Solid pitching is carrying Phillies' drastic improvement

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Gelb: The Phillies Most Encouraging Sign

The Phillies' 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday afternoon behind a dominating performance by 22-year old Vincent Velasquez was a perfect symbol of why the team is back at the .500 mark and showing improved competitiveness thus far in the 2016 season.

The performance also highlighted why the Phils are only a .500 team, and will struggle to get much above that mark, possibly even to maintain that level for very long here in the early stages of their rebuilding program.

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Velasquez tossed the first complete game of his professional career, and the shutout was the third produced by the pitching staff in these first 10 games. As shown in this Tweet put out following yesterday's game by Comcast SportsNet's Corey Seidman, that staff is putting up some league-leading numbers to date.

Twitter

Velasquez has yet to allow a run of any type over 15 innings in which he has allowed just six hits and has a 25/3 K:BB ratio. In his first two starts, Jerad Eickhoff has a 1.50 ERA, and has allowed just nine hits over 12 innings with a 12/2 K:BB ratio.

Jeremy Hellickson has a 1.54 ERA, having allowed just six hits in 11.2 innings with an 11/1 K:BB ratio. Aaron Nola has allowed just 10 hits in 14 innings with a 17/0 K:BB ratio.

The bullpen, much maligned and rightfully so following the season's first four games, all losses, has recovered wonderfully led by surprise closer Jeanmar Gomez. Seen as the perfect swingman, instead Gomez has, at least for now, solidified that closer spot by earning Saves in his first four opportunities. He has a 1.80 ERA, and has allowed just three hits over five innings.

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Also strong thus far out of the pen have been Hector Neris, who has allowed no runs and just one hit over his first 4.2 innings across five appearances. He has a strong 6/1 K:BB ratio. Lefty Brett Oberholtzer has a 2.70 ERA and a 5/1 K:BB ratio over 3.1 innings.

David Hernandez, who could still end up as the longer term closer in the end, has now registered five consecutive scoreless outings since allowing three earned runs in an Opening Day meltdown at Cincinnati.

But with all the quite obvious improvement across the pitching staff, the offense continues at an unacceptable pace. To date, the Phillies have scored just 29 runs over these first 10 games, a 2.9 runs-per-game pace that ranks 12th of the 15 teams in the National League.

The current run-scoring pace lags behind even that of a year ago, nearly a full run behind the 2015 season, when the club finished just 27th in all of Major League Baseball with a 3.86 runs-per-game average. This current pace would have put them well at the bottom of the MLB rankings a year ago.

Not only is the club just 12th in the NL in runs scored, but they are also just 12th in stolen bases and walks. That is really going to make things difficult as the season moves along, should those trends continue.

The Phillies do not possess much power in their current lineup, with only Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard as consistent longball threats. They are seventh in the league in homers, but five of the team's seven dingers have come off the bats of those two power sources.

There are three positions in particular where the Phillies are receiving little or nothing as far as offensive production is concerned. At catcher, Cameron Rupp is hitting for just a .217/.217/.304 slash line with no homers or RBI across his first 23 plate appearances. Carlos Ruiz has a home run, but has just two other hits over his first 16 plate appearances.

At shortstop, Freddy Galvis is at a .182/.200/.303 slash line with just two extra-base hits and not a single stolen base attempt over his first 35 plate appearances of the season.

The corner outfield spots, places where every contending MLB team receives production, have given the Phillies none. Peter Bourjos has 31 plate appearances with just a .172/.200/.310 slash line, and despite possessing good speed, he has attempted no stolen bases. Cedric Hunterand Tyler Goeddel have just one extra-base hit, a homer by Hunter, over their 36 combined plate appearances.

The punchless Phils have tried to swipe a bag just eight times thus far over these first 10 games, and the results are ugly. Two of those attempts even came from players who will not and should not be running much, Ruiz and Darin Ruf.

The speedy Cesar Hernandez has run four times, but been caught on three of those attempts. Hernandez, center fielder Odubel Herrera, and utility player Emmanuel Burriss own the Phils' three successful stolen bases to this point.

There are no easy answers for these Phillies, considering the talent of the players currently on the big league roster. An influx of talent from the minors later in the summer could inject some offensive spark, with the bats and legs of J.P. Crawford,Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and Andrew Knapp. But barring major injuries, those players are not likely to see Citizens Bank Park until at least the summer months.

