Phillies

Everything is going right for Phillies' rotation

Everything is going right for Phillies' rotation

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Knock on wood, spill some salt over your shoulder, enact whichever good-luck superstition you have. Because right now, everything is going right for the Phillies' starting rotation.

Through three starts, Ben Lively had experienced the worst results of the group, but he pitched very well Friday night and is showing some interesting signs in his second big-league season.

Lively allowed just one run to the Pirates over six innings, lowering the Phillies rotation's ERA to 2.67 since April 1. In just 19 games this season, the Phils have allowed one or no runs seven times already. Last season, it took 41 games just for them to do it once.

The Phils needed every bit of that run prevention in Friday's 2-1 win. Lively, Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris shut the Pirates down, and Odubel Herrera tripled in Cesar Hernandez in the bottom of the eighth to untie the game and make the Phillies 12-7. 

They could have given Neris more breathing room, but with runners on the corners and one out in the eighth, both Rhys Hoskins and Herrera were caught stealing on the same play.

Lively has 21 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings, a big surprise given his lack of whiffs in the minors and his rate of 5.3 strikeouts per nine in the majors last season.

As for the rest of the rotation:

• Aaron Nola, who owns the lowest hard-hit contact rate in all of baseball (17.7 percent) looks like one of the best dozen starting pitchers in either league. He also seems poised to reach an even higher level in his fourth season.

• Jake Arrieta showed Cy Young stuff Thursday against the Pirates (see story), and through three starts he's 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA and .180 opponents' batting average. That early-season concern over his lack of swings and misses? Arrieta generated 14 swinging strikes against the Bucs with 10 just against his sinker — the most against his sinker in 56 starts.

• Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, the two wild cards entering the season, have combined for a 1.98 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with 38 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings the last three cycles through the rotation.

"Wild card" is the operative term, because if that duo continues to pitch like this, the Phils will have a legit shot at one.

The strikeouts, the weak contact ... we're not dealing with smoke and mirrors here. We're seeing what happens when aces like Arrieta and Nola meet expectations and young guys like Pivetta and Velasquez execute with more consistency. If Lively can just give the Phils quality starts, look out.

And aside from Arrieta, the rest of the Phillies' rotation will earn just under $2.25 million this season combined. That may be the most important number of all.

Phillies should pursue Michael Brantley if they whiff on Bryce Harper

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USA Today Images

Phillies should pursue Michael Brantley if they whiff on Bryce Harper

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in MLB. Tuesday is dedicated to veteran outfielder Michael Brantley.

Bryce Harper aside, the Phillies don't have a glaring outfield need. If they miss out on Harper, they could still enter 2019 with a group of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Aaron Altherr and Rhys Hoskins vying for time in the outfield. That outfield was 13th among the 30 teams in OPS, with defensive issues in left field.

If the Phillies do pursue an outfielder not named Harper, it should be Brantley.

In 10 years in Cleveland, Brantley hit .295/.351/.430 with an average of 38 doubles, 13 homers and 81 RBI per 162 games.

The biggest issue with Brantley, 32 on May 15, is health. He had three surgeries between the end of the 2015 and 2017 seasons: shoulder, biceps, ankle. Those injuries caused him to miss 242 of 486 games the last three years — a game away from 50 percent on the nose.

The other notable issue is the discrepancy in his production against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. A lefty himself, Brantley last season hit .321 with an .889 OPS against righties — elite production. He hit just .277 with a .684 OPS against lefties — below league-average production. His career splits paint a similar picture.

If you're going to have splits like that, it's always better to be the guy who hits right-handers because righties make up about 70 percent of all major-league arms. Last season, Brantley faced a righty 73 percent of the time.

When healthy, Brantley is one of the most effective top-of-the-order hitters in the game. The two-hole these days is typically inhabited by a team's best hitter. It used to be the place you put a guy like Brantley, who is always between .285 and .300 and never strikes out.

He'd fit well with this Phillies lineup because, as with fellow free agent Nick Markakis, Brantley provides skills the Phils' offense didn't have in 2018. The 2018 Phils did not have a consistent singles and doubles hitter. Brantley would have led them in batting average and on-base percentage with eight more doubles than anyone aside from Hoskins.

If the Phillies don't land Harper, and Brantley is still out there, they should strongly consider a three-year deal in the $45 million range. That is a fair price for Brantley. Don't be surprised if the Braves also pursue him if Markakis leaves via free agency.

A key distinction between Brantley and A.J. Pollock, another talented but injury-prone outfielder: Pollock was extended a qualifying offer by his former team, the D-backs. Brantley was not. Therefore, in signing Pollock, the Phillies would forfeit a high draft pick — between Rounds 1 and 2 — whereas they'd give up no pick to sign Brantley.

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Gabe Kapler's Malibu home destroyed in California wildfires

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Gabe Kapler's Malibu home destroyed in California wildfires

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was among the many who lost their homes to the wildfires spreading throughout California.

It was Kapler's residence in Malibu. He and his family are safe, and his thoughts are with the community affected by the tragedy, a Phillies spokesperson said.

At least 31 people have been killed, more than 200 remain missing, and hundreds of thousands were forced to evacuate their homes as multiple fires rage across California. 

Kapler was born in Hollywood. In addition to his home in Malibu, he has one in Philly, and was in Philadelphia as recently as last week.