The city of Philadelphia has already had a fantastic sports year and there’s no sign of a letup as major league baseball heads into the final two months. The city that started the year with a historic Super Bowl-Final Four parlay behind the Eagles and Villanova, is now watching the Phillies gain steam. The city’s baseball team has nudged out to a 2 ½ games in the NL East and is sneaking up on the Cubs for the best record in the National League.
Even better news for Philadelphia sports fans is that the most valuable commodity in baseball is driving the success—solid starting pitching. Aaron Nola is leading the way with a 12-3 record, a 2.42 ERA and has quietly stopped the NL Cy Young race from being a coronation for Max Scherzer. Indeed, ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor currently has Nola a narrow leader. I’ll admit I’m not sure what exactly a “Cy Young Predictor”, although I’m guessing it’s more complicated than my own “12 wins, 2.42 ERA and staff ace of a first-place team” rationale.
Nola is joined in the rotation by veteran Jake Arrieta and Zach Elfin, each with ERAs in the mid-3s, and this in a ballpark that decidedly favors hitters. If Nola, Arrieta and Elfin can continue performance like this in the postseason, that’s all the starting pitching you need to win in October. And I’m going to guess that if the Phillies play the Cubs, Arrieta might be pitching with just a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.
There’s still the question of actually getting to the postseason. Atlanta is close in the rearview mirror and the wild-card race in the National League is still extremely stacked. And there’s still time for the more talented Washington Nationals to break out of a season-long funk of mediocrity, although that’s not far from entering the area of “wishful thinking.”
Surviving these coming two months is going to depend on consistency. First-year manager Gabe Kapler is getting a bullpen slowly put together. Seranthony Dominguez has emerged as the closer. The 23-year-old Dominican has closed 10/11 save chances and is the kind of hard thrower that’s ideally suited to this role. On the other end of the career spectrum, 37-year-old Pat Neshek has gotten healthy and back on the mound this month and tossed nine scoreless innings. Victor Arano, with a 2.31 ERA is also giving Kapler quality work.
Offensively, the Phillies are a team that relies on drawing walks and hitting home runs to cover up an inability to generate consistent rallies. Or maybe that’s another way of saying that Carlos Santana is on their team. The former Cleveland Indian still has the knack for having an amazing batting eye, as his on-base percentage is .353 even as the batting average is just .215.
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez is developing a similar profile, with his .371 OBP being over a hundred points above the .266 batting average. I’m not sure why pitchers don’t just throw it down the chute and dare these guys to hit, but Santana’s been doing this so long that it’s clearly no fluke.
If I were a Phillies fan, I’d be concerned about the team’s poor performance in simply getting hits (12th in the NL in batting average) and driving the ball into the gaps (13th in doubles), but the home run production, led by Rhys Hoskins’ 20 and drawing the walks to support really good starting pitching is still a good one. Maybe even good enough to this second rendition of The Philadelphia Story going deep into October.