Phillies

What Jake Arrieta is doing even better than in Cy Young season

What Jake Arrieta is doing even better than in Cy Young season

Jake Arrieta makes his seventh start tonight for the Phillies in their series-opener against the fading Mets, a team he didn't face when the Phils were at Citi Field in early-April.

He'll enter the night 3-1 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and .207 opponents' batting average, all ace-like numbers that any team would love to have atop a rotation.

The biggest questions outsiders had about Arrieta entering 2017 were his fastball velocity and ability to miss bats. They were fair questions coming off a season in which he averaged a career-low 92.1 mph and had his lowest swinging strike rate since coming to the NL.

This season, the fastball/sinker velocity has been slightly up (92.5), but he's generated even fewer whiffs. There's more to this conversation, though.

Arrieta has a sky-high groundball rate of 60.4 percent to lead the National League. It is exactly 17 percent higher than the league average, and it's even four percent higher than Arrieta's rate in 2015 when he won the Cy Young award.

Thus, it's not surprising to see Arrieta also top another leaderboard — just 17.7 percent of the balls in play against him have been classified as "hard contact." It is by far the lowest rate in all of Major League Baseball, with Aaron Nola next at 22.5 percent.

Last weekend in D.C., Arrieta matched Max Scherzer in a game in which Scherzer struck out 15. Arrieta allowed just a run on two hits in an incredibly efficient afternoon, exiting only because the Phillies needed to pinch-hit for him in a close game.

After the game, I asked Arrieta whether he'd prefer to strike out 15 like Scherzer or get through six innings on 75 pitches the way he did himself. He chose the latter.

"I don't care about strikeouts," he said. "I'm trying to get the guy out on the first pitch."

Obviously, if you induce a groundout on the first pitch, that's an at-bat which won't help your swinging strike rate. Arrieta is A-OK with that.

This season, Arrieta has gotten nearly one-fourth of his outs in the first two pitches of an at-bat. It's a major reason he's averaging 15 pitches per inning. In that category, Arrieta ranks eighth in the NL, right behind Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg and just ahead of Zack Greinke. (It's no surprise that Nola ranks second.)

Arrieta is not going to wake up next week or next month averaging 95 mph with his sinker like he did at his peak, but it's pretty clear that over the years he's learned how to pitch without his fastest fastball. That bodes well moving forward for a pitcher the Phillies will pay $45 million in his age-33 and 34 seasons.

Phillies ready for a 1st-place showdown with Braves

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Phillies ready for a 1st-place showdown with Braves

ST. LOUIS — The Phillies have been chasing the first-place Atlanta Braves all month in the National League East standings and never has the deficit been more than 1½ games.

That is the difference between the two teams as they get set to open their fourth series of the still young season Monday night in Philadelphia.

It is perhaps the biggest series the Phillies have hosted at Citizens Bank Park since the days of Jimmy, Chase, Ryan, Cole, Big Chuck and 257 straight sellouts.

“It should be fun,” said pitcher Jake Arrieta, who grew accustomed to playing in big series during his time with the Chicago Cubs.

The Phillies are expecting crowds between 22,000 and 27,000 for the series. 

A good showing over the next three days and those crowds will grow.

“We’re prepared and focused,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “There is a lot of adrenaline going into that series. We feel like we match up very well against them and more than anything else we’re not going to get outworked or prepared.

“We always want to see our home fans out there supporting us and since the beginning of the season since we first stepped foot in CBP, we’ve had that support and we expect nothing less going forward.”

The Phillies have had several chances in the last week to overtake the Braves in the standings. Each time the Braves have stumbled, the Phillies have stumbled. The Phils entered Sunday’s game against the Cardinals a half-game behind the Braves. The Phillies lost and the Braves rallied for six runs in the ninth to beat Miami.

So far this season, the Braves have been the Phillies’ nemesis. Atlanta has won six of the nine meetings. The Phillies have built much of their 26-18 record by going 18-4 against teams from outside the NL East. Meanwhile, against the division, they are just 8-14. That will have to change if the Phillies want to stay in the race.

The Phils have hit just .210 as a team in nine games against Atlanta this season and averaged just 3.3 runs per game. Phillies pitching has a 5.47 ERA against the Braves.

“We haven’t necessarily played the Braves all that well this year,” Arrieta said. “You just have to learn from that.

“It all comes down to how well your starter pitches that day. If you come out and give up four in the first — I’m not saying you can’t win that game but it makes it a lot more difficult. So the emphasis has to be on starting pitching, especially early in the game to set the tone. You put two or three zeroes up there in the first few innings and you can start to control the ball game. We take pride in setting the tone and keeping the game close.”

