Phillies

Most underrated players in the NL East

Most underrated players in the NL East

The Phillies, Nationals, Mets and Braves have had active offseasons.

The Phillies have added J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.

The Nationals have spent upwards of $183 million in free agency, by far the most of any major-league team.

The Mets added Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia, Rajai Davis, Keon Broxton and lefty Justin Wilson.

The Braves signed Josh Donaldson, re-signed Nick Markakis and brought back catcher Brian McCann.

There's a lot of top-end talent in the NL East and you know all about the Freddie Freemans and Jacob deGroms of the world. There are also plenty of under-the-radar players in the division.

In Atlanta, Johan Camargo had a better season than practically anyone gave him credit for in 2018, hitting .272 with 19 homers, 76 RBI and an .806 OPS while starting 114 games at third base for the Braves. He becomes a super-sub with Donaldson in ATL.

In Washington, Anthony Rendon is a beast when healthy, hitting .305/.389/.534 the last two seasons with averages of 42 doubles, 24 homers and 96 RBI. He's not just underrated within the division, he might be the most underrated player in the NL. 

Then there are the Phillies and Mets, who each have a starting pitcher entering the season as a No. 3 but with the potential to be a whole lot more.

Mets — Zack Wheeler

Wheeler could be more instrumental to the Mets' success this season than any of their newcomers. His second-half success in 2018 was overshadowed by rotation-mate deGrom, but after the All-Star break, Wheeler was even better than Aaron Nola (by a lot).

In the second half, Wheeler went 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 73 and walking 15 with three homers allowed in 75 innings. His opponents hit .179.

Wheeler's 1.68 ERA was third best in the majors after the All-Star break, behind only Blake Snell and Trevor Williams. His opponents' batting average was also third best, behind only Snell and Walker Buehler.

Once a top prospect, Wheeler has dealt with plenty of injuries throughout his time with the Mets. He did not pitch in the majors at all in 2015 or 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of '15.

This past season was Wheeler's coming out party, and much of the improvement had to do with increased velocity (96.5 mph average) and excellent fastball command. 

Between deGrom, Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have a formidable 1-2-3 on par with the Nationals' trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

Good thing the Phillies have added some offense.

Phillies — Nick Pivetta

With Pivetta, it's more about the potential and the highs we've seen than the overall production in his two big-league seasons.

Pivetta showed what he's capable of in April and May of 2018. In his first 11 starts, he had a 3.26 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 58 innings. He limited the walks (14) and homers (five) and missed a ton of bats. 

The rest of the season, you never knew which Pivetta would show up when his turn came in the rotation. There was a lot of boom and a lot of bust. He had 10 starts allowing one run or none. He had eight starts allowing five or six runs.

Pivetta has a big fastball and a slider/curveball combination that show flashes of being plus pitches. Turning 26 on Valentine's Day and entering his third MLB season, this is the time for Pivetta to take a step forward. He is compared often to Vince Velasquez, but Pivetta's control is undoubtedly better.

This past season, Pivetta struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings and walked 2.8. There were only 11 pitchers in baseball who hit both marks, and Pivetta's ERA (4.77) was a full run higher than anyone on the list. German Marquez was next at 3.77. 

The peripherals foretell improvement for Pivetta and the Phillies badly need it with all of their rotation questions.

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A step forward for Aaron Nola and a dream come true for Phil Gosselin

A step forward for Aaron Nola and a dream come true for Phil Gosselin

DENVER — Phil Gosselin had been here before, just not in front of 40,530 fans.

“I’ve been up with the bases loaded a lot for the Phillies,” he said late Saturday night in the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field. “It was just in my backyard as a kid and it didn’t really count.”

This one counted.

“It felt good to come through,” he said with a smile.

Gosselin grew up in West Chester, saw his first big-league game at Veterans Stadium wearing a Scott Rolen shirt, and went on to star at Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia. All these years later, after stops on the big-league trail in Atlanta, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Texas, Gosselin helped the team he grew up rooting for — the team that he says made him fall in love with baseball — win a game.

The 30-year-old infielder clubbed a three-run double in the fourth inning to give the Phils a lead that they never relinquished in an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies (see observations).

What would that little kid in the backyard think now?

“He would think it was all a dream, to be honest,” Gosselin said. “It was always a goal of mine. I never thought I was that great. I never thought I’d be in the big leagues, if I’m being honest. It was one of those pinch-yourself kind of moments.”

Gosselin signed a minor-league deal with the Phils in December and was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. He got the start, his first with the Phils, at shortstop after the team placed Scott Kingery and Jean Segura on the injured list earlier Saturday (see story). Both have hamstring injuries. Gosselin will likely play shortstop until Segura is eligible to come off the IL next weekend. Kingery will need more time than that.

