Jake Arrieta stands and delivers in Phillies' most important win of season

Jake Arrieta stands and delivers in Phillies' most important win of season


BOSTON — This is why the Phillies gave Jake Arrieta 75 million big ones. For nights like this. For performances like this. For picking up a team that had fallen down and getting it back on its feet again.

Arrieta came up huge Tuesday night. He pitched seven innings of one-run, no-walk, seven-strikeout ball against the biggest, baddest offense in the majors in leading the limping Phillies to a tense 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox at raucous Fenway Park (see first take).

There were other contributors. Maikel Franco, often maligned for poor on-base skills, drew two big walks that turned into runs. Jorge Alfaro, Scott Kingery and Carlos Santana drove in big runs and Rhys Hoskins had a key double to set up a run in the ninth. Nick Williams and Roman Quinn made big catches in the outfield. And Tommy Hunter and Seranthony Dominguez combined for six tough outs out of the bullpen as the loud Fenway crowd stood on its feet.

But it was the work of Arrieta that really lit up the night. He was the definition of a stopper, putting an end to a four-game losing streak, preventing it from becoming a season-high five-game losing streak, and keeping the Phillies in first place in the NL East even after a difficult road trip that produced just two wins in six games.

OK, we’ll say it:

It was the Phillies’ most important win of the season.

Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged as much by the way he spoke after the game. Brother Gabe was full of passion, faith and appreciation for the job his disciples had done in one of baseball’s grand cathedrals.

“What a gutsy performance by Jake,” Kapler said. “I mean, huge amounts of heart. I think the story of tonight's game was heart. Everybody looking for the opportunity to put the rest of the team on their shoulders and carry them. Jake was obviously leading that charge to the point where, in the sixth inning, we were considering bullpen usage for the rest of the game and Jake almost demanded the ball. He was adamant that he'd take down that seventh inning. Then he went out there and he was lightning in that inning. Really special. Efficient. Attacking the zone. Swings and misses. So if there was ever any doubt about that, the ability to throw the ball by people and strike dudes out, obviously that's still there for Jake Arrieta.

“I mean, that was Fenway Park. Biggest stage. Brightest lights. And one of our horses stepping up in a big way for our club.”

The galling part of the Phillies’ quick, two-day trip to Boston was they should have swept the two-game set against baseball's best team. Aaron Nola was brilliant with eight innings of one-run ball on Monday night. The Phillies lost that game, 2-1, in 13 innings. A base-running mistake and a fielding mistake by Odubel Herrera led to the loss, which Kapler called a “punch in the face.”

“What I said in conjunction with ‘a punch in the face’ is we know how to take a punch and get back up and keep fighting,” Kapler said. “We've shown that all year long. Every time we go down on the mat for just a little bit, we pop right back up. We come out swinging. We were able to overcome. We are a bunch of fighters. There's a lot of grit and determination and heart in that room. Those are the things we can be very proud of in this moment.”

Arrieta, now 9-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 21 starts, is one of only a handful of Phillies with pennant-race experience. After the game, he tried to downplay any sense of urgency he felt going in, but clearly it was there.

“I was thinking about trying to split a two-game series on the road against the best team in baseball for many reasons, but to show that we can win big games on the road against teams like that,” he said. “Even though we would like to have done a little better on the road trip, getting out of here with the way we played last night and coming up short and then winning the game tonight and doing a lot things well is very important for our team.

“Every win is vitally important for us. The teams around us aren’t going to slow down. We know what Atlanta is doing and Washington has the ability to play well for a long stretch and put themselves back in contention, so we have to continue to increase our skill sets consistently. We have to pitch a little better, field a little better and the same thing at the plate. At this point in the year, teams are playing really well, especially teams that have a shot to get into the playoffs, so we have to do everything consistently from this point forward if we want to get to where we’re confident we can go.”

Several hours before the game, the Phillies added slugging catcher Wilson Ramos and reliever Aaron Loup in trades.

“They can definitely benefit our club,” Arrieta said. “We made some good moves. That tells us the front office is confident in the players that we have here to get the job done. It makes a statement. It's something that I think the players are happy about.”

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Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

The Phillies will host the New York Yankees in a doubleheader today. Zack Wheeler, the Phils' big offseason free-agent acquisition, will start the first game and Aaron Nola will get the ball in the second game.

Dating back to August, the Phillies are winless in Nola's last eight starts. The trend needs to stop today.

Wheeler, so far, has been everything the Phillies could have asked for when they signed him for five years and $118 million. But, of course, he's only made one start — seven innings, one run in the 1-3 Phillies' only win of the season. Many more efforts like that will be needed from Wheeler over the life of his contract.

But this isn't about Nola, who needs to pitch well over these next two months if the Phillies are going to make the 16-team postseason field in this shortened, 60-game season.

And it isn't about Wheeler, the so far, so good right-hander who also needs to continue his good work if the Phils are to have a chance.

This is about the Phils' other free-agent acquisition this winter.

This is about Didi Gregorius.