Arrieta gave the series its proper importance but mixed in some perspective.

“They’re all big,” he said. “It can come down to the last game of the season whether you get in the playoffs, so they’re all big, especially in the division.”

The Phils have not had a winning season since 2011, the last time they made the playoffs. Last year, they went 66-96.

Arrieta is not surprised the Phils, with one of the majors’ youngest rosters, have gotten off to such a good start this season.

“I think our young guys know it, but at the same time, I think they’re somewhat oblivious to it, which is a good thing,” he said. “You don’t want to look at the standings every single day. Sometimes it’s good to evaluate your season month by month. Try to have a winning month, turn the page. I think that’s the measure of a good team. Have a winning April, have a winning May and at the end of the year, you look up and you’re 25 games over .500.

“We have to put the standings out of sight, out of mind and focus on preparing, executing quality pitches, having good at-bats and winning that day. Let the wins stack up and assess at end of the month.”

Though there is a lot of season left — and the Nationals have only begun to awaken — the Phils could sure use some wins against Atlanta.

The biggest series at Citizens Bank Park since the Glory Days begins Monday night.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series:

Monday night – RHP Nick Pivetta (3-2, 3.72) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (3-2, 2.87)

Tuesday night – RHP Vince Velasquez (4-4, 4.37) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (4-2, 5.05)

Wednesday night – RHP Jake Arrieta (3-2, 2.82) vs. LHP Luiz Gohara (0-0, 1.29)

Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola's streaks end as Flaherty stifles Phillies' bats

Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola's streaks end as Flaherty stifles Phillies' bats

BOX SCORE 

ST. LOUIS — The Phillies watched video, studied data and scouting reports. They still had no answers for St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-hander Jack Flaherty on Sunday afternoon.

OK, they had one answer as Rhys Hoskins hit just his second homer in the last 24 games in the fourth inning to give the Phillies a brief lead. Otherwise, the day belonged to Flaherty and the Cardinals, who beat the Phillies, 5-1, at Busch Stadium as the teams split a four-game series (see first take). The Phillies are 26-18, 1½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the National League East.

Flaherty, 22, was selected 34th overall in the 2014 draft, 27 slots behind Aaron Nola. In his ninth big-league start, he out-pitched the Phillies’ ace for his first big-league win. Flaherty threw a full mix of pitches but featured mostly a fastball and slider. He struck out 13 in 7 2/3 innings. He threw 120 pitches, gave up two hits and a walk and got 24 swinging strikes, a dozen on sliders.

“He was tremendous today,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other guy. He located his fastball and slider and kept us off balance with a really gritty performance.

“I think it always matters when a team has a lack of familiarity with a pitcher, but we do our homework. We had all watched him extensively. We knew what he had and what he brought to the table. We knew his minor-league history. So we were prepared and he just beat us. He was good today.”

Carlos Santana concurred.

“He had very good command of the breaking ball,” Santana said. “It was the first time we’d seen him. He threw great. We’ll see what happens the next time we face him.”

A couple of notable Phillies’ streaks were halted. Nola’s string of 13 straight starts (dating to Sept. 7) of allowing no more than three earned runs in a start ended as he gave up seven hits and four runs in six innings.

Odubel Herrera’s streak of reaching base safely died at 45 consecutive games, 11 shy of Mike Schmidt’s team record. Ted Williams owns the all-time record at 84. Joe DiMaggio ranks second at 74 and Williams is also third at 73.

“What an incredible accomplishment,” Kapler said. “I was looking at the list before the game of guys who’ve reached base in that vicinity and, wow, there’s some Hall of Famers and perennial All-Stars on that list so he’s in good company. It’s nice to still have somebody on our club with an on-base streak in Cesar Hernandez (24), so now we shift our attention to rooting for that to keep going.”

Herrera still leads the National League in hitting at .344.

“That’s part of the game,” he said. “At some point, the streak had to end. Now I’m looking forward to starting a new streak.”

Though he left several balls over the plate that were hit well, Nola did not pitch badly. He had little margin for error given the way Flaherty pitched and he was not helped by his defense. Santana made a costly throwing error for the second straight game. The Phils made six errors in the series. They will have to clean that up in their showdown with Atlanta for first place in the NL East. The series begins Monday night at Citizens Bank Park (see story)

“We can play a tighter brand of defense,” Kapler said. “We are a good, athletic defense. We can pick it up a notch. We’re better than we showed out there on defense in general.”