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Why to expect more from Jake Arrieta in 2019

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Why to expect more from Jake Arrieta in 2019

Jake Arrieta allowed 17 unearned runs in 2018, the most in all of baseball and at least four more than every starting pitcher in the majors except Francisco Liriano. 

That should change in 2019, with an improved Phillies defense. The Phillies will be better defensively at two positions, if not more, this upcoming season. Jean Segura is a better shortstop than anyone who played there for the Phillies last season, and Andrew McCutchen is obviously a much better corner outfielder than Rhys Hoskins, who moves back to first base. 

It felt like Arrieta was worse than he was in his first year as a Phillie, because of both the unearned runs and his lack of reliability during the Phillies’ coldest stretch of the season — which just so happened to be the stretch run. Over his last nine starts of the season, Arrieta had a 6.35 ERA and the Phillies went 2-7. 

When you look at Arrieta’s season in totality, it wasn’t that bad. He had three very good months and three bad months. More was expected, but Arrieta is not the Cy Young candidate of 2015 and the Phillies didn’t sign him to be that guy. They signed him because he lingered in free agency until the second week of March and because he was a clear rotation upgrade over what the Phils had. 

Arrieta is a bounce-back candidate in 2019, and with the Phils’ improved defense and perhaps better run support (which has an immeasurable psychological impact on a pitcher, the same way a 10-point lead in the NFL affects how a defense plays), we could see an ERA closer to 3.50 than his 3.96 this past season. 

Arrieta did lead the National League with a groundball rate of 51.6 percent. Aaron Nola ranked second in the NL and Nick Pivetta was 10th, one spot ahead of Jacob deGrom. It’s a meaningful metric. Even more meaningful is Arrieta’s 27.7 percent rate of hard contact, which was fourth-best in MLB behind only Zack Wheeler, Nola and deGrom. It didn’t mean a ton of success for Arrieta in 2018, but it’s a better future indicator than his ERA. 

As far as all the ground balls, consider that the league average batting average on grounders last season was .243. Against the Phillies, it was .255. That’s a difference of 17 or 18 hits over a full season. It all adds up. 

And if the Phillies do land Manny Machado to play third base, that would be three important defensive positions they upgraded. It would make their pitchers look better, and it should theoretically get guys like Pivetta and Arrieta closer to the ERAs their peripheral numbers match up with. 

There has been a ton of focus this offseason on the Phillies’ improving their rotation, and they do still need at least one more starter even if it’s for depth. But improvement can also come from within.

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A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

As the Delaware Valley held its breath awaiting word of what happened to Bryce Harper, the Phillies again fell short against the Padres, losing 3-2 to close out a homestand that began with fireworks and ended with the excitement of a suburban dad mowing his lawn.

After sweeping the Cubs and winning a fourth straight game in the series opener vs. San Diego, the Phillies managed just five runs and 10 hits total in the final two losses.

This team ...

As for Harper, he is OK. He was suffering from blurred vision after the fourth inning and was forced to exit after five. The Phillies called it dehydration. Harper had an IV and was feeling better after the game. This was something he hadn't experienced before.

"An hour ago, I couldn't see in front of me," Harper said postgame, his eyes still sensitive to light.

He will be fine by Tuesday — good news because the Phillies are not going anywhere without him — when the quick two-game series at Fenway Park begins. 

Manager Gabe Kapler was happy Sunday with the quality of the Phillies' at-bats. He referenced the 110 pitches they made starter Joey Lucchesi throw and the 27 more they forced from closer Kirby Yates.

If a team is winning consistently or hitting consistently, maybe that kind of grind-it-out approach can make up for a loss or a series loss. But not as much when it's said about a team that hasn't been able to sustain momentum at any point this season, especially offensively. 

Sure, the Phillies made Lucchesi and Yates work. They also made an out in 18 of 23 plate appearances against them. 

The best example of the Phils' falling short on Sunday was Rhys Hoskins' 400-foot blast to the 401-foot sign in center field in the eighth inning. Padres centerfielder Manuel Margot raised his glove above his head and caught a ball that was a foot, maybe less, from going out and tying the game. In every game, you will find the sort of baseball randomness that impacts winning and losing. That deep, loud flyout was Sunday's example.

It was an 0-for-4 day for Hoskins atop the lineup, but ...

"Look, I feel great," said Hoskins, who is 1 for his last 24 and has hit .148 over his last 30 games.

"Obviously, it sucks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise, I feel great. I feel like for the most part I'm seeing pitches. I'm seeing the ball fine. Just for whatever reason, things are a little off and the last couple weeks when I do hit something, it's right at somebody. 

