It has now been three weeks since Opening Day and the Phillies head into Coors Field in sole possession of first place. At 11-6, they currently hold a 1.5 game advantage over the Mets (10-8) with the Nationals (9-8) and Braves (9-9) close behind. If early action is any indicator, the NL East is arguably the strongest division in baseball.
That said, the Phillies are off to a great start with an 11-6 overall record and an excellent 9-5 against NL East opponents. Yesterday’s gem from Arrieta gave the club a hard fought series victory against what looked like a surging New York team. Arrieta ended up going 8 innings – the longest of any Phillies starter this season – while allowing just two earned runs. His sinker was working about as good as it possibly could, as evidenced by a very impressive 15 ground outs.
Arrieta’s dominant outing couldn’t have come at a more perfect time with the team headed into a series at the hitter’s paradise that is Coors Field. The bullpen could have used some rest and it certainly got it.
As the season grinds on, there is more of a sample size to draw from in regards to stats and role players have had a chance to make some noise. Injuries of course pile up at this stage as well, especially in the midst of a 17 day marathon. Jean Segura is currently nursing an injury and the team just recently announced that Odubel Herrera has been placed on the injured list with a hamstring injury. Roman Quinn has been activated from his rehab stint and will be called up to take his place.
Quinn’s call up gives the team a bit more time with Aaron Altherr, who is out of options. It seems inevitable that Altherr will be elsewhere by season’s end, but anything is possible.
David Robertson was also placed on the injured list on Monday due to elbow soreness. Robertson said that soreness has been persisting since Spring Training and flared up after Sunday. An MRI took place, but Gabe Kapler has tried to downplay the severity of the injury. Drew Anderson has been recalled from AAA Lehigh Valley to take his place.
Lastly, Tommy Hunter was transferred to the 60 day IL. It did not affect his timetable as he wasn’t expected back until May anyways.
Franco Still Leads The Team In RBI’s From The 8-hole
Maikel Franco continues to produce at the bottom of the lineup. As April winds down, Franco still leads the team with 16 RBI’s.
He certainly helped his cause in the Mets series with 6 RBI’s to go along with two home-runs. The third baseman also continues to lead the league in intentional walks with 7. His .975 OPS is second on the team to Rhys Hoskins (if we exclude Kingery’s limited sample size) while his OBP sits at .368.
Franco also seems content to stay in the 8-hole. Even on days where Knapp slides into the lineup you can rest assured that Franco will be hitting eighth.
I mean, what can we say? Baseball is a superstitious game and we can’t mess with this now.
Pivetta Demoted, Eickhoff Moves Into The Rotation
Nick Pivetta has found himself demoted to AAA after a brutal start to the season that has already yielded 31 hits allowed. A popular breakout candidate, Pivetta has only trended in the opposite direction and will now have to earn his job back.
Pivetta likely ended up with a shorter rope due to the struggles of Aaron Nola. His struggles have lead to increased bullpen usage and a need for consistency in the rotation. With a series in Coors coming up and the big league track record of Jerad Eickhoff, a move seemed necessary.
As for Eickhoff, he rejoins the rotation after once looking like a promising piece. After an excellent first 40 starts, Eickhoff ran into trouble in 2017 and missed time due to injuries. The injury woes persisted in 2018 as Eickhoff missed essentially the entire season. All told, he sports a lifetime ERA of 3.87 (4.02 FIP) over 66 starts and three relief appearances with the Phillies.
It will be interesting to see if Eickhoff can get back on track and provide some stability to the rotation.
Aaron Nola Is Still Struggling
Aaron Nola continues to struggle and doubt is starting to creep in after four starts. Through 19.1 innings, Nola has allowed 16 earned runs and has walked 11. The strikeouts are there, but Nola has been getting hit harder than we’ve ever seen him.
Personally, I still believe he will get through this. I’ve seen some absurd panic takes about Nola and find them completely unfounded. While last season was certainly the best he’s looked, Aaron Nola has been nothing but solid for his entire career so far.
The command issues are certainly worrying, but Nola is one of many front-line starters who have been hit hard this year. Baseball is a long season and Nola should turn it around.
That said, Nola will continue to receive flak if he struggles. That’s just how Philadelphia operates, plain and simple. It won’t be any easier with his next start scheduled at Coors.
Scott Kingery Or Scott Dingery?
Scott Kingery is off to a great start in 2018; albeit while not playing everyday. Through 25 at-bats, Kingery has 12 hits, two home runs and four doubles. He has also played all around the diamond and can be used in the outfield as well.
I wrote about how Kingery was bound to thrive in a lesser role and that has been the case so far. Scott Kingery faced enormous pressure as a rookie and was forced into some tough spots. He spent much of the year filling in at shortstop – which isn’t his natural position – and was looked at as a bat far too early. The 2018 Phillies had next to no offense and it was assumed that Kingery could provide some from the jump.
This season is an entirely different story. Kingery’s role as a super-utility man is much needed over the grind of an entire major league season and he is handling that very well right now. His playing time has been increasing due to nagging injuries to Hoskins, Segura and Odubel and he finds himself in the lineup tonight.
Long term, Kingery of course is seen as the heir to second base. None of this is changing, but I wish people wouldn’t be so quick to wish Cesar out of town. Cesar is a second half player and teams that win divisions need depth. Having a reliable utility player with game changing speed isn’t bad to have.
By season’s end, I’d like to see Kingery at second base. For now? No need to change his workload. Besides, Kingery will likely be in the lineup a-lot over the next 10 days or so. He will get his looks, fear not.
Minor League Notes
Adonis Medina’s first two starts in Reading have resulted in 10 innings pitched, six K’s and 12 hits allowed. This season marks Medina’s first in AA which means it is an enormous year for him. He dominated last year in A ball, but AA and beyond is where it really starts to count.
It won’t be easy for Medina in the hitter-friendly Eastern League but his progress will be one of the biggest minor league stories this year.
Cornelius Randolph Still Appears To Be Heading Nowhere
Former 10th overall pick Cornelius Randolph appears to be heading nowhere fast. Slated as just the 25th best prospect in the Phillies’ system by MLB.com, Randolph has yet to develop any power and continues to strike out way too much. Through nine games, Randolph has already struck out 14 times and is hitting just .206.
Randolph represents a-lot of the risks associated with high-school players. They lack an extensive track record and most of their projections are based on speculation. At this rate, it appears as though Randolph might never crack the big league roster. If so, he would join a long line of Phillies first round picks who haven’t panned out over the last 15 years.
Still Waiting On Alec Bohm’s Power
Ranked as the top prospect in the Phillies’ system, Alec Bohm has plenty of eyes on him this season. He’s currently sporting an average of .311 in Lakewood but has homered just once in 55 plate appearances. While Bohm still has plenty of time to get it together, power is the main thing that will be monitored as the season progresses.
Bohm was selected third overall in last year’s draft.
What Lays Ahead
The team opens up a four game series with the Rockies tonight before travelling to New York for three with the Mets. After that, they return home for a four game series with the Marlins before finally getting a day of rest.
Zach Eflin gets the ball tonight at Coors.