Pitcher Ar­ri­eta’s ar­rival puts Phillies back in arms race

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - BOB BROOKOVER ——— Bob Brookover writes for the Philadel­phia In­quirer.

Be­fore the Phillies could get into a pen­nant race again, they had to re­join the arms race. It seemed in a blink of an eye they went from hav­ing Four Aces in their start­ing ro­ta­tion to five blank spa­ces.

That ab­surdly low 2.86 ERA the start­ing ro­ta­tion posted in 2011 has not been be­low 4.41 in the last three sea­sons, and the Phillies’ starters have not posted an ERA in the top half of base­ball since 2012.

That should change im­me­di­ately with the pend­ing free-agent ad­di­tion of Jake Ar­ri­eta. With Ar­ri­eta and Aaron Nola at the top of their ro­ta­tion, the Phillies have a chance to be a top-10 start­ing ro­ta­tion again.

How im­por­tant is that? Last sea­son, eight of the 10 teams to reach the post­sea­son had start­ing-ro­ta­tion ERAs that ranked in the top 10 in base­ball. The num­ber was seven in 2016 and 2015. You want to be good, you bet­ter have start­ing pitch­ing. That, of course, is not break­ing news. We knew that long be­fore any team had an an­a­lyt­ics depart­ment.

The Phillies’ best im­me­di­ate hope be­yond the new top duo of Ar­ri­eta and Nola is that Jerad Eick­hoff re­bounds from the shoul­der strain that pre­ma­turely ended his dif­fi­cult 2017 sea­son. If he can pitch like the guy who was the team’s best starter in 2016, the Phillies have a po­ten­tial top-10 ro­ta­tion. It’s not a stretch at all to think that can hap­pen, although the team would surely like to see Eick­hoff per­form bet­ter in his re­main­ing Grape­fruit League starts than he has in his first three.

Vince Ve­lasquez and Nick Pivetta hold the keys to tak­ing the Phillies’ ro­ta­tion to the level of the elite. They have the power arms ca­pa­ble of blow­ing away op­pos­ing hit­ters. What we have yet to see from ei­ther of the 25-year-old right-han­ders has the con­sis­tency needed to be among the best in the game. Glimpses of great­ness have far too of­ten been fol­lowed by lapses in con­cen­tra­tion that lead to walks, home runs and el­e­vated pitch counts. In the stil­learly stages of spring train­ing, Ve­lasquez has shown im­prove­ment; Pivetta has not.

The ti­tle of best ro­ta­tion in the Na­tional League East still be­longs to the Washington Na­tion­als, the only team in base­ball that has had a start­ing-pitch­ing ERA of 3.70 or lower each of the p ast six sea­sons.

Ar­ri­eta, 32, and Nola, 24, do not match up with mighty Max Scherzer, 33, and Stephen Stras­burg, 29. And the Nats’ Gio Gon­za­lez, 32, is far and away the best third starter in the divi­sion, if not all of base­ball. There’s ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve that the Nats will con­tinue to have one of the best ro­ta­tions in base­ball for the fore­see­able fu­ture be­cause Scherzer is signed through 2021 and Stras­burg is signed through 2023.

Only Gon­za­lez, whose ve­loc­ity dipped some in 2017, fig­ures to be out of the mix af­ter this sea­son be­cause he is el­i­gi­ble for free agency at the end of this year.

Be­lieve it or not, the Phillies had the se­cond-low­est ro­ta­tion ERA in the NL East a year ago, but only be­cause some­body had to. Four of the bot­tom 10 teams in base­ball were from the divi­sion.

On pa­per, how­ever, the New York Mets still have the se­cond-best ro­ta­tion. Re­ports out of Port St. Lu­cie, Fla., say that Thor — Noah Syn­der­gaard — is con­sis­tently hit­ting triple dig­its on the radar gun af­ter be­ing lim­ited to seven starts a year ago by an arm in­jury.

If he re­turns to 2016 form and Ja­cob deGrom con­tin­ues his de­vel­op­ment as one of the top pitch­ers in the league, the Phillies’ top pair of Ar­ri­eta and Nola will rank a notch be­low the Mets’ top tan­dem. But af­ter Syn­der­gaard and deGrom, the Mets have be­come a ro­ta­tion of enig­mas, with the big­gest one be­ing whether Matt Har­vey will ever be dom­i­nant again.

The Phillies, mean­while, now have a vet­eran pres­ence at the top of their ro­ta­tion and a po­ten­tial ris­ing star in Nola. They are back in the arms race and might even have a chance to be in the wild-card race.

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