Phillies

Phillies' offense goes flat while Royals tee off on Jake Arrieta

Phillies' offense goes flat while Royals tee off on Jake Arrieta

KANSAS CITY — Jake Arrieta wore this loss like a tattoo.

"I made three mistakes and they hit them over the fence," he said after the Phillies' 5-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday night (see observations). "I need to be better."

While it's true that Arrieta's inability to keep the ball in the yard hurt the Phillies, the team's inability to get anything going offensively against Kansas City's pitching was just as big a factor in the defeat.

Phillies hitters mustered just four hits on the night. They struck out 12 times. And they were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

That'll lose you some ballgames.

The loss left the Phillies at 21-16. They still lead the NL East.

The Phils have two more games remaining in Kansas City. On Monday night, they had just five hits in suffering a 6-0 loss at St. Louis. The Phils bounced back with 16 runs the next two nights to win that series.

Kapler hopes for a similar script against the Royals.

Kansas City entered the game with the worst record in the American League, but the Royals have a few guys who can swing it. Alex Gordon is one of them. He smoked a 3-1 cutter from Arrieta for a two-run homer in the first inning to give the Royals a 2-0 lead. Gordon got Arrieta again, this time on a high sinker, in the fifth. Jorge Soler made it a 4-1 game with a leadoff homer against Arrieta in the sixth.

Arrieta had given up just five homers in his previous seven starts.

"Just too many mistakes up in the zone," said Arrieta, who is at his best when he's throwing his sinker and cutter down in the zone. "I have to force them to put the ball on the ground and I didn't do that.

"Gordon is a pro. He made me pay for my mistakes."

There are nights when a pitcher can survive giving up three homers. This was not one of them. The Phils' offense gave Arrieta little margin for error and little help. Veteran Homer Bailey held the Phils to four hits and a run over five-plus innings and reliever Scott Barlow might have been the star of the game with two scoreless innings and six strikeouts.

Barlow came into a two-run game after the Phils had opened the sixth with a pair of hits. He quickly struck out Rhys Hoskins. He walked J.T. Realmuto to load the bases with one out before striking out Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez to end the threat. Herrera got himself out in a poor at-bat.

The Phillies' inability to capitalize in the sixth was the turning point in the game.

"Barlow threw the ball really well," Kapler said. "His stuff was pretty nasty. We had an opportunity to score there in the sixth inning in a bases loaded situation. Obviously, you want to put the ball in play there and we weren't able to do that and that hurt us. I think that's the best way to describe it.

"We had an opportunity to do damage, that's for sure. Obviously, you want to drive the ball there. But sometimes you do everything in your power and the other guy just beats you. And that's what happened. Barlow pitched a good inning there."

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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