For now, the best that Phillies fans, and that outstanding pitching staff, can hope is that the Phils decide to push the running game more, finding success in producing runs in that manner. That, or some of those listed above have to begin hitting much more consistently, while Franco and Howard continue to provide real power.

RANKING THE MLB STADIUMS:

31 PHOTOS
Ranking MLB stadiums
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Solid pitching is carrying Phillies' drastic improvement

30. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays

The playing surface is a mixture of grass and artificial turf, and there are fire inspection rings in play over head. Must be a joy to play in.

(AP Photo)

29. Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays

The only things worse than this warehouse-looking place are the metric measurements on the outfield walls.

(Shutterstock)

28. O.co Coliseum, Oakland A's

Any place sewage seeps back through the clubhouse drains probably isn’t a suitable location for pro sports.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

27. Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas Rangers

Remember when this place was state of the art? Neither do we.

(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)

26. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox

What’s more bland than the Chicago White Sox? Their uniforms. What’s worse than that? The stadium.

(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

25. Turner Field, Atlanta Braves

This place won’t live to see its 20th birthday. Good luck to the Braves’ next home, which will probably still always be empty, too.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

24. Marlins Park, Miami Marlins

Makes perfect sense for an orange and teal team to play in a stadium with neon green everything. Also, has anyone ever figured out what exactly this is? 

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

23. Angel Stadium, Los Angeles Angels

Nothin’ like some fake rocks in center field to really set the mood for a baseball game.

Flickr

22. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians

The fact that it’s no longer Jacobs Field bumps this down at least five spots.

Flickr

21. Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals

Can this place just stay out of the playoffs just once?

Flickr

20. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds

How cheap is that wind tunnel?

 (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

19. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks

Center field is the deepest part of the stadium, guys. The wall doesn’t need to be that high.

Clintus McGintus/Flickr

18. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees

Great place to see the best baseball players of the 20th century.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

17. Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers

Bernie sliding down that slide for every home run is ridiculous and awesome at the same time. Every time.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

16. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies

Once you get over the fact that some little league parks have deeper fences? Cool place to catch a game.

 (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

15. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers

They should probably just name it Vin Scully Stadium at this point. Might help them out in these rankings.

 (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

14. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals

The scoreboard being shaped like a long crown is a bit odd, but you can’t blame them for playing up the whole royalty thing.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

13. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies

If it’s not a blizzard in Denver, Coors Field is still pretty impressive. But let’s lose those humidors and get these balls flying like its 2001. 

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

12. Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers

Credit to the grounds crew for making sure the infield didn’t collapse through the ground while Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera manned the corners. That approached a good 600 pounds of man.

 (AP Photo/Matt Halip)

11. Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros

Get back to us next year, once that ridiculous hill and flag pole are scrapped.

(AP Photo/Bob Levey)

10. Target Field, Minnesota Twins

You probably won’t want to sit outside in Minnesota until about mid-June, but after that, Target Field is tough to beat.

 (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

9. Citi Field, New York Mets

Ownership may be fresh out of cash, but at least its stadium has an awesome selection of $12 beers. 

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

8. Nationals Park, Washington Nationals

It’s been seven years, and the team just can’t sell these naming rights. Strangely, this makes the park even cooler.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

7. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners

For a stadium that opened up in 1999, the Mariners’ digs have held up pretty well -- even when their roster hasn’t.

 (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

6.. Petco Park, San Diego Padres

Fun fact: An old candy factory building was physically moved to make room for the stadium. 

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

5. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox

Relax, Fenway is definitely an amazing place to watch a game. But sitting directly behind a pole and/or facing the left-center field wall just isn’t always appealing.

(Shutterstock)

4. Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs

We’re glad the Cubs decided to keep their old home intact, but there’s no two ways about it: Until renovation is complete, Wrigley is a dump.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

3. PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates

After two decades under .500, the Pirates are finally playing some winning ball again. Good thing, because their park deserves as many games as possible.

 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles

Still as beautiful as the day it opened in 1992, Camden Yards is headed toward becoming the next legendary American ballpark. 

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

1. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants

Already 15 years and three names later, AT&T Park remains the best place to watch a Major League Baseball game. Between the amazing food, packed-out stands and the glistening bay in right field, San Francisco is lucky to call it home. 

(AP Photo)

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