nick pivetta

So ... what answers DID the Phillies get this season?

So ... what answers DID the Phillies get this season?

Updated: 9:52 p.m.

A common refrain from Phillies fans lately is that, despite the win increase of at least a dozen this season, just as many questions remain this offseason as last.

It's the truth. No aspect of this team looks settled. Not the offense, not the defense, not the rotation, not the bullpen.

That being said ... what answers did we get in 2018? (Other than the most obvious one: Nola is an ace. He showed it again Saturday night with seven shutout innings against the Braves. Nola finishes 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA in 212⅓ innings.)

1. Can't have both Velasquez and Pivetta in the rotation

Unless the Phillies have designs of utilizing the "opener" next season — a pitcher who starts the game for matchup purposes but only goes an inning or two — they cannot afford to enter 2019 with both Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta in the rotation.

Both pitchers have big strikeout stuff, but neither has been consistent enough going deep into games or adjusting midway through an outing. It's evident in the massive dropoffs in their numbers as they go through a lineup multiple times.

Gabe Kapler recently supported both pitchers by mentioning their respectable FIPs. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. It is a number on the ERA scale that rids a pitcher of everything except strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.

It is an incomplete metric. Yes, Kapler and many others can say that it's a better estimate of future production than ERA, but the issue with FIP is that it treats all non-home runs the same. A 400-foot triple is the same as a groundout to second base. The idea that a pitcher cannot control where or how hard a non-home run is hit is kind of ridiculous. 

Think about how many times this season we've seen Velasquez or Pivetta fall apart in an inning and allow multiple well-struck line drives back up the middle. To claim those balls in play were out of their control just because they involved defenders touching the ball? Poppycock.

Pivetta, at this point, has more potential to stick as a starter than Velasquez. Velasquez has made 76 career starts and has a 4.50 ERA with an average of 5.0 innings per start. The sample size is no longer small.

2. This isn't the right outfield

Between 2014 and 2015, the Phillies prioritized outfield defense after watching Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche give away too many extra bases. 

In the span of four years, they've come full circle, with the outfield defense again a big concern. 

Odubel Herrera regressed defensively. We know Rhys Hoskins is not a left fielder. Aaron Altherr, their most instinctive outfielder not named Roman Quinn, struggled so much offensively that he was unusable as the summer wore on.

Unless Herrera hits to make up for the defense, you can't rely on him as the everyday centerfielder. Too many mental mistakes, too many weak throws, too many extra bases taken on medium-deep fly balls to center.

Bryce Harper or not, the Phillies should have two new regular outfielders next season, with Quinn starting in center as long as he's healthy.

3. Time to move on from 3 recent staples

Herrera, Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco could all be gone this offseason. 

The Phillies essentially spelled the impending end of Hernandez's tenure here when they signed Scott Kingery to a long-term contract. It is doubtful the Phillies enter 2019 with Kingery as the everyday shortstop. His arm probably isn't suited for third base, and second is his natural position. Can only keep so many infielders.

As for Franco, we did see offensive improvement this season. But that's kind of the reason it's time to move on. Franco's trade value will be a lot higher this winter than it was last winter when he was coming off a .230/.281/.409 this season. Franco this season has hit .270/.314/.467.

He's 26 years old and cost-controlled, so the Phillies should be able to get something of substance in return for Franco — perhaps a starting pitcher. 

Aside from the "sell-high" aspect of a Franco trade, the Phillies could turn to Carlos Santana at 3B next season. Santana has fielded his position adequately there, making his first error Saturday in 109 innings at 3B. If the Phils end up signing Harper — a possibility but far from a certainty — the adjustment could be Hoskins to first base, Santana to third and Harper in the corner outfield.

When this topic has been brought up, some fans have claimed that Franco is a better player than Santana. Just not the case, even though Santana entered Saturday night with a .227 batting average. Santana has better at-bats, a better approach, a longer track record of power, and he's under contract the next two seasons for a total of $35 million.

What makes more sense: Eating money to trade Santana for little to nothing in return, or selling high on Franco, who showed improvement but is not essential to this team's ascent? Franco also has a body type that traditionally does not age well in baseball.

If Franco and Herrera are indeed back next season, showing up in spring training in better physical shape is a necessity.

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Even irrepressible Gabe Kapler seems a little down after Phillies’ 24th loss in 37 games

Even irrepressible Gabe Kapler seems a little down after Phillies’ 24th loss in 37 games

BOX SCORE

It feels like the Phillies’ postseason chances have been dead for a while, but in reality, the team is still mathematically alive. That’s why Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Miami Marlins hurt so badly. The Phils squandered a chance to shave a game off the Atlanta Braves’ lead in the NL East. The Phillies have 14 games left — seven against Atlanta — but they trail the Braves by 6½ games.

