There are a number of reasons why the Phillies have lost 18 out of their last 23 games. The caliber of the competition has gone up considerably. The offense is still mostly miserable. And the bullpen, particularly Hector Neris, hasn’t been as solid as it was early on.
But the offense was struggling as the Phillies raced out to a 24-17 record and moved to within a half-game of first place on May 18. The reason they were able to keep winning all those one-run games was the performance of the starting rotation.
Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez and the combination of Adam Morgan and Charlie Morton all pitched far better than expectations. But the rotation has fallen on hard times as of late, with starters running up high pitch counts, getting hammered on a nearly nightly basis and knocked out of games early, exposing an inexperienced bullpen and woefully undermanned lineup.
If you look at their season-long statistics, things aren’t so bad. Their 5.9 fWAR is tied for 8th-best in the Majors, their 4.00 FIP and 1.27 WHIP are both 9th, their K/9 of 8.79 is 4th and their K-BB% of 16.4% is 5th.
They do have a 4.28 ERA this year, just 14th-best in baseball, and the 54 home runs they’ve allowed (not all of which were hit by the Blue Jays this week, in case you were wondering), is 12th-most. But for the most part, their season-long totals are looking good.
But let’s break it down by month.
Only one starter has pitched well this month, Jerad Eickhoff. The rest are all struggling.
After suffering the worst start of his career on Thursday, Aaron Nola now has lasted just 12 2/3 innings in three June starts, posting a 7.11 ERA. He’s given up 10 ER, striking out 17 and walking six this month.
Just two starts ago, Nola’s ERA was 2.65 and there was talk of his potentially being in the running to participate in the All Star Game. The ERA is now 3.51, and given the stable of outstanding NL starters, might be too high for Nola to make the Midsummer Classic. Of course, there are a few starts left to get that number back down.
Jeremy Hellickson hasn’t been any better, with a 7.41 ERA in his three starts. His K-rate has plummeted, striking out just 5.29 batters per nine innings and walking a far-too-high 4.76 per nine.
Vince Velasquez has been injured for most of the month, tossing just 4 2/3 innings. Zach Eflin was a disaster in his Major League debut filling in for him, although you have to cut the rookie some slack in that one.
Of course, Eickhoff's improvements shouldn't be glossed over. The increased usage of his slider (27.2% over his last three starts, compared to 10.0% in his first 10), has made his curveball more effective. He's also locating his fastball better, and continues to prove he belongs in a big league rotation.
And there is one factor that could be contributing to the downturn in the starting rotation's performance. MLB.com's Evan Webeck noted the team's inability to consistently score runs may be getting to the rotation, despite PR-savvy claims by those starters that it hasn't.
It was unreasonable to assume the rotation would continue to be as good as they were in April all season long. But they’ve gone from being one of the best starting staffs in baseball to one of the worst just two months later.