Phillies

Week ahead for Phillies and Braves couldn't be more different

Week ahead for Phillies and Braves couldn't be more different

Updated: 9:55 p.m.

Saturday night did not go well for the Phillies. They lost to the Cubs, 7-1, while the Braves scored four in the eighth inning to beat the Pirates, 5-3.

As a result, the Phillies are three games back again. Still, they're closer to the top of the NL East than they are the wild-card.

While those seven games against the Braves from Sept. 20-30 will be the ultimate determinant of whether the Phillies win the division, it is a must that they pick up ground this upcoming week.

Why? Because it's the biggest difference in opposition the Phillies and Braves will face the rest of the way.

Phillies' week ahead

After the Phils finish with the Cubs, they have three games in Miami, an off day Thursday, then three games at Citi Field against the Mets. The Marlins and Mets are a combined 57 games under .500. 

The Phils are 8-5 against the Marlins and 5-8 against the Mets.

Braves' week ahead

The Braves, meanwhile, have an extremely challenging stretch of 20 games after the weekend. While the Phillies are in Miami and New York, the Braves will host the Red Sox for three games and then head West for four games in Arizona, followed by three in San Francisco.

It's key that the Braves are facing the Red Sox in early September as opposed to two weeks from now. The Red Sox (93-43) have a 7½-game lead on the Yankees, which at this time of year is sizable but not insurmountable. 

After the three games with Boston comes a West Coast road trip for a tired Braves team. Atlanta will have played 31 games in 30 days when the trip begins and won't have an off day until Sept. 13.

The Diamondbacks are a formidable and hungry opponent. They lead the NL West by just a game over the Dodgers and 1½ games over the Rockies. 

And best of all from the Phillies' perspective, the Braves will face Zack Greinke (13-9, 2.97 ERA) and Patrick Corbin (3.15 ERA, 11.0 K/9) in the first two games of the series. 

As rough as August was at times for the Phillies, they are still in a great position to win the division given the schedule disparities between them and the Braves. Because of this, Fangraphs gives the Phillies a 45 percent chance to win the division compared to the Braves' 52 percent, despite the current two-game deficit.

Of course, taking advantage of the upcoming schedule means the Phils have to finally take care of business against the Mets. It's all relative when it comes to the Mets in September. If you're facing Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler (the hottest pitcher in baseball right now), it's still a tough series.

As of now, the Phils are set next weekend to face Steven Matz, Syndergaard and deGrom, in that order.

Jake Arrieta 'taking the lead' of Phillies' rotation, imparting some wisdom to Nick Pivetta

Jake Arrieta 'taking the lead' of Phillies' rotation, imparting some wisdom to Nick Pivetta

This is the guy the Phillies paid $75 million for.

Jake Arrieta has been awesome in his first four starts, resembling more of the pitcher from 2014-16 than the last two seasons. Again on Wednesday afternoon, he kept the ball low, generating groundball after groundball, tapper after tapper in the Phillies' 3-2 win.

He allowed six hits over eight innings and four were infield hits. He ended three innings — the third, seventh and eighth — with double-play balls. 

He faced 29 batters and only six sent the ball past the infield.

Through four starts, Arrieta is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA. He has four straight quality starts, a longer streak than he had at any point in 2018. And the Phillies have needed every bit of it. In their other 13 games, their starting pitchers have just three quality starts.

It's definitely the most locked-in he's been as a Phillie.

"When I'm right, you're going to see a lot of balls on the ground. The timing of my delivery right now is really good," Arrieta said. "I just look forward to continuing to keep that where it is and still want to make some progress with a couple of my off-speed pitches, but the changeup's been great. It's a pitch for me where I know I can get swings and misses and weak contact so I'm going to keep throwing that quite a bit and get the cutter sharpened up."

It's early, but this changeup could take Arrieta to a higher level. Lefties hit .281 against him last season compared to .156 entering Wednesday. The pitch has enough movement, laterally and vertically, right now for him to use it against hitters from both sides.

In his last start, he threw 20 changeups and 17 were strikes. Wednesday afternoon, he threw 21 changeups and while two went for hits, one was a double-play ball and two more were swinging strikeouts.

"It was one of the top two or three performances I've seen from Arrieta since he's been a Phillie," manager Gabe Kapler said. "It was really impressive. It certainly seems like he's taken the reins and taking the lead for our pitching staff right now."

