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The joys of rotation depth: Phillies vs. Red Sox series preview

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I also wrote a bunch of words about Heath Hembree for some reason

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle Mariners
J.D. Martinez is not the best fielder in the outfield
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the recent history, pitching matchups, and their inability to get into any sort of groove this season, it wasn’t shocking that the Phillies struggled against the Marlins. But the schedule doesn’t get any easier with the first place Red Sox coming to town.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 27-18 (First place in American League East)

The manager

Based on the evidence we have on hand, Alex Cora might be the best manager in baseball. He made his debut as Red Sox manager in 2018, and all they did that season was win the World Series. While the Sox didn’t repeat in 2019, they still turned in a respectable 84-win record. Without Cora at the helm in 2020, the team collapsed to last place, but now that he’s back as manager, the Sox are back to their winning ways.

You might be wondering why a successful manager would have missed a year. And the reason for that is because Cora was the bench coach for the 2017 Astros who were revealed to be huge cheaters. And it turns out that Cora - despite his best attempts to throw others under the bus - was one of the biggest cheaters in the organization.

Cora and the Red Sox “agreed to part ways,” before the 2020 season, before MLB went ahead and suspended him for the year anyway. But once the year was done, seeing that he had obviously learned his lesson, the Red Sox re-hired him.

I’m not saying that the team’s poor performance without Cora is evidence that he continues to be a cheater. But unless Cora is really good at motivational speeches, its curious why the team does so much better with him around.

The last time they met

The Red Sox came into Philadelphia for a one-day trip where the teams split a doubleheader. The second game of the twin-bill was lost when the Phillies’ bullpen performed like the Phillies bullpen so often did in 2020.

While he was not alone in his crapulence that game (I’ll talk about the other goat from the game later), David Phelps turned in the crappiest performance of any Phillies pitcher who took the mound that day. Phelps came into a scoreless game, and promptly gave up two runs without recording an out.

Speaking of the 2020 bullpen

Heath Hembree also pitched in that game. Do you want to guess if he pitched well that day? No, you don’t want to guess, because you already know how he pitched in that game. He pitched poorly like he did 99% of his time with the Phillies.

It was the Red Sox who foisted Hembree on the Phillies, along with his slightly less (but not by much) awful teammate Brandon Workman. And all the Phillies had to give up was Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold. So yeah...even though he’s not scheduled to start in this series, I guess I’m going to talk about Pivetta now.

As you probably know, he’s having a pretty good season, which is causing some angst among a certain subset of Phillies fans who “always believed in him,” or think the team gave up on him too soon. I have to question if these people ever actually watched Pivetta pitch for the Phillies.

There are plenty of reasons to think that Pivetta won’t sustain this level of success (his start on Thursday night wasn’t very good by the way), but even if he does, I’m confident that he wasn’t going to succeed with the Phillies.

Remember his last appearance with the team? He was so awful that he basically forced the team to get rid of him. Maybe it’s cliché, but I do believe that some players need a change of scenery to succeed. (Scott Kingery, come on down!)

Anyway, good riddance to both Workman and Hembree. Those guys sucked.

Quick look at the Red Sox’s scheduled starters

Martin Perez has spent most of his career as an adequate back-of-the-rotation starter in the American League. It looked like he was en route to another “okay I guess” season, but he’s been on a roll since the start of May, allowing only three runs in his three starts. He had a rough outing in his lone start against the Phillies last year, giving up four runs in five innings, mostly due to walking six batters. Be patient up there, fellas.

Nathan Eovaldi started his career with the Marlins, so he faced the Phillies a lot early on, but his last appearance against them came in 2018. Similar to Perez, he’s staked out a lengthy career as an passable starting pitcher. Unlike Perez, he’s not having a good month of May, having allowed 4+ in two of his three starts.

After a strong 2019 season that earned him Cy Young Award votes, Eduardo Rodriguez caught COVID-19, and complications from the disease forced him to miss the entire 2020 season. He hasn’t quite recaptured his old form yet, although he is striking out a lot of batters. That’s not welcoming news for a Phillies lineup that strikes out as well as any team in baseball.

Rotation depth: Who needs it, right?

At first glance, you might think the Phillies had a better rotation than the Red Sox. When picking the five best starters between them, you’d probably start with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, and you could make a strong case for taking Zach Eflin after that. Yet, the Phillies starters’ ERA (4.02) is nearly identical to that of the Red Sox (4.03).

The main difference is that the Red Sox starting pitching has been mostly consistent from top to bottom, while the Phillies have suffered a massive drop-off after the third spot in their rotation. (And that’s with the better-than-expected showing by Vince Velasquez.)

While the Phillies have a bevy of issues (underperforming lineup, horrendous defense, bad long relievers), I feel the most pressing may be the back of their rotation. Maybe Velasquez (assuming his finger numbness isn’t indicative of a larger problem) continues to pitch well, and maybe between Chase Anderson, Matt Moore, and Spencer Howard, somebody stabilizes the final spot; but if I were the general manager (and no, this is not Sam Fuld’s burner), I’d be checking the trade market for more starting pitching.

Hooray for National League rules!

I am firmly on Team Universal DH, but this weekend, the lack of a designated hitter may work out in the Phillies’ favor this weekend. After many people were starting to shovel dirt on his career last year, Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez is having a huge season. He’ll probably shift to outfield for the series, which will likely hurt their defense. (There’s a reason why he’s mostly a designated hitter.)

On the other hand, if this series was played in Boston, we could be relatively certain that we would avoid seeing any of Joe Girardi’s beloved double switches. So I suppose it all kind of evens out in the end.

Trivia

Last series answer: The Phillies pitchers who won games against the Marlins in 2020 were Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and (what the hell?) Heath Hembree. EbbyCalvinLaLoosh was correct, which means he either has a really good memory, made a lucky guess, or looked it up, because nobody should ever associate Heath Hembree with something good happening.

This series question: What pitcher earned the win in the first ever game between the Phillies and Red Sox?

What to expect

  • J.T. Realmuto finally plays a game, and contributes to a win. It will lead to some sort of condescending attitude from the Phillies’ decision-makers as they explain, “That’s why we didn’t put him on the injured list.” (Ignoring the fact that having a healthy player available might have allowed them to win one of the games that he missed.)
  • Aaron Nola continues his mastery over the Red Sox (1.64 ERA in three starts against them), pitching the Phillies to a win.
  • The Phillies’ hitters problems with strikeouts do not get better as they total over 25 K’s for the series.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

In case you were curious, Hembree is now on the Reds, and didn’t allow a run over his first eight appearances this season. But you might want to keep those “should of kept” tweets in the draft folder, because he’s now given up runs in his last two, and was touched for four runs in a single inning on Thursday night.