Now, obviously the sample size is ridiculously small because, well, you know all about the Miami Marlins and how they forced the Phillies into an unwelcome hiatus after just one weekend of play — but through the first four games, hasn't Gregorius been fun to watch?

He's made all the plays, smoothly, some even with a flare, at shortstop.

He's hit in every game.

He's shown pop with two homers. (And the way he turns on anything middle-in, he'll hit a lot more at Citizens Bank Park.)

And, he's played with a smile under the mask he wears to protect himself and others in this time of COVID-19. Gregorius is committed to wearing the mask because he has an underlying health condition.

Having watched Gregorius up close since the start of spring training back in February, we have been captured by his smile, his energy, his effervescence and love of playing the game. These can be infectious qualities of the most beneficial kind on any team and they have shown on the diamond in Gregorius' next-door neighbor, Jean Segura. 

Over the winter, there were questions about how Segura would deal with coming off of shortstop to accommodate Gregorius. Would he feel slighted, pushed aside? Would he pout? These were legitimate concerns because Segura has always been a little high maintenance.

Well, Segura moved over to third base with nary a protest. He put his head down, started working, and has taken to the new position. Having been a shortstop, Segura has the ability to succeed anywhere in the infield if he puts his mind to it. He's the one who has made the transition. But we believe that Gregorius' encouragement and positivity has played a role in Segura's acceptance of the challenge. Gregorius has bonded with Segura, convinced him of his importance and even gotten him to smile a little bit more. All of this might end up making Segura a better player. It has already helped the team solve the matter of how to get Scott Kingery to his best position, second base.

Over the winter, when the Phillies signed Gregorius, we asked a scout about him. We heard all the expected stuff about Gregorius' play on the field, the pop, the throwing arm that was getting better after surgery. But we also heard something that surprised us.

"He was the leader of that Yankees team," the scout said. "Great makeup."

So far in Philadelphia, we're seeing that. We're seeing that with the connection he has made with teammates, particularly his next-door neighbor, Segura.

But these Phils will need more than leadership and strong teammate behavior from Gregorius if they are going to make the postseason. Intangibles can only take you so far.

So what will the Phils need from Gregorius on the field? That's easy. Sound defense, left-side pop, big hits with men on base, get on base, hit for average. Basically, what every other team needs from its top players if it is going to be successful. Gregorius is just two seasons removed from a career-best .829 OPS with the Yankees. An elbow injury derailed that season. He's healthy now. Maybe a season like that — over a shorter track — is in the cards.

If it is, it won't just help the Phillies, it'll help Gregorius, as well. He signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Phillies in the offseason and he'll be right back out there on the market this winter.

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Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

A little less than two weeks into the season, injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic picture in the NL East.

Two teams have played 11 games. One team has played seven. One has played four and another has played three.

The only NL East teams who haven't missed any early-season games are the Braves (7-4) and Mets (4-7). The Braves are 2½ games ahead of the Phillies and one game ahead in the loss column. 

The Phillies are in a better early-season position than the Mets just because the Mets have already accrued seven losses. The only two teams in the majors with more are the Pirates and Royals.

Though, which team would you rather be: The team that already has seven losses or the team that has five additional games to make up? It's an advantage for the Mets and Braves that they have less hectic remaining schedules than the rest of the division. The Phillies have 56 games left to play in just 54 days. The Mets and Braves have 49 games left in those same 54 days. 

The Phillies' first series with the Braves is this weekend at home after they finish with the Yankees. Early as it is, that series carries major significance. The Phillies will play 40% of their games against the Braves in this one weekend wraparound series from Friday through Monday. Going 1-3 or 0-4 against the Braves would put the Phillies in a deep hole from which their jam-packed schedule might not allow them to dig out. 

As the Phillies and Marlins have sat, the other three teams in the division have dealt with injuries. The Braves on Monday night lost Mike Soroka, their No. 1 starter. Just hours before his 23rd birthday, Soroka tore his right Achilles and is done for 2020. He is one of their most important players. Soroka was an All-Star last season who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to Pete Alonso and sixth in NL Cy Young voting. In 37 career starts, he's 15-6 with a 2.86 ERA. With Soroka out, the Braves have Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright and a to-be-determined fifth starter. Not exactly a starting staff you look at and expect to ride to a division crown.

The Mets scratched three infielders on Monday — Jeff McNeil with back tightness, Robinson Cano with a groin strain and Amed Rosario with a quad strain. Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the 2020 MLB season over the weekend.

The Nationals are still without Stephen Strasburg, who has yet to make his season debut. Strasburg was scratched from his first start because of a nerve impingement in his right wrist. He's back to throwing off a mound but is still unlikely to pitch for the Nats until at least the weekend. At minimum, Strasburg will end up missing two turns through the rotation, which in a 60-game season represents one-sixth of the starts.

Reliever Will Harris, whom the Nats signed away from the Astros after beating them in the 2019 World Series, is on the IL with a groin strain. Two other Nats, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames, are dealing with back injuries.

Is it a coincidence to see these sorts of injuries early in the everyday grind of Major League Baseball after so much time off and an unconventional ramp-up period? No, probably not.

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