Despite inconsistent starting pitching, the Phillies are 11-6, a pace of 104 wins. They've gone 4-1-1 in six series. They'll need other starting pitchers to step up throughout the season, and they'll definitely need Aaron Nola to find his release point and command, but right now Arrieta is softening the struggles of a few of his rotation-mates.

Arrieta is also well-qualified to discuss what Nick Pivetta is going through. Pivetta was sent down to Triple A on Wednesday morning after a miserable first four starts. When GM Matt Klentak spoke about the move, he referenced Victor Arano and Hector Neris as recent examples of pitchers going down to the minors, finding their command and confidence and returning to have success. Klentak also mentioned Roy Halladay, who had the early-career issues before becoming the best pitcher in baseball. Halladay's name wasn't used to argue that Pivetta could someday be the best of the best, but instead to remind folks that even the most talented arms go through rough periods.

Another example Klentak could have cited was Arrieta himself. Arrieta was a touted prospect coming through the Orioles' farm system a decade ago, and after a few unsuccessful years in Baltimore, he became an ace in Chicago.

The Phillies' young starting pitchers take a lot of their cues from the 33-year-old Arrieta, who spoke with Pivetta after the somewhat surprising roster move.

"I talked with him, yeah. The situation he's in right now is one that I'm very familiar with," Arrieta said. "In 2012 and 2013, I went through very similar experiences. This is a moment for him to kind of get away, put his head down and get back to work. I just tried to reiterate to him that the guy he was in spring training is the guy who he really is. 

"He just needs to be a little bit more on the attack with the type of stuff that he has. You pick five to 10 guys with the best stuff in baseball and he's in that group. He just needs to refine some things, make sure his head's in a good space and get back to work because he's gonna be here. He's gonna be a big part of our team this season. This is just a moment for him to kind of get away for a little while, get his stuff right and get back here pretty soon."

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Phillies 3, Mets 2: Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez provide Phils just enough offense for series win

Phillies 3, Mets 2: Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez provide Phils just enough offense for series win

Another strong performance from Jake Arrieta and a pair of solo home runs were the difference for the Phillies Wednesday afternoon as they completed a series win over the Mets with a 3-2 victory.

Arrieta allowed one run over eight innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA through four starts. He's made four straight quality starts to begin his season. He did not have a streak of four straight quality starts at any point in 2018.

Arrieta came out to pitch the ninth but was pulled after allowing a leadoff single, which eventually came around to score. Adam Morgan and Hector Neris walked a tightrope but picked up the final three outs. Neris struck Keon Broxton out on a full count with the bases loaded to close it out.

The Phillies are 11-6 and have gone 4-1-1 in their six series. The Mets are 10-8.

Keys to victory

• Scott Kingery stayed hot with a solo home run. Since starting the season 0 for 4, Kingery is 12 for 20 with four doubles and two homers. At no point in his rookie year was he this hot.

• Cesar Hernandez had a productive day at the plate against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. Hernandez worked an 11-pitch walk in the second inning to load the bases, and Maikel Franco followed with a sacrifice fly for the Phillies' first run. In the sixth, Hernandez took Wheeler deep for his second longball of the year.

• Arrieta induced inning-ending double plays in the third, seventh and eighth innings. He allowed only six fly balls to the 28 batters he faced.

• J.T. Realmuto is hot at the plate. He went 2 for 4 with a pair of singles and is up to .279/.348/.426 on the season. His work on the basepaths was what stood out the most. He went first to third on a single to left field, scored on a sac fly to center with the centerfielder catching the ball while running toward the plate, and later beat out an infield single. Ninety percent of catchers would be out on all three plays.

Another hammy pull

Odubel Herrera left the game in the fifth inning with an apparent hamstring injury, making it two hammy pulls in two days for the Phillies after Jean Segura left last night. A call-up of Roman Quinn is the logical move if Herrera has to miss time.

Rotation shakeup

Nick Pivetta was optioned to Triple A on Wednesday morning. Jerad Eickhoff takes his spot for the time being and will start Sunday at Coors Field.

Up next

The Phillies head to Colorado. The pitching matchups are:

Thursday — Zach Eflin (2-1, 3.94) vs. LHP Kyle Freeland (1-3, 5.40)

Friday — Vince Velasquez (0-0, 2.25) vs. German Marquez (2-1, 2.00)

Saturday — Aaron Nola (1-0, 7.45) vs. Antonio Senzatela (1-0, 1.35)

Sunday — Jerad Eickhoff (0-0, 0.00) vs. Jon Gray (1-3, 3.42)

Marquez is one tough customer. He pitched a one-hit shutout Sunday against the Giants.

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