Gosselin’s three-run double, coupled with Bryce Harper’s three-run home run late in the game, helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola on a night when the right-hander showed signs of being his old self after a rough start to the season. Gosselin’s no-out double was a long fly ball to right-center that kept carrying and carrying before hitting the top of the wall.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to get off the wall or not,” he said. “I was talking to it the whole way. Luckily, I got enough of it.”

One night earlier, Gosselin entered the game after Kingery injured himself. He stroked a two-out single in the top of the 12th and came around to score on a double by Harper. For a few moments, it looked as if he was going to be one of the stars of an extra-innings win. Then Charlie Blackmon ended all the Phillies’ feel-good storylines with a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning and Gosselin’s hit was just a footnote to what manager Gabe Kapler called a “brutal” loss.

“Good organizations, teams that win, have guys like Gosselin come up and perform in big moments,” Kapler said. “You can't win a lot of games, you can't go to the postseason, unless you have guys from the minor leagues come up and perform. Your non-roster guy that gets a big hit for you. He's been swinging the bat really well. He's earned the right to keep rolling.

“I can only imagine what it's like to grow up in the Philadelphia area as a die-hard Phillies fan and then to come through like he did. He must be on top of the world right now.”

Even beyond the victory, which improved the Phils to 12-8, there was something important to feel good about. Nola had struggled in his previous outings. Though he allowed 10 base runners in 5 2/3 innings, he battled, made big pitches and got big outs — he had nine strikeouts — at crucial junctures of the game.

“His back was against the wall early on,” Kapler said. “He's just a fighter. Nothing fazes Aaron Nola. I know that this has been tough to struggle a little bit. But he showed you why he is such a strong performer. He's able to withstand some of that pressure.

“It was really comforting to see him come out and perform like that for us.”

Nola’s fastball reached 95 mph and his curveball got better and better as the night went on.

“I didn’t get a 1-2-3 inning all night,” Nola said. “There was always traffic on base so I had to bear down and focus on making quality pitches.”

Something to build on?

“Absolutely,” Nola said.

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Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

BOX SCORE

DENVER — The Phillies finally solved the beast of Coors Field in an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.

Aaron Nola delivered a solid start in earning the win and Phil Gosselin and Bryce Harper both drove in three runs.

Gosselin, a West Chester native and former Malvern Prep star making his first start, gave the Phils the lead with a bases-loaded double in the fourth.

The win snapped the Phillies' six-game losing streak in Coors Field, dating to September.

The Phils are 12-8, first place in the NL East.

Colorado is 8-13.

The keys

• Nola showed tremendous intangibles — resilience and toughness. He allowed first-pitch homers in the first and second innings and pitched with traffic on the bases most of the night. But he got big outs when he had to. For instance, he struck out two with the bases loaded to end the third inning, preventing a one-run Colorado inning from getting bigger. He got a big strikeout with a runner on third to end the fourth and stranded two in the fifth.

• Big hits had been scarce for the Phillies in this series, but they got one from Gosselin, a three-run double in the fourth inning.

• Nola helped himself at the plate. His successful sacrifice bunt in the third inning sent Maikel Franco to second and set up a two-out RBI single by Cesar Hernandez.

• Charlie Blackmon is always a thorn in the Phillies’ side. He won Friday night’s game for the Rockies with a two-run homer in the 12th then hit the first pitch Nola threw out of the park to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead in this one. Blackmon had hits in each of his first three at-bats against Nola. Nola struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth but manager Gabe Kapler would not allow the right-hander to face Blackmon again, not in a one-run game. He summoned lefty Adam Morgan and he used his slider-fastball combo to strike out Blackmon and end the inning. Morgan has pitched nine scoreless innings this season. He has allowed three hits and one walk. He has struck out 10.

• Harper made everyone in the Phillies’ dugout breathe a little easier when he smacked a three-run homer in the seventh to turn a one-run lead into a four-run lead. That was big because the Rockies rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. Hector Neris survived a near game-tying homer by Trevor Story in the eighth en route to a five-out save. Andrew McCutchen clubbed a solo homer in the ninth to give Neris a little extra cushion.

Nola's night

Nola had struggled in his previous three outings so this was a clear step forward. Though he allowed nine hits over 5 2/3 innings, he limited the Rockies to three runs by getting big outs. He struck out nine and really seemed to find his breaking ball late in the outing. He got seven swinging strikes on the pitch. His fastball touched 95 mph. All in all, definitely something to build on.

Transactions

There were lots of them as the Phils placed three players on the injured list. The full recap and what it all means is here (see story).

Up next

Jerad Eickhoff, healthy after dealing with something similar to carpal tunnel syndrome the last two seasons, makes his first start of the new season in the series finale Sunday afternoon. He will face Rockies’ right-hander Jon Gray.

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