Welcome to the only game in town. After the 76ers were bounced from the NBA playoffs by Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night, the Phillies became the next Philadelphia team with a chance to win a championship.
Just in case you’re a diehard basketball fan who does not pay attention to any other sport until the Sixers are eliminated, we are happy to report that you are joining a good Phillies season in progress.
The Phillies just finished a 4-2 road trip to St. Louis and Kansas City with a 6-1 interleague win Sunday over the Royals that featured seven sensational innings from Cole Irvin in his major-league debut.
“Man, that was fun,” Irvin said after allowing just a single run on five hits, walking just one and striking out five.
It was fun for his entire family, including his mother, Sandy, who had flown in from Oregon the night before. It’s safe to say that few moms around the country had a better Mother’s Day than Irvin’s.
And one final thing: We did not forget about you Sons of Ben. We know the Union are in first place, too. We also know they won in Toronto over the weekend.
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— Bob Brookover (email@example.com)
Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel remain free agents, but the cries for help from them out of Philadelphia are not so loud right now. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak insisted over the winter and again during spring training that pitching depth was a strength for his club, and at the moment, he is being proven right.
Nick Pivetta was a weak link over the first three weeks of the season, and the Phillies acted quickly to replace him with Jerad Eickhoff, who has gone 2-1 with a save and a 1.50 ERA in five big-league appearances this season. Vince Velasquez went on the disabled list over the weekend, and Cole Irvin stepped in and threw a gem in his major-league debut.
Zach Eflin has been the team’s best pitcher so far this season and pitched his second complete game of the season in a 7-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium. Staff ace Aaron Nola, after a difficult start, has a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts.
Jake Arrieta was not happy with himself after giving up three home runs in a loss to the Royals on Friday night, but five of his seven outings have been quality starts.
Starting pitching is probably the No. 1 reason the Phillies are 23-16 and have a three-game lead in the National League East. The rotation has a 2.49 ERA over the team’s last 16 games, an 11-5 stretch. Overall, the Phillies rotation has a 3.72 ERA, which ranks seventh in baseball and fourth in the National League.
The bullpen, which allowed just one run in 13 innings during the 4-2 road trip, also has been solid. The Phillies’ 3.89 relief ERA is eighth in baseball and fourth in the NL.
There were a lot of cool things about Cole Irvin’s successful big-league debut against Kansas City, starting of course with the Mother’s Day presence of his mom, Sandy. As our Scott Lauber wrote in his game story, Irvin’s stellar outing also came 13 years to the day that another lefty named Cole made his major-league debut in a Midwest city. Cole Hamels, however, was left with a no-decision after throwing five shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds on May 12, 2006.
Irvin was really good Sunday, but Zach Eflin was even better Saturday as he pitched a shutout in the Phillies’ 7-0 win over the Royals. It was Eflin’s second career shutout and his second complete game in three starts in an era when complete games have become an endangered species. Eflin has allowed just two runs and 15 hits over 26 innings in his last three starts, and Andrew Knapp has been the catcher in all three games.
The nine innings Zach Eflin gave the Phillies on Saturday followed by seven strong innings from Cole Irvin on Sunday give the Phillies a fresh bullpen as they return to Citizens Bank Park for the start of a seven-game homestand Monday. Gabe Kapler might need those relief arms this week against a high-powered Milwaukee offense that includes National League MVP Christian Yelich.
Speaking of relievers, Lauber had an interesting story over the weekend about how David Robertson taught himself to throw with his left arm almost as well as his right one. We say almost because Robertson acknowledged that he’s not ambidextrous enough to actually throw as a lefty in a game.
The Phillies have had four first-round picks among the top 10 overall in the last four years, and it’s possible the most recent one, third baseman Alec Bohm, will be the first to the big leagues. I talked to Bohm, who is excelling at high-A Clearwater after being promoted from low-A Lakewood near the end of April.
Former Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr was claimed off waivers by the San Francisco Giants over the weekend.
And, finally, it was a cool weekend for Phillies third-base coach Dusty Wathan, who returned to Kauffman Stadium, the ballpark where he grew up watching his dad, John Wathan, play. He tells a great babysitter story about Hall of Famer George Brett.
Tonight: Aaron Nola pitches opener against Milwaukee, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jerad Eickhoff vs. Brandon Woodruff, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Jake Arrieta vs. Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Zach-o-mania: Zach Eflin vs. Zach Davies, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Start of a three-game series with Colorado, 7:05 p.m.
The Phillies, despite having sluggers Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins in the middle of their lineup, have not been one of baseball’s power teams so far this season. In fact, they are ranked 23rd in baseball in home runs per game at 1.13. Still, they are averaging 5.18 runs per game, which ranks eighth in baseball and third in the National League.
Their best friend is the walk. They average 4.23 walks, third in baseball and second in the NL. Bryce Harper leads the Phillies and the NL with 31. Andrew McCutchen is tied for second in the league with 30, and Rhys Hoskins is tied for fourth with 28.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Suggestion: I have a suggestion that I offer “free of charge” (probably, that’s about what it’s worth!). Especially if Irvin hits the ground running, he’ll need a nickname. How about “Cole 2.0?” That would actually be a compliment rather than a diss: the 2.0 version is always supposed to be better than the first one. Though in this case, it would be hard to improve on the original, n’est-ce pas?
Marty M., via email