Philadelphia Phillies: 4 bold predictions for the 2019 season

CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 09: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits in the first inning during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 09, 2019 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 09: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits in the first inning during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 09, 2019 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Kings of the mound

What wins baseball games again? Oh, that’s right, first and foremost, it’s pitching.

In 2018 when the Philadelphia Phillies were sitting atop the NL East, it was due to their pitching. If the Phillies are to make noise in 2019, it will once again require a strong effort from their starting staff.

Much like last season, Aaron Nola will be dominant again this season. That’s not much of a bold prediction.

What is a bold prediction is what I expect from the remaining starting four.

Zach Eflin is going to assert himself as a top-of-the-rotation shutdown pitcher. Acquired by the Phillies in December 2014 from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Jimmy Rollins, the 24-year-old former first round pick (of the Padres) showed stretches of dominance last season. In June, Eflin posted a 5-0 record in five starts with a 1.76 ERA. Battling injuries and inconsistency, Eflin struggled through the second half of the season, netting just four wins from July through the end of the season with only 12 starts and an ERA of 5.76.

Eflin finished the year with a respectable 11-8 record and an ERA of 4.36 through 128.0 innings pitched.

But remember that month of June.

Having gained valuable experience through an up-and-down season, expect Eflin to take the next step as he develops greater confidence with a better defense and lineup around him. Last June was not an apparition; it’s a sign of what’s to come.

Jake Arrieta will start for the Phillies on Sunday following a 10-win 2018 campaign. I expect an average year out of the 33-year-old, whose numbers have steadily declined after taking home the 2015 NL Cy Young award. And that’s okay. What can’t be measured is the veteran leadership he provides to an otherwise young staff, and expect that to continue to grow.

Nick Pivetta had an inconsistent 2018. Finishing 7-14 with a 4.77 ERA through 164.0 innings pitched, the 26-year-old from Victoria, Canada has all the tools for a breakout season. Much like Eflin, if Pivetta can put it together and develop consistency, the Phillies have the potential for three elite top-end starters.

Unfortunately, unlike Eflin, I don’t see this happening for Pivetta. I think 2019 will show glimpses of brilliance and periods of significant clunkers, much like his ’18 campaign. Though he’s opening the season behind Nola, Pivetta will prove to be a serviceable No. 4 starter.

This leads to Vince Velasquez. Will a change in jersey number (Velasquez goes from No. 28 to 21) help the former 2nd round pick of the Houston Astros as he prepares for the season ahead? Equipped with a powerful fastball, ultimately, I think more of the same continues for the talented but inconsistent pitcher, and I see him as a greater threat from the ‘pen. (Think Brett Myers circa 2007.)

The Phillies have a talented group of starters with lots of potential. Tapped with maximizing that potential is new Phillies pitching coach Chris Young. The Phillies were contenders last year through mid-August with this exact staff, and another year of development will only help.

I believe the top-4 starters are firmly entrenched in the rotation for 2019 and will perform adequately. Nola will continue his dominance while Eflin makes significant strides in root to accompanying Nola as a powerful one-two punch at the top. Arrieta will provide veteran leadership and consistency, with Pivetta continuing to work through growing pains amid vast potential.

It would not surprise me to see Velasquez ultimately find his niche coming in for relief. The role better suits his competitive nature and fiery fastball, so long as he mentally embraces the challenge.

With a strong starting five in Lehigh Valley (AAA), expect Jerad Eickhoff or Drew Anderson to get the nod as the Phillies fifth starter as the season moves along.

And will this be enough to propel the Phillies into the playoffs on a quest for a Fall Classic showdown? Find out next…