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HS 190: Phillies pitching owned the Giants

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On Episode 190 of “Hittin’ Season,” host John Stolnis takes a look at the incredible job done by Phillies pitching against the Giants in their four-game sweep of San Francisco.

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MLB: San Francisco Giants at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 1982, the Phillies swept a four-game series from the San Francisco Giants. That’s pretty incredible.

They scored 32 runs in those four games and outscored San Francisco by a combined score of 32-8. Carlos Santana had three homers in the series. Odubel Herrera has a 39-game on-base streak. Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez are raking.

It’s clear the offense was feeling good, especially the veterans who have picked up the slack for some of the younger players (Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery in particular) who have been struggling lately. But what really propelled the Phils’ four-game winning streak was the same thing that propels most teams’ success.

Pitching. And on Episode 190 of “Hittin’ Season,” I talked a lot about the Phils’ outstanding collection of arms and how they owned the Giants this week (story continues below).

Starters Dominate

In this series, the starting pitching in particular was dominant in a way we haven’t seen since the super rotation of 2011. Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez combined to pitch 24.2 innings and gave up 18 hits, four runs, four walks and 40 strikeouts.

Yes, you read that correctly. Phils starters had a 40/4 K/BB ratio against the Giants.

Coming into this series, San Francisco hitters averaged a 23.7% strikeout-rate. In their four games against all Phils pitching (starters and relievers), that strikeout-rate was 39.3%. Phillies pitchers struck out 55 batters and walked just nine in the four games.

That doesn’t seem humanly possible.

Eflin Owns

In two big league starts since being called up, Eflin has been dominant, riding a more lively fastball that has averaged around 94 mph.

In the first game of the series on Monday, Eflin went 6.2 innings of shutout ball and struck out nine batters in the Phils’ 11-0 win. He’s given up just one run in 12.2 innings thus far, striking out 13 and walking three. In this ultra-small sample size, he’s generated a 9.4% swinging strike rate, up from 7.3% in 2017 and 5.7% in ‘16.

Getting both his knees fixed and at full strength has helped with the fastball, although the secondary stuff is still a question.

Nola’s Brilliance

To read more on whether Nola is a true ace or not (he is) check out Ethan Witte’s in-depth piece on that. Here’s the cliff notes.

Since June 22 last year, he’s pitched 169.2 innings and has a 2.71 ERA. He’s allowed just seven extra-base hits in eight starts this year, and no pitcher who has made eight starts has allowed fewer than 11.

In the Phillies’ 4-2 win on Tuesday, Nola struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven innings, allowed just one run, and caused 26 swings and misses. That staggering total was enough to move him from 24th in the NL in swinging strike rate in the NL to 10th.

Pivetta Bounces Back

In the two starts prior to Wednesday night, Pivetta lasted just five innings against the Braves and gave up four runs on six hits with six strikeouts and three walks. He followed that up with a brutal outing agianst the Nationals, lasting just one inning and giving up six runs on five hits with just one whiff and three walks.

That’s a 15.00 ERA, folks.

But he bounced back nicely against the Giants in the team’s 11-3 victory, pitching 5 innings and giving up no runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and no walks.

The Duality of Velasquez

We saw both “good” and “bad” Vince Velasquez battle for his soul in the series finale 6-3 victory on Thursday, and in this case, “good” Vinny won the day.

Velasquez started by allowing two home runs, a single and a walk to the first seven batters he faced, putting the Phils in a 3-0 hole. After that, he flipped a switch, increased his fastball velocity from 93 to 95 mph, and managed to pitch six innings while allowing five hits, three runs and 12 strikeouts with one walk.

Those 12 punch-outs were the most Velasquez has tallied in one game since his epic 16-strikeout performance two years ago.

Velasquez can be quite maddening, but it’s easy to see why the team sticks with him through the bad times. The good times, if they happened more often, could be so very good.

The Bullpen

Special kudos go to Hector Neris, who pitched 1.2 innings and struck out four batters without giving up a walk or hit. All that as speculation regarding his long-term viability as a closer swirled following his disastrous blown save against the Nationals last Sunday.

Seranthony Dominguez was called up and appeared in three games, pitching a scoreless frame in all three. He struck out three batters and retired all nine he faced. Yacksel Rios, Edubray Ramos, Tommy Hunter and Luis Garcia all were dominant, too.

After their game wrapped up, Phils’ starters had a 3.72 ERA, which was 6th-best in the NL. However, their FIP of 3.57 was 3rd-best, and their collective fWAR of 4.1 trailed only the Nationals among NL teams. They also have the lowest hard-hit rate of any staff in baseball, at 24.2%.

Folks, good pitching means wins. It’s really that simple, and this week, Phillies pitching OWNED Giants’ hitters, leading to a very satisfying four-game sweep of San Francisco.

Also on Episode 190 of “Hittin’ Season,” I spoke with The Athletic’s Ben Harris about the Phils’ pitching this week, Maikel Franco’s resurgence, the improvement of the team’s veteran hitters and what the team will do when Jerad Eickhoff is ready to return to the rotation. Also, I take a look back at the 2016 MLB Draft and why we’re seeing so many no-hitter notifications on our cell phones from MLB’s app this year.

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