"That's baseball. Unfortunately, I know that's really cliché. I wish I had a different answer. I've sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn. Water will find its level."

Water has found its level with Harper and J.T. Realmuto, two of baseball's hottest hitters in the month of August. Had Hoskins also been going well at this time, just imagine the run totals or win streaks the Phillies could have run off. 

Instead, on Sunday they wasted a rare strong pitching performance from someone other than Aaron Nola. Jason Vargas limited the Padres to two runs over 5⅔ innings. He has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts as a Phillie but the team is just 1-3 because it has scored a total of five runs with Vargas in the game in his four starts.

"If we keep pitching like we do and the bullpen keeps pitching like (it has), we've seen how hot we can get quickly," Hoskins said.

"We swept a good team in the Cubs. Obviously, disappointing to lose a series to the Padres, but we talked about this a couple nights ago — you could feel the difference in here this week. It just feels a little different. There's a little more swagger and a little more confidence. Tough loss today but we'll be all right."

The Phillies have 38 games left to make a run and end a playoff drought of seven years. Harper was surprised when it was relayed to him Sunday that no Phillies team since 1990 has had its longest winning streak last just four games.

"That's crazy," he said. "In the game now, you see (Jacob) deGrom for six and see somebody else out of the bullpen, four other guys, three other guys. The game has definitely changed. It's evolved.

"Hopefully we can break that a little bit and win five in a row. Why not?"

One reason to remain skeptical: The last two times the Phillies have won four in a row, they lost their next series to the Marlins and Padres. You just don't know which Phillies will team show up on a given day.

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Bryce Harper is OK, but Phillies' homestand ends in uninspiring fashion

Bryce Harper is OK, but Phillies' homestand ends in uninspiring fashion

BOX SCORE

Once Gabe Kapler came out of the Phillies' dugout after the fifth inning to tell the home plate umpire that he was replacing Bryce Harper with Adam Haseley, the result of Sunday's game became secondary for about an hour.

Fortunately for the Phils, their best player and second-hottest hitter likely will not miss any time. Harper was removed because of dehydration.

Harper has eight home runs and 18 RBI with an OPS over 1.000 in the month of August. There would never be a good time for the Phillies to lose him but now would have been especially damaging given his hot streak and their position in the wild-card race. Harper ranks third in the majors in home runs this month, trailing only Aristides Aquino and Ronald Acuna Jr.

The Phils lost Sunday, 3-2 to the Padres. San Diego arrived in South Philadelphia eight games under .500 but claimed the series by winning the final two games. 

The Phillies had surely hoped for better than a 4-2 homestand given the way the week began with four consecutive wins and some gaudy offensive performances.

The 64-60 Phils have a light week. They are off Monday, play two games in Boston, are off again Thursday and then finish off the quick trip with a three-game weekend series in Miami.

RISP woes continue

Even with the four straight wins and the big offensive performances earlier in the week, the Phillies still rank last in the National League since the All-Star break with a .228 batting average with runners in scoring position. They were 3 for 13 with RISP in the losses Saturday and Sunday. 

The difference in these two losses was that they couldn't pop the multi-run homer(s) they did against the Cubs.

The Phillies' only offensive standout Sunday was Jean Segura, who drove in both runs with a first-inning double and a sixth-inning double. Both came with two outs.

Rhys Hoskins came a foot short of tying the game in the eighth inning, flying out 400 feet to the 401-foot sign in straightaway center.

Another solid start from Vargas

Jason Vargas continues to give the Phillies quality innings. He pitched 5⅔ innings Sunday, allowing two runs on six hits. Both runs scored on Luis Urias' opposite-field home run, a cheapie.

Since joining the Phillies, Vargas has a 3.91 ERA and has allowed two runs or fewer in three of four starts. The Phillies just haven't done much hitting for him. They've scored a total of five runs with him in the game in those four starts.

More than dingers

Harper has been an impactful defensive rightfielder in his first year as a Phillie. He registered another outfield assist Sunday, his ninth of the season.

Catcher Austin Hedges, who had a career-high four hits, trickled a grounder down the first base line that went into right field and clanged off the half-wall in foul territory. Harper picked it up and fired to second base to nab Hedges.

Only once in his career, in 2013, has Harper had more outfield assists than he has already this season.

Up next

The Phillies are off Monday and Thursday this week. In between is a two-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Tuesday night at 7:10 — Aaron Nola (11-3, 3.56) vs. TBA

Wednesday night at 7:10 — LHP Drew Smyly (2-6, 7.09) vs. Rick Porcello (11-9, 5.49).

After Boston is a three-game series in Miami for the Phils.

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