Dejected skipper

Manager Gabe Kapler, usually talkative and full of energy after a game, seemed a little down after this one. Maybe that’s to be expected. His team was in first place, 1½ game up on Atlanta, after a win Aug. 5. Sunday’s loss was the Phils’ 24th in 37 games since then and Kapler didn’t seem pleased with the way his team played. 

“There were certainly some things we could have done better today,” he said.

He would not expound.

It’s possible that one of the things Kapler did not like was the inability to turn a double 1-6-3 double play in the fourth inning. That could have prevented Nick Pivetta from facing Peter O’Brien with two outs and a man on base. O’Brien homered to give the Marlins a 2-1 lead that they never relinquished.

Pivetta made a good throw on the play to shortstop J.P. Crawford but there was confusion at the bag because second baseman Cesar Hernandez also converged on the throw from Pivetta. Crawford’s relay to first sailed over the head of Carlos Santana.

Why the swoon?

GM Matt Klentak added several veterans, most notably Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos and Justin Bour, around the trade deadline and the Phillies collapsed soon after. The need for the offensive upgrade was indisputable, but the additions seemed to do something to change the team’s chemistry. The chemistry is not necessarily bad, but it’s different.

“That’s a very valid question,” Klentak said when the topic was raised before Sunday’s game.

He and his staff had pondered the chemistry question — among others — over the last three weeks.

“The best answer I can give you is whatever it is that caused us to go into a team-wide slump in August is not limited to one factor,” he said. “It’s not one thing. And if it was, we would have hopefully identified it and made that adjustment.”

More on Pivetta

Seven of his first nine outs came on strikeouts. He gave up three runs in five innings and was replaced for a pinch-hitter. Kapler said the decision was based on the need for offense and confidence in the bullpen.

“I’m just going out there and trying to go as deep as I can into the game and when the manager says you’re done, you’re done,” Pivetta said. “I can only control what I’m doing in the game. When I get pulled, that’s the manager’s decision and that’s up to him.”

Late surge not enough

The Phillies trailed 6-2 before rallying for a pair of two-out runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. They were just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Rhys Hoskins struck out looking with two men on base to end the seventh then struck out swinging with a runner on second to end the game.

The Phils had just five hits in the first 8 2/3 innings. 

Up next

The Phillies have three with the Mets. They are 6-10 against the Mets this season.

The Braves host wild-card contender St. Louis for three before the Phils arrive for four Thursday.

Will that series mean anything?

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Phillies revert back to their losing ways in series finale vs. Marlins

Phillies revert back to their losing ways in series finale vs. Marlins

BOX SCORE

The Phillies slipped back into their losing ways Sunday afternoon. They could not hold an early lead and suffered a 6-4 defeat to the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.

Where they stand

The Phillies are 76-72.

They entered the day trailing first-place Atlanta by 6 ½ games in the NL East. Atlanta was in action at Washington.

The Phillies have 14 games to play, half of them against the Braves.

But first, the Phils must play their next three games are against the New York Mets at home.

The Phils are just 6-10 on the season against the Mets. The Phillies will face Zach Wheeler, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, respectively, in the three-game series. The Phils, who have no margin for error, will counter with Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin.

Things were looking good...

For a while, at least, on Sunday afternoon.

Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta looked to have exceptional stuff early in the game against the Marlins. Seven of his first nine outs came via strikeouts.

Pivetta too a 1-0 lead into the fourth inning, thanks to a solo homer by Cesar Hernandez in the first inning.

In the fourth, Pivetta allowed two hits, one of which was a two-run homer to Peter O’Brien with two outs. Pivetta might have gotten out of the inning unscathed if shortstop J.P. Crawford had been able to turn a double play, but his throw was off the mark.

Pivetta exited for a pinch-hitter in the fifth.

More than a few boos

Reliever Luis Garcia gave up four hits and three runs in the sixth inning. He threw a wild pitch that resulted in a run. There was some rather loud booing after that. Can’t blame the fans. The Phillies were in first place, 1 ½ game up after a win on August 5. Since then, they are 13-24.

Not enough offense

The Phillies scored just three runs after Hernandez’s leadoff homer in the first and one was a gift after a Marlins' error in the ninth.

They were down, 6-2, with two outs in the seventh inning and runners on second and third. They had the guy they wanted at the plate in Rhys Hoskins, but he took a called third strike from Kyle Barraclough to end the inning.

Hoskins had another big chance with two outs in the ninth and the Phils down by two. He struck out with a man on second to end the game.

A stat that hurt

The Phillies were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position in the first 8 2/3 innings.

That hurt.

They had just five hits through the first 8 2/3 innings.

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