Still trying to wash away the sour taste of seeing the Phillies lose two of three games to the Padres over the weekend? We’re here for you. Think about this: Entering the two-game series that begins tonight at Fenway Park, the Red Sox are actually the more desperate team.
The Phillies, for as poorly as they have played, remain within two games of the second wild-card spot in the National League. The Red Sox are very nearly buried. They are 6 games back in the American League wild-card race and trail the Yankees by a whopping 16 games in the AL East. The Phillies have a 9.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. The Red Sox are at 7.1 percent.
Feel better now? No? Well, at least Aaron Nola is pitching tonight.
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When Aaron Nola takes the mound for the Phillies tonight, the Red Sox will get a look at something they haven’t had for a while: A homegrown, cost-effective starting pitcher.
Hard to believe, Harry, as Richie Ashburn would undoubtedly say, but the Red Sox haven’t drafted and developed a full-time member of their rotation since Clay Buchholz arrived on the scene in 2007.
We mention this here because the Phillies are reaching a crossroads with their rotation. They wagered on Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff taking steps forward this season in their development. Instead, each has regressed. Their backslides have left the Phillies looking for solutions, including crossing their fingers that 23-year-old prospect Spencer Howard continues to progress in double A. (He has a 3.32 ERA through four starts.)
The Red Sox overcame the inability to develop starters by buying free agent David Price for $217 million, trading for Rick Porcello and signing him to an $82.5 million extension, and emptying their farm system in a blockbuster for Chris Sale, whom they recently signed for $145 million.
The result: three consecutive division titles and a 2018 World Series crown.
Swell. But the bill is coming due. Price and Porcello have struggled this year, with the latter almost certain to leave via free agency at season’s end. Sale is done for the season because of elbow problems, and who knows what his future holds? Nathan Eovaldi, acquired in a trade last season and re-signed to a four-year, $68 million deal, has been injured this season, too.
The Phillies have firsthand experience with the perils of finding pitching in free agency. (See: Arrieta, Jake.) Other than Nola, they haven’t been successful recently with finding pitchers in the draft.
All of this underscores how much the Phillies need Howard to develop.
The alternative is unsustainable.
Rhys Hoskins believes he’s “one swing away” from snapping out of a .168 funk since the all-star break, as Matt Breen writes.
Good news on former Phillies second baseman Tony Taylor, who is back home in Miami and recovering from a series of strokes suffered earlier this month while attending the team’s alumni weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
Bryce Harper explained that dehydration caused his blurred vision Sunday. Tom Avril spoke with a few medical professionals about how that can happen.
Lots of chatter last week about Charlie Manuel’s return to the Phillies’ dugout and what it means for the organization’s overall hitting philosophy. I talked to a few of his ex-players to get a sense for Manuel’s approach to hitting instruction.
The Phils are headed to Boston, and Gabe Kapler knows the series is “immeasurably important,” Marcus Hayes writes.
Meanwhile, Phillies all-time pinch-hit king Greg Gross told Bob Brookover that Manuel’s old-school approach will blend well with new-age analytics.
Tonight: Aaron Nola starts the series opener at Fenway Park, 7:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Drew Smyly vs. Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello, 7:10 p.m.
Thursday: Off-day for Phillies, but Extra Innings carries on.
Friday: Phillies open a three-game series in Miami, 7:10 p.m.
Monday: Phillies return home to face the Pirates, 7:05 p.m.
Cole Hamels’ return to the mound at Citizens Bank Park last week got us thinking about the possibility of a more permanent encore for the former Phillies ace. Hamels is eligible for free agency at season’s end. He also will turn 36 in December.
Given the likelihood that Hamels will be seeking a multiyear deal and the obvious risks of signing free-agent pitchers in their 30s (see: Arrieta, Jake), it’s worth looking at the aging curves of some recent pitchers to determine if a two- or three-year contract offer would be prudent.
Over the last 50 years, 66 pitchers have made at least 60 starts between ages 36-38. Of those, 44 have posted an adjusted-ERA of at least 100, which is considered the league average. And of those, 18 have pitched since 2000 (Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Rich Hill, Curt Schilling, Hiroki Kuroda, Greg Maddux, John Lackey, Al Leiter, Tom Glavine, CC Sabathia, John Burkett, Andy Pettitte, Rick Reed, Mike Mussina, Tim Hudson, Kenny Rogers and knuckleballers R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield). Hamels’ age 33-35 seasons, in which he has produced a 118 adjusted-ERA in 76 starts (448 1/3 innings, 3.89 ERA), suggest a pitcher who isn’t as effective as he once but effective enough to be at least a solid No. 3 starter.
Want to bet he finds at least one team that is willing to overpay him? The Phillies need at least one, probably two starting pitchers. Hamels could help, but at what price?
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Why didn’t the Phillies see the need to add a starting pitcher after last season? It seemed obvious to me after the breakdown that Zach Eflin and Nick Pivetta had at season’s end and with Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez being so inconsistent.
— Bob A., via email
Answer: Hey, Bob. Thanks for the question. In my opinion — as you can see from what’s written above — everything that has occurred this season traces back to the Phillies’ inaction in the starting pitching markets last winter.
To recap: The Phillies pursued prized free agent Patrick Corbin but balked on guaranteeing a sixth year to the 30-year-old lefty. (Can’t say I blamed them there.) They had mild interest in J.A. Happ but ultimately took a pass. And they passed entirely on other free agents, such as Charlie Morton, Wade Miley and Lance Lynn, all of whom are having nice years. They talked about trading for Texas’ Mike Minor but couldn’t work out a deal. As best I could tell, they didn’t have serious interest in Arizona’s Robbie Ray, another potential trade candidate.
When I spoke with pitching coach Chris Young in mid-January, he expressed confidence in the Phillies’ incumbent starters, including Pivetta, Eflin and Velasquez. Management felt the same way. Quite clearly, the Phillies misjudged what they had, and after making only minor in-season moves for Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas, starting pitching remains the most pressing need entering the upcoming offseason.