Philadelphia Phillies: Jake Arrieta must put brutal June behind him

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

The Philadelphia Phillies will need veteran Jake Arrieta to rebound from a tough month of June as they look to stay in contention in the NL East.

The Philadelphia Phillies are arguably the surprise of the National League this year, right up there with the rival Atlanta Braves, a team the Phillies have been doggedly chasing since the middle of May.

With the offense once again clicking, the Phillies have somehow found a way to battle through an absolute gauntlet in the month of June, winning four series in a row against teams who are either battling for a playoff spot or sitting comfortably. The upstart Phillies took down the Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Cardinals before walking into Washington and nearly sweeping the Nationals.

The Phillies’ pitching has continued to be stellar, with Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velazquez, and Zach Eflin all providing consistent quality starts along the way. Eflin may be the most surprising revelation of the bunch, as the 24-year-old appears to be rounding into form at the perfect time. His shutout of the New York Yankees on Wednesday, arguably the best team in baseball, was as impressive an outing as any Phillies pitcher has had all season.

But not all is rosy with the rotation, as a veteran right-hander and major free agent acquisition Jake Arrieta has struggled mightily in his last five outings. Arrieta was on fire in May, with a .98 ERA and allowing only three earned runs in five starts.

June has been a completely different story, however, as the former CY Young winner has gone 1-4, allowing 19 earned runs, including seven home runs during that span.

Arrieta’s performance this past month has been particularly alarming because it appeared that the 32-year-old’s problems have continued to compile with each subsequent outing. Arrieta was dominant in April and May because he was inducing weak contact at the plate. Rather than blowing guys away with velocity, he was locating his pitches and forcing batters to hit a lot of ground balls. This allowed him to keep a 2.16 ERA in his first 10 games

Poor defense did appear to be at the heart of most of Arrieta’s problems dating back to the infamous outing against the San Francisco Giants where Arrieta fumed about a broken play by Scott Kingery that lead to a series of runs. And while it’s true that the Phillies have committed a comical number of defensive errors this season, they don’t appear to be the root of Arrieta’s June decline.

According to Matt Gelb of the Athletic, only eight of the 27 runs scored against Arrieta in June were unearned. This appears to be due to the fact that teams are hitting balls much harder against Arrieta right now, which can be a big problem for a contact pitcher. The plate numbers don’t lie, as opposing teams in June have hit .305 against Arrieta.

Gelb also points out that both slugging percentage and average exit velocity of opposing batters have jumped up, with slugging going from .302 to .543, and average exit velocity from 86.7 to 89.9. It is clear that Arrieta is struggling with his location, and opposing batters are taking clear advantage of that. That will happen against the better hitting teams in baseball.

So what does this mean for Arrieta and the Phillies? The club is hot in the midst of a three-team chase for the NL East, with a gigantic four-game series against the Washington Nationals this weekend.

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The Phillies have leaned on their pitching all season and will need to continue to do so as their young offense continues to grow. There will undoubtedly be more ups and downs at the plate as some of the younger players gain valuable playoff-like experience. The offense is not yet consistent enough to be relied on every night, which is why having five quality pitchers has been so beneficial for this Phillies team.

Arrieta just needs to put the month of June behind him. There is no reason to believe that he is in some sort of career nose dive or that he can’t turn this around. Arrieta is a pro, and it’s why the Phillies signed him, this is the kind of pitcher he is. He’s not going to blow people away with speed anymore, and so he needs to continue to rely on his location. He can’t worry about the defense behind him. That will hopefully come as the team continues to grow.

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The Philadelphia Phillies are going to need Jake Arrieta down the stretch. He is an experienced veteran that has no doubt helped to improve this rotation this year just by his presence alone. The schedule in July will be much easier, so Arrieta should be able to use these outings to get back to form. It’s not time to panic about Arrieta’s performance, but it is something the Phillies have to hope will improve as they look to be contenders for a wild card spot this Fall.