Here's what the 2020 Phillies have:
• Very good offense
• Very good baserunning
• Good defense
• Maybe the best 1-2 punch in any rotation
• An improved bullpen
Here's what the 2020 Phillies do not have:
• A firm No. 3 behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler
• A lockdown closer
That first point applies to all three of Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin and rookie Spencer Howard.
Arrieta, who pitches tonight, has a 6.49 ERA in six starts this season. His opponents have hit .310, including a .339 clip from right-handed batters. In his last 19 starts, he has averaged just under 5.0 innings per start. He gave up seven runs in 1⅓ innings in his last start.
"As the starting pitcher you can't necessarily win the game by yourself but you can lose it," Arrieta said after discussing how lousy his last start was. "If you beat yourself up too much, it'll carry over. I'm looking forward to the next four days, getting back to work and being a lot better than that."
Eflin has been better than Arrieta. He's pitched well enough for the Phillies to win four of his six starts and has been serviceable with a 4.45 ERA. If the playoffs began tomorrow, the Phillies would probably start Eflin ahead of Arrieta.
Howard is the X-factor. His last start was his best one — two runs in five innings in a win the night of the trade deadline. Great success as a rookie cannot be expected of him. If the Phillies do get some late-season dominance it would be a huge plus. But he has not created the sort of expectations that Sixto Sanchez has after three starts (19 IP, 2.37 ERA, 19 K, 1 BB).
Keep in mind that the first round of the playoffs this year is a Best of 3 series. So unless the Phillies make the playoffs and win their first two games, they will need their No. 3 starter against a good team. That No. 3 starter could end up pitching the Phillies' most important game in nine years.
Whether one of these three starting pitchers steps up and separates himself over the next six weeks could determine the Phillies' season.
"More than capable of doing that, extremely healthy, I feel great," Arrieta said. "As far as health goes and my ability to perform at a high level, that remains the same. I feel the way I need to feel, it's just a matter of pitching better.
"I think we have the starting pitching to get it done."