When you have the second worst offense in the National League (runs-wise), but still sit at five games over .500 just a few days into May, you must have one heck of a pitching staff. The Phillies, especially over the past week and a half (with the exception of Monday against the Cards), have looked absolutely dominant on the hill. In their last 73 innings, the Phillies staff has a combined ERA of 2.47, with Monday’s 10-3 blowout loss causing the stat to balloon by over a whole point (1.38 in the remaining 64 innings). Another notable stat is the Phillies FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). This is basically a pitcher’s ERA but limited to things he’s in control of- strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and homers. The Phillies staff ranks 3rd in the MLB, only behind the Nationals and the Mets.
This is really just a testament to how good of a team the Phillies will be in a couple of seasons. Aaron Nola, who threw a 2 hit shutout in 7 innings of work against the Cards on Tuesday, has now allowed just 1 run in his last 21 innings of pitching (he’s gone 7 innings in each of his last 3 starts, throwing 7 Ks in each). What’s even more impressive? His last 3 starts have all been on the road. With that last start his ERA now sits at 2.93, alongside a commanding 44/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nola is developing, in my opinion, in a way similar to Steven Matz. Both suffered one very bad outing against a NL East rival, and since then have been absolutely lights out. Nola was tagged for 7 runs in 5 innings against the Nats in mid April, but since then he’s looked fantastic.
The best things about Nola so far has got to be his consistency and stamina. He’s gone 7 innings exactly in every start, save that 5 inning outing against Washington. He’s kept pitch counts fairly low this year, only going over 100 pitches twice, because he consistently pounds the zone against opposition. He’s only walked 7 men in 6 starts so far, another admirable feat for a young pitcher. A lot of young guys struggle with control up on the mound in their early years, as can be seen down in Miami with Jared Cosart and Tom Koehler. But Nola does a good job of not only working the zone, but making sure he hits his spots to ensure batters don’t make strong contact off of him. Nola has just a .176 batting average against this year, the MLB average is .248.
But Nola isn’t the only guy on this pitching staff who has been great over this stretch. Vince Velazquez is another young Phillies pitcher who has asserted himself as one of the top young guns in the game. Velazquez was brought over from Houston in 2015, where his numbers were nothing to scoff at, but certainly wasn’t going to make him sorely missed. Houston might miss him a bit more now, as Velazquez has dominated his way to a 4-1 record and sits at just a 1.44 ERA on the year. The most notable of those outings, of course, being his 16 strikeout, 0 walk complete game shutout against the Padres in his second start of the year. Velazquez has 39 strikeouts to just 10 walks on the year, and a batting average against of just .164. The guy who the Phillies traded for Velazquez, Ken Giles, is currently 0-2 with a 7.94 ERA in 13 bullpen appearances for Houston so far. So you could definitely make the case that the Phillies won out on that trade so far.
Speaking of bullpens the Phillies have had a stellar one as of late as well. Jeanmar Gomez has 9 saves in 9 opportunities this year, with 5 of those coming in the past 8 games. Gomez has proven to be quite an asset thus far in 2016, which opens his value up as the season progresses. Unless the Phillies offense gets better, it’s hard to see them making a real run at the playoffs in 2016 (but hey, I’ve been wrong before). Strong relievers can pull valuable trade value as the season gets closer to the deadline, meaning Gomez could end up in a deal to bring in some more talent to Philadelphia. Or, if the Phillies are able to keep themselves in the running, Gomez could prove to be an invaluable asset late in games.
It isn’t just Gomez who has been proving a weapon from the bullpen, though, as 3 Phillies relievers were able to snatch wins in their past 7 games. Especially in last weeks series against Washington, the Phillies bullpen proved that it can hold opposing teams to nothing while the offense grinds out a run (an admirable feat, considering the Phils average just 3.3 runs a game). Only 2 guys in the bullpen have given up runs in their past 7 games, and Hector Neris’ 1 run came on the only hit he allowed in 4 appearances.
It will be interesting to see how long these Phillies arms can keep up this success. They’ve caused the Phillies to be one of the biggest surprises after a month of play, and have put a lot of pressure on the Nationals and Mets at the top of the division. If the Phillies do end up falling out of playoff contention, manager Peter Mackanin may preserve the arms of some of his younger pitchers to prevent any arm issues down the road. But the Phillies have certainly shown the MLB world that the seeds of a very scary MLB team have been planted, and will have even stronger roots a few years down the line.