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Phillies starting pitching is ending the year strong

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Phils starters are adding a nice bookend to the 2016 season.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

When the Phillies raced out to their 25-19 record in mid-May, it was largely on the backs of an outstanding starting rotation. Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jerad Eickhoff got off to great starts and bailed out a struggling offense repeatedly during the first month and a half of the season.

Through April, Phils starters were tied for second in fWAR at 4.0. Starters had a 3.55 ERA and a 2.96 FIP, while leading baseball with a 10.25 K/9. Batters were hitting a mere .217 against them, third-lowest in baseball. And their 1.06 WHIP was second-best.

Things didn’t go so well after that. Nola went in the tank and was lost for the season with an elbow injury. Hellickson came back to earth a little bit, Zach Eflin was up and down, Velasquez had a pretty nasty rough patch, and Adam Morgan was downright horrible for a significant stretch of games.

Here is how it broke down by month.

Now, however, the Phillies rotation is on a roll.

Last night it was Hellickson’s turn to shine. He went 6 13 innings, giving up just one run on three hits and three walks with six strikeouts. Since July 20 (10 starts) Hellickson has a 3.26 ERA and has allowed just a .242 opponent’s batting average, with a 46/15 K/BB ratio.

Eickhoff has been a rock all season, and that certainly hasn’t changed as of late. Since July 26 (9 starts), he has a 3.19 ERA and a 40/10 K/BB ratio. His last four starts have been even better, with a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings, striking out 15 and walking five.

One of the young starters who needed to step up his game, and has, is Morgan. Over his last three starts, two of them against NL East leading Washington, Morgan has a 2.41 ERA and has given up just two walks in his last 18 23 innings, with 12 strikeouts.

Perhaps the most exciting development has been Jake Thompson’s adjustments since coming to the Majors. He’s ditched his longer windup to a more simplified delivery that has helped him put up a 2.33 ERA in his last three starts, with 14 strikeouts and six walks in 19 13 innings pitched. Again, two of those starts came against a potent Nationals offense.

And Vince Velasquez’ season is over, but he finished it strongly, giving up just three earned runs in his last two starts (12 IP), with a 15/1 K/BB rate. This after three starts in which he gave up nine, five, and five runs. He goes into the off-season feeling good about himself after 131 innings in 2016.

The most important arm in the Phils’ rotation never got a chance to right his ship. Aaron Nola’s last start was on July 28, and no one knows exactly what kind of pitcher is going to roll into Clearwater next year. He is their ace, and having him healthy is of paramount importance. A return to health following two knee surgeries for Zach Eflin would also be most welcome.

If nothing else, the rotation has at least given the team reason to be optimistic about some of their starters next year. While all these pitchers (except Eickhoff) are question marks going into 2017, they are at least finishing 2016 on a high note.