed to replace their production. From 2013-2016, the club finished no lower than 12th in the NL in team ERA. Pitching had become a glaring weakness.

Enter 2018 and through 56 games, the Phillies currently sit fourth in the NL in total ERA at 3.40. They are 31-25, just two games out of first place in the NL East. One thing is clear: pitching is undoubtedly the biggest reason for this young team’s surprise success this season.

The Phillies currently have one of the better rotations in baseball. Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta are both having Cy Young caliber seasons. Nola is currently 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA, while Arrieta is 5-2 with an ERA of 2.16. Those are elite numbers.

Coming into the season, it was expected that these two would need to be the 1A and 1B on the rotation, but the rest of the staff has quite possibly been the biggest surprise. Both Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have provided quality starts, proving they can be consistently relied on as the third and fourth guys up in the rotation. Even Zach Eflin has contributed a few solid outings, though it appears he’s come back down to earth.

It’s one thing to have two ace-level pitchers on your ball club, that is a luxury of its own, but it’s another thing to have four guys that give you a chance to win every night. Some teams would kill to have just three quality starters, the Phillies have four.

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Despite struggling in his last two starts, Pivetta is 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA. He has shown better command of his pitches, especially his fastball. He was impressive in stifling Atlanta in the first game of their most recent series. Velazquez is 4-6 with an ERA of 3.82. His numbers aren’t flashy, but he’s kept the Phillies in games and has displayed some pretty impressive ball placement. When he’s on, he’s pretty hard to hit.

And let’s not forget about the bullpen.

Seranthony Dominguez has been a real find, and he looks like the legitimate closer of the future for this team. The Phillies have also received solid contributions from Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia, and Hector Neris. This group still has a tendency to blow a game here and there, but overall they have been a bright spot on the season.

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This Phillies team faced many questions coming into the year, but one aspect of this team that does not appear to be in question moving forward is the pitching. With Nola and Arrieta set to be the one-two punch for at least the next three years, Pivetta and Velazquez continuing to develop, and Dominguez striking fear into the rest of the league, the Phillies are showing that they will be a tough out no matter who they face the rest of the season.